The Story of That Great America The Motion Picture Swordfish Gag – /Film

In 2001, Hugh Jackman starred in Swordfish, a grimy tech thriller in which he played a world-class hacker lured into a criminal conspiracy overseen by a soul-patched terrorist played by John Travolta. It’s not a great movie, but it has several memorable moments, including a lengthy (and ridiculous) hacking sequence that is parodied almost exactly shot for shot in the new Netflix animated comedy America: The Motion Picture. We spoke with director Matt Thompson about paying homage to such a goofy sequence, and how the self-indulgence of that reference actually ties in with one of the larger themes of the movie.

The Swordfish Hacking Scene

Jim Steinman, the composer and lyricist for Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell album, once said, “If you don’t go over the top, how are you ever going to see what’s on the other side?” That quote perfectly encapsulates the ludicrous nature of this hacking scene, which features Jackman leaning into the absurdity as his character tries to create a digital “worm” across multiple monitors while Edgar Uroz’s “50,000 Watts of Funkin’” plays under the scene. The scene is objectively goofy…but it’s also simultaneously kind of great. In the spirit of that Steinman quote, it goes so far beyond being merely bad that it transcends into another realm entirely and somehow actually becomes good again.

How the America: The Motion Picture Swordfish Reference Came Together

In America: The Motion Picture, George Washington (Channing Tatum) tries to crack an important code left behind by a dying Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte), and director Matt Thompson recreates the Swordfish scene almost totally shot-for-shot as Washington uses the 1770s equivalent of a computer to try to achieve his goal. During our interview with Thompson about making this movie, he spoke specifically about this scene, saying it was screenwriter Dave Callaham‘s idea. Thompson told us:

“He fought to keep that all the way, because a lot of people are like, ‘Nobody’s going to get this.’ And I’m so happy that that joke is in there for people that realize what it is. For me, that’s what’s known as the worst representation, the silliest representation, of what it means to hack a computer network. Anybody who knows a lot about computers is just like, ‘Oh my God, have you seen that scene? That’s not hacking.’ So we wanted to say, we’re trying to make a very silly fun movie here and we’re, in some sense, making fun of our own pop culture. There’s a lot of movie references and things, but they’re in there to say this is our shared history, [these are] our shared touchstones, and we’re trying to comment upon that. So what’s the dumbest way George can crack a code? Well, it’s Swordfish, and there’s even a very small nod in the background with a couple of shots where there’s a giant swordfish on the wall to try to let people know what I’m doing.”

A couple of minutes after the hacking scene happens, the characters in the movie acknowledge how ridiculous that gag was, with Washington sheepishly asking his pals, “Really? You thought that was awesome? It wasn’t too indulgent?”

For Thompson, that sense of indulgence was actually a key reason for including it in the first place, because it ties into the larger themes being explored in the rest of the film. “It was [indulgent],” he said. “That’s just me talking to myself like, yeah, the whole thing is self-indulgent and that’s the point: America’s self-indulgent.”

Read our full interview with Thompson here, and head over to Netflix to watch America: The Motion Picture, streaming now.

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