100 Must-See Documentaries for Tech Geeks
December 13th, 2009 by Staff Writers
Even if you’re a veritable tech expert, there is always more you can learn about some aspect of modern technology, especially since it changes and evolves so rapidly. These 100 documentaries have tried to capture the history, culture and social impact of technologies and the people who use them. Better yet, they offer not only an opportunity to learn about something new outside of your college courses, but also some great entertainment as well.
These documentaries focus on gaming systems, specific games and the people who play them–often to an obsessive degree.
- Second Skin: This documentary takes a look at groups of gamers who play MMO games like Second Life, World of Warcraft and Everquest.
- The King of Kong: Watch as these gaming geeks battle it out to see who’s the real champion of Donkey Kong.
- Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade: Hear from the 1982 world videogame champs in this documentary.
- Once Upon Atari: Learn more about one of the first video gaming systems in this documentary.
- Get Lamp: Check out this film to learn about the early computer games that relied on text rather than graphics to tell the story.
- /afk: This film explores the obsession that can sometimes result from playing online games.
- Gold Farmers: This film will help you learn about the people who collect gold in online games to sell it for real world money to other players.
- TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball: If you’re more of a fan of pinball, you’ll appreciate this documentary about the history of the game.
- Playing Columbine: After creating an offensive and violent game based on the Columbine tragedy, this filmmaker and programmer explores some of the larger issues of violence in video games in this documentary.
- Video Game Revolution: Learn how the early video games of the 1960′s went on to spawn the multi-million dollar video gaming industry of today in this film.
- 8 BIT: Check out this film for more information on how video games have influenced music and art.
- Rise of the Video Game: This documentary series will teach you about the history of video games, from the start to the present day.
- Video Game Invasion: Hosted by Tony Hawk, this film will show you how video games went from a novelty to an obsession for developers.
- Playing to Win: In this documentary series you’ll be able to see inside the video game industry and learn about everything from virtual worlds to healthy games.
- Flashback NES: If you were lucky enough to have an NES back in the day, you’ll love this nostalgic look back at the system.
Robots and Artificial Intelligence
Learn more about new and historical developments in AI and robotics technology through these documentaries.
- Ciao Robot: This film takes a look at the growing interest in roboethics.
- The Great Robot Race: Check out this episode of NOVA to learn about this amazing event where driverless cars race across the desert.
- Love Machine: Here, you’ll be able to see what scientists envision the future of robots to be like, and how our human interactions with them will be.
- The Man Behind the Curtain: The life of amateur artificial intelligence researcher Chris McKinstry is often a troubled one, and this film follows his path to self-destruction.
- 2001: HAL’s Legacy: Arthur C. Clark’s book saw the year 2001 as already having the sophisticated technology to build artificially intelligent computers like HAL, but this film shows how close or far we might actually be from that goal.
- Gearing Up: In this documentary you’ll see what goes on at the FIRST Robotics Competition.
These great documentaries will help you learn the history of the computers we use today.
- The Machine That Changed the World: Here you’ll be able to learn loads about early computer history.
- Triumph of the Nerds: This documentary series focuses on the rise of computing empires like Apple, IBM, Windows and more.
- Revolution OS: Use this film as an opportunity to learn more about the open source movement.
- Welcome to Macintosh: Curious to learn more about the computer and gadget empire of Apple? Then check out this great film.
- Aardvark’d: 12 Weeks with Geeks: In this documentary, four interns are brought to New York and given just 12 weeks to design, refine and ship a program.
- The Code: Learn more about Linux through this film.
- The Code-Breakers: This documentary shows how poor countries are using free and open source software for development.
- Microprocessor Chronicles: Computers wouldn’t be what they are without microprocessors, and you can learn about their history and development here.
- Nerd TV: In this documentary series you’ll hear from some of the biggest names in computing, technology and programming.
- Creation of the Computer: In this short documentary you can discover the developments and individuals that helped the computer get where it is today.
Find out more about where the web came from, how people use it for business and how it’s affecting society in these documentaries.
- BBS: The Documentary: Go back in time and see the heyday of the BBS (bulletin board system) and the people who used it for a variety of purposes.
