Gadgets and technology have long been a staple in film, with recording devices integral to a number of genres and classic films. What would an old spy movie be without one? How else can the good guy secretly trap the bad guy with her own words? They are essential for so many stories. While we certainly didn’t get them all, here are 12 tantalizing tape recorder movie moments you’ll want to rewind.
DIRECTOR: Chris Columbus STARS: Macaulay Culkin, Catherine O'Hara
In the sequel to what was at the time, the most successful comedy ever made, little Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), is on his own again, but in truth not actually home so the title already is a bit of fib. That said, this retread sees our young hero getting on the wrong plane and ending up in New York City rather than Miami with the rest of his family because that's a thing that can happen. Alone in the Big Apple, he discovers his old pals the "Wet Bandits" (Daniel Stern, Joe Pesci) are also in town after escaping prison but are now called the "Sticky Bandits." As expected, they are none too happy to see the little pipsqueak and want to cause extreme bodily harm. On the run, Kevin ducks into The Plaza Hotel where he, a 10-year-old kid has a room. How does he have room you ask? Well, conveniently, he was traveling with his father's bag, containing cash and credit cards. Using his Talkboy recorder (a movie prop that became a real product), he records his voice and slows down the recording, using it over the phone to fool the reservationist because that's a thing that can happen. Did we say that already?
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg STARS: Richard Dreyfuss, Teri Garr
There've been a lot of movies about alien encounters and invasions (some good some, meh, not so much), but not many go the extra effort of giving them a reason to do so other than Screenwriting 101's version of "harvest all humans." With director Steven Spielberg behind the wheel (space throttle?) of this landmark film, creatures from outer space aren't bug-eyed laser blasting parasites but rather intelligent, curious beings with interest in humanity and finding ways to communicate. And if that means abducting adorable little blonde kids and whole fighter squadrons from the air, well then, so be it. In this tape recorder moment, a symposium on recent speculative alien encounters gathers in a large hall and listen to a recording of a mass sighting in Dharamsala, India where a massive crowd all chant a five-tone musical phrase, pointing to the sky where they heard the sound. It's a turning point for scientists who beam the sound back into the heavens and well, get an interesting reply. Now go work those mashed potatoes.
The Thing (1982)
DIRECTOR: John Carpenter STARS: Kurt Russell, Keith David
At an American research base in Antarctica, people are having a very bad day. After a Norwegian team in a helicopter fail to stop a runaway Malamute, the dog makes its way into camp, and the American's kennel it. Thinking nothing of it, they investigate the Norwegian camp and find mutilated corpses and lots of fire damage. Yikes. Back in the kennel, the alien parasite living within the dog emerges in grotesque fashion and all hell breaks lose with the small team of researchers realizing the creature can replicate any host it occupies perfectly. No one can be trusted. R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), the American team's helicopter pilot makes a recording on a portable recorder, detailing what he's seen, sometimes recording over things he first lets out. With all efforts to find and capture and stop this, this . . . thing, he sits at a lonely desk, exhausted, disheveled, beaten down and afraid. "There's nothing else I can do," he confesses. "Just wait." That's why we have a strict No Running-From-Helicopter-Dogs Allowed policy at our clubhouse.
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Lynn STARS: Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn
Have you ever been playing Clue, the murder mystery board game and thought, hey, this would make a great movie? Well, you're too late. Back in 1985, somebody already did it. Mostly known for its three different endings, it is actually a pretty funny film that far exceeds expectations. It's got Tim Curry in it, so yeah, we ain't lying. The film centers on six various people invited to a dinner, all of them interconnected in ways they are not so willing to admit, and each blackmailed for various incendiary reasons (though having Mr. Green's homosexual at the State Department being so horrific he would lose his job sure seems sour by today's standards). Enter Yvette (Colleen Camp), the estate's voluptuously buxom French maid, who seems to know a thing or two of her own. At one point, withdrawing to the billiard room for bit of quiet time and a drink, she is seen rather manipulatively recording a conversation between the guests. It shifts our perception of the big-bosomed floozy-esque stereotype she is meant to portray. Hmm, is it The Maid in the Pool Room with the Tape Recorder? No.
DIRECTOR: John Badham STARS: Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy
Is there any movie more fun to watch than WarGames? We're currently not accepting any answers other than 'No'. In it, a troubled but super smart high school kid named David (Matthew Broderick) hacks into a computer system thinking he's about to start playing some games that aren't even released yet. Thing is, no. He's not. Instead, he accidentally tapped into NORAD, the U.S. missile defense system. Maybe that wouldn't be such a problem, except that yes, it's actually a huge problem. Just before, after secret emergency drills proved that a significant number of humans refused to turn their launch keys in the event of a nuclear attack, they solved that issue by taking people right out of the equation and replacing them with one monster computer that runs war simulations 24 hours a day. When David gets in the back door, it thinks it's for real. David gets snatched by authorities and taken to NORAD to answer for his suspected terrorist activities. In this classic tape recorder moment, they lock him in an infirmary for a moment and he uses that time to trick out a handheld tape recorder to by-pass the door's security. Oh, Ferris. Always so clever.
