First Uses of Technology in Movies (Mobile Phones, Modems and More)

kirk communicator

It’s hilarious to look back at movies that tried to use new technology as plot points but don’t understand exactly how it works. Like the Internet in anything from Weird Science to The Net. But think about the first time a new piece of technology shows up in a movie for the first time. It isn’t always part of the public awareness so sometimes it’s either confusing or the audience is just thinking, “Well that’s a bit sci-fi but whatever.” Below are the first instances that we could find of technology including mobile phones, fax machines, the internet, GPS and more.

Mobile Phone

sabrina car phone

Before cell phones came car phones. These were actually connected to the phone network by radio waves. The first instance we can find of it appearing on film is Sabrina (1954) starring Humphrey Bogart. But what he uses is actually a ridiculous prop with a massive antenna. I bet audiences were shaking their heads at the time going, “Why would the filmmakers add something so silly?”

Fax Machine

bullitt fax machine

Bullitt (1968) appears to be the first use of a fax machine on screen. They really didn’t become commonplace in American business until the late 80s. At the time, it took about 6 minutes for the telecopier (as it was known then) to print a page. And it was very noisy. In the movie they edit it down and he gets a page in 40 seconds. Still a bit slow by today’s standards but it must have seemed like something out of Star Trek at the time.

Modem

modem in brainstorm

War Games in 1983 used a modem but at least they sort of explain what it is and how it works. Another movie that came out in 1983 used the modem in much more unintentionally hilarious fashion. In Brainstorm Christopher Walken uses a modem to dials in to a mainframe at a factory that makes computer parts, and directs its robots to go berserk, destroying the lab. He hacked the machines with a phone call!

GPS

gps nothing but trouble

Nothing But Trouble (1991) seems to be the first use of a GPS. This terrible, terrible, just godawful movie by Dan Akroyd, also starring Chevy Chase bizarrely uses it as though it was commonplace at the time. The main characters are rich yuppies that are detestable but the movie wants us to think of them as heroes. Chase owns an amazing BMW that gets him Demi Moore. It has a GPS which was actually regional maps that could be loaded by cartridge at the time. But it looked like something out of the future. I remember being stunned by the first GPS I saw in 2000 and this was 9 years earlier.

The Internet

internet the net

1995 doesn’t seem like that long ago but that was the year that the Internet blew up and everyone started using it. Sure, versions of it had been around for a long time and we certainly knew computers could “talk” to one another over phone lines but ’95 appears to be the first use of the term “Internet”. There were two movies about “hacking” it that year: Hackers and The Net. The Net beat it by a few months and is much worse. It preys on all the early fears of how easily your identity could be compromised on the Internet as well as how easy it could be to be spied on. Sandra Bullock plays a super hot hacker who invents a program that can unlock any secure site. Everyone wants it and corrupt government people are able to instantly delete her identity and put her on the run. It would look 100% ridiculous within minutes of its release.