- Code Rush: This documentary follows developers at Netscape in 1998 as they rushed to release a new browser to compete with Microsoft.
- Nerds 2.0: This great PBS documentary will take you back through the history of the Internet.
- E-Dreams: Follow the rise and fall of Kozmo.com as it profits from the dot.com bubble and suffers after its burst.
- Startup.com: Learn more about the birth and failure of the new media company govWorks.com in this film.
- Download: The True Story of the Internet: This series will help you learn about the history of the Internet.
- 24 Hours on Craigslist: Check out this documentary that follows the people behind a single day’s posts made on Craigslist.
- Home Page: This 1999 documentary addresses the creation of web blogs and personal web sites.
- Hyperland: Made in 1990, this film will be a nostalgic romp back to the earliest days of the Internet.
- We Live in Public: This film follows the life of dot.com entrepreneur Josh Harris over the past ten years.
Hacking and Piracy
These films will show you the darker side of computer geekdom.
- Hackers Wanted: Here you can learn about some of the big names in hacking throughout history.
- Hackers are People Too: This film, made by hackers themselves, aims to show that hackers are ordinary people just like anyone else.
- Good Copy, Bad Copy: Check out this film to learn more about issues of copyrights and Internet peer-to-peer sharing.
- Freedom Downtime: This film offers sympathy to convicted computer hacker Kevin Mitnick, who the filmmakers feel has been misrepresented and vilified.
- Hackers: Wizards of the Electronic Age: Hacking didn’t always mean what it does today, and this film takes you back to the original meaning and some of the first hackers.
- In the Realm of the Hackers: In this film you’ll learn about the teenagers in the hacker community of Melbourne, Australia in the late 80′s to the early 90′s.
- Cyber War: Learn how one young man hacked into the CIA’s computer system and the ongoing wars between hackers and security systems.
- Steal This Film: This film documents the movement against restrictions on intellectual property
- The History of Hacking: Use this movie to learn more about where hacking came from and how it came to be what it is today.
Check out these films that examine some of the less than positive ways that technology can be utilized.
- Architects of Control: This documentary explains how new technology has made it easier than ever before to control how people think and act.
- Big Brother, Big Business: Learn how technology is being used to monitor just about everything you do or say in this film.
- Holes In Heaven?: Learn how High Frequency Active Aural Research Programs could be posing a danger to our very atmosphere.
- Pandora’s Box: In this television documentary series you’ll see how developments like nuclear power, cybernetics, systems analysis and more have been put to ill uses.
- The Invisible Machine: Electromagnetic Warfare: This film explains that you may not be able to see electromagnetic waves themselves but the destruction they invite is evident.
- Info Wars: Today warfare can be waged with information as well, and this film shows the battles between media, corporations and individuals.
These documentaries focus on technology-based ways of making music.
- Nerdcore Rising: Learn about a group of self-proclaimed nerds who have started a music genre all about rapping about things like video games, computers and geek culture.
- Moog: Check out this documentary to discover the life and history of the founder of the synthesizer.
- Blip Festival: Reformat the Planet: If you love video games and music why not combine them with the stylings shown in this movie?
- Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey: Through this film you can learn more about the development and uses of the theremin.
- Better Living Through Circuitry: This documentary takes a look at electronic music and the dance culture that developed around it.
Give these documentaries a try to learn about new technologies that could help society live more sustainably.
- Who Killed the Electric Car?: Electric cars seemed like the wave of the future–that is until they were all destroyed. Follow this film to learn more about the demise of this more environmentally friendly means of transportation.
- Cold Fusion: Fire from Water: Learn more about this potentially amazing source of energy through this film.
- Here Comes the Sun: In this documentary you’ll hear about the incredible potential for using solar energy to power our cities.
Food today is often far from natural and these documentaries show the real engineering and technology behind it all.
- Food Inc: You’ll never look at your food the same way again after viewing this documentary on where food comes from.
- The Future of Food: Take a look at the way many of the foods in your pantry may have been modified in this documentary.
- Our Daily Bread: This film offers up a relatively unbiased look at industrial food production and high-tech farming.
