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Great Tech Movies

Frank Ahrens

I saw "The Prestige" last night, which my colleague and Post reviewer Ann Hornaday called this year's best magic-at-the-turn-of-the-century movie.

Surprisingly, given the esoteric nature of the film, moviegoers agree. "The Prestige" (which refers to the third act of a magician's routine) won last weekend's box office.

It's also the best technology movie I've seen in some time.

The plot concerns a rivalry between two Victorian England magicians, played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. Michael Caine plays magician's engineer, coming up with fabulous devices to help them perform the tricks, such as a spring-loaded mechanical backpack that Jackman wears under his jacket onstage, full of levers and pulleys and cables. (The literary genre of Victorian engineering-ahead-of-its-time is an admittedly narrow one, but includes H.G. Wells's "The Time Machine" and William Gibson's "The Difference Engine," both worth reading.)

As a bonus, "The Prestige" features David Bowie(!) playing genius/crazyman inventor Nikola Tesla, whom you should spend a few minutes Googling. (Or watching the PBS documentary.)

"The Prestige" got me thinking: What are some of the great technology movies of all time? Some are sci-fi, obviously, but others are set in the here and now.

Here are eight quick ones that my buds in the office and I came up with, in no particular order. Take a look and add yours, using the blog's comment feature at the bottom. We'll come up with a definitive list.

-- "Blade Runner" (1982): Ridley Scott's breakout, starring Harrison Ford as cop whose job is to "retire" (i.e., smoke) "replicants," or androids. Set in a near-future L.A. that looks like a dark, rainy, down-at-the-heels Tokyo. An example of dystopian tech.

-- "Brazil" (1985): Monty Python's Terry Gilliam directs Robert De Niro and others in an Orwellian, Kafka-esque future full of tubes, wires and ductwork.

-- The Bond ouvre: Thanks to Q, Bond James Bond always had fascinating technology, from the Aston Martin with the ejector seat to the remote-controlled BMW to the cigarette rocket-launcher. We won't mention "Moonraker." (On the TV side, don't forget Maxwell Smart's wireless shoe phone.)

-- The Matrix trilogy (1999-2003): When it comes down to it, human beings are nothing more than batteries.

-- "Star Trek: First Contact" (1996): A nice juxtaposition of shiny new-tech and crunky old-tech. Capt. Picard and the U.S.S. Enterprise of the 24th century time-travel back to Earth in 2063, in the wake of a nuclear war, where car-mechanic scientists are living in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, drinking hooch and building the first warp-drive spaceship out of an old ICBM.

-- "Office Space" (1999): Never has there been a more compelling depiction of the impotent rage of tech workers when faced with malfunctioning equipment. (Shout-out to my colleague and tech columnist Rob Pegoraro for this and the next two excellent synopses.)

-- "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968): Useful cautionary tale about the perils of programming a computer with mutually conflicting goals.

-- "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (2004): Using technology to clean up after human failings doesn't work.

Now, it's your turn. Tell me which movies you can't believe I left off the list.

By Frank Ahrens  |  October 23, 2006; 4:11 PM ET  | Category:  Frank Ahrens
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Comments

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Frank, man, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That's a much must-have tech flick.

Posted by: RW | October 23, 2006 3:43 PM

Cmon! Where is Terminator on this list???

Posted by: Arnold S. | October 23, 2006 3:55 PM

Serenity. A junk-yard cowboy space movie.

Posted by: DLR | October 23, 2006 4:00 PM

Anything with Harold Lloyd. Sure, it was all 20th (or 19th) century technology (trains, big clocks, early autos), but the way Lloyd interacted with it was and is still genius.

Posted by: Don | October 23, 2006 4:04 PM

Back to the Future..."1.21 Gigawatts...What was I thinking?"

Posted by: Limekiln | October 23, 2006 4:06 PM

Yes. Don is exactly right.
Everyone should try to see a Harold Lloyd film if you haven't.
Chaplin was sui generis but Lloyd was really something else and is unjustifiably overlooked.
An amazing acrobat, doing certifiably death-defying stunts, but also a subtle commentator on man's interaction with technology at the adolescence of the Industrial Age.
This makes me think also of "Metropolis." A little heavy-handed, perhaps (the Christ-on-the-clock imagery) but way ahead of its time.

