Top 10 Movie Telephone Tricks

Ever been impressed at a movie character’s elite phone abilities? I sure have a few times. Here’s my collection of 10 great phone movie moments in no particular order…

David Lightman Obtains A Free Call: In Wargames, David Lightman, played by Matthew Broderick, is stuck out in the desert somewhere and desperately needs to call his girlfriend to ask for her help. But he has no money, so he finds a soda tab on the ground and uses it to create an electrical connection from the phone’s mouthpiece to the front of the pay phone, which gives him a free dial tone. From what I’ve heard, this particular trick used to actually work. It’s just too bad that you can’t find soda tabs like that all over the ground anymore.

Free Meals At Nice Restaurants: Ferris Beauller wants to scam a free meal in Ferris Beauller’s Day Off, but the restaurant guy doesn’t believe he’s really the Sausage King of Chicago. So Ferris picks up the restaurant’s phone and pretends to call the police, while actually calling the restaurant’s other phone line. When the restaurant guy finds another phone and picks up the line, it’s Ferris’ girlfriend wanting to speak with The Sausage King and helping to confirm Ferris’ fake identity. After this call, restaurant guy gets sneaky and picks up The Sausage King’s extension to eavesdrop, only to hear him speaking with the Chicago Police. Or at least his friend Cameron, pretending to be a police officer. Luckily, all adults in this movie are extremely stupid, so the plan works perfectly.

Pump Up The Volume – Cordless Beige Boxing: Near the end of this movie, we’re sure that our hero, Happy Harry Hardon, is finally caught because the authorities have traced his call as he was prank calling the school’s guidance counselor on the air with his pirate radio station. Much to everyone’s relief, we find that Harry has hidden a cordless phone base in his neighbor’s shed and that the calls were traced back to them. The police show up to arrest his elderly neighbors. I just want to know one thing – how did Harry get such a clear signal on that old 44 MHz cordless phone.

The Matrix – Traveling Through Phone Lines: You gotta be a little impressed with the characters in the Matrix, since they were somehow able to transfer themselves in and out of virtual worlds using regular copper phone lines. It’s just too bad they couldn’t figure out a way to adopt cellular technology in the same way for quick getaways from Agent Smith.

Terminator 2 – John Conner Needs A Quarter: Needing to call his foster parents to warn them about the T-1000, John asks his Terminator if he has a quarter. The terminator bashes the coin box in with one punch and quarters come pouring out of the phone. Not exactly something you can do if you don’t own a Terminator, but it was still a cool trick. Of course, we could stay that the Terminator stole this idea from Police Academy 3, when Sgt Tackleberry helped a little old lady retrieve her lost quarter from a pay phone by shooting at it with his gun. (As heard on the beginning of PLA Radio 14!) But we’ll give the Terminator the benefit of the doubt since he probably didn’t have time to watch that movie.

Diverting Calls Through 411 To Fool Caller ID: In Lindsay Lohan’s movie Mean Girls, her friend Regina isn’t happy about seeing Jason with Taylor Wedell. So she calls up Taylor’s mother. “Caller ID!” Gretchen quickly warns. But Regina knows her phone tricks – she calls 411 and asks them for the number since 411 won’t transmit your caller ID when they connect you. (According to this movie, anyway.) Regina pretends to be Planned Parenthood, calling for Taylor, and the mom freaks out. We see the results of the prank a few seconds later when the girl receives a call on her cell phone from her mother. Pretty vindictive but you gotta love Regina’s knowledge of caller ID for prank calling purposes.

Free Long Distance. Forever. In the comically bad movie, The Core, a hyperactive computer hacking genius (who they ask to hack the planet) grabs the cell phone of a passing agent. Folding a gum wrapper into a magical hacker-like shape, he uses it to whistle into the cell phone. He then tells the agent, “Here, you now have free long distance on this phone. Forever.” It’s amazing what a hacker can do with an unlimited supply of Xena tapes and Hotpockets.

Scamming Strangers Over The Phone: A couple of crafty youngsters scam a stranger with a fake lottery ticket in the beginning of the movie Ghost In The Machine. The fake lottery ticket has a phone number on the back of it to confirm the winnings. The stranger uses a pay phone to call it in, unwittingly reaching the kid’s friend who uses a voice changer to make himself sound like a female. After thinking that the ticket is valid, the stranger is ready to pay the kid a fraction of the winnings. Later in the movie you get to see a serial killer ghost track a woman’s movements from her car’s cellular phone, while switching traffic lights near her in an attempt to cause other cars to crash into her. It doesn’t get any more realistic than that!

