Have you ever seen a technological gadget in a movie and wished it really existed? While some futuristic technologies that have previously been portrayed in films have since been invented, it seems that many of the coolest fictional gadgets remain as out of reach today as they were when they first appeared onscreen. Even worse, some of these imaginary devices may have insurmountable technological obstacles that are hard to imagine ever overcoming.
On the other hand, some of the fictional technologies depicted in older films may have also seemed highly unlikely to ever exist when they were first seen by contemporary moviegoers. When French director Georges Méliès screened his groundbreaking film A Trip to the Moon in 1902, there were probably very few people at the time who would have predicted that humans would actually land on the moon less than seventy years later. There have also been instances when inventors have cited fictional technologies seen on television or in films as the inspiration for their own inventions. According to TIME, Martin Cooper claimed that the handheld communicators depicted in Star Trek inspired him to invent the first cell phone. One can only imagine where we’d be today if someone had been similarly inspired by Star Trek’s warp drive technology.
So in the spirit of inspiring any potential inventors out there, we would like to offer up our top-ten list of cool fictional technologies depicted in movies that have yet to be invented. Since there have been so many different robots and artificial intelligences portrayed in films, we are excluding those types of technologies for this list. (Sorry, fans of Star Wars’ C-3PO and 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL.) However, we did consider all other types of fictional gadgetry, from weapons to transportation. Although some technologies have appeared in multiple films, we opted to focus on one movie for each particular gadget, based on our personal preferences. However, we also tried to give honorable mentions to other films in which similar technologies may have appeared. Keeping those caveats in mind, here is our list of ten fictional technologies portrayed in movies that we wish were real.
10. Active camouflage technology in Predator (1987)
What could be cooler than an outfit that renders you virtually invisible by actively changing to match the surrounding environment? In the film, one of the primary advantages that the alien hunter has over his human prey is its camouflage technology that literally allows it to hide in plain sight. Of course, we’re not interested in hunting humans for sport, but it seems that this level of camouflage technology could be useful to the military, or at least make hide-and-seek games a lot more fun.
It should be noted that scientists have already created some rudimentary invisibility cloaks that can render a human or other object invisible, as noted by MIT Technology Review. However, none of the technologies developed so far has proven to be as adaptable and portable as the active camouflage technology seen in Predator.
Honorable mention: The Klingons in the Star Trek movie franchise use a similar cloaking technology that renders their starships invisible. However, we give kudos to Predator for demonstrating the coolness of this technology on a smaller, individual scale.
9. Bio-ports in eXistenZ (1999)
In this David Cronenberg-directed film, characters play an immersive virtual reality game that is entered via organic cables plugged directly into their spines through so-called “bio-ports.” While there’s something a little creepy about getting a computer port installed directly into your spine, the benefit is that you are able to participate in a virtual reality game that is so advanced that it is indistinguishable from the real world.
As noted by MIT Technology Review, scientists have already created brain-computer interfaces that are blurring the division between humans and computers. However, it appears that the technology still has a way to go before everyone is plugging computers into their spines to play hyper-realistic video games. Either way, we hope that whoever invents the first bio-ports will also invent some way to protect our brains from ever being bricked.
Honorable mention: Similar bio-ports located on the back of the head are featured in The Matrix series of films. However, while some of the freedom fighters in The Matrix used their bio-ports to do cool things like instantly download expert kung fu skills, the bio-ports were originally installed by intelligent machines that used them to keep humans enslaved in a simulated reality. Somehow that just makes the head bio-ports in The Matrix seem far less appealing than the spine bio-ports in eXistenZ.
8. Hoverboard in Back to the Future Part II (1989)
While Back to the Future Part II depicted all types of futuristic technologies, one of the most memorable and coolest looking gadgets in the film was the hoverboard. In the film, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox), references the skateboard chase scene from the first movie by once again borrowing a child’s ride. Naturally, since McFly is in the future this time rather than the past, the board hovers instead of having wheels. Besides eliminating any concerns about rocks or other road debris that can send a traditional skateboard rider flying, the hoverboard also has the advantage of being able to go across water. So why hasn’t the hoverboard been invented yet?
OK, so Hendo Hover has created something called the Hendo Hoverboard. However, the device only works on certain metal-covered surfaces and appears to be quite difficult to control. And don’t even think about trying to use it on water.
Honorable mention: The Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer had a surfboard that allowed him not just to hover, but to literally fly from one planet to the next. However, considering that the Silver Surfer’s board also attracted the planet-devouring Galactus, we think it’s best for the earth if we just focus on inventing the hoverboard.
7. Jet pack in Minority Report (2002)
While Minority Report is packed with futuristic gadgets that we wish were real, one of the coolest technologies seen in this film were the jet packs used by the police officers pursuing the “precrime” suspect John Anderton (Tom Cruise). Unlike the bulky and inefficient jet packs that currently exist, the devices depicted in Minority Report are small, portable, and appear to have an endless supply of fuel.
Honorable mention: The jet pack depicted in 1991’s The Rocketeer appeared to offer similar maneuverability and fuel efficiency as the ones featured in Minority Report, except with a 1930’s retro design twist.
