Remember how we used to zip around in our flying cars way back in the 1980? That was just around the time we landed a man on Mars. But then in the early 1990s our super-intelligent ape slaves rebelled against us. No wonder that by 2009, New York became a dystopian hell hole!
Sci-fi stories often strive to imagine the future. They’re frequently wrong, but that doesn’t make them worthless. Even failed prophecies can be fun to watch. Also, they offer us a valuable glimpse into a hopes and fears of their creators. We already covered some of the best and the worst among these predictions. Now we’re bringing you 13 Science Fiction Futures That Never Came To Pass.
13. Surrogates (2009)
Around 2017, most of the world’s population uses remote-controlled android surrogates of themselves while their real bodies – disheveled and unkempt – are safely kept in their homes. FBI Agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) hasn’t left his house in years. But after a surrogate gets destroyed and its owner killed with it, Greer finds himself investigating his first murder in more than a decade.
Surrogates is a sci-fi action movie based on a comic book by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele. As a satire of the internet culture, Surrogates is somewhat inspired. As a semi-serious take on the trans-humanism, it’s rather silly. Not all jobs and situations in the movie would require the use of an expensive android double. A cheap robotic body or a remote-controlled vehicle could do just as fine. A much more interesting – and unsettling – look at these same ideas has been already done by Masamune Shirow’s manga Ghost in the Shell and its numerous adaptations.
12. The 6th Day (2000)
The year is 2015. After their family pet dog dies, Adam Gibson (Arnold Schwarzenegger) reluctantly visits the “RePet” shop to get it cloned. But when he returns home, he receives an unpleasant surprise: there’s another Adam Gibson with his family. Adam soon realizes he’s became involved in a vast conspiracy led by the billionaire CEO Michael Drucker (Tony Goldwyn) who illegally clones human beings.
Thanks to Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, genetic engineering became a recurring motif in the 1990s sci-fi movies. Sci-fi action movie The 6th Day arrived at the tail end of that trend to middling box office results and mediocre reviews. Too bad that The 6th Day is by-the-numbers action movie. Moral and philosophical implications of cloning are a rich subject to explore, but Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle may not be the best way to do it.
11. Freejack (1992)
The movie Freejack presents New York of the 2009 as a cyberpunk dystopia. Although mankind invented time travel and computers powerful enough to store human consciousness, these technologies are mainly used by the old rich people to prolong their lives by transferring their minds into the bodies of people kidnapped from the past. This is such a trivial and selfish usage of such fantastic technologies that it becomes oddly believable. Race car driver Alex Furlong (Emilio Estevez) is taken to the future just before his fatal 1992 crash. He escapes and finds himself chased by Victor Vacendak (Mick Jagger), a right-hand man of the rich businessman Ian McCandless (Anthony Hopkins).
Loosely based on 1959 novel Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley, Freejack was directed by the New Zealand filmmaker Geoff Murphy, most notable for his eerie post-apocalyptic movie Quiet Earth. Murphy doesn’t really handle action and tension very well, making this film much more dull than it should be. Too bad. Freejack has a great premise and is ripe for remaking.
10. Project Moonbase (1953)
For a low-budget sci-fi movie made in 1953, Project Moonbase offers a surprisingly realistic look at space travel. This is thanks to the involvement of the American sci-fi writer Robert A. Heinlein, who not only wrote the short story the movie is based on, but worked on its screenplay as well.
Set in the not-too-distant future of 1970, Project Moonbase shows us the American space program in full swing as the space ship under the command of Colonel Briseis (Donna Martell) surveys the Moon’s surface. When one of her crewmen turns out to be a traitor and sabotages the mission, Colonel Briseis and Major Moore (Ross Ford) crash-land their ship on the Moon. In a strange mix of progressive and conservative values, they are then forced by the Earth command to marry in order to avoid the scandal of having a male and a female astronaut together until the relief missions arrives. But that’s the 1950s – Sorry, the 1970s! – for you.
9. It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)
A crew of a space ship gets sent on a rescue mission. Landing on an alien planet, they find a single survivor. It’s only on their way back to Earth that the crew learns they’ve picked up a stowaway: an unstoppable alien creature that starts to pick the crew off one by one. No, we’re not describing the plot of Ridley Scott’s Alien. We’re talking about the 1958 B-movie It! Horror Beyond the Stars.
Even for the 1950s, this movie offers a mighty optimistic vision of space program. In it, by the year 1973, the USA is already sending single-stage nuclear powered rockets to other planets. On the downside, commander Van Heusen (Kim Spalding) and his crewmates do get more than they signed up for when a monster from Mars starts to kill them. Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay for Alien is a far, far superior version of this movie’s story. Hollywood could use more such remakes.
8. Space:1999 (1975)
On September 13th, 1999 the accumulated nuclear waste on the dark side of the Moon reached critical mass. The resulting thermonuclear explosion was so massive, it knocked the Moon out of the orbit. The crew of the Moonbase Alpha, led by Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau) and Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) find themselves travelling far outside the solar system. It’s a frightening fate to be sure, but it’s not hard to imagine that the disappearance of the Moon probably caused a cataclysmic disaster on Earth.
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson became popular with their sci-fi TV shows such as Thunderbirds, Terrahawks and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Space: 1999 was their second live-action TV series and the most expensive British TV show of its times. As the crew of Moonbase Alpha explored the universe and met numerous alien races, Space: 1999 featured a number of guest appearances such as Brian Blessed, Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Ian McShane.
7. Futureworld (1976)
Remember when androids tried to covertly take over the world back in the 1980s? No? That’s probably because they failed. OR DID THEY?! The 1976 sci-fi thriller Futureworld may not be as riveting as All the President’s Men or The Parallax View but it does fit nicely with all the other paranoid conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s.
