The Best and Worst Movies About the Internet

4. Startup.com (2001). Remember the Web boom? Not Web 2.0, but the first one, before the dot-com bubble collapsed in 2000? In Startup.com, documentarians Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim captured the glorious rise and astonishingly rapid descent of a prototypical dot-com enterprise, GovWorks.com, from inception to implosion. The movie gives viewers an meeting-room seat at the brainstorming sessions, the team-building exercises, and the venture-capital pitches at the heart of a Web business launch. The period of wild enthusiasm, projected juggernautical growth, and prehatch egg counting is promptly followed by executive in-fighting, mass layoffs, and a spectacular collapse.

In a post-Enron world where outright malice underlies so much corporate failure, this story of simple ignorance and greed leading to a business's downfall seems almost quaint. But it does a fine job of summing up the dot-com era in a fleeting 107 minutes. Also check out the similar-themed E-Dreams, which chronicles the collapse of the better-known but equally doomed Kozmo.com.

5. AntiTrust (2001). This film is a guilty nerd pleasure if ever there was one. Ryan Phillippe stars as a young coder recruited into a vast computer conglomerate called NURV, where he's assigned to develop what amounts to a satellite version of the Internet--a system that will link together all communication devices on Earth (including pagers and PDAs, both of which were still popular at the time).

Alas, NURV turns out to be evil and its "fascist monopolist" boss, played gleefully by Tim Robbins, is revealed as a serial killer who doesn't hesitate to prey on open-source developers. Now that's how a real monopo-fascist handles competition!

The Five Worst Net Movies

1. The Net (1995). The absolute worst film ever about the Internet is the one whose brain trust couldn't come up with a better title than The Net. This 1995 production was meticulously designed to prey on fears of government surveillance and identity theft that the Internet, then new to the masses, was certain to foster.

Those fears come true for poor Sandra Bullock, playing a hottie developer who ends up with a sort of skeleton-key program that gives the bearer access to all manner of secure government computers. Naturally the bad guys want it, so they switch around her identity, transforming her into a fugitive prostitute. The absurdities pile up like 17-year locusts, but footage of a bikini-clad Bullock triumphing against all odds helped the pic generate more than $100 million at the box office. A 1998 TV series of the same name failed to capture the imagination of the couch potato nation and was canceled after one season.

2. Swimfan (2002). Not a movie about Michael Phelps, this 2002 nightmare finds high-school aquaman Ben (Jesse Bradford) being stalked online by a gorgeous blonde named Madison (Erika Christensen). Her pursuit entails sending Ben naked pictures of herself via e-mail and seducing him in the (brick-and-mortar) pool. But gentleman Ben is conflicted due to a lingering fondness for his cold fish of a girlfriend (Shiri Appleby)...and the fact that Madison seems to keep killing people.

This too-young-to-vote Fatal Attaction angle has been done before, but never so poorly as in Swimfan--and never with such an atrocious title, which is drawn from Madison's not-so-catchy Internet handle: Swimfan85.

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