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The Evolution of Cell Phones in Movies & TV Shows

By April 1, 2016July 11th, 2022No Comments

Cell Phones in Movies & TV Shows

20 Pictures that Show the Evolution of Cell Phones in Movies and TV Shows

As a society, we tend look to movies and TV shows to take cues on trends, especially when it comes to technology. If we look back through film history, we can certainly notice the changes in cell phone trends in particular. While today virtually everyone owns a cell phone, films used to represent cell phones as a status symbol or an example of advanced technology available only to a small segment of people.

From the very first “brick phones” and flip phones to sliders and even the first touchscreen phones, movies give us a clear indication of exactly how cell phones — and their primary functions — morphed through the years. It used to be that phones were strictly for making calls, but as we know today, our cell phones are so much more.

Here is a look at the cell phone evolution in pictures, depicted through 20 different films and TV shows over the years.

  1. Get Smart (1965-1970)

Get Smart Cell Phone

In this early spy satire TV series, Agent 86, or Maxwell Smart, was a secret agent played by Don Adams. Agent 86 was tasked with operating a number of spy gadgets, none of which he could ever seem to quite get the hang of. The most memorable gadget, of course, was his shoe phone.

The shoe phone was literally a phone in the sole of his shoe that he would hold up to his ear to communicate back to the chief at his counterintelligence unit, CONTROL. Today it might seem silly to need to conceal a mobile phone, but it made for good comedy back then.

  1. Star Trek (1966-1969)

start trek cell phone

Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner in the Star Trek TV series, used what can only be described in today’s terms as a gold flip phone. Known in the TV show as the Communicator, this device was more than just an ordinary cell phone. It became a central plot device, allowing crew members to transmit signals without relying on satellites.

The concept of the Communicator was so advanced at the time that mobile phone inventor Martin Cooper actually credits it as his major influence for developing the first Motorola cell phone. Plus, the Communicator’s gold coloring actually makes it fairly fashion forward by today’s standards.

  1. Wall Street (1987)

wall street movie cell phone

Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in Wall Street, was a high-powered stockbroker. Gekko used his Motorola DynaTAC mobile phone to close deals and perpetuate his “greed is good” philosophy. While today we refer to this as the “brick” phone, back then this was top of the line in mobile tech. It offered an impressive 30 minutes of battery life, after a 10-hour full-charge.

At the time, this cell phone would have been worth approximately $10,000. It’s no wonder only a wealthy and powerful character such as Gekko would be seen possessing such a pricey piece of technology.

  1. Lethal Weapon (1987)

lethal weapon cell phone

Lethal Weapon developed into a series of hit films starring Danny Glover and Mel Gibson. In the original film, Danny Govler’s character, Detective Murtagh, carried around a mobile phone that’s referred to as the “suitcase phone.”

The device had an enormous charging dock that was connected to the phone via a spiral cord. The charging dock even had an antenna to boost the phone’s signal range. Can you imagine having to hold a suitcase-sized charger in one hand and your phone in the other just to make a simple call?

  1. Saved by the Bell (1989-1993)

saved by the bell zack morris phone

When we get nostalgic and remember the days of the first Motorola cell phones, or “brick phones” as we fondly call them, the Zack Morris phone from Saved by the Bell immediately comes to mind. This teen sitcom from the early ‘90s really popularized cell phone use. For once, using a cell phone wasn’t being depicted by high-powered executives (although Zack’s father was portrayed as one).

Saved by the Bell highlighted how convenient having a cell phone really is since it allowed Zack, Slater and Screech to get up to their shenanigans. Zack Morris’ Motorola cell phone made him a serious trendsetter at the time.

  1. Pretty Woman (1990)

pretty woman cell phone

Fictitious businessman Edward Lewis carries an early version of the cell phone to make his important business calls in the hit romantic comedy Pretty Woman. Carried by Richard Gere, the cell phone again symbolizes wealth and power, especially when compared to Julia Roberts’ character, Vivian Ward, a Los Angeles sex trade worker. Ward charms Lewis, ultimately leading him to put aside his ego and image and declare his love for her.