Posted by: Frank Ahrens | October 23, 2006 4:18 PM

The best tech movie evar is War Games!!! This is the movie that got me interested in technology as a kid. How did this title not come up yet?

Posted by: Troy | October 23, 2006 4:22 PM

Well, if War Games is on the list, then why not Dr. Strangelove?

Posted by: RW | October 23, 2006 4:32 PM

THX-1138: "If you feel you are not properly sedated, call 348-844 immediately."

Posted by: Paul | October 23, 2006 4:44 PM

C'mon ... 2 Kubrick films, but not "A Clockwork Orange" -- technology to save society can kill society! I absolutely LOVE Dr. Strangelove, perhaps my favorite of all-time; however, I'm not sure it would be a "technology" film. It's more of a politico film; technology is only a reference tool ("We must not allow a mine-shaft gap!").

And of those already named, props to Blade Runner, 2001, and Eternal Sunshine ... BTW, anyone seen "A Scanner Darkly" yet?

Posted by: Chris | October 23, 2006 5:26 PM

How about Aliens? The first one.

Posted by: Diheedral | October 23, 2006 7:07 PM

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (another by Fleming). Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Jurassic Park. WestWorld. And if you like camp, how about Galaxy Quest?

Posted by: Brett Glass | October 23, 2006 8:12 PM

Hey... I have to admit I can think of many that fit the list, but the one that stands out in my mind (which didn't get very good reviews or ratings) was Keanu "Johnny Mnemonic". This mid-ninties film was so on-track, with the bombbardment of Windows 95 and 98 around the corner. Technology was big stuff back then. Johnny was a messanger and had a limited sized storage capacity embedded in his skull. Of course, he went over his limit with super classified data. He was a time-bomb. When I seen it when it first came out, I was truly amazed at the technical details. But again, that was the mid-ninties.

Posted by: Ed in Japan | October 24, 2006 2:13 AM

Silent Running

Dark Star

Posted by: Joe | October 24, 2006 7:49 AM

"The Remains of the Day," "The Gloaming," anything with Cher.

Posted by: Crantastic | October 24, 2006 8:30 AM

The 6th Day with Arnold! Ha! Just Kidding! Total Recall with Arnold! NOT KIDDING!

Posted by: No-Life | October 24, 2006 9:02 AM

Gotta include Apollo 13. The scene in the simulator trying to determine how to power up without going over the limited amp's available, and the scene where the engineer throws a bunch of stuff on the table and says we've got this to work with to make a square peg fit into a round hole in order to keep the CO2 levels under control. Great stuff, all the more so because it was real.

Posted by: djm | October 24, 2006 9:03 AM

Ooh--I agree with Ed. Differs a bit from the book, but cool movie.

Posted by: jane | October 24, 2006 9:14 AM

Don't forget Slaughter House 5. Movie was a bit of a let down from the book but the Tralfamadore episodes show some pretty advanced technology. As a note, JS Bach music in the background added a lot of color to the introduction to Dresden.

Posted by: kb | October 24, 2006 9:33 AM

I expected to see "Gattaca" among these.

Posted by: Kevin B | October 24, 2006 9:35 AM

I can't believe STAR WARS is not on the list yet! Without a doubt the most techie movie ever - opening scene to the death star blowing up.

Another interesting tech movie would beGattica.

Thanks

Posted by: JS | October 24, 2006 9:40 AM

Two to be consider:
Metropolis by Fritz Lang
MAde in late 20´s in the 2oth Century
Introduced: Robots, Cell phones, Long Range Airplanes, human clonal selection & artificial human reproduction (in vitro?),videoconference and eventually tech (manipulated by some) overcoming mankind´s will, until something happens..

The second ( please be critic on this one)
Star Wars original trilogy, specially second part Empire´s strikes back.
Was the reintroduction of fairy tales (Jedi) mixed with Martial Arts and Budism / Dalai Lama philosophical morale.
In tech part: Androids as never seen (early 80´s). Hyperwarp, artifical human implants (first robot arm...) Tridimensional images (before IMAX...) and some more...

