2001 to Timecop: 8 Movie Futures Already Proven Wrong
In a few days it will be 2008, well into the future. Movies promised us we'd be flying cars to our jobs at the robot factory. Instead, we have to settle for iPods, free online checking accounts and AIDS. Of course, the future wouldn't have been such a disappointment if Hollywood hadn't gotten our hopes so high.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
2001, according to our research of the title on the DVD case
Mankind has begun colonizing space (awesome), leading to the discovery of an alien artifact under the lunar surface (even more awesome). An investigative space mission is undertaken with the help of a self-aware murderous supercomputer named HAL 9000 (so fucking awesome we just peed a little bit).
Advanced Artificial Intelligence: The closest thing we had to HAL in 2001 were AOL Instant Messenger Bots, which can "chat" in an irritating, judgmental way. These bots were designed to function at an intelligence level on par with your average AOL user, so let's just say we weren't in immediate danger of a HAL-like consciousness taking over a NASA mission and eliminating its crew members. Luckily, our 2001-era highly-combustible space shuttles were quite capable of killing astronauts on their own, thank you very much.
Innovative New Technology: There's a scene in 2001 in which a character is dozing in front of a flat-panel screen built into the seat in front of him--an impressively accurate prediction of JetBlue and other airlines with TVs in their seat back. Even more noteworthy is that he's watching programming that's obviously from the 1960s, eerily anticipating Nick at Nite.
Widespread Space Travel: It's easy to chide Space Odyssey for its ambitious forecast of turn-of-the-century space travel, but keep in mind that the film was released in 1968, a full year before we faked the moon landing. Nobody could have guessed that the Soviet Union would forfeit the Space Race for fear of getting its dress dirty, and then finally collapse like a little girl. This deprived us the fruits of competition. Were the Soviets still tinkering around with satellites, we'd probably be colonizing Pluto instead of bitterly revoking its status as a planet.
2001 is often celebrated for its clairvoyance, because a few of its inane predications came vaguely true. But, the major plot elements still seem like crackhead visions of the distant future. And the movie's notion that we'd still have attractive flight attendants in 2001 now seems preposterous.
Set In 2004
Jean-Claude Van Damme (played by Jean-Claude Van Damme) is a Time Enforcement Agent tasked with making sure people don't use time travel to dick around with the past.
Time Travel: Obviously we didn't actually have access to time travel in 2004. But, what sets Timecop apart is its asinine treatment of the subject. Timecop's major rule is that when you're traveling to the past, you can't come in direct contact with your past self because "the same matter cannot occupy the same space." Right, Timecop. We suppose it can't.
Futuristic Cars: The cars in Timecop are able to navigate by themselves, with a voice activation system so advanced it can understand Jean-Claude Van Damme. Assuming the auto industry would whip up such advanced vehicles in 10 years is like making a movie today that is supposed to be set in 1985 and having everyone driving Model Ts.
Absolutely nothing Timecop promised has come true. At one point, there's a throwaway sequence of a man preparing to masturbate with a VR headset, something we've all dreamed about at one time or another (that is, we've all dreamed of having VR porn. Hopefully your dreams aren't haunted by some guy in a big futuristic helmet masturbating). We probably shouldn't be surprised these guys weren't able to predict 10 years into the future since these are the same people who gambled their movie on the staying power of Jean-Claude Van Damme's popularity.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
Set In 2000
After a national financial crisis, America's fascist president has created a sadistic annual Transcontinental Death Race. We've been pro-Death Race for years, but the government refuses to include it as a ballot initiative.
Futuristic Skyline: Even though it's only been 25 years--of financial crisis, mind you--New York has become an incredible futuristic city filled with countless metallic spires and emerald domes. The filmmakers apparently assumed construction would begin on these buildings immediately after filming was concluded. Or, they believed that by 2000 our cities would be replaced by fanciful matte painting backdrops.
