Blackhat (film)

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Blackhat poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Mann
Written byMorgan Davis Foehl
Produced by
CinematographyStuart Dryburgh
Edited by
Music by
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • January 8, 2015 (2015-01-08) (Los Angeles)
  • January 16, 2015 (2015-01-16) (United States)
Running time
133 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
Budget$70 million[3]
Box office$19.7 million[3]

Blackhat is a 2015 American action thriller film produced and directed by Michael Mann and starring Chris Hemsworth, Tang Wei, Viola Davis, Holt McCallany, and Wang Leehom. The film premiered at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on January 8, 2015, and was released in theaters on January 16. Blackhat was a box-office bomb, earning only $19.7 million at the box office against a budget of $70 million. The film received generally mixed reviews, with criticisms focused on casting and pace, though the film appeared on some critics' year-end lists.


At a nuclear plant in Chai Wan, Hong Kong, a hacker causes the coolant pumps to overheat and explode. Not long after in Chicago, the Mercantile Trade Exchange gets hacked, causing soy futures to rise. The Chinese government and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) determine that the hack was caused by a remote access tool (RAT). An army officer in China's People's Liberation Army cyber warfare unit, Captain Chen Dawai, is asked to find the people responsible for the attacks, and enlists the aid of his sister, Chen Lien, a networking engineer. He meets with FBI Special Agent Carol Barrett in Los Angeles and reveals the code in the RAT was written by Nicholas Hathaway, his brilliant college roommate, and himself in their school days at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, years before Hathaway was sent to prison. Dawai asks that the FBI arrange for Hathaway to be released from prison, where he is serving a sentence for computer crimes. Hathaway is offered a temporary release in exchange for his services. He negotiates a deal with the U.S. government to have his prison sentence commuted as time served, if his assistance aids in the apprehension of the hacker. He must wear an ankle bracelet monitor, though, and be monitored by a deputy U.S. marshal named Jessup.

Hathaway manipulates the update system on the marshal's phone GPS that tracks his location, so he can follow his own lead and arranges a meeting with the hacker's partner at a restaurant. While they are waiting, he tells Lien about his past, but the hacker's partner never shows. Hathaway discovers a camera watching them and messages the hacker on the restaurant's computer that he is on his trail now.

Hathaway identifies the criminal who aided the hacker in his penetration of the exchange's computer servers, and develops a romantic relationship with Lien. Clues uncovered by Captain Chen and Special Agent Barrett next lead the team to Hong Kong, where the team works with Police Inspector Alex Trang. The team traces the stock trade money to a known paramilitary operative named Elias Kassar. Hathaway, Jessup, Chen, and Trang, along with a Special Duties Unit team, raid Kassar's hideout. Things go wrong, as Trang's Hong Kong surveillance team tracking Kassar is found dead, having been exposed due to Trang’s camera reflection in sunlight. A shootout ensues in a tunnel, Trang and numerous officers are killed and Kassar escapes by boat.

Meanwhile, the nuclear plant has stabilized enough to retrieve a data drive from the control room, but it is corrupted. The National Security Agency's Black Widow software has the power to repair the data, but the NSA does not want the Chinese using it. Hathaway successfully hacks the NSA to use Black Widow, discovering that the hacker's server is based in Jakarta. Lien finds out the hacker has been buying high-resolution satellite photos of a site near Seri Manjung, Malaysia.

Hathaway's hack into the NSA does not go unnoticed, and the U.S. government, NSA, and FBI demand his return to prison. Dawai's superiors advise him to turn Hathaway over to the U.S. government, but he instead alerts Hathaway to their plans. Outside, one of Kassar's men secretly plants a tracking device on Dawai's car. Barrett is ordered to arrest Hathaway, but finds he has escaped custody. Dawai is killed by the rocket launched by Kassar, as are Barrett and Jessup, who shortly arrive on the scene. Lien and Hathaway barely escape into the subway. Lien uses her connections to acquire a plane to go after Kassar.

Mourning Dawai's death, Hathaway and Lien travel to Malaysia out of revenge, to figure out the hacker's goal. After discovering a set of tin mines, Hathaway realizes that the hacker's attack at the nuclear plant was merely a test for a later plan to sabotage a large dam with huge spillways to destroy several major tin mines that are downstream in Malaysia, allowing the hacker to make a fortune buying tin options. The two travel to Jakarta and hack into the bank's computer to successfully drain the hacker's bank accounts, forcing the hacker, Sadak, to respond. Sadak and Hathaway agree to meet and discuss becoming partners. Hathaway knows that the meeting will be a trap and arms himself with makeshift weapons and body armor, using his prison knowledge. He conceals the weapons under a loose-fitting jacket and scarf.

