Top 25 Films With Unrealistic Computer Scenes

From computers with a conscience to 'enhancing the image', these movie scenes take suspension of disbelief to a whole new level...

It’s time to hack into a computer. So, get ready for spinning 3D graphics and weird beeping sounds that accompany every action. So many academic institutions offer courses that cover computer security, but according to the movies, they must be part of an enormous scam because breaking into a computer is as simple as frantically hitting random keys when “ACCESS DENIED!!!” pops up in the middle of the screen.

Not everything that’s entertaining has to be realistic. There’d be no fiction of any kind if that was the case. However, credibility is an essential part of establishing suspension of disbelief. Some of these scenes are unrealistic as a result of pure laziness on the part of the people who made the film. Either that or the script writers knew about as much about computers as the head of a government IT project.

Not that we’re saying that we’re not fan of ridiculous computer scenes. A lot of these scenes were conceived to make something a bit boring or difficult to follow more entertaining than it really is. Visual metaphor is often key, and it relates to the classic cinematic problem of making visual an internal process.

So, prepare to isolate the subnet node with a firewall worm that reroutes the server as we explore some of the classics, ranked from the best, most enjoyable ones to the ones that, quite frankly, reboot our sub commands.

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25. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)

The scene: Planning the trip

In this comedy great, as Clark Griswold, Chevy Chase is a family man on a mission to take his brood across the country for the vacation of a lifetime. Before setting off, he brings the home computer into action to plan the route. What this scene gets right is the fact that, back in the day, both home computers and video game systems often used a traditional TV as a display, sometimes leading to conflict over who got to use the living room TV. In the scene, Clark takes over with what looks like an Apple II computer, much to their chagrin.

The planning scene doesn’t make a lot of sense as Clark is merely directing the car over a low detail map of the US rather than planning a route. This might be deliberate as, let’s face it, Clark Griswold doesn’t always think things through. Amazingly, Clark’s son Rusty is able to intrude on Clark’s planning session and start chasing the car around the map using Pac-Man. We say it’s amazing as it’s implied that the video game was running on the games console and yet somehow it’s running on the same screen as the trip planning software while somehow interacting with it. Rusty’s more sensible sister saves the day by entering the game with a spaceship and using it to kill Pac-Man.

Can we cut it some slack?

Of course we can, it’s hilarious. The audience of the time bought it on the whole, and now, it seems quaint.

24. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)

The scene: Using the computer to cheat

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Now, this is how you do an unrealistic computer scene. At the beginning of the scene that we’re interested in, Tim Brooke Taylor stands proudly in front of a huge computer. Assuring the visitors that they are about to witness “the greatest miracle of the machine age”, he enters data into the computer so that it can reveal the location of the three remaining golden tickets. A problem here: Throughout the scene, Taylor’s character seems to be able to specify extremely complicated concepts to the computer by simply pressing three buttons.

Much to the embarrassment of our computer expert, this is a computer with sass, and it proceeds to tell him, via a punchcard, that it will not reveal the answer, on moral grounds. This leads to a hilarious sequence of exchanges with between computer and computer expert.

Can we cut it some slack?

Again, it’s the implementation that’s all wrong. You don’t interact with computers in that way, and they don’t have a confrontational personality or a sense of morals. People of the time had an idea that computers could do amazing feats of analysis on huge amounts of data.

However, is it possible that a computer could be used to help with a problem such as this one? Maybe. A bit. If an effort had been made to evenly distribute the tickets, you’d have a clue to where the tickets weren’t to be found by studying where they had been found. This might relate to channels of supply, and this might mean that there was data to be crunched. We’re stretching.

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Realistic? No. Hilarious? Yep! We like.

23. WarGames (1983)

The scene: Talking to Joshua

It’s a beloved sci-fi film, but is it realistic? As with a lot of these films, the concepts are fine, but the implementation is dodgy in places. David’s computer setup is fine, but it’s a bit of an expensive setup for a teenager.

