10 Times Hollywood Completely Failed to Understand How Technology Works

Article by George Norman (Cybersecurity Editor)

on 14 Jul 2017

You’re not going to notice the obvious and glaring technical mistakes we made if you’re caught up in the thrill of the ride, are you? Yes. I. Am. Hollywood!

Even though I am willing to suspend my disbelief and not bat an eye when the bad guys can’t hit the broad side of a barn, I am going to call bullshit when I notice that you fail to understand how computers, software, video games, and technology as a whole works.

I am inclined to think that some of these screenwriters, directors and producers are tech illiterate, otherwise annoying tech mistakes like the ones listed below wouldn’t show up in movies and TV shows.

1. Not knowing how to shoot in an FPS game

As seen in The Big Bang Theory.

“We’re pinned down, we can’t get through," says Raj, completely oblivious to the fact that they’re still in the starting zone and haven’t even met the other team yet.

"I’m trying to shoot," yells Sheldon while his character is jumping up and down and he’s pressing something on that keyboard that definitely isn’t the space bar. "Then use the shoot button!” replies Howard while mashing the left click button and holding the mouse in a way that says he's definitely not a gamer.

"They can’t [play another game]," says Leonard once the game is over and Raj tells him to challenge them again. “There’s an important Little League game tomorrow," Leonard continues.

I’m going to skip over the fact that Hollywood constantly depicts gamers as little kids or as socially awkward nerds and I’m going to focus on Sheldon’s apparent inability to shoot. How could someone who says "I used to excel at these things" possibly forget how to shoot? In a FPS game?!

Does Intel know that its "upgrade to a new PC powered by Intel" poster boy can't do something as basic as shooting in a FPS?

2. Setting your laptop on fire

As seen in Jason Bourne (2016).

In 2016’s Jason Bourne movie, Nicky Parsons goes to a building in Reykjavík, where she uses a beat-up laptop to hack into the CIA’s database. The CIA detects the hack, but is unable to stop the download. So they detect Parsons’ location and cut the power to the whole building (but not before putting some malware onto Parsons’ USB key). With her cover blown, Parsons then sets fire to her laptop and makes a hasty retreat.

There are multiple problems with this scene and with the whole Jason Bourne movie as a matter of fact. But the thing that annoys me the most is that she sets the laptop on fire. There are a lot of people around her who aren’t just going to let the fire burn and destroy the laptop. They’re going to put it out. If she was hoping the fire would destroy the laptop's HDD or SDD, that’s not going to happen.

3. Two people using the same keyboard

As seen in NCIS.

Unless you’re a hermit, living somewhere in complete isolation, you have used a keyboard in your lifetime and you know that these devices aren’t meant to be used by two people at the same time. How NCIS managed to get this wrong is utterly baffling.

4. Having the high score in every MMORPG

NCIS again.

Having two people use the same keyboard to fend off a hacking attack isn’t the first time that NCIS managed to misunderstand how technology works. In another episode, one of the characters can tell how many cores the processor has just by looking at the desktop wallpaper.

"Is that a 12-core?" says Timothy McGee. "16, with a ten meg pipe" answers the woman who we later find out that she holds the high score "in virtually every massively multiplayer online role-playing game." Who cares that MMOs don’t have high scores or that playing just one of them will take up a huge chuck of your time. This girl has the high score in ALL OF THEM!

5. Nobody knows what GUI stands for

As seen in CSI, Criminal Minds.

"I’ll create a GUI interface in visual basic. See if I can track an IP address."

Spewing some techno mumbo jumbo like that might fool my grandma, but it’s not going to fool me or anyone who has 2 seconds to spare and look up the word GUI. In case you’re too lazy to Google it, GUI stands for "graphical user interface." As in the part of the software that you interact with, commonly known as "the interface." How is an interface going to help her track the IP address is a mystery known only by the screenwriters who were probably in a hurry to finish early and go celebrate their genius with a few drinks.

"Hey, you know what?" said the CSI screenwriters when they bumped into the Criminal Minds screenwriters at the bar. "You should definitely try to sneak in the word GUI in an episode. And try to make it sound dirty."

6. Remotely fry someone’s system

As seen in Castle.

Hacking is never a tedious task that takes a lot of time. In movies and TV shows, it’s always a fast-paced thing that features loads of visual elements, including a means to measure when your firewall will be breached. And if you ever find yourself on the receiving end, you can always fry the system of whoever is trying to hack you. Because why would you simply unplug your system when you could do something much more exciting instead?

7. Explaining simple concepts with lousy metaphors

As seen in Numb3rs.

Tell someone that you’re using a messenger-type application and they’ll instantly get it. It’s not that hard to get your head around the concept that a piece of software can be used to, wait for it, send messages to another person. IRC may not be as popular as it used to be, but in the end it is a simple chat program. You don’t have to use overly complicated explanations to present it, do you?

8. Kids with inexplicable hacking skills

As seen in Jurassic Park.

It’s not hard for some kids to beat a bunch of nerds in a FPS game, not when they don’t even know how to shoot. But figuring out an entire system in a matter of seconds, now that’s another story altogether. This system was specifically built for Jurassic Park and Lex Murphy couldn’t possibly know how to operate it. And keep in mind that John Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson) tried to get the park back online earlier in the movie and concluded that "I can't get Jurassic Park online without Dennis Nedry." But sure, a young girl who previously couldn’t figure out how to work a flashlight will easily manage to fix everything since she "knows it."

9. You can connect to anything

As seen in Independence Day.

In all fairness to the Independence Day movie, the extended release includes a scene that sort of explains how Jeff Goldbum could connect his PowerBook to the alien spaceship. But you didn’t get to see that scene in the theater release did you? No, what you saw was a PowerBook magically connect to an alien spaceship like it was nothing.

But let’s forget about the connectivity issue and focus on power instead. On one hand, you have a spacecraft created by an alien species that’s thousands of years ahead of us technologically. On the other you have a PowerBook 5300 with a 100MHz processor and at most 64MB of RAM. My lousy work PC has a 3GHZ dual-core processor and 3GB of RAM and it freezes when I browse the web.

10. No respectable hacker will ever use a mouse

Do you know what a mouse is? It is the most used computer peripheral! Despite this fact, movies and TV shows insist on completely ignoring it. Using a computer in a movie never requires a mouse, especially if you're a hacker. For some reason, Hollywood believes that hackers are magical creatures that can do everything with a keyboard.

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