Ridiculous to Revolutionary – Visual Tech in the Movies

Imaginary technology is an irresistible lure for most sci-fi film directors. When a film is released, these imagined gadgets seem innovative and high-tech. However, in just a few years’ time, they almost always look dated and laughable.

One particular theme that directors return to on a regular basis is visual tech. From virtual reality helmets to bionic eyeballs, we explore the most extreme and interesting examples of visual technology in the movies.

The 6th Day (2000)

In May 2013, it was announced that adult human cells had been cloned to create embryonic stem cells. This was a huge achievement for medical professionals, bringing the possibility of cloning healthy, functioning organs a step closer. However, we’re still decades away from the possibilities shown in The 6th Day.

In the film, scientists are able to clone an entire human being from a simple blood sample. However, this is just the tip of the technological iceberg. By using a strange eye-testing device, it’s possible to retrieve a person’s memories, before implanting them into a clone.


Total Recall (1990)

visual x-ray


Despite incredible advances in modern technology, the world has never seen the likes of Total Recall’s full-body X-Ray scanner. Able to detect dangerous objects with stunning precision, the full power of this device is revealed when Quaid is caught trying to sneak through security with a gun.

Interestingly, the X-Ray machine is the only example of CGI in the whole film – all of the other effects were achieved using models and animatronics.


The Terminator (1984)



The Terminator has spawned an incredible legacy. Three film sequels and a television series were inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original performance.

The audience finally sees the true nature of the Terminator in the infamous surgery scene, when Arnie pulls out his damaged eyeball to reveal a glowing red bionic eye.


Strange Days (1995)



Visual tech provided the main plot device in James Cameron’s cyberpunk flick Strange Days. The SQUID – or “Superconducting Quantum Interference Device”, uses a complicated network of electrodes to record a person’s visual and auditory experiences.

Originally developed for police use, SQUID ends up on the black market. In the wrong hands, the technology proves lethal – amplified recordings from the device are used to render one of the characters brain-dead.

Johnny Mnemonic (1995)


With a cyber-hacking dolphin, a disease transmitted by Wi-Fi, and the unlikely catchphrase “It’s Jesus time!”, Robert Longo’s Johnny Mnemonic is rarely taken seriously by film critics.

The movie contains a lot of far-out visual technology. For example, Keanu Reeves’s character has a memory-storing device planted in his head. By donning a virtual reality headset, he is able to both view and physically manipulate the files – a far cry from today’s data storage methods.

Disclosure (1994)



Robert Longo was not the only film director to explore the concept of virtual reality in the nineties. In the 1994 film Disclosure, Michael Douglas also dons a VR headset, entering into a mysterious virtual reality.

However, unlike the high-tech virtual reality in Johnny Mnemonic, Michael Douglas’ character finds himself exploring a high-vaulted building, which bears some resemblance to the interior of a cathedral.

Demolition Man (1993)


The 1993 film Demolition Man explored a variety of themes, from the ethics of cryogenic storage to the inherent problems of a utopian society.

However, the most famous scene occurs between Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock. In director Marco Brambilla’s imagined future, sex is conducted through virtual reality. The two characters don virtual reality headsets for an erotic encounter, but remain sitting several feet apart.

The Lawnmower Man (1992)



The Lawnmower Man was originally adapted from a short story by Stephen King. However, he was so unimpressed with the outcome, he subsequently sued the production company for departing so widely from the novel.

The film is a cautionary tale of virtual reality gone wrong. Jobe Smith, a man with learning difficulties, is chosen to participate in a series of intelligence experiments. Gradually, he becomes obsessed with power, ultimately abandoning his body entirely and ‘uploading’ himself to a brightly-coloured virtual reality. Although advanced for their time, the CGI effects now look dated to the point of hilarity.

Minority Report (2002)



Director Steven Spielberg wanted to prevent Minority Report from losing relevance, so performed extensive research into potential future technologies when creating the film. As a result, Minority Report has largely escaped the dated effect that other sci-fi movies tend to suffer.

In one scene, Tom Cruise’s character is identified through eye-scanning technology, before being greeted with a personalised message. This imaginary visual tech is now on the cusp of becoming reality, ten years after the film was released.


This post was written exclusively for Screen Invasion by contact lens specialists, Last Minute Lenses.

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