I agree on Blade Runner.. (my 3rd favorite)

Posted by: Jerry in Mexico | October 24, 2006 9:51 AM

"Primer" - hands down.

Posted by: Foobar | October 24, 2006 10:01 AM

Dunno why I thought immediately of "Desk Set." Also "Demolition Man."

Posted by: John E. | October 24, 2006 10:16 AM

Sneakers

Posted by: Chip Chanko | October 24, 2006 10:36 AM

Aloha: I can't believe no one mentioned ET yet or even The Wizard of OZ, The War of The Worlds, Movies and their imaging effects were based on the Movie Technology of their day. We do tend to get better. Vrspy Buzz Baer Kailua HI

Posted by: Buzz Baer | October 24, 2006 10:40 AM

As an computer programmer I can say without a doubt that War Games is almost universally mentioned as the one movie that inspired the most technologists to get into the field. The reason being its realism. Matthew Broderick's character was a true-to-life nerd and not an Urkelesque stereotype. It is lauded by technologists with as much enthusiasm as Hackers (1995) is ridiculed.

I would say that Blade Runner and 2001 top my list for best sci-fi movies dealing with technology. These were both great art.

Posted by: Josh | October 24, 2006 11:01 AM

Another TV suggestion-- the Six Million Dollar Man!

Although, I don't know if the pricetag was realistic then, and I'm sure it's not realistic now!

Posted by: factcheckr | October 24, 2006 11:14 AM

Real Genius, classic tech movie with quirky aspects. This movie is a hacker must-see.
Stargate, the movie had a nice theme and good effects.
Silent Running, good tech sci-fi eco-movie. A classic in the genre.
Soylent Green, dystopian sci-fi with overpopulation as a main theme. Of course, It's Made of People!!
Men In Black, really good tech movie, winds up themes of secret aliens with comedy and tech well.


Posted by: Gentry | October 24, 2006 11:17 AM

The one that came to my mind immediately was Sneakers. I can watch that over and over again.

Posted by: M.C. Fredericksburg | October 24, 2006 11:18 AM

I strongly agree with your list, especially the inclusion of Brazil and 2001. However you omitted one of the very best Tech movies of all time.

Metropolis (1927) - It is the future, and humans are divided into two groups: the thinkers, who make plans (but don't know how anything works), and the workers, who achieve goals (but don't have the vision)... - from IMDB

A few other great ones:

The Island (2005) - Solid treatise on the direction cloning is headed for.

The Fifth Element (1999) - Supremely entertaining look at the future along with a carefully written script.

Time Bandits (1981) - Fascinating actors play out implications of time and theology.

Posted by: thw2001 | October 24, 2006 11:30 AM

Apollo 13 and the Great Escape. The Great Escape was not high technology, but like Apollo 13, it had to be designed and implemented on the fly.

Posted by: Gary | October 24, 2006 11:32 AM

Solaris - the original Russian version

Tron

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Posted by: DeePee | October 24, 2006 11:44 AM

The Right Stuff. Dealing with the diminishing role of the human element on the march into space, it's easy to overlook.

Gotta agree with War Games, too.

Posted by: bookhall | October 24, 2006 12:11 PM

Disclosure was very good, and very techy.

A.I.'s a no brainer.

Mission Impossible's are pretty techy

Pi

Contact

Posted by: tech fan | October 24, 2006 12:16 PM

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - Clinically depressed robots, infinite improbability drive, custom-made planet building, and worlds that are in fact supercomputers attempting to discern the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything

Posted by: HerkDriver | October 24, 2006 12:29 PM

Colossus: The Forbin Project
Andromeda Strain

The latter especially has some howlers but both are thoughtful and worthwhile.

Posted by: richard schumacher | October 24, 2006 12:37 PM

You know, I recently saw "Colossus" for the first time. It was made in 1970 and today, it's easy to scoff at the "nothing can go wrong...go wrong...go wrong..." computer-gone-mad trope but back then--during the Cold War--it was not as laughable. It was about a smart computer designed to run the U.S. missile system that decides humans, not the Sovs, are the threat. A predecessor to Skynet of "Terminator" fame.
As for "Andromeda Strain," it was what hooked me, as a kid, on Michael Crichton. Some great set design and good action.

