6 Things Hollywood Always Gets Wrong About Technology

Guy McDowell 20-05-2015

Ignorance is bliss, and Hollywood is always blissfully unaware when it comes to technology. Movies and TV shows never quite get it right, being either out of date or way ahead of their time.


From the depiction of detectives doing things that just can’t be done yet, to showing us last century’s gadgets being the standard for the future, Hollywood often gets technology wrong.

You’re Getting Ahead of Yourself

DNA to Go!

Forensic dramas and detective shows are the worst for this. They have a way of taking something so time consuming and reducing it down to a two minute process. It just doesn’t work like this. For example, identifying people’s DNA. You cannot swing a body bag without hitting a forensic procedural drama where they can analyze and compare DNA samples in minutes. You can see them do it on CSI in 60 seconds flat.

With properly acquired DNA samples 3 Cool Science Experiments You Can Do At Home Science is way too complicated, tiring, and can just be done in a lab, right? Read More , even AncestryDNA from Ancestry.com takes 6-to-8 weeks to complete their testing. Not very rapid, is it?

Rapid DNA testing could happen soon, though. In 2010, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) set up the Rapid DNA Program Office. Its goal is to develop a device that can analyze a mouth swab in just an hour or two. Then a comparative search can be done on existing DNA databases.

Considering the FBI is working with, “…the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Institute of Justice, and other federal agencies…” there’s a good chance this will actually be achieved.


You Ought to Be in Pictures!

Another example of getting something from nothing is the classic image-enhancement trope. You know the one. In Enemy of the State, Jack Black, playing the part of a forensic imaging technician, takes a 2-dimensional segment from a video camera and magically turns it into 3D. Then he can rotate it to see everything. Sorry. If it’s not in the picture, you’re not going to see it, no matter what. You can only enhance a picture How to Focus and Sharpen Blurry Photos and Movies Out-of-focus photos are becoming increasingly popular, but putting those tacky Instagram filters aside, blurry photos and videos are usually an annoyance. Thankfully, it turns out there are dedicated programs to fix them. Read More so much. Or can you?

Cameras are being developed that can see around corners, though. A new photography method, called femto photography, captures one trillion frames-per-second. The camera is seeing at the speed of light, so to speak. By being able to see at the speed of light, you can see the light bouncing off of objects that aren’t in the frame. Applying some fancy math to those light patterns can tell you the shape of the off-screen objects.

Fine details aren’t possible yet, but give it time. Femto photography might just become that good. Watch the video to hear about the technology and see an example of it in action.

We’re Being Hacked!

Don’t you just love how movie computers let you know when they’re being hacked? Super-size graphics and text fly up at blinding speeds, showing skulls, or files disappearing. What movies or shows does this happen in? Pick one. There are plenty to choose from.


The good guy then usually starts throwing windows around on their screen, and opening and closing files. Somehow that repels the attack. Not surprising. Hollywood hacking Hollywood Hacks: The Best and Worst Hacking in Movies Hollywood and hacking do not get along. While real-life hacking is hard, movie hacking often involves just pounding away on a keyboard like your fingers are going out of style. Read More is mostly unreal. Check out Garcia in Criminal Minds getting hacked in an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game).

Let’s think about this for a minute. How many big businesses get hacked Store You Shop At Get Hacked? Here's What To Do Read More but don’t know until well after the fact? Hackers don’t want to be found, ever. If you’ve been properly hacked, you won’t know about it.

Let’s say someone did see you on their network. At that point, stopping the attack isn’t really that convoluted. It definitely isn’t that fancy looking. Give it time, though. If the US military’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has its way with Plan X, it could become that fancy. Drag-and-drop hacker battles could actually become a thing.

You’re So Last Century

Most of the time, Hollywood gets ahead of itself with its displays of future technology, but even more frustrating is when filmmakers and producers are really behind the times. Here’s a few examples to highlight the point.


Answer the Phone!

Phone technology has moved so fast in 20 years that we should be more amazed by it than we actually are. Certainly, the people working in Hollywood, with their far-reaching creativity, should have seen a world with something like smartphones. Shouldn’t they? Couldn’t they imagine future communication devices Future Communication Devices Everyone Will Want to Own It's no secret that digital communication rules our lives. What kind of communication devices will you be using years from now? Will it read your thoughts, or use AI? What does the future hold? Read More even more advanced?

Take a look at the opening scene from The Fifth Element. Lots of forward-thinking tech, but the phone is still just a cordless handset.

