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Modems in the Movies: the early years

Classic tech movie moments from the 80s and 90s

In 1980s movies, modems had the power to change high school grades, wreck laboratories, and even spark global nuclear conflict. Here are some classic and silly modem movie moments from a time before the technology caught on.

During the 1980s, a clutch of Hollywood movies incorporated some of the first commercially available computer modems.

Use of the new devices usually had some far-fetched implications, such as pushing the US to the brink of thermonuclear war when an online game turned dangerous. But modems in the movies went way beyond War Games. Read on to relive cinematic modem magic.

Brainstorm (1983)

In this scene from the 1983 thriller Brainstorm, researcher Michael Brace (played by Christopher Walken) dials in to a mainframe at a factory that makes computer parts, and directs its robots to go berserk, destroying the lab. Meanwhile, his estranged wife and fellow researcher uses another line to hack in to the security systems at the factory and reprogram them to lock the labs and thwart the guards inside. Pretty sophisticated for 1983, no?

More Brainstorm (1983)

Later in Brainstorm, Brace pairs an ordinary pay phone with his portable acoustic coupler and dials in to corporate servers to run a program called 'Brainstorm'. In this movie, a brainstorm is a highly dangerous, full-sensory recording of someone's death. The person who 'listens' to the recording (via special headgear) sees and feels the pain of dying, and everything that happens afterward. The military goons in the movie want to use 'Brainstorm' as a mental torture tool.

NEXT PAGE: War Games

  1. Classic tech movie moments
  2. War Games
  3. Real Genius
  4. Ferris Bueller's Day Off


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