This seems to crop up a lot in 1980s American cinema with teenage characters – the massive houses, along with the amazing computer setup. Breaking with this trend, the focus on kids who didn’t have everything was an endearing aspect of films such as The Goonies and The Karate Kid. The trick of programming a computer to work through a range of phone numbers in order to locate other computers was already used for real, and subsequently, hackers started calling it “war dialing.”

Things start to get a bit unrealistic on the other side of the phone connection, and frankly, we’re on the side of the filmmakers for most of it. Unlike real computers, this system communicates using English sentences rather than a programming language or a command line interface. This contrivance is obviously to make sure that the audience can follow what is going on, and to make it even clearer, the computer is given a voice, thanks to the use of a speech synthesizer. This makes the other computer system into more of a character in itself. Think about it – you don’t think of David’s computer as a character.

Can we cut it some slack?

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Sure. It’s a great movie. The unrealism is born out of the classic filmmaking problem of representing things on screen. It’s inventiveness, rather than laziness. Realistic commands and graphics would have led to a less interesting looking film that would have left the audience baffled.

22. Weird Science (1985)

The scene: Connecting to the mainframe

This film epitomises unrealistic scenes that we can’t help but still love. The premise of the film contains magical elements to begin with, as two boys use their computer to create their dream woman. Before they take the step of connecting to what we presume is a government computer facility, they already have some sort of a ‘woman simulator’ program running, on which it is possible to edit parameters such as bust size and IQ level. Is this something that Wyatt created, bespoke, just for this project, or did he send off for it out of the back of a computer mag?

It would be possible to use a modem to connect to a powerful computer and run software on it. Many of the big mainframe and mini computers of that time allowed users to log in and be allocated resources such as storage space and CPU time. However, this process definitely didn’t involve flying through a virtual space, and even if it did, the graphics we see on screen are well beyond the capability of Wyatt’s Memotech MTX 512 computer. As this is going on we encounter another movie computer convention: pointless beeping sounds that accompany computer activity when carrying out a task.

Can we cut it some slack?

Sure. It’s a wonderful film and not meant to be taken seriously. The computer hacking scenes are easy to follow for the audience and entertaining at the same time.

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21. Tron (1982)

The scene: Inside the computer world

This is another film that fits into the computer-as-magic mould, but in all fairness, it has a fantasy premise to begin with – a man is sucked into a computer. In the plot, a self-aware artificial intelligence decides to take over other computers, and therefore the world, mirroring the ambitions of its creator. The film got a mixed critical response on release, and is mainly remembered for the ground-breaking visual design that incorporated early computer generated graphics.

“By their fruit will you recognise them” goes the quote, and once inside the computer, programs become personified by people who resemble the programmers who created them. Within the computer world, some of the concepts and terms such as the master control program, users and RAM are real, but it’s difficult to see what the correlation is between what they actually do and what they do in the movie. The main character, a games designer, is classed as a user rather than as a program and he can make changes to the environment, which follows a kind of logic.

Can we cut it some slack?

People are dragged from the real world into a magical fairytale land that has something to do with computers, so it’s not fair to criticise it for not being realistic. Like a lot of the computer films of the 1980s, it probably makes more sense as allegory about the impact that computers were increasingly having on society as people realised that computer ubiquity was on the horizon.

20. Superman III (1983)

The scene: The programming class

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It’s a divisive film. Amongst Superman aficionados and comic book fans, typically, its name is kryptonite-infused mud. Some of us, however, have a soft spot for this film and its wacky goings on. Richard Pryor is hilariously moronic as a computer hacking savant. At the start of his career, on a computer programming course, he proves his genius by typing LIST into a computer, to the shock and admiration of his course tutor. Between us, the program listing is nonsense. It’s just a string of PRINT statements that don’t relate to what’s being discussed on screen.

Can we cut it some slack?

It’s the same old problem: Rather than realism, the film-makers opted to make sure that the audience can follow sections of the plot. Later in the film, we’re in the realm of science fiction, if not magic, and this doesn’t seem out of place in what amounts to a fantasy film. We still looked in some depth at the actual programming code used in Superman IIIright here.

