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Five ‘80s Movies that Inspired Me to Become an Engineer

Jacob BeningoJuly 20, 20225 comments

Five ‘80s Movies that Inspired Me to Become an Engineer

Movies and pop culture can incredibly impact society, particularly children. However, we never really know what conversation, demonstration, or movie could inspire someone to become an engineer. Recently in the Beningo house, we ran out of the film to watch for movie night. In desperation, I decided to find great movies from my childhood in the 80s. To my surprise, I realized how influential several of these films inspired me to become an engineer, or at least helped stoke my interest in electronics. In this post, I’ll share with you five movies from the 1980s that inspired me to become an engineer. 

Movie #1 – Short Circuit

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(Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091949/)

Short Circuit is a fantastic story about a military robot that is electrocuted and suddenly becomes intelligent. When it accidentally escapes, a wild goose chase ensues, during which the robot, Johnny 5, consumes “input” to become more intelligent and capable as the movie progresses.

While this movie certainly has some fanciful twists and turns, it isn’t shy about showing hardware for a budding engineer. Johnny 5 often opens his control port to adapt his programming and rewire his circuits. It’s entertaining to see all the through-hole components and dip sockets.

It’s interesting that even today, we see similar themes running through the media especially concerning machine learning. Twenty-five years later, with a few hardware upgrades, it might inspire a new generation of engineers interested in solving the world’s problems using inputs (data).  


Movie #2 – Back to the Future

(Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088763)

Back to the Future is perhaps one of my all-time favorite movies. Doc Brown creates a time machine out of a DeLorean, which leads to several time traveling and nearly universe-unraveling adventures.

There are a lot of great engineering themes throughout these movies, such as remotely controlling the DeLorean and the dashboard filled with LEDs and displays to make any software engineer giddy.

Even if we look beyond the time-traveling car and all its electronics, we can see themes still present today, such as home automation, and if we stretch our imagination, we can see the need for the IoT (burnt toast, anyone?).  


Movie #3 – Explorers

(Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089114/mediaviewer/rm4052150017/)

Explorers is a fantastic movie about three boys who build a spaceship out of junkyard parts. It’s a movie about the invention and overcoming challenges.  

There are a lot of great scenes involving electronics and experimentation. That retro 3D model is also quite reminiscent of 3D graphics programs my friends and I used to write in Q-Basic.

While physics is a bit far-fetched, a lot is going on in space systems today related to cheap access to space and satellites known as CubeSats dominating the day. 

Movie #4 – Batteries Not Included

(Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092494/mediaviewer/rm2193622016)

I was recently sorely disappointed to discover that “Batteries Not Included” was not nearly as good as I remembered it to be as a child. The movie itself was not good at all. However, robots from outer space even today are still inspiring.

It’s pretty interesting to watch how easily robots from outer space can plug themselves into a 120V 60 Hz outlet and recharge their batteries. The concept of machines that create other machines is also quite intriguing.

A central theme running through space systems is how to build more intelligence into spacecraft. As move deep space missions start to happen where light propagation delays make it impossible to control robots in real-time, creating a small army of intelligent robots might just be exactly what the engineer ordered.


Movie #5 – The Goonies

(Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089218/mediaviewer/rm1592362752)

Now, before I’m accused of putting the Goonies on this list just because it’s fantastic, there are a lot of awe-inspiring inventions in this movie by none other than Data.

There may not be much electronics in this movie, but Data’s inventiveness can strike a chord with young engineers. For example, the plunger and retracting cable he keeps as a belt buckle or the spring attached to toy jaws that saved his life are excellent examples of engineering awesomeness! The only thing missing is a Hawaiian shirt!


Conclusions

While this post has been a fun aside and points to some fun movies, there are several lessons that we can take from it. First, you never know how you might inspire those around you or take the wind out of their sails, so we should tread carefully. Second, you never know where the source of inspiration may come to solve a problem. Science fiction and movies are fun escapes, but they might just fuel your mind to help it down a path that will solve some intractable problem. Worst case, each of these movies is fun to watch, and years ago, they fueled my interest in electronics which led me to where I am today. Who would have thought?

What movies, shows, or general media helped inspire you to become an engineer?



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Comment by mjlindenJuly 28, 2022

For me it was the movie "Real Genius" (with Val Kilmer) and the Star Trek Next Generation series...

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Comment by neiroberAugust 24, 2022

Jacob,

In the 60's, I had an illustrated book (I don't recall the name) of chemistry experiments, which included making Chlorine gas (!)  

I was also inspired by a science-fact book by Isaac Asimov called "The World of Carbon".  I wound up in EE, I guess because it seemed more straight-forward than Chem -- the models actually work!

Another movie from 1966 that does not stand up to scientific scrutiny is Fantastic Voyage.  That's the one with Raquel Welch in a wetsuit.

Neil


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Comment by jackkc7vloSeptember 22, 2022

Add Wargames for me.   Oddly enough a few years later I was working on command consoles similar to what they showed in the movie.

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Comment by beningjwSeptember 22, 2022

Awesome!

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