Smartphones have been a gift for modern conveniences, but they sure aren’t convenient for scriptwriters.
“Why, you don’t need to take a bus,” a woman tells Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) more than three-quarters of the way through the beloved 1994 movie plot. “Henry Street is just five or six blocks down that way….” Forrest immediately stops telling his story and heads to Jenny’s (Robin Wright) place.
In the smartphone era, of course, Forrest would have entered Jenny’s address into Google Maps before he even left Alabama. And back when he was about to go on stage at the Lincoln Memorial, he probably would have checked his phone and seen that Jenny was there, which would have sucked the emotional energy right out of their reflecting pool reunion.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
If we’re talking #goals for calling in sick, no one set the bar higher than Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick), who spent his day off cruising around Chicago in a convertible, going to a Cubs game, hitting up the Art Institute, and even singing “Danke Schoen” on a float in a parade.
Even if Bueller and his teenage friends could somehow keep themselves from making their epic day into an Instagram story (which is doubtful), when the #SaveFerris hashtag started trending locally, it wouldn’t take long before someone would spot him and post the photo online, proving Bueller wasn’t actually sick.
When Harry Met Sally…
One of the greatest stories ever told about two friends who become lovers, When Harry Met Sally… made the concept of whether or not straight men and women could be platonic a theme of the entire movie. But would it have been the same in the smartphone era?
Without Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) continually losing track of each other, then having chance run-ins, the chemistry of their connection wouldn’t have been the same. And you’d never have some of the film’s most classic scenes, like Marie (Carrie Fisher) helping Sally scope out Harry in the bookstore.
Today, big breaks only come to those with Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. So convincing your agent, a TV show, and the entire American public that you’re a cishet woman when you’re actually a cis-het man would be nearly impossible in the smartphone era.
Yet in 1982’s Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman’s Michael Dorsey convinces the world he’s actually Dorothy Michaels. Also taken in is his love interest Julie (Jessica Lange), who happily accepts his explanation at the end of the film that he was simply trying to land a role.
One Hour Photo
Taking photos with our phones has become so ordinary that it’s strange to remember the one-hour photos that were commonplace at drugstores and supermarkets throughout the 90s and early 00s. In 2002’s One Hour Photo, Robin Williams plays what’s easily his creepiest role, a technician at one of these outlets who’s also a stalker.
When Seymour Parrish (Williams) sees photos that make him think one of his favorite customers (Connie Nielsen) is being cheated on, he goes off the deep end, but luckily the police arrive just in time. In the smartphone era, Williams would have a completely different job—iPhone repairer at the Genius Bar, perhaps.
Nearly a hundred teenagers at the biggest house party the neighborhood has ever seen—with sex workers invited for those who’d like to lose their virginity. If that nearly insane gathering was kept off social media in the smartphone era, it would be a miracle.
Not only that, when someone shows up unexpectedly for a college interview, Joel (Tom Cruise) is able to convince him (with the help of his sex worker girlfriend) to make a positive report to the university. In today’s era, the school (and Cruise’s parents) would have had messages about what was going on the second the man walked in the house!
Said to have revitalized the horror genre when it came out in 1996, Scream’s success was partly due to its killer trailer. The first 30 seconds were one single scene, which began with Drew Barrymore answering the family landline with a friendly, “Hello?” and then “Who is this?” while she makes Jiffy Pop before watching “some scary movie.”
The scene also starts off the film, and the killer calling on the phone is a theme throughout it and subsequent sequels. Of course, with caller ID, the whole creepy line of questioning is moot. And who answers the phone when they don’t recognize the number anymore, anyway?
Widely considered to be the best 70s “disaster film,” Towering Inferno brought together Paul Newman as a true-hearted architect and Steve McQueen as the fire chief you’d most want to rescue you from a burning building. But in the smartphone era, there’s no way the movie’s plot would have happened.
