An everyday man from Philadelphia has made national headlines after he was caught bringing a cell phone jammer onto a bus so that he wouldn’t be bothered by conversations, notifications, and ringtones while commuting to and from work.

It’s hard not to like the guy’s moxie, but if people could unilaterally block cell phone signals, I’m hazarding a guess that cell phones wouldn’t really be able to work anywhere.

Which brings us to an examination of cell phones in movies. While lots of films feature cell phones, surprisingly few use them as devices instrumental to the plot. I thought there would be dozens of films that depended on the devices. And there were, but almost all of them are truly terrible “tech” films that use cell phones as a lame plot point to speak to the tween set, or whatever.

So, that said, here are some films and TV shows (some terrible, some good) that would have been very, very different stories without cell phone technology.

Feel free to mention any omissions or objections in the comments, but please, be nice about it.

The Wire

Sure, it’s richly-textured saga about people limited by their institutions, but at its heart, it’s a story about cops trying to get the jump on drug dealers, and the crux of thir strategy is tapping cell phones. Of course, the drug dealers are hip to this, so they are rotating out disposable “burner” phones every couple weeks, making the efforts of the Baltimore PD all but futile.

If there weren’t any cell phones in this universe, what would poor Lestor Freeman be up to? He would probably have turned into a Bubs-type character a long time ago.


All the whimsy and cat-and-mouse play in the Scream franchise stems from the killers baiting and toying with their victims via cell phone. Sure, they could have pulled the old “the call is coming from INSIDE YOUR HOUSE” thing, but that really only works if you have two lines, and infiltrating a house prior to the attack is just too damn risky, folks.

From the opening scene of Scream, which featured Drew Barrymore casually making popcorn in her kitchen, we realize that this isn’t a film about the confrontation between the killers and victims, but the hunt and terror of being watched by the unknown.

Also, they killed the Fonz, which was pretty great.


No slight against Jack Bauer, but he would be a horribly ineffective CTU agent if he wasn’t able to get ridiculously detailed building schematics sent to him in a matter of minutes. Even presupposing that technology exists, the liberties they take with battery life are pretty absurd. Unless Jack Bauer has bandoleers strapped with cell phone batteries, he’s going to break down and cry after he gets his first “low battery” beep.

This show should have been subtitled “A Cell Phone Extravagana,” because no other work comes close to leaning this hard on cell phones.

Phone Booth

Speaking of Kiefer Sutherland characters, Phone Booth is a film that just couldn’t take place without mobile phones. It’s fitting that the douchey agent’s troubles come at the hands of his cell phone, since they seem to live and die by the sonsabitches.

Here, an unknown (ok, Kiefer Sutherland) antagonist treats Colin Farrell’s character like a marionette, manipulating him under the auspices of having guns trained on him at all times.

It’s not a “good” movie, but it fits the criteria for this list.

Full disclosure: There’s a whole grip of films that are somehow worse than Phone Booth like Cellular, One Missed Call, Swimfan, and many others that I’m just going to put in here so that I can prove I didn’t forget about them but avoid giving them their own stupid paragraph.

The Departed

Without that nifty no-look texting and the ability to slide cell phones to arrested mobsters, the value of Matt Damon as a mole inside the police force falls to virtually zero.

Sure, it’s a pretty conventional story of double-agents, but the spread of information is so up-to-the-minute that without cell phone technology, these guys wouldn’t be worth the investment.

In fact, without cell phones, Jack Nicholson’s men get arrested in just about every scenario in the movie.

Die Hard 3

Any movie structured as a city wide scavenger hunt becomes very different without mobile communication. In many instances in Die Hard 3, they are actually summoned to ringing pay phones, which is a really quaint notion, nowadays. However, even if McClaine and Zeke were limited to cell phones, Jeremy Iron’s bad guy would look pretty ridiculous if he had to bounce from pay phone to pay phone to make the call.

Jeremy Irons: “Oh! A pay phone. Pull over. It’s almost time to harass these two arbitrary guys some more! Oh, man. Someone’s using it! And it looks like they’ll be there for a while. Darn.”


Don’t really want to get into spoiler territory here, but Ryan Reynolds gets buried with a cell phone to try to save his own life. If he doesn’t have that Blackberry, the movie pretty much ends right there, which wouldn’t have been so bad, actually.


While the cell phone use seemed incidental, without the communication between Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper, this movie just isn't the same. Because if you've ever tried to talk to someone going 60 MPH on a bus, and neither of you have cell phones, it's REALLY hard. Like impossible.

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