Drones seep into entertainment

There have been a number of articles recently about the seeping of drones into popular culture and the resistance to that by concerned citizens, activists and others. And YES, call them drones. This is likely to increase since Hollywood already requested from the FAA to use drones for making movies (also see here , here, here, here, here, and here). Note that this article is not meant to promote drones, but rather show how much they have spread into movies, and are becoming more and more a part of action films in the US, specifically. Also see this interesting comic and this parody. If there any films that I missed, then please mention them in the comments below. This post shows through pictures and video (if possible) how drones have come into entertainment (tv and movies) after already going into science fiction.

24 (a TV show) (2014)

The neoconservative show on Fox News features drones heavily in its limited season since May as one can see from the episode summaries on Wikipedia alone.  Without getting into too much of the specifics, Mother Jones notes that the show which “came on the air just two months after 9/11…[and] got a reputation for right-wing Bush-era messaging…but also featured oilmen, shady business interests, and Republican politicians at the center of terrorist conspiracies,” has political framing “adjusted accordingly with the times.” The article further quotes the words of the executive producer Howard Gordon saying that  “We have analogues for the Snowden affair and the drone issue is a backdrop.” The Hollywood Reporter notes  that there is some elements of the show that mirror Wikileaks, and that debate about drones, as Jack, the ‘good guy’ “requests false credentials so he can get close to the President and hand over proof that the U.S. drone that killed British and American soldiers had been hacked.” TV.com adds that the show interjects “contemporary politics” in the form of “the power and danger of drones.” Still, the show is not very accurate to what real intelligence work is, as noted in a comment in The Guardian.

Ian Crouch has some of the most interesting comment on the show, writing in The New Yorker that:

President Heller is the target of the drone-wielding terrorist, and his death “on foreign soil,” we’re told a few times, would lead inexorably to a world war. Sounds plausible. Wait, war between whom exactly? Who cares, there’s no time!…24” premièred on Fox on November 6, 2001, not quite two months after 9/11. In its first episode, a terrorist blew up a plane. It’s easy now to forget how significant that first season was, both from a technical perspective—with its use of simulated real time and split-screen action—and in the way the show both reflected and provoked a mood of fear and a desire for retribution…Bauer routinely used torture to get information, and it was generally shown to be effective. Bauer was also regularly tortured himself, as if to even the odds, though he seemed to bear up better under the pressure than his victims did. Torture wasn’t glorified as pleasant or inconsequential but, rather…as grimly necessary…The show’s animating spirit during its first six seasons was the co-creator and executive producer Joel Surnow, a rare Republican in Hollywood…He defended the show’s use of torture in practical, personal terms…Surnow told Mayer that “24” had a lot of fans in the Bush White House…This season, there has been urgent mention of metadata, and, this being London, liberal use of CCTV. Most significant, there are drones. Jack is thrown in with a cell of anti-surveillance hackers, led by a Julian Assange type whom Jack must beg for assistance in preventing an attack. “It wouldn’t be an issue if your country hadn’t decided to fill the skies with unmanned heavy-armed aircraft, would it?” the hacker says. Bauer responds, as is his wont, with stony silence…The new “24” is making a more nuanced argument: now the United States’ vulnerability stems from its very obsession with security. This season’s terrorist ring is led by Margot Al-Harazi, a convert to Islam who is, among other things, surely—we’ll see—out to avenge the death of her husband, who was killed by an American drone. She leads a transnational family—a kind of Benetton version of Muslim extremism, radicalized by America’s military adventurism. In this way, these episodes offer a fitting coda for a show that has tracked the country’s mood from the neocons to Snowden.

Top Gun 2 (2014?)

As noted by The Verge, the remake of a 1980s movie, Top Gun, will feature drones:

“The long-rumored Top Gun 2 is almost certainly happening, at least according to producer Jerry Bruckheimer. In an interview with The Huffington Post last week, Bruckheimer expressed how determined he is to make a follow-up to the 1986 classic, and hinted at what themes the movie will explore. In the sequel, Tom Cruise will reprise his role as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, and face off against drones to prove just how essential volleyball-loving airmen are. During the interview on HuffPost Live, Bruckheimer said he thinks “we’re getting closer and closer” to making the sequel a reality. Talk about the movie has been bubbling for years, especially after Paramount tapped Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott to return for another outing in 2010. The Pirates of the Caribbean producer said that Scott had figured out a way to tell the story right (in what sounds like an action movie take on the John Henry tall tale) but his suicide in 2012 almost scuttled the project. “The concept is, basically, are the pilots obsolete because of drones,” said Bruckheimer. “Cruise is going to show them that they’re not obsolete. They’re here to stay.” Neither Cruise nor a director have signed on for the film, so there’s no telling when it will be made. However, an announcement of production kicking off seems like the logical next step, however far-off it may be.”

