What Movies Predict for the Next 40 Years- page 1 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
In Blade Runner, pollution and overpopulation have transformed cities such as Los Angeles into depressing megacities. (Mary Evans / Ronald Grant / Everett Collection)

What Movies Predict for the Next 40 Years

From Back to the Future to the Terminator franchise, Hollywood has many strange and scary ideas of what will happen by 2050

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For a filmmaker, creating a futuristic world is a tricky task, especially if your crystal ball looks just a few years over the horizon. The challenges are varied – from dreaming up technological advancements, ages before their time, to predicting an approaching apocalypse (that also, hopefully, is ages before its time).

Over the course of the next 40 years, many cinematic visions will be compared to the reality of their time. Will they turn out like 2001, with its unfulfilled expectations of an outer-space-focused future, or like The Truman Show, prescient and a clear warning sign of things to come. From summer blockbusters to dystopian allegories to animated adventures, here is a selection of what Hollywood has predicted for the United States and the world from now until 2050:

2015: Released in 1989, Back to the Future Part II played with the space-time continuum as Marty McFly traveled forward to 2015, then back to 1955, then forward again to 1985. Its vision of the future, however, is a smorgasbord of whiz-bang inventions. In the fictional Hill Valley, California, of 2015, you can buy self-drying clothes, self-lacing shoes and drive a flying car. Books do not have dust jackets (but note: there still are books). In earlier drafts of the script, there was a plot line that involved a new form of credit card: your thumb. The most famous invention of 2015, though, is the “hoverboard,” a skateboard that levitates over the ground; at the time of the film’s release, many fans called the production studio asking where they could obtain one. Lastly, the Chicago Cubs finally end their century-plus quest to win the World Series in 2015.

A darker side of 2015 was predicted in Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987). Detroit is in shambles, overtaken by crime and an evil corporation with plans to demolish the decrepit city center. Cops shot by nefarious crime bosses are resurrected as half-man, half-machine law-enforcement cyborgs. Though Detroit has had its share of troubles, will this be the future of policing? In the film’s two sequels that bring us to the close of the decade, the answer is “yes.”

2017-2019: Dystopia reigns in the late 2010s. Adapted from Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road (2009) was the bleakest of bleak films. An unnamed Man and Boy roam a post-apocalyptic earth (cause of the devastation unknown), avoiding the last remnants of humanity who are scavenging for any remaining sustenance, including human flesh.

“In the not-too-distant future, wars will no longer exist, but there will be rollerball,” reads the tagline of the 1975 film Rollerball. Forget soccer. In 2018, rollerball is the world’s most popular sport and competitor Jonathan E is its star athlete. Global corporations have ended poverty, cured disease and given society a great sport – except, it is all designed, in the words of John Houseman’s sinister villain, “to demonstrate the futility of individual effort.”

In Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s 1982 loose adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel, by 2019, pollution and overpopulation have transformed cities such as Los Angeles into depressing megacities. Replicants – androids with superhuman strength yet visually indistinguishable from humans – are pursued by bounty hunters known as blade runners. Off-world colonies advertise a greater life via flying billboards. Animals are scarce and must be genetically engineered. And, once again, we have flying cars.

2020: A manned voyage to the Red Planet occurred in the near future, according to Brian De Palma’s Mission to Mars. Released in 2000, the film portrays a trip to Mars ending in disaster in 2020 – though the rescue team makes a startling discovery about human origins.

2022: “Nothing runs, nothing works,” said a voiceover in a trailer for Soylent Green (1973). The world survives on rations of the titular food, produced by the behemoth Soylent Corporation. Pollution and overpopulation are again the culprits that have turned the world into a police state. Charlton Heston’s detective Ty Thorn traces a series of unsolved murders to the secret no one has lived to tell: “Soylent Green is people!” Even worse, with the oceans dying, it’s clear that not even Thorn’s discovery can change the course of civilization.

2027: While Children of Men doesn’t take place for another 17 or so years, the plot rested on developments that would be beginning now. Across the world, female infertility rates begin to decrease rapidly and by the end of the 2000s no more babies are born. In 2027, Baby Diego, the youngest man on the planet is stabbed to death at the age of 18. Director and co-writer Alphonso Cuarón’s dystopia reveals an England that has shut itself off from a world in chaos. In this 2006 movie, cars look mostly the same as today’s, but with no future generations on their way, what is the use in forging new technologies?

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