The best phones in ’80s movies

Husain Sumra profile image March 29, 2024 | 4 min read

Oh, how we miss the days when phones were simply tools for verbal communication! Long gone are the times of tangled cords, busy signals and party lines. Yet, somehow, those memories remain etched in our collective consciousness, especially when it comes to cinema. Let’s embark on a nostalgic trip back to the era of massive hairstyles, leg warmers and arcade games—the fabulous ’80s! Specifically, we’ll focus on some of the most iconic ’80s phone scenes that captured hearts and minds during this golden age of filmmaking. They might not be the red lips phone, but they’re still great. So buckle up, grab your Walkman, and prepare yourself for a healthy dose of retro goodness!

Ghostbusters (1984)—”Who ya gonna call?”

Arguably one of the catchiest taglines in motion picture history belongs to Ivan Reitman’s blockbuster hit, Ghostbusters. Indeed, who better to handle otherworldly disturbances than Peter Venkman and company? But beyond its quotable dialogues and top-notch special effects, Ghostbusters featured another standout element: the memorable scene where hapless receptionist Janine Melnitz fields endless calls on her ’80s telephone requesting professional paranormal services. Amidst the chaos, she remains steadfast, calmly jotting down details with pen and paper, proving herself indispensable to the team.

Pretty Woman (1990) —”Big mistake. Huge!”

Technically released in the early ’90s, this romantic comedy deserves inclusion due to its strong ties to ’80s aesthetics and culture. Set against Los Angeles’ vibrant streets, Edward Lewis, a wealthy business magnate, falls head over heels for Vivian Ward, a charming escort with a heart of gold. During one particularly poignant scene, Vivian expresses frustration over not being able to buy a dress from a luxury clothing store. Thanks to hotel manager Barney who makes a call to a friend at the store, Vivian is able to buy the dress. Without this call, Edward and Vivian’s relationship would have never been able to move forward. Moral of the story? Always call!

Say Anything… (1989) —”Boombox Serenade”

Ah, Lloyd Dobler—the epitome of earnestness and sincerity. Following graduation, he gathers the courage to ask Diane Court out on a date by calling her family’s retro home phone line. Despite initial reservations, Diane eventually agrees, sparking a tender romance filled with meaningful conversations and stolen glances. Of course, Cameron Crowe’s masterpiece wouldn’t be complete without the famous boombox serenade featuring Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” While technically not a phone scene, it serves as a testament to the power of telecommunication in bringing two souls closer together.

Die Hard (1988) —”Yippee ki yay, mother****er!”

John McClane isn’t your ordinary office worker; instead, he’s embroiled in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with Hans Gruber, leader of a highly skilled group of thieves posing as terrorists. Some of the most entertaining scenes in this one are when limo driver Argyle is having the time of his life in his limo, taking and making phone calls all night as chaos erupts around Nakatomi Plaza. Eventually, Argyle wises up and helps out a great deal, but it just goes to show how a great phone call can really suck you in!

Terms of Endearment (1983) —”Look at my Renoir”

Sometimes, mere words cannot convey the depth of emotion shared between loved ones. Aurora Greenway, portrayed beautifully by Shirley MacLaine, grapples with her estranged daughter Emma’s deteriorating health following a cancer diagnosis. Aurora begins a romance with her neighbor Garrett Breedlove. In one endearing scene, the two have a phone call in which Aurora tries to invite Garrett over. While they’re certainly talking to each other, it’s what’s not being said that makes this scene. Both MacClaine and Jack Nicholson, who plays Breedlove, are awkward and nervous and really sell the emotions behind the words.

Wall Street (1987) – “Money never sleeps”

As you can tell from the other choices here, phones in the 80s were often stuck to a singular location. An office desk, a living room, or even a fancy limo. Taking a call on the go was uncalled for, until Wall Street. Gordon Gekko pulls the ultimate power move, calling Bud Fox while taking a stroll on the beach. It quickly shows not only how rich Gekko is, but how much his world – and by extension his greed – revolves around money. Plus, it’s a neat little precursor to modern times, where everyone now has a cell phone and can take work calls anywhere they want!

These six examples merely scratch the surface of the myriad ways ’80s cinema embraced telephone technology to propel narratives forward and deepen emotional stakes. By examining each case study, we observe various themes, such as love, betrayal, desperation, redemption and friendship. Each scenario highlights the transformative nature of vocal communication, allowing characters to form bonds, navigate crises, and seek comfort in moments of despair.

As society evolves toward increasingly digitized forms of interaction, it’s worth reflecting on these vintage vignettes to appreciate the simplicity and warmth offered by analog means of long-distance discourse. Perhaps next time you find yourself caught up in the whirlwind of modern existence, consider pausing for a brief interlude to revel in the beauty of a straightforward conversation carried out over the airwaves. You never know what kindred spirits might be listening on the other side!

And if you’re feeling inspired by these tales of telephone triumphs, why not give your own loved ones a call today? Pick up the receiver, hear their voices echo in your ear, and remember just how fortunate we are to live in an age where instantaneous global communication is possible. You can even add some 80s flair and get a retro phone of your own! Happy chatting!