19. Hackers (1995)

The scene: Hacking the Gibson

This film is the mother load of unrealistic computer scenes that are played with a straight face. This means that we have to classify it as a serious movie rather than a complete fantasy like some of the others. The story itself isn’t bad, and the performances are enjoyably over the top, matching the overall visual exuberance on screen. Also in its defence, it does give screen time to staples of real life hacking such as dumpster-diving and a few of the key texts of that era, and it uses time-compression to show an all-night hacking session rather than the more typical instant hacks that we so often see in films like this.

In another scene, there’s “a new virus in the database”, and this is represented by animated characters moving over streams of text. We see this quite often in movies – are hackers experts in creating animations, or do they outsource it all? Much junk jargon is hurled about the place in a scene that confuses video games with the realities of computer security exploits.

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Can we cut it some slack?

The film is enjoyable nonsense with a extremely high cheese factor that has garnered it a cult following, and this scene is in that vein. Making reference to “Hacking the Gibson” usually raises a smile with a fellow lover of this sort of stuff.

18. Independence Day (1996)

The scene: Uploading the virus

The aliens travelled millions of miles in order to subjugate the Earth. They didn’t count on one thing – Will Smith! Oh, and Jeff Goldblum, which makes it two things. Oh, and America, making it three things. Never mind the power of an Apple Powerbook…

Travelling up to the mother-ship, the two main characters use an Apple laptop to upload a virus and win the day. It’s a bit hard to believe that they so quickly built up an understanding of how the alien computer system worked. Maybe they should have uploaded MacOS 8 – it was a crashy beast.

Can we cut it some slack?

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Sure, as this is mindless, if cloyingly patriotic, popcorn entertainment. There may even be mitigation for some of the technical aspects. A deleted scene reveals that our computer technology is based on technology taken from crashed UFOs, giving the human scientists a common technological basis and an understanding of how the alien computers work. In addition, it’s possible that the aliens have a society without individuality and conflict, like the one in the Tripods novels. For this reason, they might have no concept of computer security, like an intergalactic version of an IT teacher. It’s a fun movie overall.

17. Jurassic Park (1993)

The scene: Accessing the security grid

Due to the nefarious activities of uber-nerd Dennis Nedry, our heroes are trapped in a futuristic theme park that has been overrun by dinosaurs that were reanimated using genetic engineering. However, some aspects of this film are guilty of being unrealistic.

Young Lex’s exclamation of: “This is a Unix system! I know this.” became a famous meme on technology forums. This scene gets knocked for being unrealistic, but it’s not too bad. Most of the computer systems in the film are based on real systems, and the SGI workstation that Lex is using IS a Unix system. She carries out some file management by flying around a 3D environment on screen, and guess what? This is real. The software she is using is called FSN, an experimental 3D file manager that was available for those machines. Although it was more of a proof of concept than a staple of ordinary use, and it’s unlikely that it would be installed and that Lex would be familiar with it.

In another computer scene, that is dripping with unlikelihood, the mighty Samuel L Jackson is attempting to gain access to the system. He tries a sequence of inane looking commands culminating with the classic “access main security grid.” On the final attempt, an animation of Nedry pops up, on another monitor, scolding them for their attempt. The animation looks a bit crude, but it must have taken Nedry a long time to complete. But a lot of hackers in films are experts at creating custom artwork and animation. It’s a lot of detailed work for a prank, though.

Can we cut it some slack?

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The scene stretches credibility, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story, and it’s not completely impossible.

16. Revenge Of The Nerds (1984)

The scene: The computer lab

Oh, the 1980s, why did you give birth to so many fantastic, yet utterly ridiculous computer scenes? It’s part of why we love you, The 1980s. Speaking of love, the scene that we’re interested in features one of the best kinds of love – nerd love. A very young Anthony Edwards uses the sort of computer super powers that only only the truly nerdy possess to impress a female nerd who is struggling in her computer class.

At one point he sits down next to her to demonstrate how much fun computers are, once you’ve got the hang of it. What he does next is incredible as he inputs a detailed and accurate vector drawing of her by tapping away at the keyboard. How? He doesn’t even seem to have any kind of feedback for what he’s typing. In reality, it would take even a skilled artist working with an appropriate input device hours to put together the images and the animation, and yet, he does it in about a minute.

