11 best movies about the metaverse

Film reel on the horizon of a matrix grid.

You’ve probably heard the buzzword “metaverse” bandied about in discussions over the past year, but what does it mean exactly? A metaverse is the cross section between various types of technology—including virtual or augmented reality—connected together to create a network of virtual worlds. A portmanteau of “meta” and “universe”, the goal of a metaverse is to create an artificial environment.

[Interested in more streaming lists? Sign up for the ExpressVPN blog newsletter.

Many companies are building their own metaverses, including Facebook’s Horizon Worlds, Microsoft’s Mesh, and The Wild. And Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, one of the biggest gaming companies in the world, has given the tech conglomerate an edge in developing its metaverse.

But sci-fi movies, as always, have been well ahead of the game, showing us a glimpse of the future in which our lives are literally lived in the digital world. Here is a list to get you started in imagining what a metaverse might look like. 

Warning: Major spoilers ahead!

  1. The Matrix series (1999-2021)
  2. Inception (2010)
  3. The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
  4. eXistenZ (1999)
  5. Total Recall (1990)
  6. Surrogates (2009)
  7. Tron series (1982-2010)
  8. Source Code (2011)
  9. Ready Player One (2018)
  10. Free Guy (2021)
  11. Wreck-it Ralph (2012)

Movies about the metaverse

1. The Matrix series (1999-2021)

Available on: HBO Max

No list about constructed virtual realities can begin without the Matrix series of films. While other stories have spoken of virtual worlds before, the Matrix series really brought the concept to a wider mainstream audience with the release of the first film in the series in 1999. Keanu Reeves stars as the hacker Neo, who discovers that reality is not what it seems.

The Matrix metaverse

Within the context of the series’ universe, the Matrix is a simulated reality created by sentient machines following a war with humanity. 

In this timeline, machines achieved self-awareness and attempted to reach an agreement with human governments for a peaceful co-existence—which the humans denied with extreme prejudice. In the ensuing war, the humans were unprepared for the might of the machines, and in their desperation, darkened the sky with nanites in order to deprive the machines from their primary source of energy—the sun. This, unsurprisingly, also had a devastating effect on the earth and resulted in a global famine and the rapid deterioration of biological life.  

With the planet entirely uninhabitable, the machines begin harvesting humans for their bio-electric energy—essentially using humans as batteries. For hundreds of years after the war, humans are raised from birth to death inside liquid filled pods, completely unaware of the true nature of their reality. The machines developed several incarnations of the Matrix to provide humans with a construct—the world as we know it—to distract and pacify their minds. The series focuses on humans’ battle to be free of this servitude.

 

2. Inception (2010)

Available on: HBO Max

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, director of the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception follows a thief, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), and his team as they attempt to steal corporate secrets using a powerful dream-sharing technology.

Inception metaverse

Within the world of Inception, the dream-sharing technology was developed as a military tool to allow soldiers to practice combat techniques without incurring any actual physical damage. The characters use this technology for equally nefarious purposes. While Cobb is known as a skilled “extractor” (someone who steals ideas from a target’s subconscious), the film follows his attempt at the reverse of that process: “inception,” to implant an idea into a target, which has never been attempted before.

 

3. The Thirteenth Floor (1999)

Available on: Not currently available to stream

A remake of the German film Welt am Draht (World on a Wire) (and loosely based on the German sci-fi novel Simulacron-3), The Thirteenth Floor is a science-fiction neo-noir thriller set in 1999 Los Angeles. In the aftermath of the murder of tech magnate Hannon Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl), his protégé and next in line for succession, Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko), is the main suspect.

The Thirteenth Floor metaverse

Before his murder, Fuller’s company had recently developed an immersive VR system that simulates Los Angeles in 1937. Over the course of the murder investigation, Hall meets Jane Fuller (Gretchen Mol), Hannon’s daughter, who is actively working to shut down the simulation. It is eventually revealed that not only is 1999 Los Angeles also a simulation, it is one of thousands—and it is the only one where its inhabitants created their own simulation.

 

4. eXistenZ (1999)

Available on: Not currently available to stream

Written and directed by famed body horror director David Cronenberg, eXistenZ is exactly as weird as you’d expect. In the near future, video game consoles have been replaced with biotech consoles that connect directly to the human body via the spine. 

eXistenZ metaverse

Allegra Gellar (Jennifer Jason Leigh) plays a game designer working to debut her latest virtual reality creation: eXistenZ. At the beginning of the film, Gellar is demonstrating the game for a test audience and is shot by a “Realist”—a member of a radical fringe group determined to stop the development of reality-altering technology. The film follows the exploits of various factions attempting to obtain the only copy of the game in existence. Fair warning, this film is definitely the strangest on the list.

 

5. Total Recall (1990)

Available on: fuboTV, Showtime

Fed up with the monotony of his everyday life, construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzeneggar) seeks out the services of Rekall, a company that specializes in providing luxury vacations in the form of hyper-realistic implanted memories.

Total Recall metaverse

From the moment the film begins, the audience is introduced to a recurring dream Quaid has about a mysterious woman on Mars. This serves as the impetus for his visit to Rekall and his selection of a Martian secret agent vacation program. The implantation procedure, however, goes awry and Quaid begins to believe that he is an actual secret agent. His life then begins to resemble an action thriller. Secret agents, espionage, subterfuge, mutants; all the hallmark signs of a great pulp science-fiction story. As the story progresses, Quaid’s true identity becomes more obscure. Is he living a dream? Or is the entire film a dream? 