With a love of technology often comes a love of other geeky things, and these documentaries take a look at these groups.
- Monster Camp: This unique camp allows campers to transform into heroes, monsters, and other creatures to bring fantasies to life.
- Darkon: This documentary follows the triumphs and defeats of a group of people playing LARP games.
- Trekkies: If you’re a Star Trek fan or just want to learn more about these fervent devotees check out this interesting and sometimes funny documentary.
- Comic Book Confidential: This documentary will take you through the history of the comic book and some of the biggest names to ever write and illustrate for it.
- A Galaxy Far Far Away: Those who prefer Star Wars will enjoy this cross country romp in an attempt to figure out just what it is about these films that draws so many people to them.
- Quantum Hoops: Watch as this incredibly academic team at Caltech attempts to win at least one game to end their season.
These movies will show you some of the people and technologies that make space exploration possible.
- Five Years on Mars: Check out this documentary to learn about the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity and the discoveries they’ve made in their years on the planet.
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon: This documentary takes the viewpoint that much of the United State’s space exploration in the 60′s was a hoax. Whether you agree or not, it’s an interesting expedition into the history of space travel.
- For All Mankind: This documentary is about the 24 men who traveled to the moon, changing human history.
- Apollo 11: The Untold Story: Learn how close the lunar mission of Apollo 11 actually came to disaster in this riveting documentary.
Learn more about the math behind it all in these informative documentaries.
- Fractals: The Colors of Infinity: This short documentary will help teach you about the history and uses of fractals.
- The Story of Maths: In this documentary series you’ll get a chance to learn about the history of the field of mathematics.
- Fermat’s Last Theorem: Watch as determined mathematician Andrew Wiles works to prove Fermat’s Theorem in this interesting film.
- Dangerous Knowledge: This documentary from the BBC takes a look at four of the world’s premier mathematicians.
- Hard Problems: The Road to the World’s Toughest Math Contest: Follow along as some of the United State’s most gifted students compete in this worldwide math competition.
- N is a Number: This film tells the story of a man who, despite having no home or job, was one of the most prolific mathematicians in history.
- Fractals: Hunting the Hidden Dimension: If you’ve ever wanted to delve into the complex world of fractals, this film will help you to do so.
Biotech and Genetics
Check out these titles for an opportunity to learn about advances in genetic engineering.
- Patent For A Pig: The Big Business of Genetics: This film will let you learn more about how engineering animals has become the norm and a pretty profitable industry for food producers.
- Building Gods: This documentary explores some of the most pressing questions behind humanity, artificial intelligence and genetic design and the impact they might have on our very souls.
- Exploring Life Extension: New technologies have made it possible for people to live longer and look younger than ever before, as this film shows.
- Life Running Out of Control: Check out this film to get a perspective on the ethics of genetic engineering.
Learn more about how technology is developed and utilized by the military and the CIA in these documentaries.
- The Manhattan Project: This documentary will let you learn more about the nuclear technology that led to the development of the first atomic bomb.
- Battle of the X-Planes: Follow Lockheed and Boeing as they battle it out for the biggest defense contract in history in this film.
- The KGB, the Computer and Me: Even in the early days of computing there were hackers, as this story of a 1986 battle between a computer developer and a KGB agent shows.
These documentaries cover everything from typefaces to iPods.
- Objectified: This documentary examines our relationships with manufactured objects and the people who design them.
- Helvetica: Learn more about this ubiquitous font in this documentary.
- Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine: Garry Kasparov is a great chess player, but this films documents his biggest challenge: a computer named Deep Blue.
- Light Fantastic: Check out this BBC documentary to learn more about the amazing power of light.
- Gizmo!: This 1977 documentary tells the story of some improbable inventions from the past.
- The White Diamond: Renowned director Werner Herzog shows the amazing jungle airship and how it plans to explore the rainforest.
- The Way Things Go: Learn about these artist’s amazing kinetic sculpture and how it eventually self-destructs.
- The iPod Revolution: This documentary will help you learn about Apple’s amazing development of the iPod.
- Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs: In this 2003 documentary, filmmakers try to figure out who is the more powerful figure in computing.