6. Teleportation transporter in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Nothing eliminates the headaches associated with travel like a teleportation system. In the Star Trek universe, people and objects can be moved from one location to the other with ease by simply dematerializing them at one location and rematerializing them at another. Not only would this technology allow us to avoid hassles like traffic jams and airport security lines, a teleportation transporter might also improve the environment since engine-powered vehicles would be made redundant.
Honorable mention: Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) invented a similar teleportation technology in 1986’s The Fly. Unfortunately, Brundle’s initial attempt to teleport himself resulted in his body being merged with a housefly. While the transporters in Star Trek will occasionally fail to rematerialize a person, somehow that still seems less risky than using a telepod that could possibly turn you into a hybrid fly-human creature.
5. Neuralyzer in Men in Black (1997)
In this film, a clandestine agency known as the Men in Black (M.I.B.) monitor extraterrestrial aliens that secretly live among humans on earth. One of the agents’ primary tools is the “neuralyzer,” a gadget that can erase a person’s memory with a brief flash of light. While the characters in the film use the device to erase ordinary peoples’ memories of any aliens they may have seen, this technology could potentially be used as a quick and painless way to eliminate any type of unpleasant memories. From bad movies to bad dates, all could be forgotten with a simple flash of the neuralyzer. As an added bonus, the operator of a neuralyzer can implant false memories into the mind of a person who has been zapped by the device. So not only can you erase an unpleasant memory, you can replace it with a good one. Obviously, whoever invents this technology is going to be rich. That is, until their partner erases their memory and takes all the credit.
Honorable mention: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind featured a similar technology that was used erase memories of bad relationships. However, the memory-erasing technology used in that film was much more labor intensive and less effective than the simple flashbulb-style neuralyzers wielded by the agents in Men in Black.
4. Point-of-view gun in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Like the neuralyzer featured in Men in Black, the point-of-view gun is a piece of fictional gadgetry that is appealing for its mind-altering capabilities. Like its name suggests, the point-of-view gun forces the person who is shot with it to see things from the shooter’s point of view. Besides being an effective tool for ending most everyday arguments, the point-of-view gun could potentially even bring about world peace by forcing enemies to empathize with one another. On the other hand, as Marvin the Paranoid Android demonstrated in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the point-of-view gun is also an effective way to spread chronic depression.
Honorable mention: There are really no other fictional technologies that are similar to the point-of-view gun.
3. Iron Man’s suit of armor in Iron Man (2008)
Iron Man’s high-tech suit of armor has multiple features that make us wish it was real, such as its ability to fly, its strength-enhancement capabilities, and its invulnerability to nearly every type of weapon. It also has a pretty snazzy paint job. As if all those features weren’t cool enough, it also conveniently stores inside a small suitcase that is apparently light enough to be carried around. As noted by MIT Technology Review, crude “Iron Man-like” powered suits of armor have already been created. However, none of today’s real “Iron Man” suits come close to the capabilities of the fictional suit seen in Iron Man.
Honorable mention: While there’s nothing quite comparable to the technology developed by Tony Stark in Iron Man, there have been several other impressive high-tech suits featured in movies, such as the powered cargo-loader suit used by Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to fight the alien queen in 1986’s Aliens and the powered exoskeleton used by Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) in 2013’s Elysium.
2. Med-Bay in Elysium (2013)
While Neill Blomkamp’s dystopian science fiction film features all kinds of cool futuristic gadgets, the most important technology seen in Elysium may be the medical devices known as “Med-Bays.” While the Med-Bay may not be much to look at — it essentially looks like a bed with a rotating fluorescent lamp attached — the device appears to have the ability to cure any ailment, from cancer to broken bones. One of the film’s characters — Kruger (Sharlto Copley) — even has his mangled face reconstructed and his heart restarted by one of the Med-Bays. Needless to say, we wish this fictional lifesaving technology was real.
Honorable mention: There have been many impressive medical technologies featured in other films, from the medical droid that attached an artificial hand to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in The Empire Strikes Back, to the diagnostic medical tricorder seen throughout the Star Trek universe.
1. Lightsaber in Star Wars (1977)
Who wouldn’t want to own a real lightsaber? This marvelous piece of fictional technology is the preferred weapon of Jedi and Sith warriors in the Star Wars universe. As shown in the various Star Wars franchise movies, this humming energy blade weapon is available in a wide assortment of colors and can cut through metal as easily as it cuts through a Jedi trainee’s arm. When not being used, the lightsaber can be turned off and the glowing energy blade will vanish, leaving an easily portable hilt. OK, so maybe a lightsaber doesn’t have many practical real world applications. Still, we really wish these fictional gadgets were real, if only to let us more easily trim our hedges at night.
Incredibly, a recent scientific discovery could one day lead to the creation of this unlikely weapon. According to The Guardian, scientists from Harvard and MIT have discovered a way to bond photons together into a new molecule that could potentially be used to create a lightsaber. “It’s not an in-apt analogy to compare this to lightsabers,” said physics professor Mikhail “Skywalker” Lukin. “When these photons interact with each other, they’re pushing against and deflect each other. The physics of what’s happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies.”
Honorable mention: While there doesn’t appear to be any light-based swords portrayed in other movies, Sulu (John Cho) in 2009’s Star Trek had a sword that could retract into an easily portable hilt much like a lightsaber.
That’s it for our list of ten fictional technologies seen in movies that we wish were real. Let us know what your favorite fictional movie gadgets are by voting in the comments or writing in your own favorites.
Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS
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