Images of entire floors of the building bursting into flames would have quickly made the rounds online. In the film, the luminaries attending an opening gala on an upper floor aren’t alerted to the fire down below, which leads to them being stranded (and in need of rescue by McQueen, Newman, et. al.).
In the internet era, stalking takes on a whole new dimension, and so would the plot of Fatal Attraction if it had been made today. In it, Alex (Glenn Close) forms an unhealthy attachment to Dan (Michael Douglas), culminating in an infamous scene where she steals Dan’s child’s pet rabbit and boils it alive.
Before the rabbit incident, Alex shows up at several locations that Dan is at with his family. Today, he could have easily taken a photo of her to prove to police he was a stalking victim, if Alex didn’t also leave an online trail. But in the film, the police don’t believe him. The rabbit doesn’t make it, and Dan barely does.
“Play it Cortana, play ‘As Time Goes By’” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. So Casablanca’s most endearing moments—when the reunited couple Rick and Ilsa (Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman) ask piano player Sam (Dooley Wilson) to play their song—wouldn’t be the same in the smartphone era.
In the age of social media, you would also have to try a little hard to not know a thing about the man your wife dated when she thought you were dead. And about that—not knowing if someone is alive or dead is also much harder than it was when Casablanca was made. So the entirety of the classic film’s plot would be hard to pull off today.
Sometimes, to get a better perspective on your life full of riches, you need your brother to involve you in an elaborate game of deception that involves thinking you’ve killed him, jumping off a building, being chased by unknown operatives, and waking up entombed alive in a Mexican cemetery. Such is the premise of The Game.
But in the age of smartphones, you know Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) would have googled The Game and been onto them long before he saw one of their workers in a TV commercial. “10 Reasons ‘The Game’ Is Totally Bogus” the Buzzfeed headline would probably read, with links to tweets from numerous outraged participants.
The Parent Trap
Whether it’s the 1998 remake or the 1961 original, neither Parent Trap could have been made in the era of teenagers being way more internet savvy than their parents. In both films, twins are separated at birth after their parents decide to divorce, with one parent each taking a child (a practice that also seems needlessly cruel by today’s standards).
When the girls meet at camp (played by Hayley Mills in the original and Lindsay Lohan in the remake), they ultimately outsmart their parents by switching places and getting them back together. Just imagine the havoc they could have caused if they had met online years before they met IRL.
In many ways, Home Alone’s Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) would have had it easier in the smartphone era—no fast-forwarding and rewinding to find the perfect clips to play when people came to the door. But the rest of the movie’s plot would be largely impossible.
After downloading every travel app available onto her phone, Kevin’s mother (Catherine O’Hara) could have easily gotten from Paris to Chicago in fewer than three days. Not only that, the power outage that caused everyone’s alarms to malfunction wouldn’t happen when everyone simply sets the alarm on their phones. The family would have never been in a rush to get to the airport, and never would have accidentally left Kevin behind.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
In the era of smartphones, just think about how many fake profiles the talented Mr. Ripley (Matt Damon) would have! But although it would have been easier for Ripley to stalk people, it would have been nearly impossible for him to convince the object of his obsession, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) that they had gone to college together.
And with online identity theft being so easy, it’s hard to imagine Ripley taking the time and effort to impersonate someone in real life. Especially because today, once Ripley assumed Greenleaf’s identity, it would have taken other people about 5 seconds to find out Ripley wasn’t who he said he was.
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
“I’m trying to find my bike!” Pee-Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) loudly proclaims at least a dozen times during the course of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, a bizarro Candide that finds eccentric weirdo Pee-Wee traipsing across America in search of his stolen prized possession.
Of course, with a smartphone, Pee-Wee could make a post—or a thousand posts—about his bike in the same amount of time it took him to simply find a ride while hitchhiking. He also wouldn’t have to get all the way to San Antonio before finding out the sad truth that the Alamo doesn’t contain a basement, where a faux psychic had told him his bike was being kept.
