Science fiction movies love setting themselves in the future, and it’s easy to see why. People are fascinated by the future as a concept — it is a fantastical place, where new technologies, alien races, flying cars, and revamped human civilizations can all coalesce, stewing in the warm ferment of our imaginations.
But there’s a catch when it comes to setting a movie in the future: Eventually, the future arrives. Some good — and quite bad — movies place their stories in the not-so-distant future and pay the price. If we are to believe these films, the world should by now be covered in flying cars, sentient robots, and time-travelling super cops. Thankfully, none of this has come true yet. But we have rounded up some of the best examples of movies that got it all quite wrong.
So without further ado, please sit back, relax, insert the provided laser-disc into the armrest, order up a tub of popcorn from your robot butler, and enjoy Screen Rant’s 10 Sci-Fi Movies That Got the Future Really Wrong…
10 Escape from New York (1981)
Before Escape from New York, Kurt Russell had been in a lot of movies and TV shows, but it was John Carpenter’s 1981 action flick that really turned him into a star. Russell is Snake Plissken, a grizzled, one-eyed criminal who is tasked with saving the President from the island of Manhattan, which happens to be a super-max prison. Snake is incentivized to complete the mission when the New York Police Commissioner (Lee Van Cleef) has a couple of explosive devices attached to the ex-con’s heart.
Carpenter’s vision of the future is brutal fun, but it is lacking in much foresight. The President carries with him information that is vital to the future of society. The mode of transportation for this is a cassette tape; cutting-edge in 1981, not so much in 1997.
9 Time Chasers (1994)
Time Chasers is an independent film that was made in rural Vermont in 1994, and none of that can excuse it for how bad it is. In fact it’s so hilariously inept that Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed it in the show’s eighth season.
The movie ‘stars’ Matthew Bruch as Nick Miller, an inventor who turns a Cessna into a time machine. The characters are inadvertently funny, thanks to writer/director David Giancola’s script, and the special effects leave something to be desired.
But the silliest achievement of Time Chasers is its depiction of the future. Nick takes a reporter and an interested business exec to the year 2041. Granted this isn’t being written in 2041, but we’re fairly sure that no one will be running around in neon spandex and long coats, using bicycles as their sole mode of transportation, or talking on cellphones larger than any we have today.
8 Strange Days (1995)
It’s odd that the makers of Strange Days chose to set it only four years into the future. Once would think that if you wanted to make a hi-tech dystopian action flick, you’d put it at least a few decades out, no? Yet the new millennium was coming and we suppose that carries some symbolic weight.
Regardless, Strange Days is fantastic. Ralph Fiennes, giving one of his reliably-great performances, stars here as Lenny Nero, a street hustler who deals not in substances but fantasies. He sells life-like experiences on mini-discs to the poor and desperate like him, living day-to-day in a broken world. Once day though, Lenny obtains a disc that depicts a murder, an experience that puts his life in danger.
Simply put, the movie is just a little too extreme in its portrayal of Los Angeles on the eve of Y2K. Gangs rule the city, with the rich ferried around in armored limos. It’s a bit difficult to suspend disbelief when all this is supposed to be occurring only four years later.
7 Timecop (1994)
Jean-Claude Van Damme stars in Timecop, which, simply put, is about a cop who polices time travel. The film is set in 1994, and officer Max Walker (Van Damme) is given the opportunity to work for the U.S. government’s Time Enforcement Commission, which is to fall under the auspices of Senator Aaron McComb (Ron Silver). It’s a huge break for him, but when he arrives home to tell his wife, she’s been killed in an explosion.
Ten years later, Walker is still a TEC cop. He discovers a plot by McComb to enrich himself using the 1929 stock market crash, and eventually finds that McComb orchestrated the murder of Walker’s wife. Needless to say, Van Damme’s martial-arts-infused Walker takes revenge. And in the end, he is reunited in an alternate 2004 with his happy wife and a nine-year-old son.
Timecop is a fun, if generic, sci-fi flick from the mid-nineties. It’s the biggest movie Van Damme has starred in, raking in over $100 million at the box office. But it does get one thing wrong: time travel. It is pure science fiction awesomeness, because we are nowhere close to discovering it.
6 Gattaca (1997)
Writer-director Andrew Niccol’s 1997 film Gattaca is an underrated sci-fi drama. It stars Ethan Hawke as Vincent Freeman, a genetically inferior man whose lifelong dream is to be an astronaut, but because of his DNA classification he’s relegated to a life of unskilled labor. Freeman soon meets a man with what society deems to be perfect genes (Jude Law), and he goes on to impersonate the man in order to achieve his goals. But the authorities catch wind of these efforts, and soon Freeman must fight for everything that’s important to him.
