Horror fans know that a willing suspension of disbelief is a vital part of enjoying this scariest of genres. This is even more true when it comes to speculative horror. What’s that? It’s terrifying cinema with a premise that supposes a specific future — one that’s different than we expect.
Problem is, some of these horrific futures are cautionary tales, warnings, or predictions that could happen to us if we’re not careful. Most of us would rather not live in a speculative horror movie. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the best speculative horror films and explained why their premises could totally happen in our own future…if we let them, that is. Expect mild SPOILERS for the films discussed.
21 The Colony
This Canadian spec horror film from 2013 makes a few predictions about climate change. The first is that humans are capable of building machines to control it. The second is that those machines are bound to break down eventually. When they do, the results will be disastrous. Remember kids, these are horror movies. Humanity’s many blunders lead to a world covered in snow and ice, a massive food shortage, and the constant threat of disease. As expected under such circumstances, people start acting like jerks to each other. For some, this means leaving sick people in the cold to die. For others, it’s joining the cannibals.
Is it possible? We already know that global climate change is happening and that it’s already hurting people. We also know that humans will resort to eating each other, if times get bad enough. We’ve seen that when humans try to manipulate natural forces like weather or an ecosystem, we tend to screw it up royally. And finally, even in an uncertain future, we all expect that Bill Paxton will eventually die.
20 Jason X
The Friday the 13th franchise was over two decades old when murderous drowning victim Jason Voorhees found himself on a spaceship. A serial killer being shot into space? Why? Was drowning, stabbing, near beheading, electrocution, more stabbings, another drowning, black magic, and being cremated not enough to rid the world of this deformed son of a summer camp cook? It would seem not. How did Jason end up in space? Fans will tell you it’s because Freddy vs. son was trapped in nightmarish negotiations while viewers clamored for another killfest. Others suggest that it’s just another of the many franchises that inexplicably ended up off-world for reasons that barely make sense.
Is it possible? Elon Musk seems determined to put regular people in space. Well, so long as those “regular” people are absurdly rich. Does putting an immortal murderer into cold storage makes sense? Not as much as cremation. Could shooting Jason into space mean we’d be rid of him forever? If Ursa, Non, and General Zod are any indication, no, not really. Either way, Kane Hodder will probably still be playing Jason somewhere 200 years in the future.
19 Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
For the uninitiated, this film takes place in a world where horror icons are real people. Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees — all as real as Jeffrey Dahmer, Son of Sam, or Henry Lee Lucas. The Rise of Leslie Vernon examines myths like The Virgin and The Final Girl/Survivor Girl. It also features fun horror nods like cameos and character names like “Halloran” or “Collinwood.” As a documentary subject, Vernon takes us through the training, planning, and even networking that serial killers go through. The future posited here is one where over-the-top killers are real, and may even be emulated by disturbed individuals.
Is it possible? Please. One could make an excellent case that this is already happening. Some lunatic shot up an actual theater full of real human beings while pretending to be the (fictional) nemesis of the Dark Knight, the Joker. We watch movies about Ted Bundy, Zodiac, Ghostface, or John Wayne Gacy, and see plays based on fictitious serial killers on Broadway without making a clear distinction between the real and the fictional. Trinkets with Bloodyface from American Horror Story can be found in the same Etsy shops as Charles Manson lockets or cameos of Aileen Wournos. Our fascination with murderers and apathy about separating fact from fiction can bring about this reality for sure.
This is another future film that deals with the aftermath of catastrophe caused by humans trying to fix climate change. This time though, everyone left alive ends up on a perpetually speeding train. Almost like real life, the rich people live splendidly, the middle class have their basic needs comfortably met, and the impoverished live on filthy scraps with no hope of ever bettering their situation. Plus, their children are occasionally stolen for reasons they aren’t entirely clear on. Snowpiercer also showcases extreme violence and a bit of cannibalism among the more desperate classes. When viewers find out the whole truth about the survival train and how it runs, the ghastly facts cause revolt.
Is it possible? The idea of an enormous train that never stops and contains more than one ecosystem? That doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny. But then, neither did the Internet if you go back 100 years or so. The cannibalism? Relegating the poor to squalor while expecting almost continual labor? Yeah, that’s all highly likely. There’s a case to be made that the poor will always be slaves to the rich.
17 The Purge
The Purge is a horror rarity in that the subsequent films are improvements on those that preceded them. The premise is a good one: the country is a “better” place now. Very little crime, zero unemployment, everyone is reasonably safe…until that 12-hour period when all crime is legal and paramedics get a well-deserved night off. Before long, friends and neighbors are shooting at each other, and the idea of saving a stranger leads to characters being roundly chastised.
