Eighth Movie-Plot Threat Contest Semifinalists

On April 1, I announced the Eighth Movie Plot Threat Contest: demonstrate the evils of encryption.

Not a whole lot of good submissions this year. Possibly this contest has run its course, and there’s not a whole lot of interest left. On the other hand, it’s heartening to know that there aren’t a lot of encryption movie-plot threats out there.

Anyway, here are the semifinalists.

  1. Child pornographers.
  2. Bombing the NSA.
  3. Torture.
  4. Terrorists and a vaccine.
  5. Election systems.

Cast your vote by number here; voting closes at the end of the month.


Previous contests.

Posted on May 14, 2015 at 11:26 PM103 Comments


aboniks May 14, 2015 11:42 PM

If I’m going to pirate a copy of one of these plots it’ll have to be be number five.

You can just roll all the others into the whirl of scene-setting newspaper articles in the opening credits.

Are newspapers in the credits still a thing? Are newspapers?

Andrew Wallace May 15, 2015 12:41 AM

The trend of terrorism at the moment seems to be lone actors. My guess would be more attacks following that trend of low sophistication attacks that have a high impact. I also believe mass surveillance is justified because it is a needle in a haystack to find these people. What the NSA need to do is maintain trust on the types of people they are interested in as spoke about here. Andrew

giulienk May 15, 2015 12:41 AM

I think number 1 would make more impact, but it would need something more. I think it should end like this:
When the policeman is writing his suicide note, he gets interrupted by his superior. In the following confrontation it becomes apparent that it was the superior that ordered the journalist to be shot on sight as he was investigating some people too important to get involved in some child pronography ring. The superior is indeed a believer in cryptography and he knew nothing could have broke the informations on the journalist hard drive.
In the ensuing fight, the superior shoots the policeman with the policeman’s gun, making it look like a suicide.
The superior then testifies before Congress while waving the bloody suicide note (I know it’s not possible, but it’s Hollywood) and arguing that a backdoor should be mandatory in all encryption except the one in matter of national security (really concerned about his own emails).

Ye Old Rocket Scientist May 15, 2015 1:06 AM

#2 – but this is the way that it would really end:

The ABM base protecting the Washington DC area is informed that an ICBM was launched from a precisely known location in North Dakota at a precisely known time and is headed for Fort Mead. Knowing the exact trajectory of the incoming missile, they can trivially calculate an intercept trajectory for their anti-ballistic missile. Intercept occurs 50 miles away and the warhead is successfully destroyed because implosion type nuclear weapons produce no nuclear yield from a single point initiation.

Moral: Unbreakable encryption is irrelevant if you have a compromised endpoint.

3 May 15, 2015 1:18 AM

I vote for number 3.

Also I like giulienk’s comment above with an alternate twist ending for story number 1, it sounds like a more Hollywood-style thriller, with a whole government insider cover-up.

But since we know Hollywood is in bed with the government based on the Sony emails, etc., we can assume they’d hesitate before actually producing any of these film ideas because they all make government officials look bad – the same government people who Hollywood wants favors from.

A Nonny Bunny May 15, 2015 1:52 AM

I vote for bombing the NSA! (Gosh, I hope no one ever takes that out of context)


Antonio Costa May 15, 2015 3:00 AM

I vote for plot number 3 mainly because it mixes cripto and torture, but plot number 5 (although short) is interesting…

disambiguated May 15, 2015 5:55 AM

The problem with continuing the content is that Western governments have pretty much legislated/regulated for the last 15 years as if movie-plot threats were real.

Since we’re all so tired of hearing government and military officials and law enforcement agents spew all these movie-plot threats with straight faces as they work to further restrict our freedoms and deny us the right to secure our persons and our information, the contest has been transformed by events from an amusing satire into grim mirror of everyday reality.

Dave May 15, 2015 9:00 AM


A great little story and a pertinent warning for the future.

As someone who recently voted in the UK General Election, it’s a reminder to me that trudging down to the village hall to put an X on a little piece of paper which then gets shoved in a box, then trudging back home again, may seem old fashioned and low-tech, but is preferable to zeros and ones doing the lambada.

The tip of the Blade May 15, 2015 9:43 AM

Definitely #1. It could even fit into a two part episode on one or another cop shows.

ramriot May 15, 2015 10:30 AM

#3 Sounds very much like the plot of the movie Unthinkable staring Samuel.L.Jackson.

In that plot the bomber was a professor at a US University and had personally built and planted a number of Full Thermonuclear devices. To uncover the location of the devices the torturer Jackson ends up killing the Prof’s wife and finally threatens his children. At which point he gives up the locations.

