Fun though it may be to go back and laugh at all the old sci-fi movies that got the future so very wrong (fax machines, seriously), it’s an even more interesting to take a look at old sci-fi flicks that took a wild stab in the dark… and got it absolutely right.
Whether they were educated guesses or just a bit of creative flare that inspired real-world trends, these flicks seemed to pull their most iconic ideas straight from the future.
Here are 10 Sci-Fi Movies That Predicted The Future.
10 Minority Report (2002) - Touchscreens, Personalized Advertising
If you’ve never seen Minority Report, you’ve still probably seen the above iconic image of Tom Cruise, looking all Tom Cruise-y while hitting lots of floating buttons. However, you have to remember that this movie came out in 2002, when a lot of mobile phones were still heavy enough to double as truncheons and touching a screen lead to fingerprints and not much else.
Movies tend to portray controlling a computer as involving a metric ton of keystrokes, so it was fairly revolutionary to see characters in the world of Minority Report using their digits to toss things all around gigantic, holographic screens. We’re still waiting for the holographic screens (or perhaps we don’t need them), but touchscreen is now very much here to stay. Things are now rapidly reaching the stage where people will soon be looking at keyboards in the same way they now look at floppy disks.
Minority Report also gave us another innovation: personalized advertising that changes depending on who’s walking by. This one hasn’t quite reached the widespread stage, but tests have already been carried out that scan the demographics of shoppers and show them what they’d be more likely to buy. Whether this makes advertising better or much, much worse is up to you.
9 Terminator Franchise - Robotic Warfare
No, we haven’t yet reached the stage of unstoppable kill-bots who can take human form. Or at least, if we have, they’re doing a pretty good job of hiding it (which… actually makes a lot of sense). However, the Terminator films gave us more clunky robots that were used for warfare, including drones with heavy firepower. Sound familiar?
The removal of human soldiers from the battlefield has long been a hot issue, with unmanned planes and drone strikes often dominating the headlines. Terminator and its sequels take it a step further with an entire army of machines that generally manage to curb-stomp humanity with their lack of need for such things as ‘rest’, ‘food’ and the all-important ‘pictures of loved ones to pull out and remind you of what you’re fighting for’. Today’s scientists are torn on whether a cybernetic uprising is a real possibility or the stuff of sci-fi, though there’s no hiding that machine warfare is here to stay, and it’s getting more efficient by the day.
8 Jetsons: The Movie (1990) - Robot Vacuum Cleaners
Most of us are only familiar with Roombas through YouTube videos depicting their ongoing war against the feline race. However, they do have a purpose outside of terrorizing cats for views and likes, and that’s to vacuum the floor.
Jetsons: The Movie realized that the concept does sort of make sense; the layout of your home isn’t subject to change, and with a bit of intelligence to manoeuvre around obstacles, they can make a pretty good job of it. The Jetsons model is depicted as square-shaped, with a Wall-E-style set of binocular eyes set up high on a stalk. Real-world manufacturers perhaps realized that a flat, circular shape would be more likely to navigate the house, turn corners and generally not get its neck hooked on things, leading to the popular disc style we now enjoy (or at least, enjoy watching roll around the floor with a cat sitting on top).
Rosie the Robot Cleaner is perhaps a bit further off, but personal assistance robots have been available since the early 2000s, with androids such as ASIMO charming and slightly intimidating humans worldwide.
7 The Truman Show (1998) - Reality TV
Shocking though it may seem, there was a time in television history when reality TV wasn’t a thing. Before the nineties, "reality TV" was the news, or possibly fledgling talk shows. They didn’t become a phenomenon until the 2000s, with the advent of the absurdly popular shows Big Brother, Survivor and American Idol…and now, it seems like the revolution is here to stay.
Long before we received weekly updates on the essential goings on of the Kardashian family, The Truman Show depicted a terrifying reality in which the entire world was thoroughly hooked on watching a single man go about his ordinary life, totally unaware that said life was an orchestrated sham. The amount of laws that The Truman Show’s existence would break in real life are astronomical (just suggest to a bunch of network executives that you should keep a man as a defrauded prisoner for his entire life, for entertainment - see how that turns out), but this only enhances the bizarre and unjust world that Truman inhabits.
Fast forward a couple of decades, and reality TV now dominates the airwaves…and while outright lying is still frowned upon, there’s no denying that the environments are edited and manipulated to the max in order to boost the ratings. At least Wife Swap has never intentionally led someone to believe that their father drowned to induce an artificial phobia. Not yet, anyway.
6 Back to the Future Part II (1989) - Wearable Technology
We’ve heard quite a bit about Back to the Future Part II recently, what with it being 2015, the same year Marty and Doc Brown travel to in the movie. One scene in particular has the family around the dinner table, making calls and watching TV with their goofy-looking techno-goggles. Audiences likely laughed at the concept all the way to the late 2010s, when Google announced that they were intent on making that an actual thing with the Google Glass.
The concept has yet to properly take off, with few people willing to stick an extremely expensive piece of technology to their face in delicate glasses-form and go out in public, but the concept of wearable technology is swiftly becoming ubiquitous. From Fitbits to sonic sunglasses, technology has made the jump to being attached to an actual person rather than being held in our hands…and Back to the Future II’s glasses are seemingly being brought to life in a number of forms, including the Oculus Rift and the Microsoft Hololens.
