Earth’s future has always proved a playground of possibility for scriptwriters and directors. Artists are rarely content to make do within the confines of what is merely possible. Setting a movie years in the future is a way of letting their minds off the leash, while usually offering an allegorical reflection of the times in which we currently live. As one fictional time-travel expert once said, “The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”
Snow White & The Huntsman director Rupert Sanders is the latest in a long line of visual soothsayers who has made his own fate in the form of Ghost In The Shell, which offers us a metropolitan futureworld full of gymnastic augmented cybernetic agents, colossal 3D advertisements and the increasingly regular sight of Juliette Binoche in a lab-coat.
Like many futuristic sci-fi movies, Ghost In The Shell keeps its setting vague – if in doubt, throw the word “Dystopian” in there – though the 1995 anime was set specifically in the still-futuristic 2029. As such, we’ll have to wait to gauge Sanders’s powers of prophesy. Likewise we still have 15 years until we find out if Demolition Man got it right with its curious toilet shells and the Arnold Schwarzeneggar presidency.
There’s only nine years to wait to see if Fritz Lang’s Metropolis nailed it with predictions of convincing artificial intelligence, class warfare and Giorgio Moroder music. Sadly, by 2273, few if any of us will be alive to know if the Orgasmatron from Woody Allen’s Sleeper ever came to pass.
Some filmmakers however, were brave (or foolish) enough to put their money down on a specific date, so whether Ghost in The Shell’s predictions eventually become eerily prescient or laughably miscalculated, here’s how Hollywood assumed the last few decades were going to work out for us.
1983 – Westworld (1973)
Michael Crichton’s thriller posited that by 1983, cybernetics will have developed to such an extent that a completely believable Yul Brynner (and the horse he rode in on) will have been created, along with enough fellow artificial humans to populate three decadent holiday villages where guests are free to gun them down at will.
Sadly, 1983’s actual ‘Theme Park in Peril’ movie, Jaws 3-D showed just how far practical special effects still had to go in the real world, featuring as it did a rubber shark that was about as convincing as a Big Mouth Billy Bass in a bathtub.
1991 – Conquest of The Planet of The Apes (1972)
At the same time that a robot Yul Brynner should have been up and running, a mysterious plague wiped out the world’s cat and dog population. Bereft of furry companionship, it was thus decided that fully-dressed apes would make a ideal replacement. By 1991, no home would be complete without a pet ape to play ‘fetch’ with and do a bit of hoovering.
Furthermore, we were all supposed to be living in vast, Soviet-style built-up concrete districts by 1991, policed by security guards in shiny black costumes, where oversized reel-to-reel tape equipment would still dominate the backdrops in government control centres. Bonus points are awarded however, as the violent climax which sees the flaming destruction of the city, was only one year shy of predicting the LA riots.
1997 – Escape From New York (1981)
Perhaps they are just a cynical lot, but scriptwriters and directors rarely imagine that the future will be all wine and roses. Outside of The Jetsons, most visions of the future tend towards the relentlessly bleak and few predictions were as bleak as John Carpenter’s 1981 classic, in which revolutionary levels of crime (up 400%, impressively), committed in a world still on the brink of World War III, have led to the entire island of Manhattan being converted into a maximum security prison.
In truth, by 1997, thanks to a blossoming economy and (arguably) the crackdown on minor level criminality by Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the crime rate in New York City fell 9.1 percent on the previous year, with murders dropping to their lowest level since 1967. Instead of an enforced penitentiary filled with America’s meanest scumbags, survivable only by a one-eyed war hero turned iconic criminal with a cool name, New York in ’97 was an jolly, safe tourist mecca, albeit a rather pasteurised, Disneyfied version of its former self – which will probably accurately describe the recently announced Escape From New York remake, or is that just me being cynical?
1999 – Strange Days (1995)
Back in 1995, Kathryn Bigelow and writer James Cameron (who is always ahead of the game) thought that the immersive, virtual reality goggles that everyone will be on so many Christmas lists this December, were a mere four years away. They also thought we’d still be using MiniDiscs in 1999. There’s optimism for you.
