When you think about it, there are a lot of movies that couldn’t have happened after cell phones became part of our culture. With that in mind I’ve decided to pinpoint movies where cell phones being in common use would particularly trip up the plot and ruin the movie.
1. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Bill and Ted’s is an obvious choice. Cell phones would have forced the movie makers to do without one of its central plot devices: the telephone booth. Bill and Ted use the telephone booth to transport themselves back through time and gather bits of history they later use for their class assignment. Plus, they had to travel to get to the phone booth, thus allowing for my favorite line in the movie, “There’s something a foot at the Circle K.”
2. Sorry, Wrong Number
This great little suspense film from 1948 features a hypochondriac, Barbara Stanwyck, who is bedridden and spends her time on the phone. One day, she picks up the phone and overhears two people on the line discussing a murder plot. You can’t do that with a cell phone unless someone conferences you in. The story from that point on unspools from what she heard and what she does to try and stop it.
3. The Matrix
This movie too relies on the use of phone booths to move its plot forward. This movie introduces us to the notion that we are all inside a giant computer system living our lives out while our bodies are lying in the “real” world having their electrical impulses siphoned off. The few humans in the real world that come and go into the “Matrix” do so through contact points in the matrix. Phone booths are used, fixed locations through which to come and go. These plot devices would be sorely missed if the world of the Matrix was replaced by one where cell phones were available.
4. Dial M for Murder
This clever little murder mystery made back in 1954, starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly, is about a man who hatches a plot to kill his wife. The murder itself depends on the wife answering a stationary phone. With her back turned the murderer jumps out to kill her from behind. If she had a cell phone, the phone could be any place ruining the murder plan and also a really great film.
5. Die Hard 3
Here’s a movie from the ’90s that requires phone booths as well. A bomber has Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson running from pay phone to pay phone. This causes them to break city ordinances and other laws trying to get to the next phone booth in time for the next clue. A great movie, but one that wouldn’t have worked if they had easy to use T-mobile phones at the ready.
6. Dirty Harry
Okay, we have the same sort of thing going on here as we did in Die Hard 3, but it is back in the ’70s when Clint Eastwood had really cool hair. This time Clint is a San Francisco Police Inspector fighting his way across town to various pay phones in order to prevent the murder of a young girl being held for ransom. This overused plot device will be sorely missed since cell phones have made it impossible to use — over and over again.
7. Pillow Talk
This 1950s romantic comedy starring Rock Hudson and Doris Day features a couple who share a party-line. “A what?” you ask. A party line was a phone line shared by two people who otherwise didn’t know each other. If the other person on your line was using it, you had to wait. Such is the problem Doris has with Rock. He discovers who she is, seduces her, and the fun begins — your typical romantic comedy shtick, but it works well. Fun movie, but wouldn’t be if cell phones were around to ruin the set up.
8. Phone Booth
This movie would be impossible to produce today because the chances of finding a phone booth are so remote, not to mention getting someone to answer one that is ringing and thus cornering him inside for the entire movie by aiming a sniper rifle at him. A great intense movie, but not so easily made in the day of ubiquitous cell phones.