We all groan in that one inevitable moment in every action movie – the part of the film when the cell coverage cuts out. Most often the main character’s battery is dead or the bad guys have somehow jammed the cell towers (if that is even possible). This familiar trope is so heavily used because cell phones would ruin most movies. But, kids today have no recollection of a life without ubiquitous smartphone use. They do not understand the drama of getting trapped, lied to, lost, uninformed, or cut-off. But it used to be a big deal! We had to find our own way out of dangerous situations – and these stories were much more compelling back then. So, here are five classic movies before cellphones:
Back to the Future Trilogy
Marty and the Doc get tangled into all sorts of paradoxes in this classic trilogy – many of which would have been easily solved with a quick phone call between the films’ protagonists. How much time do the films spend showing Marty tip-toeing around, trying to find the Doc, searching for some time-sensitive object, or otherwise not able to communicate important information to persons of temporal interest? In 1985, 1955, 1885, and even the futuristic 2015, no smartphone search or quick mobile phone call was available to quickly mop up the mess and end the movie.
The Breakfast Club (1985)
The Breakfast Club would have never succeeded post-cell phone. What group of angsty teens would even talk to one another if stuck in unmonitored detention today? They would pull out their phones, scroll through Instagram, listen to music, watch YouTube videos, text their friends outside detention, take selfies, play games, and when 4:00 rolled around, they wouldn’t even notice. Headphones would be in their ears within seconds of being left in that high school library. Today, no friendships would have been forged in the face of intense boredom – but epic individual social media sessions would have definitely taken place.
The Matrix (1999)
While The Matrix did involve cell phones, a central plot device in the series was the necessity of the landline phone. In order to exit the Matrix program, the main characters had to find a landline phone and pick it up after their friends in the real world dialed the number on their Matrix-hacking computers. Maybe thats why grandma still keeps her landline phone service at the house … Similarly, the film Dirty Harry revolved around Harry’s quest to find pay phones – a quest that would have been significantly less action-packed if he had a fully-charged phone in his pocket all along.
In Titanic, Rose and Jack spark an unlikely relationship. They come from very different societal classes, and Rose is engaged to another man. As the film progresses, Rose and Jack sneak off together and evade Rose’s fiancé, Cal. Today, Cal would have been texting Rose constantly if he were concerned about her whereabouts. He would have incessantly called her phone and maybe even located her with the Find My Friends app on her smartphone. Moreover, Rose changes her identity as she is rescued and evades Cal for the rest of his life. This would not be possible today, and it is hard to imagine avoiding contact with someone for decades on end with Facebook and other immediately-available social media resources.
Indiana Jones Trilogy (1981-1989)
If Indiana could have snapped a high quality cellphone photo or two while inside the caves, ruins, secret passages, and other highly important archaeological locations of the original trilogy, he would have had a very different lifestyle. His academic day-job would no longer be necessary, that’s for sure. What if he live-streamed his journey for the Holy Grail on Periscope or Facebook Live? What if, while in the middle of an inescapable obstacle, he called his friends in the government and had immediate access to back-up, excavation equipment, a helicopter, military resources, or more? Instead, he was on his own with nothing but a whip and an adventurer’s hat. Good luck surviving anything like that, Generation Z kids!