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9/3/2014
08:05 AM
Michael Endler
Michael Endler
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10 Cringe-Worthy Tech Moments In Movies

From a PowerBook that defeats alien spaceships to cyber terrorists who take over the US with a few keystrokes, Hollywood makes ridiculous tech gaffes. Which is the worst?

Occasionally, Hollywood releases a movie that expertly balances cinematic drama with technical accuracy, such as Apollo 13, or The Social Network. This is not an article about those sorts of movies.

When exotic technology hits the silver screen, audiences are pretty willing to suspend disbelief; after all, of the 10 highest-grossing films in US history, half revolve around alien races and interstellar travel. But when filmmakers get sloppy or overindulgent, even viewers in search of mindless, escapist entertainment can accept only so much. Some films disregard reality so thoroughly, viewers can't help but incredulously whisper "Really?" as laughable plot turns pile up.

These less-accurate movies are what we're here to discuss -- and, in a way, to celebrate. Some of the films we've listed are tough to defend, marred by tech mistakes so stupid they derail the entire film. Others create a "so bad it's good" vibe, while some still manage to be genuinely strong films despite their inaccuracies. Which movies fall into which category? We're got our favorites -- but let us know in the comments what you think, and whether we missed your favorite cinematic tech blunder.

Beware of spoilers!

1. Independence Day
Independence Day was a huge hit back in 1996; with almost 70 million tickets sold, it attracted more domestic theater-goers than all but seven films released in the 18 years since. Despite this popularity, the film's climax relies on one of the dumbest tech-related plot twists in movie history.

Jeff Goldblum helplessly tries to explain to Will Smith how he learned an alien programming language in only a few hours. (Source: Clevver Movies, YouTube)
Jeff Goldblum helplessly tries to explain to Will Smith how he learned an alien programming language in only a few hours.
(Source: Clevver Movies, YouTube)

Jeff Goldblum's character somehow creates a software virus that can make an alien mothership self-destruct. No earthling has ever seen this mothership, but that's a trivial concern. After all, Goldblum has access to a smaller alien craft that just inexplicably turned on for the first time in 30 years. That's evidently more than enough for a cinematic IT hero to work with. Amazingly, he accomplishes most of this with an Apple PowerBook. Perhaps the extraterrestrials program in Objective C?

2. Enemy of the State
Enemy of the State isn't the first movie in which characters can magically magnify images without losing any resolution. But the 1998 Will Smith thriller takes the concept to a new -- and stupefying -- level.

Just watch the above clip in which Jack Black takes a snippet of footage from a single security camera, uses it to miraculously create a 3D computerized model of the scene, and rotates the model to reveal "evidence" that was never actually recorded in the first place. Remarkably, his computer does all of this in real time. Black's character qualifies that the 3D rendering represents only the computer's "hypothesized" scene -- but that's just the film's way of imploring audiences not to think too hard.

3. The Dark Knight Rises
Director Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight films were insanely popular at the box office; among all movie trilogies, only the two Star Wars trilogies sold more domestic tickets. Given their visual grandeur, Nolan's films generally

Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio
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rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
9/3/2014 | 8:39:32 AM
Doesn't "War Games" Explain Ferris' Feat?
I don't think "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" belongs on this list.  The '83 movie "War Games" does an extremely plausible job explaining how David broke into the school's system.  That film opened in '83 and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" opened in '86.  I've always thought Ferris' attendance hack scene in the later movie was a throwback to the earlier movie.  Regarding a school system being on-line, dialup modem access was extremely popular in the '80s.  Remote access for regular staff might not have been popular but there was always access for IT admins and I thought IBM required such access as a necessary part of their support contracts.
MemphisITDude
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MemphisITDude,
User Rank: Strategist
9/3/2014 | 8:13:40 AM
Excellent article
After WEP was cracked, I had to reverse a little of my disbelief on TimeCop, where Jean Claude jumps on the network and is in the police database instantly. On the subject of television, the tech of 24 is very amusing as well.... There is always a discussion of very low-level concepts (ports, hard drive sectors) by the highest-level executives, and the wiring closet is a very hazardous place to be.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
9/2/2014 | 12:04:13 PM
Re: Destroy the... monitor?
And they always explode, too! In beautiful showers of red, gold, and blue.
msmith801
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msmith801,
User Rank: Strategist
9/2/2014 | 12:00:45 PM
Re: Sorry, Family
A bigger queston in Firewall: who is playing the "role of tape"?
Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
9/2/2014 | 11:47:49 AM
Destroy the... monitor?
I get a kick out of how often in movies and TV shows that someone destroys a computer, thereby destroying the data/program/etc, by smashing the monitor.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
9/2/2014 | 9:42:15 AM
Sorry, Family
Given the countless problems I have with iTunes, if my world imitated "Firewall" and I played a real-life Harrison Ford, my famly would be history. I'd still be on the phone or instant messaging service with Apple support, trying to reset my password again.
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