Five 80s Tech Movies That Deserve a Refresh

Philip Berne - Dec 14, 2010
Five 80s Tech Movies That Deserve a Refresh

With Tron: Legacy rebooting the aging 80s sci-fi film, I started thinking about other movies from the 1980s that could use a refresh, if not a long-awaited sequel. These were usually a mix of fantasy and technology, some with a vision of the future, and others with a bent perspective on what was technologically possible. None of these have ever had a feature film sequel, though there may have been occasional TV spin-offs and such. Here’s my list, in no particular order.

1. Weird Science

Why has there never been a sequel or remake for Weird Science? By far John Hughes’ geekiest movie, Weird Science was one of my favorite pseudo-sci-fi movies of the 80s. Gary and Wyatt (Anthony Michael Hall and, uh, that other guy) use a computer to “create” a perfect woman. They end up with Kelly LeBrock, who was pretty close at the time. But instead of simply using her for nefarious, sexual purposes, she actually tries to teach them how to be more confident and endearing to women. Only in an 80s John Hughes movie would two losers create a supermodel who helps them land serious relationships.

Bill Paxton does an awesome job as Chet, Wyatt’s bully of an older brother, and Robert Downey, Jr. even shows up for a bit-part in this 1985 classic. Perhaps Al Pacino’s clunker “S1mOne” took this concept to its next level, creating a character who was entirely virtual, but I always liked the somewhat Frankenstein conceit of Weird Science.

This movie was created before cloning, stem cells, and most genetic research had reached the popular zeitgeist, and well before digital effects were the norm. I’d love to see this movie reimagined for modern times. Get Andy Samberg and, uh, some other guy to play the lead roles. Avoid the temptation to do some gender bending with the plot. It worked when two guys created a supermodel woman. Seeing two geeky girls create their ideal man with Ryan Reynolds (wait, did that guy really win an award for sexiest man?) teaching them how to appeal to men would be creepy.

2. Electric Dreams

In Electric Dreams, Miles buys his first computer, complete with a home automation kit. Of course, home automation never actually caught on, so even today we don’t control our blender or our lights from our computers, but in 1984, this seemed entirely plausible. In any case, one night Miles spills champagne into his computer, and it comes to life. Then, as all artificial intelligences must, it starts giving him advice on how to woo women. I’m sensing a theme in 80s tech movies. Apparently, early prognosticators knew that technology would be most useful for dating first, productivity second.

At first, the computer helps Miles hit on his neighbor, played by Virginia Madsen, but soon the computer decides it must have this pretty cellist for itself, and hilarity ensues. It starts to rebel and wreak havoc on Miles’ life, even putting him in physical danger.

This movie came out not only before Facebook and eHarmony, but also before we had microchips in our refrigerators or DVRs. Of course, today’s version might have the computer devilishly causing Miles to miss the finale to Lost, but I’d take a look into the near future and give the computer control over Miles’ social networks, his phones, maybe even an electric car or two. Hilarity ensues, indeed.

3. Runaway

Did you know Magnum P.I. once made a movie? And the evil villain was Gene Simmons from Kiss? It’s true, and that movie was Michael Crichton’s 1984 sci-fi thriller Runaway. Runaway is about a cop from the near future who chases down evil robots. No, it’s not Blade Runner. These aren’t evil humanoid robots, they’re more like robot spiders, or robotic bullets.

In a way, Runaway still resonates today. Most of the robots Selleck’s character tackles are industrial. A crop harvesting robot. A construction robot. But things get cooler when Selleck uncovers a maniacal genius who is creating evil robots that can hunt and kill people.

Sounds like a plot for this decade if I ever saw one. We’re running wars and factories with evil robots already. And none of the robots in Runaway could fly, they could only creep around on tiny legs. Plus, I never understood why Tom Selleck couldn’t hold down a lucrative career in movies that didn’t involve babies and Steve Guttenberg.

4. Deadly Friend

In 1986, Wes Craven directed a horror movie about a nerdy kid who lives with his own robot. He befriends a cute girl next door, and she becomes one of his only friends. Then, a series of accidents disrupts his life. His robot is smashed by a horrible neighbor, and his friend is accidentally killed by an abusive father. So, he does what any of us would do. He plucks the robotic brain from his toy and implants it into the corpse of his dead friend.

It’s sort of a Monkey’s Paw story for the digital age. Of course she comes back, but she’s more mechanical monster than girl next door. Hilarity ensues. Oh, wait, not hilarity. Horror. She starts killing people.

This week, a college professor implanted a camera into his own head. That’s not a movie plot, that’s the life some idiot is now living. If that doesn’t scream for a Wes Craven horror adaptation (pun intended), I don’t know what does. This movie needs some nanotechnology, some cool digital effects and just the right bit of irony and social commentary that Wes Craven can bring to the table.

5. War Games

Again, how have we not revisited War Games? This movie is not only a classic, it’s even more timely today than it was in 1983. Remember when you could hack into NORAD with a 1200 baud audio modem? Neither do I, but it sure looked cool.

In War Games, Matthew Broderick hacks in to impress a girl (Ally Sheedy, no less), but then an artificial intelligence takes things too far and tries to start a Global Thermo Nuclear War. Today, more bits of our military are computerized and robot controlled than ever. Hacking is now part of the government war effort, and the largest document leak in U.S. history might have come from a disgruntled soldier. Time to dust off the old WOPR, I say.

I would make this one a real sequel, in the vein of the recent Wall Street sequel. Surely, Matthew Broderick’s David went to jail for his crimes. Let’s start when he gets out and becomes a consultant for the pentagon. He creates his own artificial intelligence, perhaps named for the girl who decided to date guys in college instead of waiting for him to be released. Maybe even flip the tables and have the computer try to stop David from rearranging her Netflix queue or screwing up the daylight savings time on her iPhone alarm clock.

Bonus: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

At its heart, Ferris Bueller is a movie about a hacker. His sister got a car for her birthday, he got a computer. So, he uses the computer and a synthesizer to convince his mother he’s sleeping. He hacks into the school to give himself more available sick days. He changes grades. He eventually tries to hack his friend’s Ferrari to roll back the odometer. Hilarity ensues.

I’d love to see this again for a modern age. Today, the hackers always learn a lesson in the end. There is always a price to pay. In Ferris Bueller, it was the authority figures who learned a lesson. His sister learned that being so uptight was keeping her from living her life. His friend learned to confront his father. His principal learned not to keep child porn on his computer. Everybody learns a lesson except Ferris, who simply wants to have a good time. That’s the sort of movie we need to reintroduce. That’s the lesson from the 1980s that we need to relearn today.

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