Modern cinema is a game of one-upmanship, with science fiction productions particularly affected by the need to produce better computer-generated imagery (CGI) than their rivals. It means that sometimes, we see technology that can’t be replicated in real life. There are many films from past decades whose technology has not been bettered — four decades later. Come on, people. This needs to change.
1. Robocop (1987)
Peter Weller became a movie icon with Robocop, a film about a new cyborg police officer fighting against a terrifying dystopian future crime wave. We can’t be far from android-based law enforcement to deal with the growing danger of street crime — let’s just hope they don’t use real, recycled officers like Alex Murphy.
2. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Lightsabers and blasters — of course, we loved these in Episode Four: A New Hope, but another cool Lucasfilm invention is the headgear Lobot wears in Cloud City. This gadget is fixed into the back of Lando Calrissian’s old friend’s damaged brain, allowing Lobot to communicate directly with the central computer. While Elon Musk’s Neuralink might one day augment our cerebral output, we haven’t hit Lobot levels of efficacy yet.
3. Aliens (1986)
James Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s original Alien gives us a taste of some cool future weaponry. The M314 Motion Tracker is unlike any tech we have today, but the winner in Aliens is the M56 Smartgun. Interesting Engineering claims this gun has a 4,922-foot range, reaching 1,200 rounds per minute, unloading “10mm by 28mm, 230 grain, explosive-tipped projectile…encased in a rectangular block of Nitramine 50.” Ted Nugent would weep if he received this weapon for Christmas.
4. Back to the Future (1985)
Where do we start with Back to the Future‘s incredible designs? Whether it’s the classic Delorean time machine in the first movie, the hoverboards in the sequel (and no, those hoverboards we see today don’t come close), or Marty’s self-drying clothes, we’d all like to sample some real-life Back to the Future gadgetry.
5. They Live (1988)
They Live has become a cult favorite and allegory for governmental manipulation of the masses. It presents imagery synonymous with much modern-day paranoia and perceived central control of power. When construction worker John Nada moves to Los Angeles for work, he discovers a scientist is subliminally programming the population. Nada finds a pair of sunglasses that can see through the programming, revealing half of society as alien beings posing as humans — allegory much?
6. Inner Space (1987)
Inner Space is one of many Martin Short comedies of the decade. This time, he’s the hiding place for a nanobot-sized shrunken research vessel as he races against time to save the vessel’s pilot. Nanobot technology is already here, but shrinking humans down to micro-insect size would be great fun. If I could shrink, I would do so before every meal — just imagine the savings.
7. Batteries Not Included (1986)
Batteries Not Included isn’t human-designed fictional technology. It’s a family of cybernetic extraterrestrials that can fix things. We aren’t far away from having personalized mini robots to help us defeat property developers. However, the best we can hope for now are drones, lifelike AI droids that tell bad jokes, or eerily lifelike baby dolls.
8. Blade Runner (1982)
As most fans know, Blade Runner found its visual inspiration from the high-tech, high-rise metropolis of Hong Kong. Although the imagery of air taxis is enough to make any commuting city dweller jealous, there are other gadgets we would love today. The Esper machine is a good example — it can zoom in to high-resolution closeups in any location, even when not present with the subject matter. Speculative Identities describes the Esper as “a high-density computer with a very powerful three-dimensional resolution capacity and a cryogenic cooling system.”
9. Ghostbusters (1984)
Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman made tech nerds feel like kids in the proverbial candy store when he unleashed his sci-fi horror comedy on the world. “Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back,” says Dr. Venkman when referring to their proton packs. Okay, they were for capturing paranormal spirits, but imagine being able to trap all of society’s bad apples in this manner.
10. Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Although Star Trek‘s first movie was in 1979, in 1982, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan upgraded the wrist-worn communicators to hand-held devices. While finding a reason for this change is hard, wrist-worn devices were likely more prone to misuse due to their proximity to Starfleet members’ hands. You can’t wrestle aliens with a wrist communicator lest you send incorrect transmissions. In any case, we have terrestrial mobile communication now, but Star Trek‘s communicators were interplanetary devices, which is useful when boldly going “where no man has gone before.”
11. Predator (1987)
Predator is one of the decade’s most cherished sci-fi films, thanks to a stellar action-movie cast, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finest one-liner repertoire, and an alien with devastatingly futuristic technology. Xenopedia refers to the alien creature’s capacity to disappear: “The Cloak, also known as the invisibility system, Chameleon Field, or shiftsuit, is an advanced piece of Yautja technology that is able to render the user invisible.” Yes, we already have invisibility technology, but nothing like the monster’s all-encompassing invisibility field complemented with heat-scanning technology.