Also set in 2027, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) was one of the first, and most famous, visions of the future. The world according to Lang is run on machines, with masses of enslaved humans working tirelessly on them. Economic disparity turns into a Marxist nightmare – the upper class lives above the earth in luxury, while the working class lives below the surface.
2029: Through the four Terminator movies (and the short-lived television program), beginning in 1984, the basic premise remained the same: a war breaks out in 2029 between humans and self-aware robots bent on our destruction. The first movie had Arnold Schwarzenegger travel back in time as the Terminator to kill Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor, leader of the 21st-century human rebellion. The sequels were variations on the theme, with Schwarzenegger switching from villain to hero. If Sarah and John Connor survive various attacks, we will rely on them to save the human race. Most of us don’t survive the nuclear holocaust initiated by the machines, but for those of us who join the resistance, John Connor is our leader.
2035: The themes of robots and the evil corporations who create them lived on in I, Robot (2004), an extremely loose adaption of a series of short stories by Isaac Asimov. In director Alex Proyas’ future, robots are household fixtures governed by the Three Laws of Robotics (one of the few holdovers from Asimov’s stories). As is often the case in our cinematic future, the robots rise up, but this time it is for our greater good. The robots decide that we have waged too many wars and have laid too much waste to the environment – they must step in and take control to save us from ourselves. Should Will Smith’s Det. Del Spooner succeed, however, the rebellion will be short-lived.
2037: Leave it to an animated film to predict a brighter future for us. In Meet the Robinsons (2007), people travel by bubbles or pneumatic tubes, cars are flying (again), and genetically enhanced frogs sing and dance. The skies are bright blue and the grass is vibrantly green. Life, in general, is good.
2038-9: Guy Fawkes failed in 1605 to blow up the British Parliament, but the vigilante “V” succeeded on November 5, 2039, after promising to do so on state-run television the previous year. V for Vendetta, the 2005 film adaption of Alan Moore’s graphic novel, is set in a United Kingdom ruled by a totalitarian regime. Years earlier, the threat of terrorism had placed the reactionary far-right Norsefire Party in power, but now, with “V” as the rabble-rouser of a popular revolt, normalcy may return to England – albeit without its iconic Parliament.
2054: Although Minority Report (2002) took place outside our window of the next 40 years, some of the technologies predicted are just too fascinating (and reasonably attainable) to ignore. In this scenario, also adapted from a Philip K. Dick work, retinal scanners are a part of life, allowing the local store to know your shopping preferences. They also allow the government to track you. Cars zoom down highways and up the sides of buildings; police use jet packs. Newspapers still exist, but are entirely digital. There are no murders in Washington, D.C., thanks to a pilot program of “pre-crime,” in which murders are stopped before they can happen – presuming that the system is perfect, which it never is.
Naturally, this will all be moot should the doomsayers prove correct and the world ends in 2012 by the disintegration of the Earth’s crust, à la Roland Emmerich’s 2009 movie, the catastrophe-ridden 2012. If a caldera in Yellowstone National Park starts to transform into a volcano, start worrying. The Mayans may have been right all along.