  1. Seinfeld (1989-1998)

seinfeld cell phone

Hailed as one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, Seinfeld starred Jerry Seinfeld, who played a character of the same name and was seen in later years possessing a cell phone. Eventually other characters started acquiring cell phones as well, including Elaine, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

One episode in particular has a scene explaining the cell phone etiquette of the time. According to the scene, calls made on a cell phone are considered less important due to it being mobile. While cell phones are now used all the time for all sorts of reasons, the show nailed that cell phones do require etiquette, which is a big issue today.

  1. Clueless (1995)

clueless cell phone

Considered a classic among cell phone movies, Clueless is a film starring Alicia Silverstone that portrays the superficial lives of high school students in Beverly Hills. Main character Cher Horowitz is portrayed as rich and vain and, of course, owning a cell phone. Her friends and clique members all carry cell phones as well, because at the time they were still considered status symbols. Cher had a flip phone with pull-out antennae, which was new and trendy in the mid- ‘90s.

  1. Jerry Maguire (1996)

jerry macguire cell phone

Tom Cruise starred in Jerry Maguire, the Academy Award-winning classic film from the mid ‘90s. Cruise’s character Jerry, is a workaholic professional sports agent who grows a conscious. The film follows Jerry as he tries to strike it out on his own with his faithful assistant Dorothy, played by Renee Zellweger, and his one loyal client, Rod Tidwell, played by Cuba Gooding Jr.

Of course, being the successful agent he is, Jerry owns a cell phone. The film’s most famous scene depicts Tom Cruise screaming, “Show me the money!” into his old flip phone while an amused Cuba Gooding Jr. negotiates his deal on the other end.

  1. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

tomorrow never dies cell phone

The eighteenth James Bond film and the second with star Pierce Brosnan, Tomorrow Never Dies displayed all sorts of advanced technology for the time. The most memorable of scenes is when Brosnan uses a high-tech Ericsson cell phone to steer his BMW in a high-speed chase from the back seat.

This mobile phone was one of four different Sony Ericsson phones used in the film. One of the phones even had a fingerprint scanner. This pricey product placement was effective, since Sony Ericsson phones were incredibly popular in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.

  1. The Matrix (1999)

the matrix cell phone

In a futuristic and dystopian world, would we have any doubts they’d use high-tech phones? Matrix star Keanu Reeves plays Neo, a cyber hacker who uncovers more about the world than he is supposed to. Because it’s some undiscernible time in the future, Neo carries a very advanced-looking — for the time — flip phone by Nokia.

The Matrix was a huge success, and the phone became just as popular. Nokia ended up making a model of the flip phone commercially available due to the increased demand from consumers after The Matrix was released.

  1. Zoolander (2001)

zoolander cell phone

Zoolander star Ben Stiller plays Derek Zoolander, a male model brainwashed by fashion industry leader Jacobim Mugatu, played by Will Ferrell, and his own agent, Maury, played by Jerry Stiller, in a plot to assassinate the Malaysian prime minister. The satirical film does a good job of playing on some of the social topics of the time, including the trend of cell phones becoming progressively smaller each year — how could they not?

In one scene, Derek answers his ringing phone, which is a tiny flip phone. He then goes on to explain that his phone is a very important part of him.

  1. Sex and the City (1998-2004)

sex and the city cell phone

No one could ever accuse Carrie Bradshaw, of the late ‘90s/early 2000s TV series Sex and the City, of being a tech-savvy gal. But boy, did she have style! Carrie’s pink bejeweled flip became one of the most iconic cell phones to an entire generation of women.

Motorola and Swarovski teamed up to create this unique phone especially for Sarah Jessica Parker’s character. In the final scene of the show’s finale, the producers reveal the real name of Carrie’s love interest, Mr. Big, played by Chris Noth, on the screen of her ringing pink phone.