Can we cut it some slack?

Within the context of the movie, a slapstick crazy comedy, it’s not doing anything wrong. It’s nice to see a nerd winning in life. It’s just that scenes like this make life a little bit harder for those of us that end up having to fix computers for people who then expect instantaneous miracles.

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15. Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)

The scene: The control room

The trope: Gear with meaningless flashing lights

William Shatner is being shown around a room filled with technical equipment. He asks what one bit does and one of the staff admits that he has no idea what its function is. Then, we are shown the computer. It is a huge wall of flashing lights, and again, the technician has to admit that he has no idea what the lights are for or what they mean.

Can we cut it some slack?

Absolutely. This film itself doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the first one, but this scene is making fun of scenes in films in which rooms are filled with equipment that’s covered in flashing lights. In all fairness, some computers of the mainframe and mini-computer era did have panels of lights. Technicians would use them to diagnose electrical faults. They didn’t quite look like the ones in films like this, but what the hell.

14. Pretty In Pink (1986)

The scene: Love in the library

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This high school comedy drama is the late, great John Hughes at his best, but the computer scene has a few problems. Romantic tension brews in the library between princess Andie and hunky rich boy Blane. At first the computer seems to be spewing information about history, but even this isn’t very authentic looking as it seems to be printing the text onto the screen one character at time like a Teletype machine. Also, the software she is using doesn’t have a visible user interface at all. Then, to her surprise, the text seems to be coming from an outside source.

When she enquires if the outside source knows who she is, he replies by making a photograph of her appear onscreen. When she asks who he is, her secret crush reveals a photograph of himself, complete with an animation. Is this a 1986 information retrieval programme that is also a real time chat program that can also, instantly, send and receive photographic images?

Can we cut it some slack?

The lack of realism doesn’t get in the way of the story. In fact, although the implementation doesn’t look realistic, it contains some predictive elements. One day, boys with a crush would be able to make a message pop up on a girl’s screen, complete with animated photographs, as part of a nerdy but endearing courtship. It’s a nice scene, overall.

13. Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home (1986)

The scene: “Hello, computer?”

Having found themselves in the year 1986 and in need of some humpback whales, the crew of the starship Enterprise are forced to employ all of their resourcefulness to navigate the primitive technological environment that they find themselves in.

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In order to demonstrate the structure of a futuristic material called “transparent aluminum” Scotty has to wrangle a classic Apple Macintosh. After attempting to talk to the computer and then speak into the mouse to interact with it, he switches to the keyboard. A manufacturing plant like that one might have a piece of software for displaying molecules on it, but how is Scotty so familiar with all of the keyboard shortcuts to make all of those windows and menus appear and disappear so quickly? Do they still use that piece of software in the future? A moment ago, he didn’t even seem to be familiar with using a computer keyboard…

Can we cut it some slack?

Yes we can. The scene is funny. Perhaps the chief engineer of The USS Enterprise knows a few tricks that we don’t, however unlikely. This is Scotty we’re talking about.

12. Skyfall (2012)

The scene: The security breach

This film was praised for its realistic approach compared to some of the other films in the Bond series. Perhaps fittingly, the new Q is a computer man rather than a gadget expert.

It’s a shame that the hacking scenes aren’t more realistic, though. As often happens in films, computer hacking involves floating, spinning 3D computer graphics rather than typing commands at a console, configuring software and writing scripts. The irony with this one is that a technology-savvy audience is left with less of an idea of what’s going because of the spinning graphics. It also features the infamous ‘computer that can’t be hacked’ that gets hacked.

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Can we cut it some slack?

The film is good, but there was no reason to have a completely unrealistic hacking scene in what’s supposed to be realistic, back-to-basics Bond.

11. Electric Dreams (1984)

The scene: Composing music

Nerdy architect Miles decides to purchase his first computer to help better organise his life. Before long, the computer has accidentally downloaded some data that it shouldn’t have done and become self aware and sentient. Where to begin? There are so many silly scenes in this film.