Hathaway insists Sadak and Kassar come alone, but they bring their henchmen. Lien spots them and alerts Hathaway, who orders them to a new location at nightfall, a crowded parade in a large park. Hathaway trails Sadak and Kassar from behind. Kassar draws a machine pistol on Hathaway as he approaches. As he is frisking Hathaway, Kassar is overpowered and fatally stabbed twice in the head with a screwdriver. Two of Sadak's men catch up and a firefight ensues, wounding Hathaway despite the armor, who yet manages to kill both men with the pistol. Hathaway is stabbed by Sadak, but manages to kill him. He regroups with Lien's help, who gives him medical attention. The film ends with Lien and Hathaway leaving Indonesia, with Sadak's money still in their bank account, although they are now fugitives at large.



Chris Hemsworth (left) and Michael Mann at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con, promoting the film.

In an interview done at the LMU Film school, Michael Mann said he was inspired to make Blackhat after reading about the events surrounding Stuxnet, which was a computer worm that targeted and reportedly ruined almost one fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges.[4] In keeping with his high standard for authenticity, Mann brought in several technical advisors and consultants like former hackers Kevin Poulsen (senior editor for Wired News) and Christopher McKinley, to make the film as authentic as possible.[5] McKinlay was famous for hacking the online dating site OkCupid in order to make his profile the most attractive to women.[6] Director Mann also met with Mike Rogers, who was Chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence until 2015. Parisa Tabriz, who manages Google's information security engineering team, said that "It's the most accurate information security film I've seen."[7]

The film was tentatively titled Cyber, however the final title was revealed on July 26, 2014 during a panel at San Diego Comic-Con International, and it was being estimated that it might qualify for the Oscars.[8] The first official trailer for the film was released on September 25, 2014.[9]

Filming began on May 17, 2013, in Los Angeles, California; Hong Kong; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and at Lapangan Banteng in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The film would be Mann's first feature to be shot entirely using digital cameras. Although Collateral, Miami Vice and Public Enemies were predominantly digital features, Mann employed 35mm film sparingly.

Director Mann donated HK$300,000 (US$38,500) to The Community Chest of Hong Kong in the name of Hang Seng Bank, to thank the bank for allowing him to film Blackhat for five evenings in the bank's lobby area.[10]

In November 2013, Universal set the North American release date for January 16, 2015.[11]


The film score was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams[12] with Atticus Ross.[12] Upon viewing the film, however, Gregson-Williams posted a message on Facebook stating that his score went almost unused in the final edit, which included synthesized music not prepared by Ross or himself.[13] He went on to say that, "I therefore reluctantly join the long list of composers who have had their scores either sliced and diced mercilessly or ignored completely by Michael Mann."[14] He stated that although he is credited for the score, the final film "contains almost none of my compositions".[15] He later deleted the status update containing this information.[15]

Mann later explained that he often prefers to use more than one composer "to rotate among different emotional perspectives", stating, "If a composer wants to have his music stand alone, he should be a recording artist and let his work contest itself in that arena."[16]

Some of Ryan Amon's music that was originally used for Elysium was reused in the film.[1] Mike Dean also contributed additional music.


Blackhat opened on January 16, 2015, against the wide release of American Sniper, an "unexpected juggernaut",[17] which set records for the largest January opening weekend in history.[18] Blackhat was a box-office bomb, opening at number 11 and earning only $1.7 million on its opening day. It made just $4.4 million for the weekend against its $70 million budget.[19] This made the movie one of the worst debuts ever for a movie playing in over 2,500 locations.[20] After only two weeks, Universal decided to withdraw the film from all but 236 theaters. It had been in 2,568 theaters, making it the sixth-biggest drop in history for a third-week film.

An in-depth analysis by industry trade publication Deadline of why Blackhat did not perform primarily examined the marketing strategy as “the major challenge they were unable to overcome” [21] with independent tracking services supporting this conclusion: “total awareness for Blackhat was in the 40-50% range on January 4 and grew to 50-60% on January 15 (versus American Sniper’s 80-90%).” [21] Additionally, “the film wasn’t helped by a marketing campaign that failed to convey a sophisticated plot and a romance… Blackhat instead chased a young audience with action footage that did not seem fresh.”[21]

Internationally, the film grossed $2.33 million in 19 territories in its opening weekend.[22] It played below expectations in markets including Denmark, Greece, Poland, Taiwan, Turkey and Vietnam.[23] Deadline credited Lee Hom Wang and Tang Wei’s inclusion with increased success in other nations including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand.[22] In its third weekend, the film grossed $1.8 million with openings of $595,000 and $446,000 in Russia and Spain, respectively.[24] In its fourth weekend, the film grossed $1.2 million for a total of $8.4 million, with its top opener in Germany at $526,000.[25]

Due to the less-than-stellar numbers at the American and Asian box offices, Universal Pictures International opted not to release Blackhat theatrically in Australia.[26] The film was also scrapped for a theatrical release in Belgium.[27]

In the aftermath, Legendary took a $90 million write-down on the film.[28]

On February 20, 2015, Blackhat debuted in the UK.