Is it possible? Sure. Polling suggests that almost half of all Americans admit that they’d murder (or pay to have murdered) at least one person if they knew there would be no consequences. That’s scary enough. Couple that with the widespread theory that other people’s suffering is more abstract than your own — and that’s a sure recipe for an annual purge. Like the franchise itself, Election Year is as violent and insane as ever, and it's actually kind of frightening how easily this could happen in real life.
We all know the premise: A screenwriter named Thunder Levin combines ocean predators with bad weather and the next thing we know — Sharknado! Fin and his family evade the repeated and increasingly insane attempts of shark-based weather catastrophes to end them all. Why do the tornados only pick up sharks, and not whales, octopi, swordfish, or barracuda? Why is such heavy weaponry needed to take out animals who will die anyway if they stop swimming forward? How has Ian Ziering managed to parlay this series into a serious revival of his acting career? All good questions, and all sure to remain unanswered. The important thing is that Sharknado 4: The Fourth Awakens is coming.
Is it possible? Sure it is. Two words: Climate Change. We don’t honestly know what the full impact of climate change will be. But we know that everything will be impacted — weather, tides, water levels, and every ecosystem on the planet. Will it end up with a team of D-listers fighting sharks in space? Probably not…but can we ever really know for sure?
15 Alien Versus Predator: Requiem
Few franchises have inspired the kind of fervent fandom and passionate debate among horror fans as Alien and Predator. We all know that the xenomorphs from the Alien movies are acid-bleeding monsters with parasitic breeding practices. On the other hand, Predators don’t want to kill anyone who isn’t a world's most dangerous game-level adversary/trying to kill them. That’s nice and all — but who isn’t going to at least try to kill something that bone-chillingly terrifying? The concept of warring extra-terrestrials slugging it out somewhere on Earth, maybe with a hybrid, seems scarier than the scariest thing you can think of.
Is it possible? That aliens exist and may one day be capable of traveling here is a foregone conclusion to most scientists. It’s just a matter of when. And if guys like Aliens Carter Burke are still around (they will be) there’s no telling what kind of sci-fi horror chicanery we might be in for.
More people probably read Franz Kafka than watch movies based on his work. The Trial though, might be the exception to this. You’re under arrest, and no one will tell you why. The girl you like might be one of “them,” the nameless oppressors who know everything about you while you know essentially nothing about them. Scared, yet? There’s to be a trial, and you don’t get a lawyer. You also don’t know what you’re being accused of, let alone whether or not you did it. Couple that with a killer performance by Anthony Perkins and mind-bending direction by Orson Welles. That’s a recipe for dystopian fear and a confounding and terrifying look at one man’s horror prediction for the future of humanity.
Is it possible? We’d like to think it’s not. But could we devolve to a point where concepts like Miranda Rights, due process, or a state-funded lawyer might vanish? Maybe.
14 Repo! The Genetic Opera
All politics aside, medical care is pretty expensive in many places. Yet, it’s something most of us will need eventually. If you really needed a new liver, kidney, leg, or eye, would you take out a loan to get the body parts you need? Most of us probably would. What if you couldn’t pay back the loan though? We’ve all heard of cars getting repossessed, leaving hapless drivers with no way to get to work. But in Repo! The Genetic Opera, it’s not your ride that gets taken away. It’s that liver, kidney, leg or eye you sorely needed. Bear in mind that in addition to losing the body part in question — it’s legal for them to kill you to get it out. Worse yet, Paris Hilton may also be involved.
Is it possible? Not yet. But remember, these are horror’s future predictions. How long before the rights of businesses to get their money supersedes the right of people to have functioning organs, or even to live? Who cleans up the mess after an organ gets repo’d? Time will tell.
13 Night of the Living Dead
If you ask any die-hard horror fan, they’ll probably tell you that zombies are inevitable. Will they start their chases in cemeteries and indiscriminately infect anyone unlucky enough to come into contact with the ever-growing horde? Let’s put aside the concept of zombies for a moment and think about how the outbreak started in Night of the Living Dead. A NASA satellite came back to Earth carrying a mysterious, high-level radiation. The government said it was safe, and the next thing you know — they’re coming to get poor Barbra! The film that launched guys like George Romero and John Russo into crazy awesome careers in horror is as scary now as it was in 1968.
Is it possible? Simply put: yes. Zombies are coming. No one is going to tell us the truth about them when they do. Moreover, when local militias take on the hordes in their area, we can’t be sure that everyone they shoot will already be dead.