Random Touch Tones = Free Calls: In that oh-so-technically-accurate movie called Hackers, Phantom Phreak needs to make a call from the pay phone that happens to be sitting at the table with him (WTF??). When the automated voice asked for $5.00 for the first minute, he plays a tape recording of a string of touch tones. Of course, this fools the pay phone into thinking he deposited money. What the hell is up with $5.00 for the first minute anyway? I sure don’t remember domestic phone rates being that insane in the mid-90’s. And per minute?? They always gave you 3 minutes to talk in between deposits, even for international calls.

“I called long distance – I sent 40,000 volts around the world…”: Edgar, the jealous home computer from the movie Electric Dreams, sure knows how to use a phone to make Miles’ life a living hell. He begins his reign of terror by using a service called Radio Phone to play music through Miles’ pager during a symphony. From there it escalates into authorizing ticket booths to cut up his credit cards and turning him into a wanted man at the grocery store. Edgar The Computer also becomes a regular call-in guest on The Dr. Ruth Show and he loves to call Miles at work every day to find out when he’ll be home. All from an acoustic coupler connection, somehow. The grand finale is in the end, when Edgar tells Miles that he’s used the phone to send 40,000 volts around the world in an effort to commit suicide. “Don’t be upset…I dialed toll free…”

So what’s your favorite movie phone moment? I’m sure I missed more than a few good ones. Post your favorites in the comments.

Brad Carter

I run this town.

15 thoughts on “Top 10 Movie Telephone Tricks

  • October 29, 2007 at 9:37 am

    In Three Days of the Condor, Robert Redford beigeboxes with a stolen handset beneath a hotel.

  • October 29, 2007 at 9:54 am

    If I remember correctly: In the movie, Scanners, near the end, the good guy is psychically hacking a computer through a payphone when something happens and he starts to melt the computer on the other end of the line with his mind.

  • October 30, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Hey about #9, I don’t think he was putting $5 into the machine to make a phone call (I haven’t seen the movie in about 8 years, so I could be wrong) I’m pretty sure for some reason the phone was setup to receive quarters for the game they were playing. I might cut through the scenes later to see. I have never seen something like that in real life so I could be very very worng…

  • October 31, 2007 at 6:40 am

    BRAD. You need more PLA radio episodes, I’m freaking out here!

  • November 1, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    Three Days of the Condor gets my vote. My favorite is when he calls headquarters from the CO and makes the CIA map-scrolling tracer device go bonkers.

  • November 4, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    In the movie The Conversation, starring Gene Hackman, they used a phone as a remote microphone to listen in on his apartment.

    They made/had blue boxes in the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley.

    They did some social engineering over the phone toward the beginning of Sneakers.

    Oh, that Robert Redford…

  • November 7, 2007 at 12:17 am

    How about Gremlins 2? When Billy transfers the electric Gremlin from the phone into the water soaked legion of beasties in the lobby of Clamp Towers. Gremlin Flambe! Yes, I know I rule.

  • December 4, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    A linesman’s field phone was used in “Johnny Mnemonic” … whoa.

  • December 14, 2007 at 8:43 am

    the cable guy: jimcarrey climbs a phone pole and beiges from a boot, then lets go of his test set throws his arms out as if he were gonna fall backwards off the pole, but is wearing one of those leather belts that wrap around the pole..

    i need one of those belts..

  • January 23, 2008 at 4:20 am

    have to agree with others, 3 days of the condor was rad, Untraceable the movie is coming out Friday rumored to have Caller ID Spoofing

  • March 19, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    The example from Hackers is actually probably the most real on the list. To tell the telephone company computers that you’ve deposited money, it plays certain tones over the line. If you happen to have a recording of the correct tones, it can trick the computers into thinking you deposited the money. Doesn’t work on modern pay phones because the mouth piece is disabled until you’ve deposited the money

  • April 12, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    In Lois and Clark, a Superman television series, a villain called “The Prankster” kills someone by electrocuting them through their phone. Later on in the episode, Lois Lane has a fear of picking up the phone because she might die.

  • April 5, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Hackers may have been completely off about real hacking and hackers, but to me it was a wonderful teenage-childhood movie that I watched over and over and actually got me into the whole game. Go Zero-Cool.. Go!…Mess with the best…

  • May 8, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    OLD article/thread, but I thought I would put in my 35 cents. In Stephen King’s _Firestarter_, Drew Berrymore’s in-movie father hacks a payphone telekinetically to dump out all the quarters. He even gets a nosebleed for his efforts.

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