It’s Back to the Future Day: October 21, 2015. The second installment in the popular franchise was released in 1989, but its bright vision of the future endures. One reason: there’s not much to fear about it. There’s no ISIS or mass shootings. No climate change or economic uncertainty. Just self-drying jackets and arcade games you can play without using your hands. As futurist Michael Rogers has observed, “it was actually a somewhat friendly, happy future with cool consumer goods.”
The movie’s optimism is unusual. Other cinematic glimpses of the future are far more dystopian. Here are 10 memorable (and often dark) movie-invented futures that are still to come. Will the year 2054 really look like Minority Report? Probably not (but here’s hoping you live long enough to find out).
Movie: Blade Runner
Los Angeles in November, 2019: A retired policeman (Harrison Ford) has to track down a group of bioengineered human-like “replicants” who’ve arrived on earth from some far-off colony. The movie seemed fairly distant when Blade Runner was released in 1982, but now it’s just four years away. It’s pretty bleak; no wonder we celebrate Marty McFly’s 2015 instead.
Movie: Children of Men
If you take Alfonso Cuarón’s much acclaimed 2006 film (based on P.D. James’s novel) at its word, we’re only 12 years away from a horrifying world in which humanity is thrust toward extinction and refugees are fleeing war all over the planet. At least you’ll have a stubbly Clive Owen to gawk at.
Movie: V for Vendetta
Yet another view of a totalitarian dystopia, this Guy Fawkes–inspired thriller apparently takes place in the year 2038, or thereabouts, when an anarchist goes up against a fascist government that does away with its “undesirable” citizens in concentration camps.
Movie: Minority Report
Crime fighting will look different in April, 2054, according to this Steven Spielberg thriller. Instead of tracking down criminals after they commit a crime, police will use psychics to anticipate wrongdoing and apprehend the bad guys beforehand. In this vision of the future, there are optical recognition systems everywhere, a prediction that may not be too far off.
In 2072 post–World War III “Libiria,” emotions have been outlawed and citizens inject daily doses of “Prozium” to suppress their feelings. In a world where lack of creative stimulation ensures order and obedience, even puppies can’t break these soulless automatons.
A nebbishy New York City health food store owner who is accidentally cryogenically frozen in 1973 awakes 200 years later to a deeply conformist society in which sex is replaced by Orgasmatron booths, and Jewish robot tailors will fit you for your new suit. The totalitarian government is oppressive, but things aren’t all bad; scientists have discovered the health benefits of “deep fat,” and foods like steak, cream pies and hot fudge are diet staples.
Morons run amok in a trash-covered society. After 500 years of progressive idiot breeding, only the most average of minds can convince the leadership to use water, a now toilet-only resource, to grow crops to save everyone from an imminent idiot apocalypse. Luckily, average Joe Bowers, having been tricked into a 500-year hibernation and now the smartest man alive, wakes up with enough knowledge to know the world cannot be sustained on sports drinks alone. Not even Joe, however, can figure out what electrolytes actually are.
Movie: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure Adventure
The 1980s were a golden age for time travel flicks. But Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure gets a fraction of the attention afforded to Back to the Future. While most of the film takes place in various past settings—Ancient Greece, the Old West in 1879—the central plot device is that Rufus (George Carlin) has traveled back from the year 2688 to ensure that Bill & Ted’s band, Wyld Stallyns, remains together, because the band’s music brings about an end to war and harmony between the planets. No hoverboards, though. (The sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, ramps up the futuristic setting, to far less successful effect.)
Here’s the rare vision of an environmental, mega-corporate nightmare that your kid can also enjoy. The depiction of a trash-covered earth and sinister corporation known as Buy ‘n’ Large (BnL) is about as political as Pixar gets, but at least we have a very lovable sentient robot to look forward to.
Movie: Planet of the Apes
Mark your calendars: November 25, A.D. 3978 is the date Charlton Heston and company arrive at at the beginning of the 1968 science fiction classic (not the remake). Our distant ancestors will surely have a grand celebration of that day if they aren’t locked in zoo cages being experimented on by damn, dirty apes.