The holiday season is upon us and it’s a great time to relax and catch up on movies. And a surprising number of popular films incorporate GPS tracking, or a similar sci-fi version, in their storyline. Check out these six examples, and then see how many you can spot in your own movie-watching.
- In Bourne Ultimatum, amnesic hero Jason Bourne is unexpectedly called back into action when a reporter starts asking questions. Bourne uncovers new information about his past and must struggle to understand newly resurfaced memories while dodging assassins the whole time. In one particular scene, his friend, Nicky Parsons, gives one such assassin a new phone, which Bourne uses with the installed GPS system to track him down in an attempt to stop his next hit. The GPS navigator Garmin DriveSmart 55 was also installed in the car.
- The Matrix, a computer hacker named Neo discovers that the world he knows is actually a virtual reality program built to imprison human minds so intelligent machines can feed off the energy of their sleeping bodies. When Neo and his fellow rebels re-enter the Matrix program to fight back, they find the machines attack. To escape, the protagonists need to find the nearest landline, so a colleague on the outside gives them turn-by-turn directions by cell phone, helping (almost) everyone in the scene to survive and fight again. While it’s not clear what technology they’re using, a similar feat in the real world would require some kind of GPS solution.
- In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the orphan boy-wizard, Harry, spends his third year at the school for magic with his friends—and copes with murderous dark wizards, unexpected plot twists, an escaped felon, and a werewolf. Harry and his friends have a few tricks up their sleeves, of course, including a magical map of the school that shows the movements of the other characters in real-time. It proved to be very helpful when trying to avoid evil characters. The closest we can get to the Marauders’ Map in the Muggle world is something like a GPS fleet management tool, where you can watch the movements of each vehicle in real time on a screen.
- With The Dark Knight, Batman teams up with local law enforcement authorities to rid Gotham City of crime, only to see a new criminal mastermind gain control, the frighteningly crazy Joker. As the Joker plays various sadistic games with the citizens of Gotham, Batman and his colleagues track him by using an unexplained technology to convert cell phones into a city-wide tracking surveillance system. Presumably the system in some way takes advantage of the phones’ GPS locators.
- DC lawyer, Robert Dean, is unwittingly pulled into a high-stakes game of plots and counterplots when key evidence in a politically motivated murder is planted on him, in Enemy of the State. High-tech surveillance is a recurring theme—at one point Dean is unaware he is carrying five different tracking devices. In real life, hidden GPS trackers are used by law enforcement and fleet managers to recover stolen vehicles and cargo.
- The name of GPS, the Movie, says it all. A group of friends join a light-hearted contest, expecting to use their GPS devices and map-reading skills to find buried treasure. Instead they find what could be clues to a kidnapping, including more GPS coordinates. Can they find and rescue the kidnapping victim before it’s too late? Is the victim even real? Or is the whole thing still part of the game?
In some of those movies, the characters use magic or other means, not GPS devices. But, again and again, movies show us characters who can discover, at a distance, where other people and objects are located, and track them in real-time. This curious ability has become such an important part of our collective life of imagination and demonstrates how dominant GPS technology has become.