Modern Family episode (2014)

An episode of the TV sitcom had a show in February of this year incorporating drones, with two of the characyers sending a “drone to spy on Luke and Manny as they hang out with friends” as noted by Textually.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

This political thriller, as the directors put it, tried to criticize drone kill list of Obama, etc…** Its hard to get any pictures of this directly, so maybe what Abby Martin has to say will make it all clear:

“[Marvel] said they wanted to make a political thriller…So we said if you want to make a political thriller, all the great political thrillers have very current issues in them that reflect the anxiety of the audience…That gives it an immediacy, it makes it relevant. So [Anthony] and I just looked at the issues that were causing anxiety for us, because we read a lot and are politically inclined. And a lot of that stuff had to do with civil liberties issues, drone strikes, the president’s kill list, preemptive technology…The question is where do you stop?” Joe says. “If there are 100 people we can kill to make us safer, do we do it? What if we find out there’s 1,000? What if we find out there’s 10,000? What if it’s a million? At what point do you stop?”- Joe Russo, director as noted by Mother Jones. Also see the NY Times (alludes to it)

Here’s some pictures of the ‘drones’ in the movie

Robocop (2014)

(The trailer)

of Time Magazine writes: “the wish fulfillment factor taken out of the equation, RoboCop becomes less a work of aspirational coolness and more a piece of political satire — and not necessarily a bad one. In the opening sequence, a conservative news pundit (Samuel L. Jackson’s Pat Novak) makes a case that the Dreyfus Act, a law which prohibits robots in American police forces, should be repealed by sending a reporter abroad to watch robot cops in action. After an obligatory shot of an ominous drone flying above robot policemen, things go disastrously wrong. Suicide bombers attack, and a child who grabs a knife to defend his suicide bomber father is killed by one of the robots. The station feed clicks off.”

The director of the film aims to use the film to criticize drones:

He told The Hollywood Reporter that “We are more and more in a country where Robocop is relevant. You will see robots in wars. The first film saw it way back then. Now we have more knowledge and we know it’s coming true. First we are going to use machines abroad, then we are going to use machines at home.”

Elsewhere he said: “The movie’s about drones. If you look at a movie like ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ you see the training of the soldiers so they kill without criticizing what they’re doing. Today, [some want] to get the soldiers out of the way for machines. And I thought that idea, which was fictional in 1987, ain’t fictional anymore. We’ve got drones.”

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

As an article in The Daily Beast notes “the footage is ominous. They come from the sky—unmanned aircraft equipped with deadly robotic weapons. They scan the horizon for their targets. They lock in. And then they deploy, plummeting to earth to kill a bunch of people who may or may not deserve it.” In the first part of this preview, it shows this:

Whether this is directly related to drones is debatable…

 Iron Man 3, Man Of Steel, Pacific Rim, and Star Trek Into Darkness (all movies in 2013)

As noted by Alyssa Rosenberg on rogerebert.com,

“But “Star Trek Into Darkness” isn’t alone: The use of drones, and robots like them for war or for surveillance has turned up as a subject in a surprisingly large number of summer’s biggest blockbusters, including “Iron Man 3,” “Man Of Steel,” and now “Pacific Rim.”…These arguments take different forms in each movies. In “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the use of drone-like missiles is presented as primarily an ethical question…”Iron Man 3″ makes a rather different argument. Rather than suggesting we have to pick between men and machines, and arguing that we should pick men for reasons of both morality and excitement, the movie offers up a fantasy combination. Iron Man technology gives America the ability to strike enemy combatants quickly and directly without putting American troops at risk, while also adding human judgement and the ability to reverse a strike to avoid killing innocent civilians. As Iron Patriot, Col. James Rhodes..frequently finds himself doing the most good when he’s sent out to hunt for a terrorist called the Mandarin…by not pulling the trigger…Even Superman’s gotten in on the action. In a coda to the main action of “Man Of Steel,” he hauls down a surveillance drone and throws it at the feet of General Swanwick…and Major Carrie Farris…”It’s one of your surveillance drones,” he tells the flabbergasted military officials. “I know you’re trying to figure out where I hang my cape. You won’t.””