In the first Sex and the City film, which was released in 2008, Samantha Jones, played by Kim Cattrall, hands Carrie an iPhone to use to make a call. Carrie takes one look at it and declares she can’t use it.

  1. Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

oceans eleven

Many of the mega-famous cast members of Ocean’s Eleven carry Motorola phones. Motorola was essentially the dominating name in cell phone technology at the time. In one scene, two Motorola phones are used in conversation between Rusty, played by Brad Pitt, and Terry Benedict, played by Andy Garcia.

The flip phone used by Tony Benedict is noticeably compact, which was the trending style at the time. The phone used by Rusty had an antenna, something that was still considered beneficial in cell phone communication at the time.

  1. X2: X-Men United (2003)

xmen united cell phone

The science fiction and super hero film X2 is a spinoff of the X-Men series. Main character Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman, has all kinds of sweet gadgets. One of those is the X-Phone, a slick-looking communication device that has no screen or recognizable buttons. Its minimalist look only has an earpiece and a small round control button in the center.

  1. Devil Wears Prada (2006)

devil wears prada cell phone

The Devil Wears Prada is a film starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. The main character, Andy, played by Hathaway, is the assistant to fashion magazine editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly played by Meryl Streep. In the film, Andy uses a T-Mobile Sidekick phone to answer to Miranda’s every request day or night.

At the time, Sidekicks were the coolest phones around and were made popular by celebrities. They were the first cell phones marketed directly to the younger generation and really played on the craze of instant messaging growing among this demographic.

  1. The Dark Knight (2008)

the dark knight cell phone

Like any good superhero, Batman, played by Christian Bale, needs top-of-the-line tech to keep criminals off the streets. In The Dark Knight, the second film in the Christopher Nolan-directed trilogy, Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, has a Nokia 5800 Xpress device that he uses to curb the crooks’ plans. Eventually, Nokia went on to release a Dark Knight Rises special edition phone — the Nokia Lumia 800 — in conjunction with the launch of the final film.

  1. Iron Man (2008)

iron man cell phone

Following the trend of superheroes with cool devices, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr., is certainly known for his affinity toward technology. In the film, Tony Stark uses an LG VX9400 phone with a cool swivel screen feature.

By the time Iron Man 2 was produced, an ordinary commercially available phone wasn’t good enough for Tony Stark’s character. The producers had him operate a fictitious transparent phone that was slim and sleek. Because LG was the film’s sponsor, the company’s logo was added to the cell phone’s glass plate.

  1. No Strings Attached (2011)

no string attached cell phone

A primary plot device of this romantic comedy is about texting and the use of cell phones. The two stars of the film, Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, spend much of the time communicating via their iPhone 3Gs. Up until this point, films didn’t show or promote iPhones all that much. Today, virtually all films depicting cell phone communication show the latest version of the iPhone.

  1. Gone Girl (2014)

gone girl cell phone

By the time Gone Girl came out, iPhones and cell phones in general had become an integral part of everyday life. Storytellers could now develop plots entirely around a character’s habitual use of their cell phone. Part of Gone Girl’s plot stems from a selfie taken with the main character, played by Ben Affleck, and a woman using her iPhone. This is certainly very different from when phones were simply used to make calls.

The evolution of cell phones in movies is fun to reflect on. It’s not just because we get to have a good chuckle looking back to some of the primitive devices, but also because it shows us how our behaviors have evolved as well.

It’s clear from these films and shows that cell phones used to be considered a luxury and something only executives and wealthy people needed or could afford. As we progress through the years in film, we begin to see how cell phones evolve into better technology and offer more uses above and beyond the limited amount of talk time they once served.

Do you have an old cell phone you’re still holding on to — perhaps a bit more recent than many of the cell phones in the films and TV shows above? Sell your old cell phone to The Whiz Cells for cash!