Since the beginning of motion pictures, filmmakers have been using their art to envision the future. Some see it as a utopia where technology has given us an end to hunger and disease and mankind’s only pursuits are those of pleasure or exploration. Others see a future where famine, disease, aliens, or our own short-sightedness have left us with a dystopia.
Some of these potential futures have already been proven false. Some timelines set in a cinematic vision of the future are now in our past, as the passage of time in the real world means that, for instance, where 1999 was once the future, it is now 17 years behind us.
We take a look at some of the futures predicted in movies which didn’t come to pass as we explore 13 Movie Futures That Didn’t Happen.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Back in 1968, the year 2001 seemed like a far distant future. With the space program in full flight (excuse the pun) it was expected that by the turn of the millennium, space travel would be much more advanced and that our computer technology would have developed to the point where artificial intelligence would be a reality. While 2001 was noted for its themes of existentialism, AI, human evolution, and extra-terrestrial life, it was lauded for its accurate depiction of space flight. Even by today’s standards, few science fiction movies have gotten the actual science part as right as Stanley Kubrick did.
However, there are some massive differences from the future predicted by the movie and the real 2001. Pan Am no longer exists, having collapsed in 1991, and certainly never developed space-planes to take people to space stations orbiting Earth. Clavius Base remains firmly in the realm of fantasy, as we’re at least a century, if not two or three, from developing a functional lunar colony. Also, the movie failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union, with Russians in the movie still being depicted as Soviets, but admittedly, that was a tough call.
One of the most famous elements of the movie is the artificial intelligence, HAL 9000. While there were rudimentary AIs by the turn of the century, even now they remain in their infancy. The closest we have in daily life to a conversational computer are our chats with Siri. And while Siri is impressive, it is of little use in searching for alien monoliths (some of which are fairly close to you). HAL is depicted as being incapable of error, and possibly having true human emotions. It’s unlikely that real life AIs will be capable of even close to that in our lifetimes. Given the fate of the crew of the Discovery One, that’s probably a good thing.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
While the “Future War” seen in the flashbacks (or flash-forwards, depending on your point of view) is still in our future, the beginning of the war is now firmly in our past. In the original movie, The Terminator, the details of the war are a little fuzzy. Kyle Reese talks about a nuclear war and the machines rising from the aftermath to enslave and destroy humanity.
The sequel gives a clearer time-frame, with the Terminator sent to protect John giving exact details of how Skynet itself starts the war. On August 29th 1997, Skynet, having achieved sentience, fires America’s nuclear missiles at targets in Russia. The Russian counter-strike wipes out Skynet’s human enemies in America. Three billion lives were wiped out in a single day of warfare and Skynet needed to merely round up the survivors…and terminate them.
It’s also worth noting that although never clearly stated, the events of the movie were set in the year 1995, despite the movie being released in 1991. Hardly the far-future, but far enough to explain why John Connor is older than he should be, given the difference in time that had actually elapsed.
In 1994, the year 2004 was a full decade away, so in retrospect, the idea that not only would time-travel be possible in that timeframe but that the government would be able to regulate it, seems implausible at best.
The movie made several other predictions about that era that proved false. Not only has time-travel not materialised, nor a government agency grown to police time itself, but the “futuristic” cars of 2004 look positively laughable, as their tank-like appearance is nothing like the sleeker designs of the 21st century.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
1975’s cult classic political satire takes place in a dystopian American society where a murderous transcontinental road race has become the dominant form of national entertainment and a form of social control.
The back-story states that by the late 1970s, the United States has collapsed and a totalitarian regime has arisen in its place to put an end to the social and economic turmoil. In order to pacify the population, the government organized the “Death Race”, where drivers race high-powered cars and inflict maximum damage on each other and gain additional points for gore, death, and killing any civilians that happen to get in the way. The drivers are seen as massive celebrities by the masses, each having an over the top persona much like a professional wrestler. There is a resistance to the regime which seeks to undermine the government by blocking the broadcast of the race, and, when this fails, kill the remaining drivers.
The resistance eventually wins out and abolishes the race. But when elements wish for the races to be restored, claiming that although there is no moral argument for them, they are simply the American way of life, they are swiftly killed by the cars they wished to bring back.
Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (1972)
Part of the original series of Planet of the Apes movies, and regarded as one of the better sequels, sees the action take place in the 1990s, where cats and dogs have been wiped out by a virus, leaving humanity with no pets. Humans begin to realise that apes can be trained to take the roles of house pets, and begin to domesticate them. By the 1991 seen in the movie, American culture has changed drastically. America is now a partial police-state where everyone, both human and ape, is monitored at all times. All society is now based around ape slave labour, with apes being used for more than just pets.
Caesar, the son of two time-travelling talking apes from the future, sympathises with the apes in society and sees their turmoil first-hand when he is forced to hide among a group of orangutans that are being brutally conditioned into becoming slaves. He begins to surreptitiously train them in combat skills, planning an eventual revolution against the humans.
The seeds of the revolution are successful, with Caesar becoming the leader of an ape-resistance against human rule. This is the beginning of the planet being ruled by the apes, one that we deeply appreciate has not come to bear.
Set in the “near future” of the city of Detroit, Robocop depicts a world that isn’t exactly dystopian, but a society deeply divided. The suburbs appear to be peaceful, but the inner city is deeply overrun with criminals, and the privatised police force is on the verge of collapse. The mega-corporation that is bankrolling many elements of Detroit, Omni Consumer Products (OCP) is planning to rebuild “Old-Detroit” into a high-end utopia named “Delta City.” In order to do this, they have to eliminate the criminal element via whatever means necessary.
Their initial plan is to use the ED-209 enforcement droid to maintain a brutal order. When it is seen to be technologically deficient, an ambitious junior executive, Bob Morton, pushes forward his plan to develop a “Robocop.” The Robocop is planned as a hybrid device created as a fusion of man and machine, without the limitations of the larger and more primitive ED-209. After officer Alex Murphy is sadistically killed (by Red Foreman, no less), his remains become property of OCP and he is rebuilt as a cyborg.
While the precise year is never given, the movie was presumably set in the very early 21st century. While cybernetics and prosthetics are highly advanced, they have yet to come remotely close to the man-machine hybrid of Robocop.
Based on the George Orwell novel (written in 1949) of the same name, 1984 depicted a totalitarian future society where even dissenting thoughts were monitored. The movie, like the novel, is set in Airstrip One, formerly known as Great Britain, a province of the superstate Oceania.
The world is in a state of never-ending war, with a paranoid government instituting a system of omnipresent surveillance. The public is manipulated at all times by a massive system of propaganda, or Newspeak, and the greatest crime that can be committed is that of free thought. This “thought crime” is harshly punished to prevent any dissent.
While the totalitarian state never came to pass, 1984 is often used in modern society as an example of where state interference and surveillance can lead. The rise of closed circuit television, and the NSA scandals are often seen as examples of the governments of the world having a little too much information about our daily lives. While 1984 came and went without such fascist superpower coming into existence, this is one future that, unfortunately, is still very possible.
Escape from New York (1981)
Taking place in the then-future of 1997, John Carpenter’s cult-classic is set in a crime-ridden United States than has abandoned New York City and turned it into a maximum-security prison. Not only is the 1997 timeline behind us, but the seeds for this timeline are even further in the past now. In this alternate future, by 1988, a 400% increase in the crime-rate caused Manhattan to be declared separate from the mainland United States. When Air Force One crashes into New York with the president aboard, Ex-Soldier Snake Plissken is tasked with his rescue.
Seen as a reaction to the then-recent Watergate scandal, with the very office of the presidency to be seen as having little credibility or respect for the people which it serves, Escape From New York has an anti-hero who doesn’t save the presidency for heroic/patriotic purposes, but merely as a means of self-preservation. The president of this timeline is so poorly regarded that the best soldier in the world won’t go and save him unless he has something personal to gain. While nothing like the events in Escape From New York have come to pass, the mixed feelings towards the political elite do remain.
I Am Legend (2007)
In what was the then-future of 2012, a genetically engineered virus which was supposed to cure cancer turns into a lethal strain which kills 90% of the world’s population and turns 9% into nocturnal mutants. Of the remaining 1% of humanity who remain both alive and human, one man, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville, lives alone in New York City while developing a cure. By the events of the movie, he has been isolated for three years with only a dog for company.
