Gordon Gekko’s Cell Phone

Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 23 2010 12:07 PM

Gordon Gekko’s Cell Phone

An early montage in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps shows Gordon Gekko retrieving his belongings on the day he is released from prison. A guard narrates a list of Gekko's possessions as he hands them over, one by one. Finally, he says "cell phone" and hefts a clumsy, off-white monster onto the desk. It's a flawless sight-gag—you've been inside a long time, Gekko—and a nod to the original Wall Street. It's actually the exact same cell phone model that Gekko used in the 1987 film: the Motorola DynaTac 8000X.

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Back then, the DynaTac was no joke. The world's first handheld mobile phone, the DynaTac was released in 1983 and cost $3,995. (Adjusted for inflation, that's $8,806 in today's dollars.) It's now affectionately known as "the Brick." It weighed two pounds and was 13 inches long. The Gordon Gekko of the new millennium might be embarrassed by his DynaTac, but in the mid to late 1980s, the phone was a status symbol—showing up in numerous TV shows and movies to convey that a character was rich and chic.

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The first film to feature the 8000X was Sixteen Candles, in 1984. Molly Ringwald's wealthy love interest had one in his father's Rolls Royce. Zack Morris had one on Saved by the Bell, and American Psycho, set in late-'80s New York, featured investment banker Patrick Bateman chatting on a his DynaTac in a dress shirt, tie and dark glasses.

How many real people used the Brick? A lot, despite the daunting price tag. In 1984, there were 91,600 cellular service subscribers in the United States, and the only mobile phone available was the DynaTac 8000x. By the end of 1985, the number of subscribers had jumped to 340,213. Motorola had waiting lists in the thousands. Fashion changed along with technology: smaller batteries and components made for sleeker phones, and Motorola came out with the considerably more petite MicroTac in 1989.

Today, the DynaTac 8000X fetches $100-200 on Web sites for collectors, and Wall Street isn't the only place the Brick is reappearing. In June 2009, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, aka Zack Morris, took a call on his 8000X while on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.