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How the Future Looked Then: Hollywood’s Predictions of Today as Seen Yesterday

We’re well into the 21st century. So where are the flying cars and alien invasions? For decades, movies have depicted our current time period as a dystopia plagued by death squads or a paranoid future in which technology has run amok. Fortunately, the same harrowing visions of the future have passed their expiration dates. Take a look at the last 25 years that might have been!


Reign of Fire (2002)
The Time: 2009
Though most of Reign of Fire takes place in the year 2020, the opening scenes show that dragons first appeared and began destroying the earth over ten years before that (i.e., now). Well, at least society has dodged that bullet. Pay attention and you’ll learn that dragons not only coexisted with dinosaurs way back when but also that they should’ve reawakened recently given that 2009 is the year of their invasion. Nearly ten months into 2009 without a single dragon attack! Go team!


The Terminator Series
The Time: 2004
The Terminator series’ timeline jumps around a bit because 25 years elapse between the first and most recent flicks. In the first two Terminators, 1997 is the time for the ultimate war between man and machine. Crisis is averted, but in Terminator 3, the nuclear holocaust finally occurs. Don’t worry though, you’re safe! That happened way back in 2004 — the year when a little thing called Facebook arrived to move us toward a different kind of future.


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The Time: 2001
Director Stanley Kubrick’s scifi flick probably started it all when it comes to common misconceptions of what today looks like. The unifying thread? Out of control robots! While 2001 didn’t feature a nefarious group of androids enslaving all mankind, it did show one super-computer Hal 9000 killing four astronauts. Consider him the granddaddy of all those other uncontrollable machine-murderers of tomorrow.


Escape from New York (1981)
The Time: 1997
Crime dropped precipitously in NYC during the ’90s. Well, John Carpenter really didn’t see that one coming! In his imagined 1997, Manhattan is a giant maximum-security prison overrun by bad guys, and a world war between the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. is underway. In reality, the Soviet Union no longer exists, and Manhattan is merely overrun with rich people. Kurt Russell sure knows how to rock an eye patch though.


Predator 2 (1990)
The Time: 1997
While Predator (1987) took place in the year it was made, its 1990 sequel inexplicably moved the action to 1997, solely in order to imagine an L.A. completely overrun by drug gangs. (Last we heard, there was still a semblance of law and order in Tinseltown.) What’s most passe are the outdated weapons of the future: Silly flying discs and a “plasma” weapon, which is just a laser beam created with extraordinarily bad special effects.


1984 (1984)
The Time: 1984
A state of constant surveillance by Big Brother? Even if you believe the dire warnings that Obama’s health care plan will usher in the apocalypse, George Orwell’s dark predictions, as adapted by British director Michael Bradford, aren’t all coming true any time soon. Factor in 25 years of lag time and it’s beginning to look like 1984 was actually a pretty good year. But then again, who doesn’t love the ’80s?


Mad Max (1979)
The Time: The early ’80s
In writer-director George Miller’s Australia “a few years from now” (our translation: ’82 or ’83), there’s a huge fuel shortage while leather-clad bikers roam the countryside with the police incapable of stopping them. Into this void steps nihilistic former cop Max (Mel Gibson) who disbands the pillagers with vengeance after they kill his family. Now, Gibson has had his share of troubles recently, but nothing so melodramatic as that. Luck is on his side too!


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