Posted by: Frank Ahrens | October 24, 2006 12:51 PM

Jurrasic park.

Posted by: ASL | October 24, 2006 12:54 PM

Starman

Hey bookhall you're right on re: The Right Stuff

Posted by: DeePee | October 24, 2006 1:11 PM

How about Wargames or Tron

Posted by: cohenmr | October 24, 2006 1:22 PM

Between Time & Timbuktu (a guilty pleasure)

Posted by: DeePee | October 24, 2006 1:32 PM

Nick Roeg had a couple of winners: "The Man Who Fell to Earth" with mental polaroids. And "Insignificance" with Marilyn Monroe describing the theory of relativity to Albert Einstein using dime store models.

"Westworld" with theme-park androids: nothing can possibly go worng. They had a real hard time getting the android-eye view with pixelization, but it worked.

Posted by: Rick | October 24, 2006 1:42 PM

The Thirteenth Floor is a "must" on this list.

Posted by: TWaterman | October 24, 2006 1:54 PM

Come on Guys..... Anything Jules Vern; Any 'Horror' movie made in the 50's; "20K Leagues Under the Sea", "Journey to the Center of the Earth", "Rocket to the Moon", "King Kong", Etc. Ok, let's try all of the Godzilla Movies; and finally, for fun, how about "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", "Short Circuit" and my personal Fav "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".

Posted by: LouS | October 24, 2006 2:22 PM

"Dark City"--Matrix looks derivative next to it. Here's a quote from it: "I know this is gonna sound crazy, but what if we never knew each other before now... and everything you remember, and everything that I'm supposed to remember, never really happened, someone just wants us to think it did?"

Posted by: Sheila | October 24, 2006 2:25 PM

The Day the Earth Stood Still

classic!

Posted by: Inayah | October 24, 2006 2:31 PM

Existence

an underrated and pre-matrix film.

Snow Crash - good book but never made into a film...matrix almost hits it though.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 24, 2006 2:32 PM

Bravo on the inclusion of "Brazil" it was shear genius. What about Steve Martin trying to program his voice recognition answering machine in "L.A. Story"?

Posted by: Terry | October 24, 2006 2:36 PM

Lots of great movies mentioned here, from "Metropolis" to "Blade Runner".


How about:

Movies:
"Fail-Safe" (1964) - technology that can go wrong.

"The Conversation" (1974) - technology was integral to the movie's plot.

"Back to the Future Part II" (1989) - for scenes incorporating technology into everyday life.


Television:
"Mission: Impossible". Every week, the team had to have their gadgets and gizmos.

Posted by: Randall | October 24, 2006 3:27 PM

Tron. However dumb, it was one of the first to go into game-computer-world things. And who can forget that blabbermouth "Bit" character?

Posted by: Jessica | October 24, 2006 3:29 PM

Lots of great movies mentioned here, from "Metropolis" to "Blade Runner" to "2001: A Space Odyssey".


How about:

Movies:
"Fail-Safe" (1964) - technology that can go wrong, and does.

"The Conversation" (1974) - technology was integral to the movie's plot.

"Back to the Future Part II" (1989) - for scenes incorporating technology into everyday life.

"Minority Report" (2002) - use of biometrics, computers, etc in everyday life.


Television:
"Mission: Impossible". Every week, the team had to have their gadgets and gizmos.

Posted by: Anonymous | October 24, 2006 3:56 PM

The Net.

SHould make everyone think.

Posted by: Riain | October 24, 2006 4:16 PM

Sneakers came to mind first. I'm glad other people rememeber Colossus and The Andromeda Strain, both of which I saw in my youth.

There was also a TV series of that era which no one remembers, called Search. It ran for one year on NBC, 1972 or so, and was about a trio of high-tech private eyes (they didn't work together, they rotated each week -- Hugh O'Brian, Tony Franciosa and Doug McClure). They had radios implanted in their ears and a camera and microphone disguised as a ring. Burgess Meredith ran mission control where they could see and hear everything that happened. It was really cool and I'd love to find a DVD of it.

