Hollywood Doesn’t Get Data Centers


It’s no secret that movies often embellish the mundane to make it more interesting for the audience. But when you stop and think about it, I bet you’ve noticed some the blunders that Hollywood has decided to ignore for the sake of movie magic.

Take computers, for example. It might have been more understandable to see glaring errors in older movies when not many people had personal computers, but there’s really no excuse now. This might have to end up being a bigger series, because there are so many things wrong with the way computers have been represented in movies. But for starters, I’m going to share my list of the top three ways movies get data centers wrong.

Data Centers Have a Lot of Data

In Ocean’s Eleven, the team’s hacker simply clips a device to a cable in the casino’s data center, and the entire security camera system becomes available via remote laptop.


Livingston Dell, the techie character from Ocean’s Eleven played by Eddie Jemison, may be a whiz with computers and surveillance, but he’s an anxious guy who’s not so great at finding his way around. In fact, he needs to write the directions to the server room on his hand just to get there. But to find the “right” cable, he easily navigates through server cabinets that are virtually identical and finds exactly what he needs.

Forget that sensitive data like video feeds would be encrypted and that it would take more to hack it than clipping something to the outside of a single cable. An unauthorized person could still manage to do some damage, but unless they were intimately familiar with the data center, that damage would be imprecise.

Data Centers Are Loud

Often in movies, the hero must deftly sneak into a silent data center that is more akin to a library or a museum than the real thing. Servers, storage, and switches have fans that spin up when needed to cool hardware, and they can get noisy. A quick jaunt into the server room at my work shows about 75 decibels, and we’re only testing this equipment, so we’re not even running full throttle at any given time.

When James Bond manages to get captured in Skyfall, he finds himself handcuffed to a chair in a haphazard data center. Silva, Bond’s soft spoken adversary, makes a dramatic entrance at the other side of the large room and begins delivering his villainous soliloquy.

Whenever we’re working together in the data center, my coworkers and I have to shout at each other. In reality, the antagonist would’ve had to shout or 007 wouldn’t have heard a word he said until he was two feet away. C’mon, you know Javier Bardem has the acting chops to pull that off and still be menacing.

Data Centers Are Boring

The technology in use in the data center can be fascinating. However, when it comes to aesthetics, things tend to be really bland. The function comes before the form; companies worry a lot more about having access to their data than about having an interesting design in their server room.


Most data centers have hot and cold aisles which help regulate temperature and keep things from overheating. In Tron: Legacy, protagonist Sam Flynn breaks in to the ENCOM data center so that he can upload a program to their servers. The room has a visually impressive style, with each cabinet standing on its own and all of the cabinets facing the same direction. While it’s certainly interesting to look at, a set up like that would really mess with airflow and temperature.


Before you bring it up, I know, I know…I left out any mention of the movie Hackers. But let’s be honest. What did that movie get right about data centers?

What other computer indiscretions have you spotted on the silver screen? Share your discoveries with us in the comments!


2 thoughts on “Hollywood Doesn’t Get Data Centers

  1. gekitsu says:

    lily, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, you are a friggin’ national treasure. scratch that, since i’m typing this from an ocean’s distance away, you must obviously be an international treasure.

    wonky computer stuff in films is my second-most facepalmed subject. (the first is archery. no one is surprised)

    i see and understand that the scale of normal screen UIs doesn’t lend itself to being readable when filmed and possibly shown in sd resolution on TV/streamed with lousy bitrate. but dammit, does that mean every piece of computing equipment in every film (or even in every cheap TV production) has to look as if it had a completely custom OS, that looks like what a computer-illiterate person imagines computer UIs look like? completely computer-illiterate people are a dying breed, so who designs these things? and while we’re at it, can we please trash the notion that inserting a suspect’s usb stick OPENS UP A COMPLETELY NEW FAUX-OS?
    there sure is a middle ground between these absurd contraptions and filming actual computer UIs. the recent need to adapt many OSes for hiDPI displays should come in really useful, too.

    then, there’s the old blunder of showing the bruteforcing of passcodes as something where each spot in the string is iterated individually, and dramatic tension increases because more and more spots are ‘locked in’. that must have become its own trope by now.

    the plot-relevant lines in a list of whatever (agents in the field, dangerous items in storage, etc.) blinking is ‘x marks the spot’ for computers.

    ‘encrypted’ always means ‘if i haven’t entered the right password after three tries, it will garble the screen with multi-coloured ascii terminal output’.

    maybe this last one is unfair to critique, because of art’s tendency to improve upon the imperfections of reality, and film/TV’s dramaturgic requirements, but i’ll never not be amused by the almost-magic ability of every small-town police computer guy to make sense of the faux-OSes on every piece of storage they get, even if it’s a half-burned hard drive hooked up to a computer with crocodile clips. my (admittedly limited) experience tells me that unless the police can give a piece of hardware to a separate specialist department, they are flummoxed by even the most trivial deviation from FAT32/NTFS-thumbdrive-with-ms-word-documents. two acquaintances of mine lost thumb drives once, and the regular police guys tried finding out whose they were to give them back. i can see that the completely encrypted one made them stumble, but my other friend had police tell them ‘but there’s nothing on it anyway, it isn’t even formatted’ – when all it was was ext2.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lily says:

      Hahaha, yes to all of these and the 10 others you thought of but didn’t put in this comment. I have seen a small handful of shows and movies that have actually handled things in a way that, while not precisely realistic, didn’t completely distract me from the story being told.

      I said that this will probably have to be a series…thanks for bringing up that great password trope. Passwords could probably be a whole post right there!


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