Prevalence of Idiotic Violent Death Racing: OK, so we'll give them NASCAR. The only difference is that in the Death Race points are accumulated by running over pedestrians, and the points vary based on the age and gender of the person killed, whereas NASCAR is completely fucking pointless.
Since Death Race is a goofy '70s satire, it's pretty hard to actually criticize them for their embarrassing vision of the year 2000. It's far easier to make fun of a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone, who plays a woman-beater named "Machine Gun" Joe. One thing we could have never predicted at the time is that "Machine Gun" Joe wouldn't even crack a list of the 10 all-time stupidest Sylvester Stallone character names.
They claim an indeterminate "near future," but a careful analysis of the fashions, haircuts, vehicles, and computers seen in this 1987 movie lead us to believe it took place no later than 1988.
After suffering fatal wounds, Officer Murphy is reconstructed as an unfeeling cybernetic police officer. But in a world of crime and corruption, RoboCop might just be the most human character of all-- except for the whole cyborg freak thing.
Cyborg Technology: Although we're still years from ungainly, plodding cyborgs like RoboCop, bionic implants and artificial hearts are inching us closer to that universal American dream: a cyborg sexual servant in every home.
Privatization of Government: The crooked Omni megacorporation is contracted to oversee the police department, leading to large-scale corruption and the cruel manipulation of RoboCop. This is an astute anticipation of the present-day debates over private military contracts. Of course, Blackwater continues to maintain it never deployed cyborgs in Iraq, if you're naive enough to believe their official account.
Detroit Even More of a Shithole: RoboCop shrewdly takes place in Detroit, the only city that actually turned out to have the dystopian future sci-fi movies have been predicting for years. The movie version of the city is so overrun with crime and poverty that the Omni corporation hatches a plan to simply replace it with "Delta City." In reality such a dramatic last resort was never undertaken. Instead, everybody just kind of gave up.
RoboCop is an odd mixture of the incredible (cyborgs, orbiting defense lasers) and the comically obsolete (cathode ray tube televisions, the 1986 Ford Taurus.)
So, even though no specific year is given for its setting, no matter what year you assign it, everything's still going to be completely wrong.
Escape from New York (1981)
Set In 1997
In exchange for a full pardon, prisoner "Snake" Plissken, who happens to be a total asshole, is given 24 hours to rescue the president, whose plane had been hijacked by terrorists and crashed into Manhattan in a tasteless allusion to Sept 11, 2001. Also, it's World War III and everything has gone to shit.
400 percent Increase In Crime: In the distant future of the late '90s, prisons have become so overcrowded that eventually the government has to convert Manhattan into a giant penitentiary, like a modern-day Australia. In reality, crime rates have fallen precipitously since the film was released, particularly in the increasingly gentrified Manhattan. But if you take everything this movie predicts and make it the exact opposite, it's frightening how prophetic Escape from New York turned out to be.
400 percent Increase In Mustaches: Almost everyone has a breathtaking mustache in this movie. It is a facial-hair utopia.
As we know today, however, the mustache industry reached a tragic nadir in the late '90s, and today are worn only by ironic Gen-Xers, the NBA's Adam Morrison and feminists.
Complete Lack of Technological Improvements: The president is in possession of a futuristic "cassette tape" that contains critical information about nuclear fusion. Like everyone else in this movie, the president is just one of those guys who is really into the retro scene. Other characters even have those novelty shoebox-sized cell phones. Also, all the computers have an operating system based on a 3D-vector map of a city that looks as though it's being rendered by an Atari 2600. It really takes us back to 1997.
Pretty pathetic. But, some secondhand credit must be given for the movie's sequel, Escape from L.A., which describes an outspoken "Christian militant" being elected president in 2000. It's a shame they couldn't have been right about something more agreeable, like World War III.
Things to Come (1936)
Set In 1940-2036
Global war breaks out in 1940, splintering the Western world into tiny isolated factions. Decades later, an aircraft arrives with news of a new utopian society based in Basra, Iraq, presciently anticipating the peace currently enjoyed in that part of the world.