A future where everyone is a vampire? And human blood becomes crazy scarce? Daybreakers has horror mainstays Ethan Hawke and Sam Neill living in a world where it’s increasingly difficult to afford one’s daily blood. Forget coffee, bread, meat, and those other old-school staples of humanity. If you don’t get enough blood, a refined and attractive vampire can turn into something monstrous and goblin-like. That’s when they start leading the poor out into the sun to die. Is there hope for humanity after over 95% of them turn vamp?
Is it possible? Reasonable people can disagree on the existence of vampires. But if they were real, most of the people you know would totally become one. You don’t have to worry about health, you can smoke and start your day with a bacon and butter sammich. No more jogging, no more vitamins, and you feel awesome all the time -- as long as you get your blood. Even knowing how the movie turns out, that’s still pretty tempting.
11 A Clockwork Orange
Few things devolve into heated, angry exchanges like social justice issues. Topics like poverty, crime, drugs, and who is to blame for these problems can send even mild mannered conversationalists into screaming fits of frothy rage. That’s pretty much what happened when the novel A Clockwork Orange became one of the biggest hit films of the 1970s. Is there a sure-fire way to train people away from crime? From enjoying violence? To make them functioning and productive citizens? If there is, how serious should the consequences be before we question what we’re doing? Do people really drink drugged milk on purpose? This film discusses all these questions, and brings them to life around an epic performance by Malcolm McDowell.
Is it possible? Our aversion to criminals is not new news. And parents have been spiking their kids' milk for decades now. So one could argue that at least some of the events of A Clockwork Orange are already true. Would we spend so many resources to “fix” one criminal? We might, if the cameras were rolling.
10 Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Every have one of those days where no one appears to be acting like themselves? Like maybe everyone is in on some private joke or knows some secret that you don’t? That’s how the turmoil begins in the 1979 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Before long, more and more people are just…different. When we find out that alien plant pods are making exact replicas of human beings good enough to fool their children or spouses, that’s when it gets out of hand. A sound metaphor for the communist menace, every remake of this film gives it something fresh and new.
Is it possible? Yep. We’ve already covered the fact that aliens are out there. We also know that if they wanted something from us, they could probably just take it. The main question Body Snatchers asks incredibly well is “Why not a space flower? Why do we always expect metal ships?” Probably because we know what we’d do about ships. Flowers are, comparatively, more resilient.
9 Attack on Titan 1 & 2
It’s a series of really cool manga, then an animated series, and finally a pair of live-action movies. Attack on Titan has entertained and terrified horror fans all over the world with its story about maneating giants on hapless villagers. This series features a plucky cast of soldiers-in-training, sweet military gear, fun characters, and a few shocking plot twists most of us would never expect. How would you be different if you had to watch your mother being eaten alive by a giant? What might change in your life if you followed your best friend into a deadly war? Can you even imagine having the power to become one of the monsters your friends are battling? Attack on Titan asks all these questions and more.
Is it possible? We aren’t entirely sure where the titans came from or why they’re so darn hungry. We can guess that if giant cannibals really wanted us, they could get us, because we’re still so busy squabbling amongst ourselves.
8 The Dead Zone
No, we’re not going to talk about whether it’s possible to whang your head and end up with psychic powers. We're pretty sure South Park has already taught us that this is, at best, very rare. So we’re not going to focus on Johnny Smith and his amazing powers, or the conflicts they cause. Instead, we’re looking at Greg Stillson. Stillson grew up a disturbed boy who grew up constantly bullied by his dad. He was raised to be angry and deceitful, desperate to look like a successful person. Eventually, he ran for political office and appeared to be on a meteoric rise to respectability. Eventually, Stillson is seen to have been elected president (and begins a nuclear conflict that devastates most of the world).
Is it possible? A madman with little to no practical experience being taken seriously as a political leader? A clearly disturbed and juvenile individual who somehow suckers a wide swath of the populous into thinking he’s an amazing success? No…such a thing could never happen (cough, cough).
7 Event Horizon
Is there anything more fun than watching Sam Neill being slowly driven insane? What about claustrophobic space movies where insanity burns through the cast like an infection? Event Horizon is one of the most underrated films in both the horror and sci-fi genres. It remains a cult favorite though, thanks to its intensely beautiful visual style, strong and creepy performances despite a plot that sounds an awful lot like The Black Hole.
Is it possible? Sure. Space travel will no doubt become more accessible in the future, and will probably have the same pitfalls that air travel has now. Unruly passengers, stupid regulations, and the pain-in-the-butt demands that happen in any customer service situation. The main reason Event Horizon could happen isn’t very scientific. It’s the fact that we still can’t cure mental illness, and that insane people will still cause all kinds of unpredictable damage.