There are sequences where the computer becomes fascinated by music and starts to compose songs, much to the annoyance of its owner. Perhaps someone involved in the film had an idea that computers were becoming increasingly important in the production of pop music, which was true, but they didn’t compose the music without human interaction.

Can we cut it some slack?

It sets itself up as a fantasy involving a computer rather than a computer film as such. Much of this film might have seemed plausible to someone who had never seen a real computer, but almost no scene in is accurate in its depiction of how computers work. Is it fair to look for accuracy in a fairytale?

10. Mission: Impossible (1996)

The scene: The security room

The original 1960s TV show relied on intricate plans that ran on a knife edge, but the film series places more of an emphasis on action.

In one of the most famous scenes, our hero decides to hack a highly secure CIA computer, in a manner that is literally over-the-top, as he drops in from above on wires. It’s a great looking scene that provides a lot of tension. The computer software is what we’d expect, completely non-standard with absolutely massive text that explains what’s going on. Anyone would think that this thing was designed to be used in a movie in which the audience would need a good view of the progress of the hacking effort. Why did the CIA go to all the trouble of creating a room that detects intrusions rather than simply deactivating the computer when not in use? Afterwards, we bet the CIA wished they’d installed a CCTV system as there was so much at stake.

Can we cut it some slack?

This is a classic example of a scene that was designed to look good rather than make much sense, and it’s successful on that level, despite how unlikely it all is.

9. D.A.R.Y.L. (1985)

The scene: Playing Pole Position

An android boy who was created as part of a military experiment escapes and attempts to integrate into normal family life. Young Daryl shows his amazing prowess by being really good at baseball and playing the game Pole Positionon an Atari. On his first attempt at the latter, he proves to be very good. However, somehow his extreme skill seems to cause the game to speed up, so it looks like his is driving even faster than normally possible. Later, his experience of controlling Pole Positioncontributes to his amazing skills when driving a car in real life.

Can we cut it some slack?

Again, the film was made in a time when most of the audience didn’t know how computers worked. It seems unnecessary to make a games console do something it could never do, and even in that era, a lot of the audience could probably smell a rat with this. It doesn’t ruin anything, but it’s silly.

8. A View To A Kill (1985)

The scene: Bond in Zorin’s office

The trope: Amazing face recognition

Bond sits down in the office of Max Zorin, the villain. Zorin distracts him, causing him to look in the direction of a hidden camera that’s linked to a computer. Immediately, the computer uses face recognition to look Bond up in a database of some kind.

It’s difficult to get a straight answer to the question of whether such a thing would be possible with modern day technology, 30 years later. You see, the companies that want to sell the technology and certain sections of the press make exaggerated claims for the accuracy of the systems, whereas other reports suggest that the success rate is low. It’s a bit unlikely that such a thing existed in a working form in 1985.

Can we cut it some slack?

Bond films, in common with science fiction, often show technology that seems like it could be just around the corner. It’s all part of the fun in Moore’s final run as James Bond.

7. Antitrust (2001)

The scene: The daycare centre

We like the way that they mention Microsoft founder Bill Gates in this one, just to make sure that audience knows that Tim Robbins’ character isn’t based on Bill Gates. The hyper-aggressive business tactics take their inspiration from the actions of some of the big players in software and hardware back in the 80s and 90s. Not that anyone is actually suggesting that they were carrying out murders, but things were pretty cut-throat as companies battled for control of the home computer market, the office desktop, and later, the Internet.

The actual computer usage scenes are mostly fine. The most unrealistic scene is the the one in the children’s day centre when he stumbles onto the full extent of the conspiracy that’s in place. We don’t get much sense of what the user interface in, but as far as we can see, it looks like the underlings of the villain made the mistake of putting all of the most damning evidence into one place. Was this the exchange?

“Hey, why don’t we – for a bit of a laugh – put all of the evidence against us into a single folder on the computer? I say we should have no miscellaneous data in that folder, just the incriminating stuff.”

“What about the videos? There’s hours of surveillance footage.”

“No problem, we’ll edit together the highlights. I mean, we want to get caught, right?”

Can we cut it some slack?