Drones (2013)

Hollywood Reporter describes this “topical thriller” as follows:

“A topical thriller about the ethics of remote-control warfare, Drones began life as a stage play, which helps explain its cramped and confined setting. The screenplay by Matt Witten, a former writer for TV shows including House and Homicide, explores the moral disconnect between USAF drone pilots playing high-tech video-games in Nevada and their defenseless human targets thousands of miles away in Afghanistan or Pakistan. The action mostly unfolds in real time, offering audiences a fraught hands-on snapshot of the War on Terror…Sue prepares a missile attack, but then agonizes about collateral damage. Even a so-called “surgical” strike on Khalil means also killing his parents, friends and young children. With her mission time limit approaching fast, she challenges the shady ethics of military assassination to Jack, who merely warns her against “thinking too much.” She then protests to her commanding officer and finally to her father, a decorated general and Vietnam veteran.Witten’s script strikes an uneasy balance between hawkish and antiwar positions, with Jack epitomizing the trigger-happy pragmatist (“maybe there’s no heroism, but there’s no shame either”) and Sue the tormented humanitarian incensed when innocent bystanders are cynically rebranded as “unidentified terrorist suspects”…Drones is not exactly subtle, but it is a commendable attempt to dramatize a hot contemporary issue without resorting to clumsy didacticism or obvious political bias. The final scene should prove unsettling for liberals and conservatives alike.”

Oblivion (2013 film)

In this 2013 science fiction film, there are numerous scenes of small flying drones with laser cannons that try to attack people and kill them:

The Wikipedia entry on the movie notes this, talking about drones brought on by certain people, activating disabled drones, and drones attacking humans. Totalfilm.com expands on this, noting:

Clad in a white jumpsuit and living the lonely life of a post-apocalyptic drone repairmen, Jack Harper (Cruise) spends his days tending to the tech that’s targeting the alien threat responsible for all but wiping out life on Earth. On one of his visits to the planet’s surface (most survivors are based in satellite dwellings), Harper happens across a drone assault on humans. To make matters worse, the person under attack is the enigmatic beauty who has been haunting his dreams (Olga Kurylenko). Naturally, he suspects a conspiracy, and goes rogue.

Mashable adds to this, noting:

Fiction: The most obvious cinematic predecessor of the rogue military drones in Oblivion are the lethal Skynet machines of the Terminator films. Oblivion also has several scenes reminiscent of the underrated 1987 freakout RoboCop. Oblivion and its disobedient artillery drones are really just a variation on the robot uprising stories that have fascinated science fiction writers through the years, most notably Isaac Asimov in his Robot novels.

Science: The U.S. and several other countries have unmanned military drones deployed around the world.

Finally there’s ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) with an article about the movie, noting:

“Tom Cruise’s new film, Oblivion, presents a future where warfare is conducted using cold, merciless drones. This striking dystopia shows us how the seeds of future conflicts are already present in our current military engagement with terrorist groups in the Middle East…The drone, as a symbol of remote-control aggression, is key. You just have to look at the growing dissent in America over Obama’s plans to introduce them into civilian airspace to understand their power as lightening rods of techno-anxiety. There’s something cold and terrible in the idea of them, especially as killing machines without pilots; perhaps it’s the notion there is no possibility of mercy. Their sinister aura is integral to Oblivion. There’s something not right with this world, and something not right with Jack…Is the War on Terror over? I’m not sure what the official line is on that. Oblivion seems to suggest that if you look hard enough in any post-war period you will find the seeds of the next conflict. It’s a fascinating metaphor for our anxieties in this very difficult, uncertain peace.”

The Bourne Legacy (2012)

The runaway spy, Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Remmer, shoots down the drone sent to kill him. Richard Corliss of Time Magazine writes: “Cross finds himself the target of a U.S. drone attack. Wait a minute: the guys in Bethesda at their video consoles are supposed to eliminate the odd Taliban rebel and Afghani civilian, not their most resourceful agent. In these scenes, Legacy connects with the real crime of modern warfare, where the shooters at Mission Control can isolate a human target 10,000 miles away, and kill him without risking anything but their honor.”

Homeland (a drama show) (2012-2014)

As noted by the Daily Beast: “And then there’s Homeland. On Showtime’s hit spy drama, the original sin—the trauma that transformed Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) into an al Qaeda sleeper agent—was a drone strike that accidentally killed an 8-year-old boy he’d befriended in captivity.” Also Leslie Savan wrote in The Nation that

“…when a drone strike, secretly ordered by Walden, kills Issa and eighty-two other young students in his madrassa, Brody “turns.” At Nazir’s behest, Brody returns to the US to win Walden’s trust in order to destroy him and undermine America. In the name of Issa…If he’d say that to Brody, the show suggests, just think what he’d tell the survivors of drone-attack…“I can only imagine what he must be thinking when he watches a show like ours that explicitly deals with the collateral damage of drone strikes,” Damian Lewis told The Atlantic in late September. The “overtly political” show, he said, goes “straight to the heart of the drone argument. We have a left-center or liberal president, and yet we seem to be sending in more drones than ever before. That’s a decision that the current president has made—though obviously none of these decisions are easy to make”…Perhaps to avoid too direct a criticism of Obama, the show has thus far not shown us its POTUS. Furthermore, Homeland never says never drone.”