One of numerous movies to predict end-of-the-world scenarios to coincide with the Mayan calendar ending a cycle in 2012, I am Legend opted to take the mutated-virus route. While this indeed didn’t happen, it remains one of the more plausible scenarios for an apocalypse. Many scientists believe that the overuse of antibiotics, making them ineffective, combined with greater mobility means that a virus capable of doing mass-harm to mankind is more likely than a nuclear war or alien invasion.
Strange Days (1995)
While it may seem like a mere change in the calendar now, the turn of the century was seen by many to be the beginning of a new era. Many movies made use of this pre-millennial tension to depict the world in different ways. Strange Days is set in the final days of 1999, where Los Angeles has descended into a dangerous war-zone ruled by hardened criminals.
In the midst of this, there is a black-market operation where events are recorded by Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices, known as Squids, which act as an illegal means for a person to experience the memories and sensations of another. While the societal disorder witnessed in the movie hasn’t happened (indeed it ends with a surprising amount of optimism for the new century) the Squid devices remain well in the realm of Science Fiction. As of yet, no device is even close to directly implanting the memories or sensations of one human being into another.
Back to the Future Part 2 (1989)
While the movie jumps around from one era to another, the most famous parts of this ’80s classic take place thirty years into the future, in the year 2015. Or one year in our past, from our perspective. Possibly the most anticipated movie-future of all time, Back to the Future Part 2 depicted many changes to both technology and society, some of which actually did come to pass.
While we’re still waiting for flying cars, Mr. Fusion devices, and most importantly, true Hoverboards, the movie depicts things like drone technology and video calls as being commonplace. The drones seen as delivering things and walking dogs may be a year or two away, they’re pretty close to those in development, even if they aren’t quite as ubiquitous as they are seen in the movie.
While the Fax machine in the movie is still commonplace, in reality, they’ve gone the way of the dodo, having been replaced by email in the ‘90s. The video call, seen as futuristic then, is extremely commonplace now with Skype and Facetime being everyday tech.
Demolition Man (1993)
While most of Demolition Man takes place in the year 2032, the seeds of this future are set in the past, therefore it cannot come to pass. The section of the movie depicted as 1996 sees a world much as it was, aside from the crime-spree actioned by the ruthless Simon Phoenix. The notable difference being that in order to solve prison overcrowding, prisoners are cryogenically frozen and mentally reconditioned via an electronic device while they sleep.
The rest of the movie takes place in 2032, but this timeline is impossible, as the events they discuss as leading up to their near utopian society haven’t happened in our real-world timeline. Not only did we not get the promised cryo-prisons, we also haven’t had the sudden end to crime. The movie states at one point that there hasn’t been a murder since 2010.
Most aspects of the movie make fun of the culture and lifestyle of the 20th century, but most of these things are still ubiquitous today, such as a love of gasoline cars, junk-food, action cinema, and unsanctioned mating. 2032 is a long way off, and anything can happen between now and then. Pray that this never becomes a reality.
Possibly a movie to watch with the kids one day and say, “I lived through that,” and watch them declare you a hero.
2012 was the definitive movie to use the Mayan prophesy as a plot device. In reality, 2012 on the Mayan calendar wasn’t a prediction of the end of the world in a cataclysm at all. It was merely one era ending, and another beginning, the same as any day, week, month, or year on our calendar. However, 2012 shows that the Mayans actually predicted a cataclysm on a global scale, from which there was no escape. Unless you’re John Cusack.
The move sees massive global upheaval with earthquakes and other geological events being caused by a massive solar flare heating up the earth’s crust. The resulting chaos all but destroys the earth, with much of the landscape being radically altered and most of humanity eradicated.
Fortunately, 2012 passed by with little incident. The London Olympic games came and went, and the world continued to turn.
While none of these futures came to pass, Hollywood, and by extension mankind, remains fascinated by the future. Whether it brings a Utopia, a dystopia, or something in-between, remains to be seen. But with so much seemingly within our grasp, it’s only a matter of time before the future becomes now and we find ourselves living in a time once believed to be the far future.
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