It happens so often in movies and TV you probably don't notice it anymore: The hero needs information, so he stands over the shoulder of the resident geek, who pulls it up on a computer screen. Or someone goes through a security checkpoint. Or a very urgent file transfer takes way longer than it should. Or a young hacker humiliates a government mainframe. And in each of those examples, we'll get a gander at a computer screen.
Almost as long as there have been sci-fi movies, there have been computers—and people looking for information on them. Taken one at a time, these displays may seem perfunctory, but a whole mess of them becomes a treatise on the evolving ways we deal with data.
The Access Main Computer File site has collected a ton of such screens—from which we've harvested a select bunch. With some of them, it's obvious what films they came from—Brazil, Starship Troopers, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element—while others have sources far more elusive. But taking them all in, you can get a sense of what production designers thought tomorrow's computers would look like, as well as the limitations they had in creating them.
We, as a culture, spend more time with our computers—and their peripherals, like cell phones and MP3 players—than almost any other machines save our televisions. And if you take the geek subset, the PC slots into first place. So in imagining the way we'd interact with those computers—the appliances that, for better or worse, enable and define our lives—those designers are practicing futurism at its most intimate.