The movie is set in an unspecified “not-too-distant future,” when eugenics is commonplace. Real-life scientists are already at work modifying genes, hoping to discover cures and generally improve the standard of living. Thankfully, we are nowhere near the oppressive social structure featured in the film.
5 Terminator Salvation (2009)
In 2018, John Connor (Christian Bale) has been sent back in time to protect his father Kyle Reese from Skynet and the Terminators. But he is too late; Reese has already been abducted by the robot army, taken prisoner like so many others. Connor’s only hope to rescue him is to join forces with Marcus (Sam Worthington), a man-machine hybrid whose true intentions are unclear.
Terminator Salvation is one of the sillier installments in the Terminator franchise. Its plot is overwrought with action, peripheral characters, and needless plot points. But the series’ core subject remains: indestructible artificial intelligence overrunning human civilization. Fortunately, in real-life there is no massive operation of androids taking over the planet and corralling survivors. As well, there aren’t any fifty-foot Harvester robots custom-built to grab up people. And while militaries around the world are currently working on robotic exoskeletons to increase the strength of soldiers, there aren’t as of yet any man-machine hybrids.
4 Blade Runner (1982)
Ridley Scott’s hazy, dream-like Blade Runner is the go-to sci-fi dystopian epic for many a film aficionado. And with good reason. The cinematography is superb. The direction, pacing and writing all make the film crackle in expectation. And within all that is an exploration of man’s purpose and identity in a world where artificial intelligence has been perfected, in the form of beautiful, lifelike androids.
Many consider it to be the best sci-fi film out there. But when it comes to realism, things aren’t so pretty. The film’s setting is a vast metropolis version of Los Angeles in the year 2019, a conglomeration of slums and super-structures. The sheer size of the city and the buildings in it are fantastical. Onlly four years away from the date, we aren't anywhere close to seeing flying cars roaming the skies, let alone sentient automatons prowling the streets.
3 Back to the Future Part II (1989)
The movie that sent social media into giddy delight, Back to the Future Part II has our heroes Marty and Doc transported to October 21, 2015. In a lovable rehash of the first movie — the series doesn’t start pushing viewers’ endurance until the third film — Back to the Future Part II has Marty saving his family again, this time by going to the future. He must pose as his own son and ingratiate himself into society. To do this, Marty takes on a lot of the props of any self-respecting 2015 teen: self-lacing shoes, a hover board, and a flying car (in his case, a DeLorean). Granted, none of these things have come to fruition. Society does seem close, but we have not yet perfected self-lacing shoes.
These are minor issues. What is really jarring to see in a movie set in the year 2015 isn’t that there are a flying cars, but that everyone still uses payphones. And fax machines. And stationary bikes in lieu of stools inside coffee shops? This is getting weird.
2 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2001: A Space Odyssey is a brilliant film. It is really hard to fault Stanley Kubrick for what many consider to be his masterpiece, a breathtaking meditation on man’s place in the universe and the meaning of our existence, cloaked in a dark space adventure film.
A scientist (Keir Dullea) and his shipmates are on an exploratory mission in the year 2001. They are aided on their journey by the HAL 9000, a cutting-edge computer with exceptional artificial intelligence that controls their ship. The mission goes awry as the computer turns evil. It is an awesome film full of suspense, reinforced by one of the most legendary scores of all time.
But 2001 wasn’t perfect. It did an amazing job of creating a futuristic environment for audiences to immerse themselves in, no doubt, but some of the technology was incorrect for the era. In the real year 2001, artificial intelligence was not yet at the point of sentience, of decision-making or subtle discernment.
On a less technological note, we see a Pan-Am jet being used early in the film, but by the year 2001 (in 1991, actually) Pan-Am had actually gone bankrupt and was dissolved.
1 Rollerball (1975)
Rollerball is set in 2018, but feels more like the year it was made, 1975. Between the clunky social commentary, rollerblading, and copious amounts of James Caan, the movie has some trouble taking the audience out of its era.
It’s the year 2018, and across the world corporations have replaced governments. And thanks to this, war is a thing of the past, replaced by hyper-violent sports. When they’re not at work, people gather at home and watch the brutal entertainment. Caan stars as a Jonathan, a famous rollerball player who is asked by his sponsors to retire due to his being overexposed. The totalitarian world discourages feelings of individual empowerment, as it could lead to solidarity, and so Jonathan’s image in society is seen by the rulers to be too provocative, too threatening. But Jonathan shirks their demands and goes on playing anyways. The powers that be make the game increasingly more dangerous, attempting to push him out with threat of violence.
In reality, nations have not yet been replaced by corporations. As well, our TVs aren’t one big screen with three small ones on top. We love sports, but it’s not all America watches by any means. In fact, society has trended towards video-streaming services, which have only expanded our viewing options.
Well, did we miss any? What are your favorite sci-fi flicks of the future?