That was 1997. They couldn’t even copy Star Trek‘s communicators from 1966, like Motorola did with the StarTac in ’97? C’mon Hollywood, you could have done better. After all, so much Star Trek technology became reality.

We’ve Got the Disk!

Remember that scene in The Matrix where Neo sells disks to Choi? Those were MiniDiscs. In 1992, when Sony put the MiniDisc 5 Things To Do With Your Old MiniDisc Collection Read More on the market, it was extremely cutting edge. Surprisingly, Sony still sells MiniDisc players and recorders. That doesn’t mean much though. You can still buy record players too. Vinyl is still cool 5 Reasons Why Vinyl Is Better Than Digital for Music Lovers Digital music may be more convenient, but there are still plenty of reasons to listen to vinyl records. Read More .


But The Matrix came out in 1999! So, why wouldn’t they think of using USB flash drives? Flash drives were on the market the very next year. Surely with all those geeks behind the camera, someone would have known that the flash drive was just around the corner.

Watch This!

Again, for an industry that is so in tune with visual arts and display technology, it’s surprising that flat screens weren’t the standard in movies much sooner. Yet the 1997 dystopian sci-fi classic, Gattaca, has all of its future genetic uber people working on computers with old-school CRT monitors.

Granted, they were a little slicker looking than the beige behemoths of the 1980s. But if future people can gene splice like a god, couldn’t they at least upgrade from a CRT to a flat-screen? Sure they could. LCD TVs had been in stores since 1988. By 1997, when Gattaca was released, flat-screens were the envy of everyone. Check out this quick ad for a Phillips flat-screen TV from 1998.

The Final Scene

Despite all of this, we should give Hollywood a break. It’s easy to pick on them for getting technology wrong. Remember, suspension of disbelief is a necessary part of entertainment, especially when it comes to science fiction. Plus, we know that having everything happen like real life is boring! Which is why we watch these shows in the first place.

We do have to give Hollywood some tech cred. Not only does Hollywood inspire invention, it’s often the home of inventors themselves. Think about the real-life technology that Star Trek and Dick Tracy inspired, and the advancements made by George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic, and Disney’s Pixar. So, we should, as technology snobs, feel free to have our little chuckle, but then get back to just enjoying the films and television shows we love.

What’s your favourite tech mess up? Are you a certified techno-geek who still loves some CSI or Scorpion? What’s your favorite hacker-type show? Share it with us in the comments below. Because surely everyone likes to talk TV and movies!

Related topics: Computer Monitor, Hacking, Photography, Television, USB Drive.

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  1. Kelsey Tidwell
    May 24, 2015 at 3:46 am

    The most annoying thing to me that Hollywood (and for that matter just about every TV show out there does...):
    The VERY exaggerated sounds and movements pertaining to devices.
    For example, no one on TV ever simply presses a button on the TV remote. They have to forcefully press each button with a flourish or a thrusting jab at the TV, which is followed by an enhanced clicking or beeping noise. Does your TV remote do that? :| I'd rather get up and twist knobs than listen to that because I'd always wonder if I was driving God crazy.
    And just pay attention the next time someone's using a computer in a show...you've never heard so many clicks, beeps, boops, boings, whirs, whines and bangs in your life. Heh, the problem is that once you've noticed it...you can't UNhear it. It'll bug you from then on...it's like a freakin' calliope from the Universe of Perverse Aural Tortures.

  2. Brian
    May 22, 2015 at 5:48 am

    What about the famous "keep them talking so that we can trace the call"? That's got to be the most ridiculous...

    • Guy
      May 22, 2015 at 1:06 pm

      That one cracks me up too. As well as the protracted IP tracking.

      "He's good. He routed it through 63 countries!"

      Um, or just disabled ping responses. Or used a VPN.

  3. Doc
    May 20, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    Fake IP addresses, like the one in Swordfish, "," or "2.718.281.828" in "24."
    My favorite is the IP address in Iron Man 3: "936.345.643.21"

    • John R
      May 21, 2015 at 10:59 am

      At least 24 knew the decimal approximation for the constant "e".

    • Guy
      May 22, 2015 at 1:02 pm

      The IP address is a good one. You'd think they'd pick a reserved one and make it a standard like they do with phone numbers. The whole 555-1212 thing.

  4. G Baker
    May 20, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Don’t have look at high tech. Hollywood gets a simple building sprinkler wrong. Every time one sprinkler head is knocked loose water comes out every sprinkler head rather than just the one.

    • Guy
      May 20, 2015 at 5:46 pm

      That is so true!

      I also get a kick out of seeing ejector seats in cargo planes and helicopters.