That said, and I might be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure that Strange Days invented the term ‘Y2K’, which enjoyed widespread use in 1999 when it was used to describe a computer bug that could possibly wipe out mankind, and in any case, it scores extra points for being the most ridiculously underrated movie of the 1990s.
2001 – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
As a prophet Stanley Kubrick enjoyed a pretty good hit-rate in A Clockwork Orange in 1972. He successfully predicted the vinyl revival of the mid 2010s, Heaven 17 and the phenomenon of teenagers talking in a language no one over the age of 25 could understand. His previous attempt at speculation was less successful.
Kubrick is often criticised for his cold, almost inhuman detachment, but consider that while he predicted that by 2001, we would have built outposts on the moon and developed commercial lunar flight, created spacecraft capable of undertaking manned missions to Jupiter, invented the anti-gravity toilet and taken the next giant leap in our evolutionary journey, in reality, 2001 gave us a foot and mouth outbreak, fuel protests, the most devastating terrorist atrocity of all time, and Hear’Say. Fortunately, Kubrick didn’t live to see just how much we’d failed to meet his romantic expectations.
2009 -Freejack (1992)
One invention that many people hoped might have been invented by the early 21st Century was the time machine. In 1994’s Timecop, time travel was a mere decade away, by which time an entire new police division had been created to deal with the fall-out (a program that featured kickboxing tutorials and Belgian accent masterclasses).
By 2009, according to Geoff Murphy’s Freejack, scientists will have found a way to travel back in time, pull people into the future, and replace their entire personalities with those of rich people keen on cheating death (science also found a way to stop Rene Russo from ageing a day in 18 years). I can now confirm that time travel is clearly not scientifically possible; if it was, Mick Jagger, Anthony Hopkins and Emilio Estevez would have gone back to 1991 and made sure this film never got made.
2015 – Back To The Future Part II (1989)
Marty McFly’s arrival in his own future, on October 21st 2015 was marked by a Back To The Future Day, when fantasy and reality met and gave everyone a chance to see how many nails Robert Zemekis and Bob Gale had managed to hit on the head. To their credit, they successfully predicted computer goggles, fingerprint ID, video conferences, iPads and 1980s nostalgia. Someone even invented Hoverboards in time for the anniversary but since they have wheels and seem to be as flammable as a Molotov Cocktail at a candle-lit vigil, they don’t count.
Sadly, we are not yet capable of hydrating pizzas and the world is still without self-walking dog leads. The Jaws franchise never recovered from The Revenge, so the fourteen sequels that were supposed to have been released since never actually materialised but if they had, we’re sure Max Spielberg would have been the man to return the series to its roots with Jaws 19.
2017 – The Running Man (1987)
According to The Running Man, by now the world economy will have collapsed, food and oil will be in short supply, the most powerful man in America will be a ruthless, preening game show host, and the only man who can stop him is Arnold Schwarzenegger. If anyone wants next week’s lottery numbers, ask writer Stephen King. The man is clearly a prophet.
Outside of the suggestion that by 2017, Mick Fleetwood would have left his band and become the leader of an underground resistance movement, The Running Man could only be more prescient if the next series of Celebrity Big Brother saw the introduction of steroid-packed bodybuilder Stalkers armed with chainsaws. Note to the show’s producers: think on it.
2022 – Soylent Green (1973)
Charlton Heston became a bit of a Sci-Fi guru in the early ‘70s. Having discovered the Planet of The Apes in ’68, he headlined The Omega Man in 1971 – set in mysterious, far off 1977. Two years later, he went back to the future again, a future in which the greenhouse effect had led to a massive food shortage and the population had swelled to such an extent that in New York City, it was standing room only.
As Heston discovers to his horror, (44 YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT) the authorities have killed two birds with one stone: namely by taking people by the truckload and melting them down into a delicious green Kendall mint cake that is used to feed the remaining population. We’ll have to wait five more years to see how accurate this prophesy was, but as anyone who has ever munched on a Döner Kebab served out of a rusty van outside a nightclub at one in the morning will attest: some people will eat anything.