Some movies rely heavily on some aspect of technology (and its development, and the ramifications when things go awry) to advance their plot. These are my ten favorite tech films of all time!
10) The Fly (1958) – Teleporters would be awesome, right? What could possibly go wrong? The original 1958 classic does a great job of staying on the edge of “plausible deniability” in scaring the bejabbers out of the viewer! I didn’t think the Jeff Goldblum / Geena Davis remake was terrible. In some ways, it was definitely better than the original. For this list, I have to go with the 1958 version because the ending is so much better. “Help me! Please, help meeee!”
9) WALL-E (2008) – Yes, I have kids. Yes, I watch Disney movies. Occasionally, I even watch one when the kids aren’t around (Mary Poppins is still one of my all-time favorites). This one took a movie plot that is generally only reserved for trying to unsettle adult audiences, and made it accessible and fun for all ages. It still provokes the question of “what would happen if all the people were gone”, but without the cataclysmic darkness that puts most films like this into the “after the kids go to bed” time slot.
8) Apollo 13 (1995) – When the original mission (landing on the moon) of the Apollo 13 crew has to be scrubbed, a new mission takes its place (saving the astronauts’ lives as they return to Earth). Can you design something to rescue three imperiled astronauts using things like the flight plan cover, duct tape, and socks, before the CO2 levels in the capsule overtake them? How did it actually work?
7) The Terminator (1984) – C’mon. It’s The Terminator. Do you really need to know any more?
6) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – Why did this make my list?
The whole thing couldn’t have been possible without Ferris using a room full of outrageously geeky (for its time) technology to hack the house intercom system, provide medical sound effects, and even hack into the school computer system to eliminate an overabundance of absences. All that, and he couldn’t figure out how to make the odometer go backwards on a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder?
5) Office Space (1999) – The premise of the central plot element in this movie makes you think, “Well, yeah, what DOES happen to the fraction of a cent that gets dropped off of all those financial transactions?” The rest of the movie is built on the positive and negative interactions between the personalities of the characters, but the thoroughly believable idea of siphoning minuscule amounts of money to create a multi-million dollar bank account, and sticking it to the man, practically dares us not to identify with the cubicle dwellers getting screwed at every turn. And who hasn’t wanted to hand out a little street justice by curb-stomping a laser printer that spouted “PC LOAD LETTER” just once too often?
4) Minority Report (2002) – Smart move, setting this movie just far
enough into the future that I can imagine myself being still alive should the world turn into something like this. A blend of humans with special abilities (“Precogs”) and technology has allowed law enforcement to detect when someone is going to commit a crime. Using this technology, they preempt the crimes from occurring and arrest the would-be perpetrator just as if they had committed the crime. We were awed by the “spatial operating environment interface” that John Anderton used when he slipped on the special gloves. Little did we know that only a few years later, multi-touch surfaces and devices like the Xbox Kinect would make those science fiction morsels become a tasty reality long before 2054!
3) Tron (1982) – We didn’t even know what a “hacker” was in 1982,
but the concept of getting trapped inside a virtual video game world was fertile ground for Disney’s second entry in my list. See, kids, back in the 80s, we had to go to a mall to a place called an “arcade” to play video games. And the guy who ran the arcade had the coolest job in the world. There is a bit of cognitive dissonance that still goes on in my head – I refuse to believe that the Jeff Bridges from this movie is the same Jeff Bridges from any of his other movies. Nuh-uh, no way, nohow.
2) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Stanley Kubrick just has a way of making “poison ivy” movies. They get under your skin and itch until you have to scratch it, and it just makes the itch worse. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.”
1) WarGames (1983) – Matthew Broderick makes another appearance on my list, this time with the quintessential tech-based
movie of all time. When you’re working on a text-based terminal, how do you know what’s “real”, and what’s just a construct of artificial intelligence? I was already a burgeoning computer nerd at the time, having written my own Casino and Horse Racing programs in Applesoft Basic on a VTech Laser 128 during a snowstorm-lengthened winter break from school, and this movie put dreams in my head of one day doing things with a computer that would go beyond my own house. “Shall we play a game?”
Obviously, I’ve chosen several movies that bridge a gap between implementing technology (“can we do it?”) and philosophy (“should we do it?”), which has long provided a foundational element for plots in movies, literature, etc. What movies did I miss that I should have included? Which one of these movies doesn’t deserve to be in the list? Go ahead, have at it!