Hollywood’s goals may include high profits and entertaining movies, but ensuring the factual realism of their screenplays may never factor into the final product. While in most movies it is easy to suspend belief or to wish that we could have the same cell phone as Batman, in some movies focused on technology and science, it can be difficult to separate ourselves from the vision the studio had when creating the work.
Some of these movies didn’t age well and some of these movies didn’t really understand their topic to begin with. But all of these movies put aside reality when it comes to technology.
Let me start off by saying that I love the movie “Hackers” and I will still say that Zero Cool is my hacker name. Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I saw this movie at the age of 11 in the theater and it made me want to be a computer hacker even though we had only gotten AOL that same year. I realized that same year that hacking was not like what it looked like in the movie, did not feature fighting literal worms on the web, and involved more coding than anything else. But what the movie lacks in actual technical facts and believable hacking scenes, it makes up in an awesome soundtrack and a young Angelina Jolie.
2. “Johnny Mnemonic”
My first iPod was 5GB and I can remember being shocked at the idea of having that much space for music. My current iPhone has over 9GB of just music. In the movie “Johnny Mnemonic”, Keanu Reeves has 160 GB of data in his head and its sheer size could kill him. While you can’t fault a movie from 1995 for underestimating our future data size, you can fault it for being confusing, lazy (compare the plot of the movie to the short story to see the lost possibilities), and having a dolphin as a resistance leader.
3. “The Net”
Like Hackers, I saw “The Net” in the theater when I was 11 and wanted to be a hacker. Or at least have a dual monitor setup like Sandra Bullock’s computer engineer character. Many of the movies on the list use a misunderstanding of technology to create suspense for their audience. In this case, “The Net” is focused on identity theft and what could happen if your identity was stolen. But instead of the set of plane tickets I had identity thieves purchase with my debit card, Sandra Bullock’s pursuers give her identity a new name and a criminal record. At the time, this was believable when most people’s experience of the internet were through service providers like AOL or Prodigy. Now the movie plays like a Dateline special on being careful who you talk to on the internet.
However, out of every movie on this list, I vote “The Net” gets an update for today’s audience. With smartphones and social networking, the idea of hackers ruining your life gets more realistic and more scary.
4. “Independence Day”
“Independence Day” is a great example of a movie that allows you to put aside reality but, for this movie viewer, gets stuck on the one most ridiculous plot point ever featuring a Mac. Yes, this is an action movie and looking for a realistic deus ex machina might be asking too much. Yes, as a watcher, I still love almost all of this movie. Yes, I understand that getting hung up on one scene in a movie is silly.
But when Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith upload their virus to the aliens’ computer system, I can only feel a rare version of nerd rage. Luckily Dean Devlin has promised that "Independence Day 2" the question of Mac compatibility will finally be answered.
“Antitrust” is another example of a movie that does many things right but still doesn’t succeed in being technically believable. Featuring Linux and open-source software, the makers of the film did try to infuse it with some great technical information. But when that is viewed against Tim Robbins’ best Bill Gates impression and it is in the framework of stopping open source forever in the name of their corporation, the attempt at realism is completely lost in the ridiculous corporate espionage.