Posted by: Cosmo | October 24, 2006 4:49 PM

What about Frankenstein and the Fly and in their many incarnations? The ultimate cautionary tales about man playing god?

Weird Science, Demon Seed, Re-Animator, Videodrome, Looker, Ghost in the Machine and even in a strange way, the box from Hellraiser is a form of technology...
(Ok, not all of them are "great" movies but they are cult classics nonetheless...)

Of course, pretty much anything by Chritchton...

Also, as people are bringing up TV shows, what about classic British programs such as the Prisoner, Doctor Who, Blakes 7, and Red Dwarf (Hitchiker's was already mentioned)


Posted by: Heather | October 24, 2006 5:00 PM

The 1st weapon of mass destruction,by best Dr stangelove.

Posted by: rndawson | October 24, 2006 5:47 PM

yes, Colossus: The Forbin Project, and The Andromeda Strain

also, The China Syndrome wasn't bad . . .

Posted by: vaporland | October 24, 2006 8:14 PM

das boot, for man as trapped rat in and utter
dependent of his creation to save him from the
age-old hazard of being killed by his fellow
man's best know-how. short on escapism, though,
especially post-Kursk and with everything else
going on

Posted by: knows-no-sci-fi | October 24, 2006 9:51 PM

I'm I the only one old enough to remember Forbidden Planet----a science fiction classic?

Posted by: leojhud | October 24, 2006 10:09 PM

Event Horizon
Dune

Posted by: deakon24 | October 24, 2006 11:32 PM

Finally, someone mentioned Forbidden Planet. Even as an adult, I find the idea of a power source that is 20 miles cubed fascinating. And, who could forget Altaira, played by the leggy Anne Francis.

Posted by: rdavis | October 25, 2006 10:48 AM

Tron comes to mind first, but the others listed are good (and just about any anime could make the list).

Also, the The Black Hole and Fantastic Voyage are solid, albeit Disney.

...and interestingly enough:
Willy Wonka (Wilder, NOT Depp!)

Posted by: GenX | October 25, 2006 6:10 PM

Another vote for Forbidden Planet: one of the crew members has the memorable job title of "Quantum Mechanic"

Also I have to second Dark Star, hilarious, especially the existential argument with a smart bomb...

Did anyone mention Woody Allen's Sleeper?

How about "A Boy and his Dog" -- starring a young Don Johnson in a world after nuclear holocaust -- great punch line at the end -- be sure to wait for it :)

Posted by: Paul | October 26, 2006 11:36 PM

I cannot believe only Foobar and Tech talked about Primer and PI. Primer, by far one of the BEST never watched by anyone Tech movies, EVER!!!

Posted by: Bladzalot | October 28, 2006 5:31 PM

Yes "War Games". I agree with many of the ones mentioned already. I think "Minority Report" and "Enemy of the State" were Wowser! techno flicks for me. When Gene Hackman showed Will Smith all the unbelievable ways of tracking people, it totally blew me away! Unfortunately, all of that is probably true. And we're woried about Identity Theft? HA!

Posted by: Mobius | October 28, 2006 6:34 PM

The Seven Samurai (1954) depicts how the introduction of firearms in 16th century Japan gave the less-skilled and dishonorable members of society the ability to kill the best-trained of Samurai with relative ease and complete anonymity. A technological breakthrough requiring minimum talent and effort to use, giving lethal comfort to generations of cowards yet to come. The end of honor.

Posted by: munkle | October 28, 2006 8:59 PM

There are some great sci-fi movies in anime. Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Vampire D, Steamboy.

There are also some cool tv series too, like Cowboy Bebop, the various Gundam series, Last Exile, Seven Samurai.

Posted by: Alex | November 6, 2006 11:39 PM

Record company EMI sign a deal with the estate of crooner Dean Martin to use the singer's likeness...

Posted by: Billy Jay | November 16, 2006 6:15 PM

Record company EMI sign a deal with the estate of crooner Dean Martin to use the singer's likeness...

Posted by: Billy Jay | November 16, 2006 6:15 PM

Social networking site MySpace is to block users from uploading copyrighted music to its pages...

Posted by: Stone Mccray | December 5, 2006 1:07 PM

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