Choose your language:

Hong Kong
New Zealand
United Kingdom
United States
large boom box

What else did 80s movies teach us about tech?

August 07, 2015

Last month, I looked back on some of my favorite technology-themed movies from the 1980s, covering computer hacking, teen prodigies and robots. This month, I venture into Bill and Ted’s phone booth to remember the days of home audio, extraterrestrials and magic wishes.

Sound systems

The stereo was near its peak in the 1980s, and most homes proudly displayed music collections to be played on their turntables with receivers and speakers. The affordability of the portable boombox and Walkman, along with the growing popularity of music videos, contributed to the decline of the home audio system. (Don’t forget to check out Alex’s throwback post on the boombox, including its role in 1980s movies.)

  • Top pick: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – He may have bitterly received a computer instead of a car, but Ferris also had an impressive set of keyboards, speakers and amplifiers in his bedroom. He used these to feign his life-threatening illness by creating sneezing and coughing sounds, rigging his doorbell recording and a scoring a soundtrack for the sleeping mannequin under his covers.
  • Honorable mention: 48 Hrs. (1982) – In this action movie, Eddie Murphy’s Reggie and Nick Nolte’s Jack teamed up to catch a criminal in—you guessed it—48 hours, but the use of a Walkman earns it an honorable mention on the list. In one scene, Reggie is in jail, obliviously singing along to The Police’s “Roxanne” on his Walkman. By hitting the Walkman’s hotline button, Jack interrupts Reggie’s music to get his attention, avoiding the need for Reggie to remove his headphones. Wouldn’t it be interesting if today’s iPods had such a feature?


From E.T. to, well, Aliens, the 1980s had an obsession with otherworldly life forms. Was it paranoia or is the truth out there? You decide.

  • Top pick: The Last Starfighter (1984) – Alex (Lance Guest) thought he was just good at an arcade game, but he was unknowingly auditioning to pilot the actual Starfighter spacecraft. Complete with a DeLorean driven by an alien to whisk him away, Alex must defend the Star League and save the galaxy.
  • Honorable mention: The Abyss (1989) – Aliens don’t just fly around in outer space…sometimes they live underwater, too. In this movie, directed by James Cameron, a team of deep-sea drillers discovers a colony of aliens, dubbed non-terrestrial intelligence (“NTI”), in the depths of the ocean. The special effects used on the NTI are one of the earlier uses of CGI; you may recognize a similar effect in Cameron’s Terminator 2.

Magic wishes

Call it escapism or idealism, but genies and fairy godmothers who took statements literally seemed to be rather prevalent.

  • Top pick: Big (1988) – All Josh wanted was to be ‘big’: to avoid homework and chores, to be tall enough to ride the carnival roller coaster, to impress a neighborhood girl—and that’s all he told the Zoltar machine, so he didn’t expect to wake up the next morning as Tom Hanks. After his scared mother kicks him out of the house and reports her son as missing, adult Josh finds a job, an apartment and time to play on the giant piano at FAO Schwartz before undoing the spell.
  • Honorable mention: Maid to Order (1987) – This one is a bit heavy-handed, even for 80s programming. The wealthy Montgomery family naturally had a resident fairy godmother, who naturally overheard the frustrated father of wild-child Jessie (Ally Sheedy) say that he wished he’d never had a daughter. As result, Jessie is turned away from her own house as a stranger; eventually finding work as a maid, she discovers the true meaning of kindness and compassion. Her lesson learned in under 90 minutes, she returns home a changed woman.

Any other fun 80s movies or themes I missed?  Let me know in the comments.

You may also enjoy these past posts on technology:

What did 80s movies teach us about technology?

The first video games

IT Then and Now 

As marketing communications manager, Sarah O’Connor develops and supports strategies to promote TEKsystems’ brand to job seekers, consultants and clients. She enjoys running and exploring new cities—preferably both at the same time. 

Blog Archive