If anyone could have used the TripAdvisor app, it was Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Psycho. While on the lam with some stolen cash, she decides to stay at the Bates Motel instead of risking accidentally falling asleep in her car again.
What happens next, of course, is the scene that made Janet Leigh afraid to use the shower for years to come. If Marion Carne had a smartphone, she probably would have skipped right over the Bates Motel, after it was given abysmal ratings due to its creepy owner.
While engaging in hand-to-hand combat a wild bear alongside Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins is some folks’ secret dream come true, it made for tense drama in 1997’s The Edge, in which their characters, Charles and Robert, are also battling over the same woman while trying to survive in the Alaskan wilderness.
When they aren’t arguing or plotting to kill one another, much of the Charles’ and Robert’s time is spent trying to figure out where they are or get help. And although there are still places with no cellphone reception in Alaska, the built-in compass that comes on most smartphones, along with a couple of pre-downloaded maps, would have made The Edge a much different movie.
Proving that John Hughes’ teen comedies truly define an era, it’s hard to imagine any of them taking place in the present day. Much of the interacting and exploring that the characters do would have to be moved from the physical world to the online one. But Sixteen Candles, in particular, would be impossible in the era of social media.
As everyone woke up on the day the movie takes place, they would have received a notification that it was Samantha’s (Molly Ringwald) birthday. The entire plot of the movie—that Sam is upset everyone has forgotten—wouldn’t be possible today.
You’ve Got Mail
You’ve Got Mail was supposed to be the internet-age update of the 1940 film The Shop Around the Corner, but smartphones were still two decades away when it was released in 1998. In the movie, Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) and Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) meet in an AOL chatroom and realize they share a romantic bond.
What they don’t know is that in real life, they work at rival bookstores. Without profile pics or even an easy way to upload photos, many online friends never saw each other’s faces before smartphones were invented. An update to the story would now have to include deliberate catfishing, a term that wasn’t even invented when You’ve Got Mail came out.
One of the best-loved “comedy of errors” ever made, The Out-of-Towners is about a husband and wife’s ill-fated trip into New York City. Written by Neil Simon, the original film starred Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis, and spawned a remake in 1999 with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn.
Unfortunately for comedy plots, smartphones make errors really easy to correct. So when the couple gets stranded at Grand Central Station, it would only be an Uber ride’s away to the hotel, which would have called them before giving away their reservation. And if not, an Airbnb would have sufficed, in place of sleeping in Central Park.
Do the Right Thing
Retaliating against a business is almost an everyday occurrence in an age when people spend half their time on social media. So in Do The Right Thing, when Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito) notices that his local pizza place doesn’t have any black celebrities hanging in its “Wall of Fame,” he would have quickly thrown a photo up online.
With any luck, the #BoycottSals movement would have stayed online, with hate speech quickly censored when reported. But if events still led to a real-life riot and Radio Raheem’s death at the hands of police, a member of the crowd would have it on camera. The world would have known, but would it have made a difference?
It’s a Wonderful Life
“George is in trouble, he needs money!” the loved ones of George Bailey (James Stewart) tell their fellow townspeople during the climax of It’s a Wonderful Life. “OK, what’s his Venmo?” would be the current reply, rather than an in-person rally filled with paper bills around a Christmas tree.
In the era of smartphones, George Bailey wouldn’t even need money, because his uncle wouldn’t have been taking physical cash to the bank to be stolen by the evil Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). One also hopes that George would get out of town once in awhile, and run his building and loan remotely.
Adventures in Babysitting
Do you know what happens when you leave your kids alone with the babysitter? In the age of smartphones, yeah, you probably do…at least a little. With the option to track your kids’ phones enabled, it would be a lot harder for them to go on a rip-roaring adventure through some of the scarier parts of Chicago.