Unfortunately the prof had always intended to give up all the locations, except one, planted in the worst place to can imagine, fade to black as final device counting to zero.

This entry, only seemed to add a thin veneer of encryption to that plot.

development hell May 15, 2015 10:34 AM

#4 is the only that would play on the big screen–lots of visualizable action, a widespread threat, not too technical, and most importantly, a love interest!

newspaper junkie May 15, 2015 11:08 AM


“Are newspapers in the credits still a thing? Are newspapers?”

“State of Play” (the one with Russell Crowe) is probably the last great “news reporter uncovers political conspiracy” movie. It has a cute print v. digital angle and the closing credits are a brilliant elegy-montage for ink + paper news, a small movie in itself.

War Geek May 15, 2015 11:39 AM

Vote for #2

I can just imagine it done as a Dr. Strangelove style comedy of errors complete with CGI Peter Sellers playing many of the characters. Icing on the cake would be if the movie ended with the same ‘We’ll meet again’ theme.

Nick P May 15, 2015 11:41 AM

@ Bruce

Number 2: it’s the only time we can vote to “Bomb the NSA” without 6 hours of interrogation. 🙂

@ Ye Old Rocket Scientist

(sighs) Good catch. My movie plot counters that possibility with ignorance of mainstream audience. 😛

Andrew Wallace May 15, 2015 11:55 AM

Nick P • May 15, 2015 11:41 AM

@ Bruce

Number 2: it’s the only time we can vote to “Bomb the NSA”

Knock knock

Who is it?

The police

We want to speak to you about your online comment regarding the NSA


Gewihir May 15, 2015 12:08 PM

Number 5

But I have to say I like them all! I do not think these are bad compared to previous years, I just think it was more difficult this time. And I would definitely like one more next year.

boog May 15, 2015 4:02 PM


While I’m understandably partial to my own entry, I have to instead cast a vote for #5.

The system was encrypted end to end and all the votes were cryptographically anonymized.

It’s brilliant – that sentence describes clearly GOOD uses of encryption in a voting system, but you drop it (unchanged) into the story and suddenly it sounds like BAD uses of encryption. That’s just the kind of audience manipulation I look for in the propaganda I consume.

I guess I’ll just have to buy unsigned copies of Bruce’s books.

Godel May 15, 2015 6:44 PM

I’ll vote #5.

BTW if you leave out the encryption part, I think the first season of TV series 24 had the “hero” torture a suspect as a first resort as a way to obtain time critical information.

remo May 15, 2015 6:59 PM

Number 4 for being the most watchable of the plots.

I can see myself sitting down to watch this at the movie theater with my friends. Starring Bruce Willis as the FBI Agent and The Rock as the evil terrorist leader.

Not sure who would be the hacker, maybe Jimmi Simpson

Zenzero May 15, 2015 9:10 PM

#2, simplest way to restore peoples privacy rights around the world (at least from western governments, which been as invasive as the nsa are, no harm at all)

Buck May 15, 2015 11:50 PM

#2 — but with the real ending

Not a whole lot of good submissions this year. Possibly this contest has run its course, and there’s not a whole lot of interest left.

Ha! Is that a subtle joke or some kind of weird warrant canary..? I thought there were tons of great ones! The comedic plot was so funny, I almost pooped my pants! 😛

Anon May 16, 2015 4:44 AM

  1. Because this is actually the sort of real problem that law enforcement policy makers are having to figure out right now. Anon due to employer.

number 3 but 1 is good too May 16, 2015 5:34 AM

I would pick number 3 (torture story) first, but number 1 (child pornography story) was a very close second. Both good.

blather May 16, 2015 10:33 AM

#5 has to win in order to satisfy the tautology that all electronic voting is rigged.

JonKnowsNothing May 17, 2015 11:17 PM

Number 5 Election systems.

Just how DID the Tories get that enormous landslide? RL imitating Sci-Fi?

Jim Minatel May 18, 2015 8:39 AM

#5 is the most original but I’d have to agree that this year’s crop is weak. I don’t think any of these would have been finalists in previous years. I don’t think the contest has run its course though. More likely that there’s just some Snowden fatigue with reality being much more unbelievable this past year than fiction.

255 May 20, 2015 12:37 PM

  1. While they’re all good, 4 has the best material to construct a great story.

Please keep it going. Encryption is a hard one to write a great storyline for. The audience here knows encryption taking away creative inventive misuse of the technical info. Nobody here would even think of decrypting the 10 digit key one numbet at a time from Wargames. But it was great movie fodder.

papa June 8, 2015 12:50 AM


#1 is retarded. #2 I would count as a positive thing, not a threat. #3 is overused. #4… Well I just don’t see how that’d work out. So #5 it is.

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