Three great films about simulation

Simulated environments and virtual realities have always made great fodder for the silver screen. Here are three particularly great films that show simulation in its many forms.

The Matrix

Perhaps the best known film about simulation is the Wachowski brothers’ 1999 classic The Matrix – a revolutionary science fiction movie about a dystopian future in which advanced robots use virtual reality to keep humans locked away as energy sources.

The Matrix was a huge hit upon release, bringing in about US$460 billion at the box office. It spawned a series of sequels and spin-offs, most of which should probably have been left on the drawing board.

The Truman Show

Peter Weir’s highly original and immensely entertaining 1998 film The Truman Show sees Jim Carrey cast as loveable goofball Truman Burbank, a man whose every move is being secretly broadcast live on national TV.

Burbank is kept locked away inside an enormous dome, where actors portray the residents of a small seaside town. Our protagonist spends most of his life unaware that he is living in a simulated reality, until a couple of strange events begin to make him question the world around him.

The amazing thing about The Truman Show is that it’s not as farfetched as you might think – in February, a clever Reddit user calculated that a simulated dome like the one in the film would cost about US$3.5 billion per year to run, an amount that could be easily reclaimed through advertising revenue.


The final film on our list is perhaps the most forward-thinking. Tron probably looks laughably dated to today’s viewers, but in 1982 it was an incredible feat of CGI and received Academy Award nominations for Best Costume Design and Best Sound.

Tron tells the story of a software engineer (played by Jeff Bridges) who gets sucked into an arcade game and has to fight for his survival in a simulated world. A cult hit, Tron went on to spawn a 2013 sequel called Tron: Legacy.

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