Large Scale War in 1940: This movie often gets credited for predicting World War II, missing the actual date by just 16 months. But, the extent and nature of the war were both completely wrong. Plus, who couldn't see World War II coming after a war called World War I?
Spread of Wandering Sickness: The enemy spreads a virus known as the Wandering Sickness, which causes its victims to stumble around with outstretched arms, and which in the movie is cured in 1970. Today, of course, we know that there's no such thing as a "wandering sickness." What these people were dealing with were zombies, which remain a very serious everyday threat in 2007.
Complete Collapse of Western Civilization: The way World War II actually ended seems like a foregone conclusion today, but in 1936 the breakdown of civilization was a real possibility. Europeans had no idea America would show up to single-handily rescue them from destruction. That's why Europeans are so grateful to America, and why when Americans travel to Europe today they're treated like heroes.
When life gets us down, sometimes we visit the utopian society in Basra, Iraq, to recharge our batteries. It's nice to know that somewhere in this crazy world, humanity is getting things right.
Strange Days (1995)
Set In 1999
Former police detective Lenny Nero has begun pawning erotic virtual reality recordings of other people's experiences as L.A. descends into civil war. Such is the remote dystopian future of 4 years after the movie was released.
Ability To Record Experiences: Using special "SQUID" headgear, people's sensory data can be recorded to a disc and re-experienced by anybody, literally putting them in the shoes of others.
The only thing we have that's even remotely similar to this is the ability to read whiny LiveJournal entries, but this only puts us in the shoes of angsty social outcasts.
Increase In Race Riots: Racial tension was coming to a boil in this movie's version of 1999, leading to large-scale rioting. In the real 1999, racism continued to percolate beneath the surface, killing our humanity slowly from within.
Omnipresent of Widescreen HDTVs: Hi-def TVs are ubiquitous in this movie. The assumption was that as soon as everybody left the theater in 1995, they would immediately purchase a $2,500 television. This seems especially ridiculous to those of us who still own TVs with fake wood paneling on the sides.
Strange Days is the peak of overly ambitious predictions for the future. If you were to guess when the movie took place based on the movie's sophisticated technology, you'd probably say something like 2025. That it was actually set in 1999 was totally ridiculous. This was probably supposed to be novel: setting a futuristic movie just a few years in the future! But, they probably should have found an original angle that didn't make their movie laughably irrelevant by the time the movie left theaters. You'd think that such astute futurists would have foreseen the eventual importance of DVD sales to the success of a movie.
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Most of the film is set in 2015, but director Robert Zemeckis has detailed a comprehensive timeline of events leading up to that date. Basically, we really enjoy Back to the Future II and wanted to crowbar it into this list.
Marty McFly and Doc must travel to the future to prevent a catastrophe in the McFly family, leading to a convoluted and illogical adventure through time.
Improved Relations with Vietnam: In the movie, there's an advertisement for surfing in Vietnam, alluding to steadily improved relations with that country during the '90s and 2000s, which has proven extremely accurate. Of course no one really surfs anymore now that everyone has hoverboards.
Increasing Consolidation of News Media: The local Hill Valley Telegraph sells its print operations to USA Today sometime after 2000.
This correctly forecasts the ongoing financial troubles facing America's small-town independent newspapers, such as The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. Also note the now-cruel, "Washington Prepares for Queen Diana's Visit" headline (though not one-tenth as creepy as if the newspaper had accurately predicted her death).
Introduction of Vitamin-Enriched Cola: Modern vitamin-enriched soft drinks like Coke Plus recall the vitamin-enriched "Pepsi Perfect" Marty Jr. buys from a cafÃ©.
The only way the movie could be more accurate at this point is if Marty's future self suffered from Parkinson's. Which, with the Princess Di thing, would have this one of the most morbid re-watching experiences of all time.
If you liked this article, check out our rundown of 11 Movies Saved by Historical Inaccuracy .