 

6. Surrogates (2009)

Available on: HBO Max

In the near future, humans live an isolated existence and only interact with the outside world via android “surrogates.” Tom Greer (Bruce Willis), an FBI agent, and his partner investigate the deaths of two people with ties to the creation of the surrogate program.

Surrogates metaverse

In contrast to the aesthetic and idealized forms of android surrogates, human operators are generally seen as sluggish and fearful of the outside world—at least insofar that surrogates allow human operators to live ideal versions of their lives from a safe distance. What sets this particular “metaverse” apart from other entries in this list is that rather than using a headset or something similar to enter a virtual world, humans get an entire Android body replacement, which they use to view the real world rather than a virtual one. Nonetheless, the disconnect between what is real and what isn’t still stands.

 

7. Tron series (1982-2010)

Available on: Disney+

Moderately received upon its release in 1982, Tron went on to become a cult hit in the years that followed. In particular, the film’s special effects, which used computer generated imagery, were considered to be revolutionary. Jeff Bridges stars as Kevin Flynn, a software engineer formerly under the employ of the multinational technology corporation ENCOM who have essentially stolen his games and passed them off as their own.

Tron metaverse

As Flynn attempts to hack ENCOM’s mainframe, its powerful artificial intelligence known as Master Control Program (MCP) engages an experimental laser to upload Flynn into a virtual reality space called the “Grid,” populated by sentient programs. These programs are differentiated by “Users” who are digitized versions of humans who have been transported into the Grid. 

Within the Grid, these sentient programs are ruled over by the MCP and are indoctrinated to reject the existence of Users. Those who resist are made to fight to the death in gladiatorial style public games.

The sequel, Tron: Legacy (2010), visually expands more on the Grid with an updated look while maintaining the feel of the original. In this film, Flynn’s son Sam is digitized and transported to the Grid on a quest to find his father. Some interesting discoveries around sentience and biological/digital hybrid life are discovered along the way.

 

8. Source Code (2011)

Available on: Not currently available to stream

U.S. Army pilot Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is tasked with discovering the identity of a commuter train bomber.

Source Code metaverse

Captain Stevens, as part of an experimental government program, has his consciousness transported into another man’s body. Over a series of repeating eight-minute cycles, it becomes apparent that Stevens has been sent inside a simulation, known as “Source Code,” of the last moments on a commuter train headed for Chicago. At the end of each eight-minute cycle, the train explodes, killing all passengers on board. The simulation has been reconstructed from the memories of the victims on board, and this attack is suspected of being the beginning of something larger.

It is eventually revealed that Captain Stevens is in fact dead and the last vestiges of his brain are kept alive via life support. Stevens’ military know-how was determined to be pertinent to the success of this mission—hence his selection for the program. Stevens’ mission to uncover the identity of the bomber is not only compounded by the weight of the knowledge of his death, but also of the potential discovery that death is not the end…

 

9. Ready Player One (2018)

Available on: HBO Max

Based on the 2011 novel of the same name, Ready Player One follows a competition held in the aftermath of the death of a virtual reality pioneer.

Ready Player One metaverse

In the near future, most of the world’s population engage in virtual reality entertainment via a metaverse known as OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) to escape the dystopia of their daily lives. James Halliday, co-founder of OASIS, has recently passed away and posthumously issues a challenge to players worldwide to pass three challenges for the chance to win full control of his wealth and the OASIS metaverse. 

Like the Free Guy (2021) and Wreck-It Ralph (2012), the virtual world(s) of Ready Player One are flamboyantly bright, colorful, and distinctively game-like in appearance—setting themselves apart from other entries on this list that favor a less definite divide between reality and fantasy. 

This one’s actually super fun to watch so the less said, the better!

 

10. Free Guy (2021)

Available on: Disney+

Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a bank teller, discovers that he is a background character in an online multiplayer action-adventure game known as Free City.

Free Guy metaverse

Millie Rusk (Jodie Comer), a programmer for Soonami Studio (the developer behind Free City), is on a mission to obtain evidence that the company has stolen her source code for the game. During an encounter with Molotov Girl, Rusk’s in-game avatar, Guy begins to deviate from his programming. Shortly after, Guy obtains a pair of sunglasses left behind by a player and is able to view Free City’s user interface the same way a player would. With this new-found knowledge in tow, Guy joins Rusk’s quest to reclaim what is rightfully hers. 

Like Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Free Guy is an outright comedy with a far less serious tone to other entries in this list. 

 

11. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Available on: Disney+

Last, but not least, is Wreck-It Ralph—the only entry on this list geared towards kids! Ralph, a video-game villain, tires of his life as an antagonist and sets out to become a hero.

Wreck-it Ralph metaverse

Set in an arcade, Wreck It-Ralph follows a group of characters across various video games who convene at the end of each day when the arcade closes its doors. Away from the prying eyes of humans, characters will leave their respective games via a power strip and meet in Game Central Station to socialize. There, Ralph—the antagonist of a game called Fix-It Felix, Jr.—meets with a support group filled with villains from a variety of video game franchises to vent about his assigned role as a “bad guy.” Perhaps the most fascinating/fun aspect of the Wreck-It Ralph metaverse is that it is a shared space between different “worlds” overlapping with multiple games. 

Read more: Dating sim games: A funnier way to date

Hi, you've reached Marcus. Dial '1' for privacy, '2' for point and click adventure games, and '3' for paranormal stories. For all other enquiries, please stay on the line and he'll be with you shortly.