Ostensibly a sequel to Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi movie Westworld, Futureworld takes place in mid-1980s as journalists Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) and Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner) investigate DELOS corporation – creators of Westworld. They discover that corporate scientist Dr. Duffy (Arthur Hill) uses robots for nefarious deeds and plans to replace influential people around the world with clones working for DELOS.
Futureworld has a great premise but, once again, all the implications of human cloning and artificial intelligence are tossed away in favor of action scenes featuring Fonda and Danner running around an old factory. Maybe the new Westworld TV show by HBO will do justice to this premise?
6. Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden) is in charge of building the Colossus – a giant nuclear-powered computer tasked with controlling all of the US nuclear missiles. Since it’s the 1970s, we know that this super-computer is really advanced because of all the blinking lights it has. Things soon go terribly wrong as this grandfather to Skynet gains the kind of cruelly pragmatic sentience so typical of supercomputers in movies, and starts to demand obedience from puny humans.
Colossus: The Forbin Project was based on a 1966 novel by D.F. Jones. This sci-fi thriller was directed by Joseph Sargent (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three). In the age of Internet, Colossus seems almost quaint: a giant pile of metal and wires that should, by all logic, be vulnerable to all kinds of mechanical failures – and sabotage! – that would quickly render it harmless. Despite all that, Colossus: The Forbin Project remains a satisfyingly dour look into a future history that will never happen. Probably.
5. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
In 1983, a mysterious epidemic kills off the world’s entire population of cats and dogs. Humans start keeping apes, first as pets and then as slaves. By the year 1992, politicians like the Governor Breck (Don Murray) have the police monitoring apes, fearing their rebellion. Nevertheless, apes are led to a revolt by the chimpanzee Caesar (Roddy McDowall) helped by human sympathizers such as MacDonald (Hari Rhodes).
Released in 1968, the first Planet of the Apes was a non-too-subtle science fiction allegory reflecting upon all the social tumult of the USA in the 1960s. Its sequels remained true to this kind of social commentary. Directed by J. Lee Thompson, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes was the fourth movie in the franchise. Set in the dystopian future of 1992, the movie uses this sci-fi veneer to explicitly address the horrors of slavery. Racial prejudice and intolerance remain a valid concern, so it’s no wonder that in 2011 we got a new Planet of the Apes reboot.
4. Just Imagine (1930)
In the year 1980, small personal airplanes have replaced cars. People eat pills instead of real food and have numbers instead of names. The only legal place to get a baby is from a vending machine. Cities are colossal Art Deco monstrosities similar to the one in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
The future depicted in the 1930 sci-fi film Just Imagine owes just about everything to the covers of pulp sci-fi magazines of its day. Even for its time, all these predictions were silly and, to the movie’s credit, it presents them as a farce. The story follows J-21 (John Garrick) who wants to marry beautiful LN-18 (Maureen O’Sullivan) despite the objections of the Marriage Tribunal. J-21 also has to take care of hapless Single O (El Brendel), a revived golfer from the 1930s. Although a commercial failure upon its release, Just Imagine was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction – the first science fiction movie ever to be nominated for an Academy Award.
3. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
By the 2013, the US government has lost the war on drugs. Despite the ever-increasing levels of government surveillance, around 20% of the population is in some way addicted. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is an anonymous police informant spying on his friends Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Luckman (Woody Harrelson) who are addicted to Substance D – a new drug that causes powerful hallucinations. But Arctor himself is an addict who soon enough finds himself in an absurd position of informing on himself.
Based on a novel by the cult sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly was directed in 2006 by Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Dazed and Confused). In this Kafkaesque nightmare of ever-present surveillance, cops and criminals both find themselves consumed by the escalating paranoia fueled by the pervasive drug use. A Scanner Darkly is a disturbing look not only into a dystopian society, but into a state of mind that is as toxic when caused by the mental illness as it is when caused by addiction.
2. UFO (1970)
In the year 1980, mankind made its first contact with an extra-terrestrial species. Aliens promptly began killing people and harvesting their organs. Governments of the world respond by creating Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defense Organization – SHADO. Under the leadership of a former astronaut Edward Straker (Ed Bishop) and boasting military scientists such as Col. Virginia Lake (Wanda Ventham), this secret agency is tasked with fighting a hidden war against an alien invasion that most of the mankind isn’t even aware of. To help them fight extraterrestrial UFOs, SHADO uses state-of-the art technology such as a hidden moon base, space jets, and UFO-monitoring satellites.
The second TV show by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson on this list, UFO debuted on the British TV network ATV in 1970. With a premise that’s no doubt familiar to the fans of the computer game XCOM or Men in Black franchise, UFO covered similar grounds decades before and with a decidedly groovier, sexier sense of style.
1. Things to Come (1936)
World War II broke out in 1940 and raged for three nightmarish decades. By the 1970s, chemical and biological weapons killed off the most of the world’s population and reduced the rest to squabbling post-apocalyptic tribes. It takes an international group of scientists led by John Cabal (Raymond Massey) to finally bring the world together and build a global utopia.
Directed by William Cameron Menzies and produced by Alexander Korda, the 1936 sci-fi film Things to Come was based on a story by the celebrated sci-fi author H.G. Wells – shown on the picture with the actors Margaretta Scott and Raymond Massey on the set of the film. Although overly didactic, Things to Come does offer great special effects for its time and set designs that are still pretty spectacular. Its vision of 21st century is rather naive: it’s all giant gleaming buildings and people wearing capes, sandals and togas. On the other hand, these guys also get to use a giant cannon to shoot people to the Moon which is a pretty awesome way to travel.
What are your favorite sci-fi prophecies that never came true? Share them with us in the comments below!