Awesome Inventions and the Movies That Inspired Them
Art imitates life, but sometimes, it goes the other way around! Movies influence our collective culture, and gizmos and contraptions that exist in popular fiction become embedded in our imaginations. And sometimes, someone figures out how to make one of those imagined devices come to life. Whether through direct imitation or just absorbing the zeitgeist of the times, these movies helped inspire incredible inventions used in the real world today.
The Terminator — Advanced Flying Drones
It all seemed so futuristic back in 1984. Bi-pedal military robots? Flying drones that think for themselves with no humans involved at all? A mysterious hive-mind network called Skynet? What an imagination. That stuff will never happen, right?
2001: A Space Odyssey — Voice Command Computer
Talking computers that responded to voice commands were first popularized in Star Trek on TV. But it wasn't until 2001: A Space Odyssey that audiences saw a depiction of a sentient talking supercomputer that could play chess, run a starship and have a conversation all at once.
The Lawnmower Man — Virtual Reality Headsets
To be blunt, The Lawnmower Man was a terrible movie. However, it did introduce audiences to a craptastic 90s version of CGI virtual reality that only existed within the confines of a computer. The way one could navigate through this landscape was a VR headset and giant human-sized hamster wheel … er … gyroscope.
The Spy Who Loved Me — The Wet Bike
The first functioning jet ski-like vehicle that most audiences ever saw made its debut in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977. This was a real, functioning water vehicle called a "wet bike", not a special effect. It actually existed, but it wasn't sold on the wider market until 1978.
Total Recall — Flatscreen TVs
Total Recall aimed to capture the near-future, not the distant one, and with the exception of Mars being a colony, everything in the film looks like a variation of what we might have today.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture — Flip Phones
The flip phone-style communication device was first seen in Star Trek the original series. When it became a movie franchise with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the creators slightly modernized the device's look to make it seem more contemporary.
Minority Report — Motion-Based User Interfaces
How cool was it in 2002 when Tom Cruise pulled out his motion gloves in Minority Report and started manipulating images in the air with his hands? We didn't know it yet, but a very similar version of that technology would be available in a matter of a few years, not decades.
Blade Runner — Digital Billboards
The digital billboards seen in Blade Runner were another piece of technology that seemed distant and cool back in 1982. We don't yet have flying cars or replicants running around, but most major cities have at least a few giant digital billboards that light up the night sky.
Star Wars: A New Hope — Cleaning Robot
Remember that cute little imperial squeaky robot that Chewbacca scared away on the Death Star in Star Wars: A New Hope? That was an MSE Repair Droid, used for secure communications, minor repairs and polishing floors. It was completely autonomous with no human needed to operate.
2001: A Space Odyssey — Commercial Space Travel
2001: A Space Odyssey was a huge breakthrough in hard science fiction and special effects in movies. Released in 1968, it just barely predated the moon landing, yet it believably predicted a time when human beings will have conquered our solar system. In this world, commercial space travel is as common as commercial domestic flights.
Forbidden Planet — Humanoid Robots With AI
Forbidden Planet (1954) wasn't the first sci-fi film to predict humanoid talking robots, but it was the first one that made them popular. In the movie, Robby the Robot functioned as an artificially intelligent servant. It could hold conversations and walk around on its own.
Back to the Future Part II — Hoverboard
In a behind-the-scenes documentary on 1989’s Back to the Future Part II, the producers mentioned that hoverboards were already possible but never released due to safety concerns. That turned out to be a bit of a good-natured joke, but fans still hungered for one.
Demon Seed — The Smart Home
Demon Seed had an unusual premise for a 70s horror film. In it, a scientist created an artificially intelligent computer, Proteus, that became obsessed with the scientist’s wife. The computer soon takes over the house, giving "smart home" a sinister new meaning.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone — Cloaking Device
Invisibility technology has appeared in everything from science fiction works like Star Trek and Predator to the Harry Potter franchise. In the latter, Harry puts on a cloak, and everything concealed by the cloak’s outer fabric becomes invisible.
Tron — Teleportation of Atoms
Protagonist Flynn gets sucked into a computer world in 1982’s Tron after an evil AI uses atom digitizing technology that can transport atoms from one place to another. A beam breaks down an object, stores it and then reconstructs it somewhere else entirely.
Star Wars: A New Hope — Direct Energy Weapons
In Star Wars: A New Hope, the Death Star fired its primary laser for the first time and destroyed a planet. This was an example of a direct-energy weapon, now known by the military as a DEW for short.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home — Transparent Aluminum
In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the crew travels to San Francisco in 1986 to abduct whales to bring back to the future and save the world. To do this, they must create a tank in the cargo hold that's light enough and strong enough to hold the whales and water for them.
Back to the Future Part II — Nikes With Power Laces
One of the coolest future inventions in the world of Back to The Future Part II was the high-top Nike sneakers with power laces. There was immediate interest among fans for the shoe, but unfortunately, no such thing existed back in 1989.
Aliens — Steady-Cam Mounted Gun
James Cameron has always been a pioneer. For his hit-film Aliens, Cameron imagined a co-ed military force with state of the art gear, like helmet-cams, motion detectors and heavy artillery mounted on a stabilizing arm attached to the soldier's body.
2001: A Space Odyssey — Videophones
Videophones have been in popular culture for a long time, with one of the earliest depictions being in 1962 with The Jetsons TV show, but it was 2001: A Space Odyssey that made them seem realistic and functional.
The Terminator — Bi-Pedal Humanoid Military Robots
We have flying military drones already, but we're a long way off from bi-pedal artificially intelligent robots with guns, aren't we? Right? Well, you might hope so but … it's not looking good.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang — Flying Cars
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was both the name of a movie and of the flying car in it. At the press of a button, the steampunkish car could sprout wings and propellers and fly into the air.
GoldenEye — Laser Watch
Who wouldn't want to have a laser watch, especially if it's as cool as the one in the James Bond movie GoldenEye? Yes, the laser watch appeared in previous Bond movies, but here it looked its best. Such a watch is great for escaping when you're stuck on a runaway train.
2001: A Space Odyssey — Tablet Computers
It's a close contest between Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey over which one came up with more inventions we use today. Both featured tablet computers, but it's 2001 that created a machine that looks most like the tablet computers we use today.
Total Recall — Self-Driving Cars
Total Recall imagined self-driving cars back in 1990, though things haven’t turned out exactly the way the film imagined. In the movie, the self-driving car comes with a humanoid robot that operates the vehicle, presumably to make passengers feel more at home.
Star Wars: Attack of The Clones — Digital Movie Cameras
This one is a little meta. George Lucas wanted to push the digital camera industry forward, so he planned to shoot The Phantom Menace all on digital film, but the technology wasn't quite ready yet.
Minority Report — Personal Advertising
There's a great scene in Minority Report where Tom Cruise walks inside a mall and holographic sensors recognize his retinas and offer him personal advertising, such as pants in his size. They are like futuristic pop-up ads that know way too much about you.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture — The Smartwatch
There are hints of the smartwatch in old movie serials such as Buck Rogers and in comic strips like Dick Tracy, but the movie smartwatch that most resembles the one people can buy today is Captain Kirk's smartwatch in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Frankenstein — Genetic Engineering
Genetic engineering, even when technology was more primitive, always had an aura of taboo around it. Books and films such as Frankenstein served as warnings not to tinker with the fundamental building blocks of the universe.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy — In-Ear Translator
In the quirky film (and book series) The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, space tourists have a peculiar form of language translation technology. They carry arround a Babel Fish, an alien creature you stick in your ear. The fish crawls inside your brain and translates all languages for you. Ew.