Greek philosopher Plato once remarked that necessity is the mother of invention. So are movies, it seems, as several flicks, especially sci-fi fare, have somehow planted the seeds of ingenuity among more adventurous folks in the seats.
The result is a number of products already available or still in the experimental phase inspired by the very movies they caught. Here are 10 of them that originally suspended disbelief yet made it into the real world, thanks to an enterprising lot that not only saw the big picture but had the imagination to examine what looked unusual and convert them into products that have benefited the world at large.
10 Autonomous Vehicles
Thanks to companies like Tesla and Waymo, the driverless car has arrived and it’s only a matter of time, further testing and additional high-tech tweaks before it becomes a commercial reality. Artificial technology will be behind the wheel of these futuristic four-wheelers, although they will also be heavily reliant on wi-fi and more detailed GPS mapping. We’ve already seen them perform in Total Recall and the TV show Knight Rider, but the first film to profile an autonomous vehicle was one that didn’t rely on all those gizmos.
Nope, it was a Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie with a mind and personality of its own in the 1968 Disney romp The Love Bug. Was it an influence on the real thing? Maybe, considering it was released the same year as the equally escapist 2001: A Space Odyssey, which featured a computer named HAL, sporting the same traits as Herbie. Coincidence? Probably not.
9 Cloaking Devices
We could dedicate an entire story to Star Trek’s influence on modern technology, from cell phones to personal computers, but the cloaking device is one that’s arguably most surprising. In 1988, the U.S. rolled out the bat-shaped B2 Spirit stealth bomber that contained a similar feature.
Much like measures taken by enemy vessels to become invisible to Federation tracking technology in scores of Star Trek franchise TV episodes and movies, the B2’s design allowed radar signals to bounce off its hull in different directions, making them undetectable to hostile forces. Coming soon is the next generation of stealth technology, with forthcoming B-21 planes featuring signal-absorbent materials and lower heat signatures that’ll come close to their fictitious counterparts.
8 Digital Advertising
Scenes featuring high-tech backdrops for blatant promotion have been ubiquitous in outings like Total Recall and Minority Report, but it was Blade Runner that first grasped the idea of LED-type outdoor advertising.
These monolithic, digital billboards illuminating all the aerodynamic vehicles flying by throughout the 1982 sci-fi epic not only made for some futuristic eye candy, they were also way ahead of their time. It wasn’t until 2007 when a company called Watchfire Signs started installing the first digital billboards in the U.S., threatening the future of their paper and paste equivalents.
Technically, drones were around in 1984 when the Tom Selleck outing Runaway was released, but they were still in the covert stage as military spy vehicles for Cold War missions. In this sci-fi movie, drones in Runaway were applied by law enforcers in much the same way, predating the better-known killing machines ubiquitous in the more lucrative Terminator and Transformers franchises.
Those blockbusters likely had a bigger influence on such real-life applications as Middle East bombing campaigns, although more pacifist folks prefer them as hobby novelties or flying delivery vehicles for the likes of Amazon.
6 Genetic Manipulation
Altering genes dates back 30,000 years when prehistoric humans were cross-breeding dogs, but applying that technology to homo sapiens was a passing fancy until 20th century medical scientists came out with such procedures as DNA mapping, gene splicing, cloning, tissue regeneration and much more. And movies taking on those practices, from the original Vincent Price outing The Fly to Hulk were released in lockstep with the progression of bioengineering.
That said, the 1931 release of the original Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff and based on the Mary Shelley novel written nearly two centuries ago, undoubtedly was the first flick to tackle that subject matter.
Arguably, the Star Wars saga is more cosmic fantasy than science fiction, but a few items of ingenuity showed that the George Lucas franchise wasn’t a total galactic fairy tale. The opening sequence in the first Star Wars movie in 1977 showed a holograph of Princess Leia inserting a device of military secrets into the R2D2 android.
That was when holographic technology was still in its primitive two-dimensional phase, but since then light refraction involving lasers has improved to perform tasks like a holographic projection of the late rapper Tupac Shakur at Coachella in 2012. Still, despite upcoming holographic concerts involving ABBA and Whitney Houston, the technology still has a ways to go before it can emulate those sophisticated Star Wars projections.
Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) used a high-tech skateboard to evade bullies in the 1989 romp Back To the Future Part II, which saw him time warp to his hometown circa 2015. Real life hasn’t quite caught up to the film’s prophetic hoverboard, but manufacturers are still working on it, toying around with a concept known as magnetic field architecture.
Still, at least credit current brands, from Halo to Segway, for at least coming up with equivalents that operate on two wheels.
3 Smart Homes
Some of us already have housemates like Alexa and Siri, who obligingly dim our lights, adjust our room temperature, play our favorite music and set up our preferred movies. Smart home technology is all the rage these days, but nothing like a more malevolent device like Proteus, which had the run of the household in the 1977 suspense film The Demon Seed.
Proteus was evil to the point of imprisoning the movie’s star, Julie Christie, so she could incubate its offspring: a flesh-and-blood version of itself. While horrifying, the film also touched on the eventual rise of the Internet, since Proteus was wired between the home and a laboratory located elsewhere.
2 Smart Watches
Almost every pundit loves to point out how Star Trek laid the pop-culture foundation for the flip-style cellphone. But in the first motion picture outing in 1979, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise opted for a wrist-watch variation of their signature communicators, reportedly the inspiration for Apple’s smart watch unleashed a few years ago.
Bravo to the Trek folks, as they beat the gumshoe flick Dick Tracy, which featured Warren Beatty in the title role, by 11 years. Well, sort of. The futuristic detective who used a two-way wrist TV, was documented decades earlier with the same gadget. Yep, the smartwatch had its fictitious beginnings in 1946 in the Dick Tracy syndicated comic strip created 15 years earlier by cartoonist Chester Gould.
1 Tablet Computers
Credit 2001: A Space Odyssey, arguably the best sci-fi film ever made, for introducing us minions to such technology as cryogenics and artificial intelligence, not to mention a few nifty gadgets. Chief among them were the newspads used by astronauts onboard the Jupiter-bound ship Discovery to catch up on all the events back on earth. The movie versions were built into ship consoles and not even portable, although manufactures of credit the movie for coming up with the idea for the tablet and the iPad.
The classic flick was even dragged into a 2011 lawsuit involving Apple trying to sue Samsung for stealing the idea. When Samsung lawyers exhibited a newspad scene from the movie as proof the notion dated back to 1968, Apple backed down.