Most of the film makes use of a combination of fictional and real software. It’s a shame that they didn’t spend a bit more time on the day care centre scene to make it look a bit more plausible.

6. No Way Out (1987)

The scene: Image

In this tense thriller (one of Kevin Costner’s finest films), the hero is trapped in a race against time to prove who committed a murder. The main piece of evidence is a blurry photograph, and unfortunately, the photograph is of him. Government computer experts are called in to recover the image using computer technology.

Ah, it’s the old ‘enhance the image’ one again. Given the source image, this one is pretty much impossible even now. The film hints that artificial intelligence methods are being employed to reconstruct the image, and it’s a plot device to explain why it’s taking so long to reveal the identity of the person in the photograph.

Can we cut it some slack?

The film itself is an enjoyable and underrated thriller, and that makes up for a lot. The idea – to use a computer to digitize and then enhance a photograph to reveal the identity of a murder suspect – is fine. They needed to make the task seem practically impossible in order to stretch out the length of the process for plot reasons. The film was made at a time when something like enhancing a photograph on a computer must have seemed magical to the audience. It must have seemed like a way of modernising the plot to employ a computer and some ‘computer experts’.

5. Disclosure (1994)

The scene: Virtual reality file management

This film is ostensibly about a mystery surrounding some dodgy business dealings and the sexual politics that come to the fore when a man has been the victim of sexual harassment. It also features some really over-the-top computer scenes. Whenever anyone in this movie receives an email, it’s animated and everything uses a massive font, a common trope, but that’s nothing compared to the film’s treatment of the exciting world of file management.

When Michael Douglas’ character wants to browse the company file structure, like most of us, he straps on his virtual reality gear and gets to work. For some reason, the suite that he straps himself into uses some sort of laser scanner on his body. Is it actually suggesting that it’s scanning a 3D map of his body to create his avatar, or is it some part of the body position tracking system? Either way – woah! He puts on some sort of headpiece, but as the film is set in 1994, it’s incredibly lightweight compared to the bulky devices we have to contend with in 2015. Once inside the virtual world, Douglas’ character first glances at the photorealistic rendering of his own hands before progressing around the inside of a building to find that damn file the he needs. The environment that he navigates is rendered is ostentatious style with the best pre-rendered CGI that could be summoned at the time.

Can we cut it some slack?

It’s hard to think of a more extreme example of an inappropriate computer scene. In fairness, it’s probably an example of futuristic predictions that were off-base. Many of the audience who had seen clips of the virtual reality sequences, when coupled with the Crichton name, will have believed that they were going to see a techno-thriller. The completely unrealistic computer scenes are weirdly out of place and just serve as a distraction in what is basically an issue-driven drama. We’ve argued before that Disclosure is about the most dated film of the 1990s already

4. Enemy Of The State (1998)

The scene: 3D rotation of a 2D picture

Will Smith and Gene Hackman team up in this computery espionage thriller. A lot of the technology that is talked about or shown on screen is fanciful stuff – but who knows for sure what secret government spy organisations really have hidden away?

Ah, enhancing the image, we meet again my old friend. Just once, I’d like it if when someone in a TV series or a film says, “That face over there, can you zoom in and enhance it?”, the computer nerd character would reply, “No, it’s absolutely impossible, sir!”.

A scene in this film takes things a step further – by using a computer to actually rotate a 3D scene so that they can see it from another angle! Bear in mind that this footage is stolen from a CCTV camera that was operating inside a clothing store, so it would have been extremely poor quality. What’s going on? They’ve got us actually considering this nonsense. I wonder if there’s a making of… scene on the DVD that shows the weeks of work that it took the special effects guys to complete this scene – that the computer nerds supposedly did in real time?

Can we cut it some slack?

We’ll chalk this one up to personal taste. The director and special effects team obviously decided to keep things peppy and entertaining rather than plausible. Maybe, just maybe, the film itself was created by a secret government agency as a distraction to cover up the stuff they nicked off a crashed UFO that they keep at Area 51.

3. Blade Runner (1982)

The scene: Enhancing the image (again)

Although not a massive success on release, this film went on to be lauded as a classic and cast a huge stylistic influence over other films and many video games. The scene we’re interested in involves the old classic of enhancing a photograph.

