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8 great movie scenes featuring iris recognition

Iris recognition has been seen as a futuristic technology for years and has featured in many Hollywood films as far back as the 1980s. As a leader in iris recognition ourselves, we thought we’d share some of our favourite movie scenes featuring iris recognition and why we love them so much. 

1. Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (1982) 

The Star Trek series has been an inspiration to scientists and engineers for years and has a great record of involving and predicting the use of future technologies. Iris recognition found its way into the second film of the franchise, ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan’, a film that was released over 35 years ago. 

The scene that features iris recognition takes place early in the film when Captain Kirk accesses a top-secret file regarding ‘Project Genesis’. What’s great about this scene is that it quickly shows its process during the scan. We are shown the back of the eye with text revealing the scanning of the optic disc to match Kirk’s veins and arteries against his biometric record. Modern iris recognition technology doesn’t actually scan the back of the eye but it’s a fantastic bit of detail all the same.
Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (1982) 

2. Blade Runner (1982) 

1982 was a great year for films and a great year for the use of iris recognition as our next selection shows. This scene comes from Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’, starring Harrison Ford and based on a short story by legendary sci-fi writer, Phillip K Dick. 

Not only is iris recognition featured in the film, but it also plays a key role in the story. The technology is used by Harrison Ford’s character in what’s called the ‘Voight-Kampff’ test. The Voight-Kampff test measures the capillary dilation, pupil fluctuation and involuntary dilation of the iris of an individual while they are being questioned to see if they are human or not. It complements the film’s theme beautifully which questions what it is that makes us human and also plays out with great tension in our hand-picked scene. 

Bonus Trivia: As an interesting side-note, this 1982 movie was set in the future, in the year 2019. It is an amazing coincidence that the Nexus6 replicant leader, Roy Batty, dies in 2019 in the movie’s famous “Time to die” scene and that the actor playing Roy, Rutger Hauer, unfortunately passed away this year, in 2019.
Blade Runner (1982) 

3. Never Say Never Again (1983) 

One year after these two great films the James Bond franchise clicked onto the fact that scenes with iris detection made for great cinema and used it in the film ‘Never Say Never Again’. Ironically, Sean Connery would “never again” play the character of James Bond after this film but iris recognition would certainly reappear in spy films for many years to come (as you’ll see further down the list).  

The Bond films were never ones to shy away from a fantastical storyline or two and their use of iris detection was no different. It involved a Spectre Operative named Jack Petachi having an eye operation to match the retina of the US President to beat a security system to get access to nuclear warheads. The scene is probably the least technologically portrayed in the list as they depict it using what looks like an optometrist’s ophthalmoscope but it still works all the same. 

Never Say Never Again (1983)

4. Demolition Man (1993) 

The blockbuster hit ‘Demolition Man’, starred two of the biggest actors in Hollywood at the time in Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes as well as a star in the making, Sandra Bullock. The film’s story sees Stallone and Snipes cryogenically frozen and reanimated in the year 2032 (which is scarily closer to the present date than when the film was released). 

The scene where iris recognition takes centre stage is probably the most unforgettable in movie history as far as iris recognition (and as shock factor) goes. Snipes’ villainous character “borrows” the eye of a prison warden to escape from the detention facility. It’s definitely not one for the squeamish so think long and hard before you watch this one. 

Demolition Man (1993)

5. Mission Impossible II (2000) 

The next film on our list is from another franchise that has been very loyal in showcasing many forms of biometric recognition which is the Tom Cruise Mission Impossible franchise. As you can see from the heading above the film selected is ‘Mission Impossible II’. 

We could’ve probably chosen any one of the six Mission Impossible films to be honest but decided to go with MI:2 for a few reasons. The first is that the iris recognition scene here is part of the best scene in the film which sees Tom Cruise perform some incredible rock-climbing stunts. The second is that the delivery device for iris recognition in the scene (Tom’s sunglasses) is easily the most stylish we can recall of the franchise. Lastly, the incorporation of the most famous catchphrase of the franchise “This message will self-destruct in 5 seconds” with the disintegration of the sunglasses which transitions into the title sequence is very, very cool.  

Mission Impossible II (2000) 

6. Minority Report (2002) 

Another Tom Cruise film and another based on a short story by Phillip K Dick that uses iris recognition in a big way is ‘Minority Report’, directed by Stephen Spielberg. This sci-fi film, set in 2054, establishes the use of iris recognition early, not only as a means of confirming the identity of suspects in Cruise’s crime-busting antics but right throughout society where people are scanned and tracked in everyday life.  

This forces Tom’s character to make the ultimate sacrifice when the tables are turned on him and the hunter becomes the hunted. In order to clear his name, he’s forced to get his eyes transplanted in order to re-enter the city without being scanned and identified. The scene below is one of the most suspenseful in the film which occurs just after his surgery has taken place and the iris scanning spiders are after him. 

Minority Report (2002)

7. X-Men (2003)  

Another genre that has also indulged in a bit of iris recognition from time to time is the comic book movie genre and the film we’ve chosen to showcase is ‘X-Men’ from 2003. Again, we could’ve gone with a number of these types of film but X-Men was one of the original modern comic films that really got the genre going to the point where they are now a dime-a-dozen. 

The scene selected with iris detection is a fairly straightforward one but is one that has epic elements everywhere you look. It’s used to give Professor Charles Xavier, the most powerful mutant in the world access to Cerebro, a device used to enhance his already immense powers. It also sets up a crucial turning point in the film where the evil shapeshifter mutant, Mystique, infiltrates Cerebro by assuming the form of the Professor to sabotage the device.
X-Men (2003) 

8. RED (2010) 

Last, but not least we feature the hit action film, RED, with its star-studded ensemble cast including Bruce Willis, Dame Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and our very own Karl Urban.  

We’ve chosen this film because it showcases a unique way of fooling an iris recognition system which is slightly less invasive and a bit more plausible than our earlier Bond example. As the scene shows, Bruce Willis puts on a special type of contact lens before being scanned which digitally mimics an iris profile required to get him into the CIA. This sort of ‘spoofing’ is something our R&D work over the past 30 years has moved to eradicate and whilst the process is still not 100% accurate, NEC’s Iris Recognition technology has been independently recognised as the most accurate in the world. Check out the scene below:
RED (2010)

Iris recognition on the big screen 

As you can see, there have been plenty of great cameos made by iris recognition in a variety of different ways on the big screen. It’s amazing how movies dating back to the early 80s already had a good grasp on the uses and limitations of the technology and how technology companies like NEC have worked through those potential limitations to deliver innovations to the technology that have meant that films set years in the future could have been set much earlier. You can find out more about all of our biometric solutions as well as the latest innovations that could be making their way onto the big screen sooner than expected – liveness detection and ear acoustic authentication.  


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