Home media[edit]

Blackhat was released on Blu-ray and DVD on May 12, 2015, in North America. The Blu-ray edition includes both a DVD copy of the film and a voucher for an UltraViolet/iTunes digital copy, as well as three featurettes: "The Cyber Threat", "On Location Around the World", and "Creating Reality".[29] The DVD edition contains only one featurette: "Creating Reality".[30]

In Australia, the film was originally slated to be released theatrically on February 25, 2015, but due to its poor performance at the US box office, it was instead released straight to home video on May 14, 2015.[31] In the UK, the film was also released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 22, 2015.[citation needed]

Director's cut[edit]

Michael Mann premiered a re-edited 136-minute[32] director's cut of the film at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on February 20, 2016.[33] The re-edited version played once, as part of a retrospective series of Mann's films.[34] The primary change in this cut was the movement of the film's nuclear reactor attack sequence from the opening to the middle of the film.[35] Mann originally intended to place the reactor sequence in the middle, but moved it to the beginning of the theatrical cut just before its release.[36] It premiered on FX on May 9, 2017.[37] It was available exclusively on DirecTV.,[32] but it has since been removed from the service.


Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 33% based on 181 reviews, with an average rating of 4.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Thematically timely, but dramatically inert, Blackhat strands Chris Hemsworth in a muddled misfire from director Michael Mann."[38] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 51 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[39] According to CinemaScore, audiences gave the film a grade of "C−" on an A+ to F scale.[40]

For many critics, a significant issue of the film is the casting of Chris Hemsworth as a hacker.[41][42][43] Christy Lemire in the Chicago Sun-Times stated in her review, "Anyone who makes his or her way in the world sitting in front of a computer screen all day is not going to look as hunky as Hemsworth."[44] Hemsworth himself was unsatisfied with his performance, saying, "I didn’t enjoy what I did in the film...It just felt flat, and it was also an attempt to do what I thought people might have wanted to see. But I don’t think I’m good in that space."[45]

Manohla Dargis of The New York Times gave the film a largely positive review, stating, "Michael Mann’s thriller Blackhat, a story about the intersection of bodies and machines, is a spectacular work of unhinged moviemaking."[46] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times also gave it a positive review, writing, “It lures us in with the promise of up-to-the-minute villainy, but the satisfactions of ‘Blackhat’ are surprisingly old school.”[47] The Hollywood Reporter’s Sheri Linden noted, “The essential problem of cyber-thrillers is one that even so gifted a director hasn’t quite solved, particularly in the film’s first half: Characters looking at computer screens and explaining the significance of what they see doesn’t make for the most riveting viewing.”[48] Matt Zoller Seitz, the Editor-in-Chief of, gave Blackhat three and a half out of four stars, stating in his review, "‘Blackhat’ is mainly about what happens when the real world is annexed by the virtual: what it does to geography and relationships; how it signal-jams our species' sense of time as a series of self-contained moments, and substitutes an existence that can feel like an endless, intrusive buzz."[49]

Year-end lists[edit]

Although Blackhat received generally mixed reviews, many critics found merit in its filmmaking to include it in their "best-of" lists for 2015.[50] In Sight & Sound magazine's poll for the best films of 2015, six critics voted for it as one of the five best films of the year.[51]

  • 2nd - Andrew Wright - Parallax View
  • 3rd - Michael Nordine - Village Voice
  • 4th - Ben Sachs - Chicago Reader
  • 6th - Bruce Reid - Parallax View
  • 7th - Scout Tafoya -
  • 8th - Danny Bowes -
  • 8th - Staff consensus - Slant
  • 10th - Brian Doan -
  • 11th - Matt Zoller Seitz -[52]


Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Teen Choice Awards Choice Movie Actor: Drama Chris Hemsworth Nominated [53][citation needed]

Themes and interpretation[edit]

Blackhat, like several of Mann's crime thrillers, is a notable pop-cultural work on the theme of mass surveillance. According to critic Nick Pinkerton, Mann's concern with surveillance follows in the footsteps of earlier films by Fritz Lang and Henry Hathaway. The emerging relationship between power and network technology in the mid–20th century was a major theme in those directors' respective works, particularly Lang's The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) and Hathaway's The House on 92nd Street (1945) and Call Northside 777 (1948). Pinkerton suggested that Blackhat's protagonist was named "Hathaway" in an intentional allusion to the latter director.[54]

In an early scene, several books seen on Hathaway's prison-cell bookshelf serve as an "ideological gate key" to the film, according to critic Niles Schwartz. These include books of philosophy and critical theory like Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish, Jean-François Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition, Jacques Derrida's The Animal That Therefore I Am, and Jean Baudrillard's America; a biography of nuclear physicists Ernest Lawrence and J. Robert Oppenheimer; and Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe, an introduction to string theory.[55] Mahola Darghis at the New York Times said Blackhat demonstrated Mann's "hybrid approach" to filmmaking, "at the crossroads of the classical Hollywood cinema and the European art film", as an action film containing highbrow philosophical references more typical of arthouse cinema from directors like Jean-Luc Godard.[46]


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External links[edit]