Using voice control, Deckard directs the computer to zoom in on areas of a photograph that he has just scanned into some sort of a computer display device. The first problem is that the image seems to have an infeasible amount of detail, and therefore, the picture doesn’t degrade as much as it should when it’s zoomed in on. The second problem is that, in the latter part of the scene, the system seems to be capable of seeing behind objects, which is impossible. Sure, it might be some sort of futuristic technology that allows software to make an ‘educated guess’, but the whole point of the scene is that Deckard doesn’t know what he’s looking for.

Can we cut it some slack?

As with all science fiction films that are set in the future, any nitpick can be waved away with a hypothetical explanation involving advanced technology. Perhaps, for example, the photo contained a serial number and this serial number linked to an online database containing the original photographic data, which was taken with a 3D camera of some kind. Maybe one of the replicants carelessly uploaded his photos to Flickr. Perhaps Deckard dreamed the whole thing?

It pains us to take a shot at such a well-regarded film, but this may be the granddaddy of all unrealistic enhancement scenes in films. What’s happening on screen doesn’t seem consistent with the capabilities of the device we see working.

2. Taken (2008)

Scene: The photo kiosk

Hot on the trail of his daughter, ex-CIA operative Bryan Mills differs from the template laid out by so many featured on this list, in that he’s not your typical nerd. He prefers to kick ass in the real world rather than in multi-player games, and he can probably do actual pushups and things like that.

Although throat chops are his trademark, he also has some technology chops when he needs them, as demonstrated in this scene that employs that staple of espionage movies – enhancing the image. Employing the kind of resourcefulness that they taught him in the CIA, he takes his the memory card from his daughter’s camera to a public photo kiosk. What’s that? A face in a reflection? Time to zoom in, and then… enhance the image.

Can we cut it some slack?

It’s a fairly standard example of this trope. The idea – zooming in on image to get a clearer look at an important detail is OK, but the implementation is wrong. They can’t even use the usual excuse, that this is top secret software, as it’s a public photo printing facility. When zoomed in, the image is pixellated, but then Bryan presses the ‘process’ button on the touch-screen, and that lightens the image and adds back the missing detail. Impossible. Hang on, we don’t want Liam Neeson to come after us. Actually, the scene is fine. Very plausible, in fact.

1. Swordfish (2001)

The scene: Hacking with a gun to his head

As often happens in these films, computer hacking involves quite a lot of spinning 3D graphics and meaningless jargon, along with another of our favourites, having lots of monitors. Maybe this has all been part of a long term plot by office workers to convince their bosses that they are working, when they are actually playing games?

The hacker himself, played by Hugh Jackman, uses his magic powers rather than any understanding of how things like security systems work. Under extreme pressure, he seems to be able to intuitively guess passwords and overcome encryption. Compare scenes like this to those of social engineering and studying in the library that we see in WarGames, a film that isn’t exactly trying to pass itself off as a documentary on hacking.

Other cinematic milieu suffer from this type of problem too. For example, how often have we seen a criminal profiler stare into space to ‘get into the mind of the killer’ to solve the crime? In both cases, the filmmakers are taking an activity that’s a bit boring and trying to make it look exciting. To top it off, this silly scene basically makes light of what amounts to male rape.

Can we cut it some slack?

Not really. It’s a lackluster movie. The irony is that by 2001, people probably watched the trailer online and then ordered the film or booked cinema tickets on the web. In contrast, some of the films on this list are from an era when most the audience would never have used a computer. It’s pretty unforgivable at this stage in the game to treat computers as magical devices. Our detailed breakdown of the film is here.

(Dis)Honourable Mentions

Of course, we couldn’t go into detail with every film we’ve seen with a few computer goofs. It’s worth mentioning films like The Net, The Die Hardfilms, and some Bond movies that we couldn’t fit in. For that matter don’t even get us started on TV shows like NCIS and cop shows in general. As ever, if we’ve missed a biggy that could have pushed any of our choices off the list, let us know in the comments.