True Lies (1994)
DIRECTOR: James Cameron STARS: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis
What do you get when you cross one of the biggest action stars in the world with one of the most acclaimed directors of all time? Terminator, of course. What did you think we were going to say? But after Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron also made True Lies, an action comedy about a world-class super spy living a double life as a computer salesman in a suburban family home, and that's why we're here. In the film, while Harry Tasker (Schwarzenegger) is out saving the world, he also suspects his usual homebody wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) might be having an affair with another secret agent. So, in an exciting scene, he talks to her and they work it out. No. Of course not. He doesn't do that. That would be normal. Instead, he uses the vast reach of a US government anti-terrorism agency to spy on her and make her think she is actually involved in a dangerous covert operation because . . . love? Hoping to surprise her, he pretends to be an international criminal who likes exotic strippers. She plays the stripper and comes to "his" hotel suite, thinking she's serving her country. As she dances, he uses a suave Latin recording to mask his own, um, highly identifiable voice. Comedy ensues.
DIRECTOR: James Cameron STARS: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton
Speaking of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Terminator, we can't talk tape recorders in movies and skip this memorable moment. If you don't know the story, we hope your stay with the aliens went well and we welcome you back to Earth. In this movie, the future sees the near destruction of mankind by an uprising of the machines, soldiered by terrifying humanlike robots called Terminators. In order to prevent the last rebellious stand by a ragtag team of scrappy people who are unnervingly close to ending Skynet, the machine's big brain, they send a Terminator to kill the leader's mother before he's even born. Well, that's their plan at least. Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) turns out to be a bit more resourceful than they expect in this twisty time-traveling epic. In one scene, as she rides in a Jeep, pregnant with Man's only hope, she makes audio tapes for him so in the future he'll be prepared for when the robots come. But don't worry . . . She'll be back.
Terminator: Salvation (2009)
DIRECTOR: McG STARS: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington
As the Terminator series continued it ceaseless trek into time-altering befuddlement, it was in 2009 when the franchise decided it needed to expand the story of the humans in the future, at the heart of the aftermath of Skynet's apocalyptic devastation to end mankind. In this timeline, John Conner (Christian Bale) is just making his mark as the leader of the rebellion to retake their place on the planet and in so doing, spends quite a lot of time boning up on his history, listing to the tapes his mother made before he was born. Hey! We just read about that. In this moment, he grows frustrated as he can find no mention of a Terminator with human organs, such as the one he has captured on his base, which believes it is actually a good person. Much like how we believed this could be a good movie.
The Evil Dead (1981)
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi STARS: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss
Ultra cheap but ultra-awesome, this classic horror film, and the one that got it all started for director Sam Raimi and actor Bruce Campbell, sees five college students head into the Tennessee woods for a vacation in a cabin. So far so good. But then they check out the basement and discover a book of the dead. The actual the Book of the Dead. You'd think the next scene would be everyone in the car with their seatbelts on speeding away on the highway but no. They instead find audio tapes and being young people in a cabin in a horror movie, start to play them, not even stopping when the sketchy voice starts in with incantations and devilish chants. But the undead seem to like them. Sorry. The evil dead.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino STARS: John Tavolta, Uma Thruman
Leave it to visionary filmmaker Quentin Tarantino to make even the way a song is played something to talk about. In this landmark film, interconnecting stories have many seedy characters collide, including a hitman named Vincent Vega (John Travolta), a philosophical kind of thug who works for mob boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames). Wallace wants Vega to escort Wallace's wife while he's out of town, trusting his henchman to keep her entertained and out of trouble. So they go out. Vega and Mia (Uma Thruman) first enjoy asoft drink and milkshake at Jack Rabbit Slims, a 50s-themed restaurant before winning a Twist dance competition. Later at her place, Vega, feeling frisky but knowing the consequences will leave him quite dead, retreats to the restroom to talk himself out of making a move. Meanwhile, Mia flips on her reel-to-reel and makes herself comfortable as "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" lulls her into a sexy dance. No way she'll find anything causing her to get stabbed in the chest with an adrenaline shot in Vega's jacket though. Right?
DIRECTOR: James Wan STARS: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell
The Saw franchise quickly devolved into a long series of disturbing torture porn films but at its start, was much more of a dark thriller. Yes, there was the now infamous heart-attack inducing reverse bear trap moment, but in comparison to what followed in the sequels, it was relatively tame. Cassette recorders figure prominently in the first, with the start of the film seeing two men shackled to pipes in an old dilapidated washroom, each with tapes in their pockets. A corpse on the floor between them, presumably dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound has a recorder in his hand. These tapes give the two men some directions with horrifying choices, and we learn as the film progresses that a man known as the Jigsaw Killer is behind their plight, testing people's limits for survivability so as to teach them the value of their own lives. The most impactful moment with the recorder though comes at the end when Adam (Leigh Whannell), one of the two men in the first room, discovers another recorder on the body of a man he thought was his captor. But that ain't the case. As he plays the tape, things in the room take on a decidedly twisted turn and the real truth for why he's chained to a pipe takes on a whole new meaning. Game over.
From Russia With Love (1963)
DIRECTOR: Terence Young STARS: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi
And at last we come to Bond because what hasn't a Bond film got that can't make just about every movie list ever made? This one is From Russia with Love, where James (Sean Connery) sets about trying to help the lovely Soviet consulate clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) defect while evil organization SPECTRE, still perturbed with Bond's killing of Dr. No in the previous film, hatch a plan to avenge their fallen comrade. In this classic Bond gadget moment, James is speaking with Romanova, with whom he is already having sex. Duh. They are on a ferry and she only wants to get a little more of the sweet Bond action, but he's brought along his camera, which concealed within, is a secret tape recorder. Gasp! He asks her to describe a thing called the Lektor, a cryptograph British intelligence has long be wanting to get their hands on. With her confirmation, plans are made and Bond can acquire the device. And more importantly, he can get back to acquiring the girl.