Few things are more infuriating than having to deal with a malfunctioning piece of technology. That said, few things are funnier than watching someone else deal with a malfunctioning piece of technology! Writers of movies and TV shows have always known the great comic potential of Schadenfreude and this potential has been harnessed time and again through scenes in which characters are beset by tech failures.
Here are our picks for the ten most uproarious tech fail scenes from movies and TV:
Anyone who’s ever worked in an office can empathize with Office Space’s hilariously frustrated heroes. The film’s best gag is probably the guys’ sustained war with the defective office printer, which keeps haunting them with the indecipherable error message “PC LOAD LETTER,” triggering many a freak-out. They get their revenge in the end, though, when they take the nefarious machine out to a field and smash it to pieces in a much-deserved moment of catharsis.
The IT crowd
This excellent British TV show revolves around tech failures, focusing on the socially awkward computer whizzes who live in an office basement and are tasked with rescuing their co-workers from their malfunctioning computers. From the very first episode, their go-to response is, “Have you tried turning it on and off again?” This sentence became the show’s mantra, repeated again and again throughout the series, always to hilarious effect.
You’ve Got Mail
Tom Hanks’ protagonist gets stuck in an elevator with three other characters in this wonderful comic scene. Their reactions range from rational to hysterical, but the best one belongs to the elevator boy: “Everybody should jump in the air. We jump, the elevator thinks no one is here, and it opens!” The others are initially skeptical, but eventually decide to give it a go. Of course, it doesn’t work, and the characters end up sitting on the elevator floor for hours, reconsidering their lives.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Curb’s peerless protagonist Larry is no stranger to tech failures, which have occasioned much hilarity over the years. In one case, a tech failure even ends his marriage: when Larry’s wife Cheryl gets caught in violent turbulence during a flight, she calls Larry from the plane, scared for her life. Larry, however, is too preoccupied with fixing his TiVo to comfort—or even listen to—his distressed wife. After many years of valiantly putting up with Larry’s antics, this is the last straw for poor Cheryl. Never has something as tragic as a separation been funnier to witness!
In this side-splitting scene it’s not so much the technology that fails the character, but the character who fails to understand the technology. Male model superstar Hansel is tasked with stealing important files from “inside” a computer to save his friend Derek Zoolander. The beautiful but dimwitted model takes his instructions much too literally and ends up smashing the computer open to get the files. That’s not quite how computers work, but thankfully another character was tech-savvy enough to back up the files on an external disk and the day is saved after all.
Here’s another tale of hilarious technological ineptitude and excessive literalness. Very impressed with his car’s new navigation system, the lovable but ever-clueless office manager Michael doesn’t question any of the GPS’ directions, not even when it tells him to turn right—into a lake! Despite his passenger’s alarmed screams, Michael stoically drives forth, sinking his car into the lake as instructed.
The hapless Jared from Silicon Valley gets into a similar, though even more extreme, scenario than The Office’s Michael. Jared is delighted to be offered a ride home in a driverless car, but something goes wrong, and the car ends up driving itself into a shipping container that is then transported 4,000 miles away, leaving Jared stranded in the middle of the ocean. Here’s to hoping Google’s much-anticipated driverless cars will be built with more trustworthy technology!
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
In one of their many ill-fated attempts at getting rid of Austin Powers, Dr. Evil and his henchmen design a group of “irresistible” fembots to seduce and kill the International Man of Mystery. What they didn’t factor in, is that Powers is of course even more irresistible than a group of sexy babe robots. When he strips down to his Union Jack-emblazoned underwear in an erotic dance, even these high-tech killing machines can’t help themselves. Consumed with lust, their systems short circuit and the fembots explode, failing their mission.
Poor George Michael. Throughout the series Arrested Development, his character is made to suffer so many miseries by his variously injudicious family members. In one episode, his grandfather buys a Japanese jetpack in order to escape house arrest. However, the jetpack is mistakenly sent to George Michael, who thinks it’s his birthday present. When he tries to use the extremely dangerous device, he ends up putting not only his own life at risk, but also that of his uncle Tobias, and ruining a lucrative business deal for his father.
Whether you consider this scene funny or not depends on how macabre you like your humor. When the president of the extremely ethically dubious security company Omni Consumer Products wants to demonstrate the efficacy of a new law-enforcement robot to his executive board, he invites one of the board members to threaten the giant, cannon-equipped robot with a gun. Something malfunctions, however, and the robot ends up gruesomely murdering the board member. More annoyed than shocked or traumatized—or concerned for the man who just lost his life—the president simply sits there, burying his face in his hands.
Credit picture: Office Space (1999)