5 Total Recall (1990) - Full-Body Scanners
It’s difficult to imagine travelling through an airport nowadays without your personal space and privacy being invaded repeatedly, but things were very different before the turn of the century. Gone are the days when you could simply run up to your boarding gate, al la Home Alone, and walk straight on without so much as putting your shoes in a tray.
We still don’t know exactly what the future holds in the far-flung future of Total Recall, set in 2084, but a few of the innovations have come early, notably full-body scanners at airports (which are actually spaceports in the movie, facilitating travel to and from Mars). Though still not mandatory at every airport for every passenger, they’ve nonetheless begun to supplement metal scanners and may soon be a compulsory part of the flying experience.
Total Recall’s version involves people simply crossing a walkway, where their skeletons (and any dangerous weapons) are displayed to a panel of humorless security guards on the other side. The movie technology wasn’t perfect, as several people were able to pass through at a time and Arnold Schwarzenegger avoids the guards by simply Schwarzenegging right through the screen itself. However, it’s a technology that may be less violating than the current TSA scanners, which…well, let security personnel see a little bit more skin than the movie version.
4 Her (2013) - Intelligent Personal Assistants
Her depicts the tale of a man falling in love with his computer, sort of like every MacBook owner ever, except this time you can actually empathize with his emotional journey. The film is set in the very near future, simply presenting a logical conclusion of current technology rather than predicting something entirely new.
The story of a human loving an artificial intelligence might have been done many times before, though Her applied the concept to something that we already had, in the form of such intelligent personal assistants as Apple’s Siri. Siri’s default voice is female, similar to many others seen in fiction (007's personal vehicle, on occasion), and while you can’t count on any long conversations with your phone just yet, they’ve proven themselves to have surprising intelligence and responses.
The movie version calls itself Samantha, and she’s defined by her ability to evolve and learn from conversations and experience. If you’ve ever chatted to Cleverbot or something similar, you might be aware of just how close we are to putting the two together and creating a personal assistant who can serve as a genuine companion. That’s right, your relationship with your iPhone could very soon be getting…Siri-ous.
3 Return of the Jedi (1983) - Speeder/Hoverbikes
Return of the Jedi, among all the teddy bears and heart-warming happy endings, gave us a few intense action set-pieces. These included a high-speed chase through the forests of Endor on floating speeders. They’re not exactly the most practical vehicles for romping through a dense forest, as evidenced by how pretty much everyone riding them either ends up flat on their face or dying a horrible fiery death, though the prequels show that they’re nifty rides across open country.
We might have to wait a while before flying cars become a viable option, though the MA Hoverbike is apparently gearing up to give us a personal version for general cross-country awesomeness , if not forest-speeding awesomeness. The model is dependent on helicopter technology and can bear the weight of a person while actually looking pretty great in motion. If you have a spare £1500 lying around and don’t mind the possibility of pitching headfirst and being chopped into thousands of tiny, adrenalin-fueled bits, you might just be able to find yourself at the helm of the world’s first hoverbike. That is, if the creators manage to actually get the project… off the ground.
Eh? Eh?? Yeah, okay.
2 WarGames (1983) - Hacking and Cyber Warfare
WarGames was the '80s classic that used the general public’s lack of computer awareness to its advantage, telling the story of a typical 1983 intelligence system able to take control of the government and launch nuclear weapons and cause other wacky '80s mayhem. Our plucky young protagonist, played by definitely-not-Ferris-Bueller Matthew Broderick, manages to gain access to said system with his own computer, which has a grand total of 5mb of storage and would in real life crash while trying to display a thumbnail image. In other words, it’s the type of film that we can point and laugh at while we sit here in cushy, teched-out 2015.
However, issues of data and floppy disks aside, the film did predict a number of computer trends that at the time were barely a blip on the public radar. Cyber warfare was truly the realm of science fiction and nothing else, while ‘hacking’ was more popularly thought of as opening the back of one of those building-sized computers and ripping out the wires, presumably for the purpose of stealing secret documents for the CIA. Or something.
WarGames presented a version of hacking that was years ahead of its time, and now that technology has advanced to the point of being able to display more than half a jpeg, we’ve realized how problematic hacking can be…even if most people still think it involves sitting at a computer in a dark room and typing, like, really fast.
1 Woman in the Moon (1929) - Rocket Technology
Unlike the other entries, Woman in the Moon (‘Frau im Mond’ in the original German) had pretty much nothing to go on in terms of surrounding technology. The famous real-life moon landing wouldn’t occur for another 40 years, and more people believed that the moon was made of finely-aged brie more than they had any faith in man walking on its surface. The movie includes a few choice creative details, such as the moon being covered in gold (because obviously), a plucky young stowaway becoming a spaceship pilot because he likes sci-fi and the far side of the moon having a breathable atmosphere. Still, the depiction of a rocket launched and landing on the moon - again, four decades before Apollo 11 managed the feat in real life - contained quite a few spot-on details.
Notably, the rocket in the film is of the multi-stage variety that shed most of their outer casing after launching. The rocket is built and then moved to the launch pad, water is used to dissipate the heat of the launch and the crew take a number of precautions to cope with the resulting G-forces. Woman in the Moon may also be the very first time a countdown is shown before a space flight, though they omit the iconic words "blast-off." The research might have been bouncing around long beforehand, but this may be one of the rare times in which movie audiences got a sneak preview of humanity’s next great achievement.
Can you think of any other sci-fi movies that turned out to be prescient? Let us know in the comments!