Unfortunately for babysitter Chris (Elizabeth Shue), she probably would have gotten a call on her own phone once her charges’ mom tracked their location—or simply saw an Instagram pic Chris didn’t realize they had posted. But the good news is that Chris probably would have avoided the trouble entirely in the smartphone era, and simply told her stranded friend to hire an Uber.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
Although the science behind the shrink ray in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids isn’t fully explained, it’s natural to assume that the shrunken kids’ smartphones would have shrunk with them…but would they have worked? If the kids could send their parents a text, their problem would be solved immediately.
In a fictional universe where minuscule phones can’t communicate with regular-sized ones, smartphones still could have helped save the day. The tiny kids could have found a phone that hadn’t be shrunk. At that point, being found was just a Skype call or Facebook Live away.
One of the most critically acclaimed romantic comedies of all time, Roman Holiday centers around a princess (Audrey Hepburn) who “escapes” her handlers in Rome for a few days, taking up with a newspaper reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck). Along for the ride is the reporter’s photographer friend, played by Eddie Albert.
The reporter and photographer hope to make it big with a story about the runaway princess, but naturally, Joe falls in love with her, and keeps her secret safe. But in the smartphone era, there’s so such thing as secrets, at least when it comes to celebrities in public.
The Usual Suspects
It was one of the biggest movie twists of all time—Verbal (Kevin Spacey) is Keyser Söze, the almost-mythical man he’s been describing for US customs agent Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri) throughout the entirety of The Usual Suspects. And he’s embellished his story using cues from items around the room.
But Verbal wouldn’t have even had time to spin Kujan a tale in the smartphone era. Information spreads too rapidly today, with email and cameras on our phones (not to mention, the availability of facial recognition software). Kujan wouldn’t have had to wait for the pivotal fax with a sketch of Söze’s face—that comes a moment too late.
The award-winning film The Piano is often considered one of writer-director Jane Campion’s best, but its storyline would make little sense in the smartphone era. In it, a married mute woman’s (Holly Hunter) neighbor (Harvey Keitel) uses piano lessons as a ruse to get close to her.
He ultimately exposes himself to her (one of several times Keitel has taken part in full-frontal nudity on screen), but she falls in love anyway, expressing her love in a message she sends over with her daughter. Her husband intercepts it and chops off her finger in anger. One can’t help but think that with smartphones, Hunter and Keitel would have simply sexted.
Yes, it would have been nice if James Cole (Bruce Willis) could have called his scientist-overseers from his handy smartphone in the sci-fi flick 12 Monkeys. But the real reason the movie’s plot would never work in the smartphone era is that it’s driven by James’ quest to find out who the 12 Monkeys are.
Believed to be a terrorist organization but later found out to simply be animal rights activists, the 12 monkeys would have definitely taken advantage of social media during their demonstrations. Cole could have simply searched the #12monkeys hashtag to figure out what they were all about.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
One major way in which smartphones have made life dramatically easier is through travel, and no movie plot explains that better than the 1987 comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. In it, advertising exec Neal (Steve Martin) is forced to travel with a very strange stranger, Del (John Candy), when their flight is canceled and rental cars are sparse.
Today, Neal would only have to get off Slack momentarily while he searched other rental car companies and airfare apps. Thanks to Uber, he would never have to accept a ride from Del, and Vemo and bank apps mean destroyed credit cards wouldn’t be a big deal. However, you wouldn’t get the emotional in-person confrontation at the end—a Facebook DM saying “hey..are you ok?” just doesn’t have the same impact.
Coming to America
Where do you go if you need to find a queen? Queens, of course! This is the plot of Eddie Murphy’s hilarious 1988 film Coming to America, which finds African prince Akeem (Murphy) pretending to be a commoner in New York City.
In one of the funniest movie scenes of all time, Akeem is accosted at a basketball game by a loyal subject while waiting in line for the bathroom. Although Akeem’s friends think the situation is bizarre, he’s able to play it off—but he wouldn’t have been able to explain the photos that would have been spread around in the internet in seconds.