The funny thing about many science fiction films set in the “future” is that once those films have grown old enough, we can look back on when they were set as the long ago past, and know that their predictions were far from true. Sometimes films do a very good job of predicting certain aspects of the future — for example, 1984 accurately predicted the almost creepy dependence on television so many Americans suffer from.
Some films set in the future are shockingly on point about certain aspects of our society, even if the exaggerate the effects to make their point; The Handmaid’s Tale would be one example of this, illustrating women’s inequality in a graphic account of future enslavement of women, simultaneously making a point about the challenges women face even today in obtaining equal pay and employment opportunities. Finally, there are the films that just miss the mark completely, and that’s where things get funny. Imagining the future accurately is admittedly pretty difficult, and it’s impossible to know for sure how things might change in the years to come. But some of these predictions truly are quite ridiculous.
RoboCop is set sometime in the 1990s or early 2000s, decades that have passed us by and then some. But at no point has our police force mechanized beyond the recent application of body cams — even drone use is still carefully being implemented, and even taken out in some areas. And unfortunately, badly injured police officers are more likely to be forced into unemployment and disability than to find their bodies rebuilt using cyborg technology.
2. Demolition Man (The sea shells)
Demolition Man doesn’t take place until 2032, but many of its ideas were so bad it’s safe to go ahead and make some broad assumptions about what it will almost certainly get wrong. Firstly, physical sex is pretty unlikely to become a thing of the past, just from a biological and evolutionary standpoint. And there’s one particular scene from Demolition Man that just isn’t where American culture has gone or will go. I’m referring, of course, to the bathroom scene, where toilet paper has been replaced by “3 shells” which are then left unexplained. Of all the things to predict changes to, defecation and reproduction seem like poor choices given how biologically driven and unchanging they’ve been through the ages.
3. A Clockwork Orange
Based on the car model, A Clockwork Orange was set in around 1995, perhaps a little further into the future, having been published in 1962 and made into a film in 1971. In the movie, the main character, Alex, is arrested for violent crimes committed by himself and his gang. During his rehabilitation in prison, he was transferred to a psychological treatment facility where he underwent the “Ludoviko” treatment that would condition him to react with horror and illness to violence of any kind. Well, prison is alive and well today, and in the 1990s, but unfortunately (and fortunately where the Ludoviko treatment is concerned) prison reform is not receiving that kind of attention. And therapy really has been getting better since Zimbardo’s prison study, not more Machiavellian and torture-some.
4. The Matrix
OK, this one is a little bit tricky. The Matrix is set in 1999, or at least, it is when Neo wakes up (the film came out in 1999). So in that respect, 1999 has come and gone and — as far as I know — none of us have starting waking up in test tubes, nor do we have successfully self aware AI, or human batteries. We’re a little bit behind on some of that tech.
5. 12 Monkeys
12 Monkeys was set in the year 2027 after a virus had killed off much of the human race in 1996. What followed was death, mayhem — basically the apocalypse — with most of humanity forced underground and the cities filled with escaped zoo animals. Given that dark version of our future, we should be glad we got through the 90’s without quite that level of damage — though Newt Gingrich did come into his own around then. On the other hand, we still haven’t figured out time travel, so Bruce Willis and the rest of the prison staff in 2027 were awfully ahead of the times. And while disease is always a concern, and there are constant panics of global annihilation via contagions, thus far international control of disease spread has been successful, even if illnesses have taken their tole within singular countries.
6. A Scanner Darkly
Philip K. Dick is well known for his dark futuristic literary works, often transformed into films like A Scanner Darkly and Blade Runner. In A Scanner Darkly the main protagonist is an undercover agent infiltrating the drug market of a dangerous and highly addictive drug, Substance D. The drug is so addictive that 20% of the population is addicted, and the government has contracted with a secretive rehabilitation organization called “New Path” to get citizens clean. However, the organization has a dark side that not even the police know about, and ultimately turns out to be in on the drug distribution.
The film is set in 1994, and while it makes some relevant predictions about drug addiction and the problems inherent in stamping out drug trade, it’s predictions about police and government were just a bit off the mark. There are no identity protecting human suits, and while UAVs are something of a privacy concern when used by police, there are most definitely not cameras and monitoring to the extent predicted by the film. What’s more, the government, for all its faults, is not peddling a new age rehab that is secretly drugging the human population into psychosis. Here’s to small blessings.