6 The Running Man
These days, the Governator is hit or miss at the box office. The last few Terminator movies left something to be desired, and Maggie wasn’t for everyone. But back in the day, the 1980’s to be specific, Arnold was the king of the box office — making action and even comedy movies fans couldn’t get enough of. One such action triumph was The Running Man, based loosely on a Stephen King/Richard Bachman story and directed by Paul Michael Glaser. It takes place in a big-brotheresque world where most TV is edited for truthiness and our favorite game shows feature murder.
Is it possible? We already view death and violent competition as entertainment. So-called reality TV where screaming morons flip tables and conspire against made-up enemies permeate prime-time network lineups. For decades now, televised executions have been discussed. They may be closer than we think.
5 Handmaid’s Tale
Imagine a world where men run everything. Women are relegated to being wives, nannies, cooks, teachers, or incubators. Yikes, right? The movie adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s terrifying novel is the stuff of nightmares. We follow two women in this new world to see how it treats them in their respective appointed jobs. Spoiler alert: They aren’t treated well. Rampant propaganda, and the strong preying on those with no power are just the beginning of the dystopia predicted by this horrifying film. Butter as face cream? No…just no. Rumor has it we're getting a new miniseries based on the book too, with Elizabeth Moss in the leading role!
Is it possible? Is it possible that laws may someday grossly limit women’s rights? That probably depends on who you ask. What about rules that govern what wifely duties are and what women must submit to in order to keep their rigidly defined roles? Again, that may be in the eye of the beholder. What we do know is that those in power stay that way by keeping some people with as little agency as possible.
4 Resident Evil
Zombie movies take place in a wide variety of settings, and may impact people of many cultures all over the world. Chances are, those who live in less impacted areas will have a tougher time than those who die quickly near the beginning. Resident Evil isn’t just about zombies. It’s about military companies that will do anything to get the edge in battle. Cloning, genetic alterations, and guys as hot as James Purefoy turning out to be evil are all possible in this franchise. It’s also the franchise that taught us that movies based on video games don’t have to suck.
Is it possible? Do we really accept that enormous, faceless companies might not care about humanity at large? Can these infections/bio-weapons affect animals as much as people? Is it possible that military contractors might hurt people or engage in experimentation that impacts all of humanity in violent and terrifying ways. Yes, probably.
3 The Omega Man
1971’s The Omega Man is a classic film in both the horror and sci-fi genres. Based on I am Legend by the great Richard Matheson, it’s the tale of the purported last man on earth. This story has been done in a handful of movies featuring stars like Vincent Price and Will Smith in addition to this iconic Charleton Heston version. Technically, this story features vampires — but they’re far different than any you’ve seen prior or since. Staying alive is the main objective, until it isn’t. Matheson et al suppose a tenuous and tense future for anyone unlucky enough to survive biological weaponry.
Is it possible? Yes. Bio-weapons are still a looming threat in our modern world. And when society crumbles, it won’t take long before it’s “every man for themselves.” Let’s hope a few of those surviving men have the tactical skills of a young Charlton Heston.
2 Soylent Green
The late Charleton Heston appears twice in a row on our list, and with good reason. Many of his most iconic roles were in before their time dystopian films like those mentioned here -- and Planet of the Apes, of course. We could argue that Heston didn’t think much of any of humanities supposed futures, which is why he fought all of them onscreen. Soylent Green posits a world where most people are homeless, and the deceased are (spoiler alert!) processed into food that is then eaten by everyone too poor to afford real food — in a world where a jar of strawberries costs $200. Even Whole Foods hasn’t tried that yet.
Is it possible? We’ve already discussed that humans will turn to cannibalism if they want to live more than they want to remain human. Once you’ve decided that eating people is okay, there’s no going back. In the end, the truth may be that the poor will always be food for the rich.
1 The Road
Cormac McCarthy is one of those writers you just want to punch for being so damn good. It’s just not fair. In 2009, his exquisite dystopian horror novel, The Road was adapted into a film starring Viggo Mortensen. It will blow your mind and leave you shambling around in a depressed haze for days afterward. A world where a father and son spend their days looking for enough food and clothing to eat and stay warm for another day. We see cannibals, sadistic murderers, and dogs as dinner (if you’re lucky). We don’t know what brings about the end of agriculture and the blocking out of the sun. Could be that evil C. Montgomery Burns.
Is it possible? We’ve already discussed cannibals and the martial law that’s sure to follow any sort of widespread catastrophe. Mass suicides and a worldwide food shortage is highly likely to result in events similar to this film. Count us out. The culprit here is probably related to climate change, which scientists now say we couldn’t stop if we tried. Dang.
Did we miss your favorite horror prediction? Are we totally off base about whether or not these could be reality? We want to hear your thoughts in the comments. Honest!