Specifically, Lewis told The Atlantic:

“The show has always been overtly political. It went straight to the heart of the drone argument. We have a left-center or liberal president, and yet we seem to be sending in more drones than ever before. That’s a decision that the current president has made—though obviously none of these decisions are easy to make. And then we heard that President Obama watches the show, and that it’s his favorite show. I can only imagine what he must be thinking when he watches a show like ours that explicitly deals with the collateral damage of drone strikes.”

Skyline (2010)

In a film about alien invasion of Earth, the US Air Force sends drones to counter the alien ships. This one scene shows that:

Stealth (2007 film)

In this science fiction action film, a drone is developed by the US Navy as noted in the Wikipedia entry on the film:

Cummings hires Dr. Keith Orbit (Richard Roxburgh) to develop an artificial intelligence (AI), the “EDI,” which will fly an unmanned combat air vehicle. The autonomous fighter jet is placed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Philippine Sea to learn combat maneuvers from the pilots. This sparks a debate. On the one hand, human pilots possess both creativity and moral judgment, while a machine cannot fully appreciate the ugliness of war; additionally, if robots fought the battles and soldiers never died in war, then war would no longer be terrible and might become like sport. In contrast, a machine pilot is not subject to the physical limitations of a human pilot, can calculate alternative ways to achieve objectives faster and more accurately, and is not subject to ego. The team are training EDI in air combat maneuvers when they are unexpectedly reassigned to take out the heads of three terrorist cells at a summit in downtown Rangoon. EDI calculates that mission success can only be achieved through a vertical strike, which could cause the pilot to black out and result in collateral damage. Command orders EDI to take the shot, but Gannon ignores the order and attacks in his own plane, successfully carrying out the strike. As the team returns to the Lincoln, EDI is hit by lightning. Aboard ship, the already-sophisticated AI is discovered to be learning exponentially, developing a rudimentary ethical code and an ego. However, Cummings refuses to take it offline. During the next strike, to neutralize several stolen nuclear warheads in Tajikistan, Wade realizes that the nuclear debris will cause serious civilian casualties. The human pilots decide to abort, but EDI disobeys orders and fires missiles at the nuclear warheads, causing the predicted radioactive fallout.

Syriana (2005)

A geopolitical thriller, in the words of Wikipedia that focuses on “on petroleum politics and the global influence of the oil industry, whose political, economic, legal, and social effects are experienced by a Central Intelligence Agency operative…an energy analyst….a Washington, D.C., attorney…and a young unemployed Pakistani migrant worker…in an Arab state in the Persian Gulf.” This article on WIkipedia also says:  “Barnes eventually learns why he was portrayed as a rogue agent and approaches Prince Nasir’s convoy to warn him of the assassination plan. As he arrives, a guided bomb from a circling Predator drone strikes the automobile of Nasir and his family, killing them and Barnes instantly. Woodman, having earlier offered his seat to Nasir’s family, survives the blast and makes his way home to his wife and son.” I couldn’t find the video for the scene for where George Clooney’s character is killed by a drone, but here are some screencaps of it:



Dark Angel (TV show in the early 2000s)

As noted by Aaron Kearney in the Chicago Monitor,

“Growing up I was a big fan of Jessica Alba’s initial claim to fame: the futuristic sci-fi TV show that only ran two seasons in the early 2000s, Dark Angel. I specifically remember being infatuated with the creepiness of the Seattle police having a fleet of flying, unmanned aircraft that always seemed to be “watching” and waiting on everyday civilians. Most menacing was that each of these aircrafts also had guns attached to them so that they could carry out fast, swift assaults in a matter of seconds. The fear of such aircraft as a reality lay dormant in my childhood imagination until this past week when I read that the manhunt for fugitive Christopher Dorner had compelled the Los Angeles Police Department to release a thermal tracking Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAV, or “drone”) into the California wilderness…I would like to avoid the chilling futures that are depicted in post-apocalyptic sci-fi TV shows; I would like to avoid the death of hundreds of innocent civilians abroad; And I would like to protect my rights under the Constitution of the United States. However, as long as our government stays steadfast in its love for UAV’s, my simple likings may soon be deemed irrelevant to those who hold the utmost power in our government.”

Also see here about hover drones and here.

Silent Running (1972)

As noted by the director Douglas Trumbull,

“Part of Silent Running is the relationship between Bruce Dern and his drones. It’s not 2001 – machinery isn’t malevolent. They’re simply tools. Look, here you have this guy who’s a murderer (Lowell traps his crewmates in a dome they’ve set to blow and sets them adrift). He’s alone on a vessel that’s as isolated from the rest of the population as possible. he’s beginning to crack, to feel his conscience. So he creates companions by reprogramming the drones.”

Star Wars

Numerous drones have popped up in Star Wars (in cartoon series mostly) every so often:

and those Imperial probe droids in the Empire Strikes Back (1980):

Possibly the Terminator movies talk about drones through the Skynet program but this questionable.

A few indie films coming this year also feature these evil killing machines:


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