10 Times Sci-Fi Classics Predicted the Future Totally Wrong

10 Times Sci-Fi Classics Predicted the Future Totally Wrong
Harrison Ford in Blade Runner. (Photo: Warner Bros.)

As a genre, science fiction has long provided a way for audiences to imagine the future and their places in it. A lot of the best sci-fi films of prior decades pictured what life would be like in the years to come. Such movies asked: What would America and the world look like in the 1980s? What about the 1990s? The 2000s? Well, now it’s 2022. We’ve lived through the future. We actually know what a lot of those years were like and, as it turns out, most of those movies were totally wrong!

Brilliant as many of these films were at predicting broader shifts in technology, culture, and politics, the actual, literal predictions about what the future would look like were often totally inaccurate. Sometimes they were sorta right, maybe. Other times they were just completely and totally off base. Let’s take a quick look at some of your favourite movies and how incorrect they were about the future.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest films ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is pretty much perfect. This 1968 masterpiece has everything: a robot who murders people; a floating space baby thing; apes gone wild; a psychedelic light show and time travel. It’s hard to go wrong with a decision to watch this movie. That said, there is definitely one thing missing and that is an accurate prediction of what the year 2001 would look like. We definitely did not have commercial space stations or talking computers at that point. No, America was still awash with Hummers, the first iPods, mostly terrible pop culture, post-9/11 xenophobia, and rampant Bush administration cronyism. Elegant and visually breathtaking it was not. As prescient as Kubrick’s opus was in many ways, it ultimately failed to foresee that turn-of-the-millennia Americans would be less interested in space travel than they were in who won Survivor.

The Omega Man (1971)

The Omega Man was made in 1971 and pessimistically assumed that by 1977 pretty much everybody in the world except Charlton Heston would be dead. The film imagines a scenario in which biological warfare has spawned a lethal plague that kills off a majority of the global population. Heston plays a U.S. Army Colonel and scientist living in Los Angeles who injects himself with an experimental vaccine that allows him to survive. L.A. is then overrun by a cult of nocturnal plague-addled mutants (zombies, in essence) who stalk around in hooded robes and try to kill Heston.

Granted, 1977 in America had some rough spots, but it wasn’t that bad!

The movie was later remade into the much less enjoyable 2007 film I Am Legend, which features a bullshit scene in which Will Smith kills his own dog so it won’t become a zombie.

Soylent Green (1973)

Another movie starring Charlton Heston, the 1973 classic Soylent Green is set in 2022 and predicts a world thrown off course by overpopulation, ecological disaster, and resource scarcity. Not a bad prediction!

However, the film’s central conceit — that the world is so radically resource-starved that a mega-corporation named Soylent resorts to feeding people to each other — was, uh, slightly off base. The film’s shocking twist ending reveals that a ubiquitous food product called Soylent Green is actually created using the bodies of dead people (it doesn’t count as a spoiler if the movie is 50 years old, sorry). The film also predicted that by 2022 New York City would have 40 million people living in it. As crammed as the city currently is, I don’t think we’ve met that threshold yet. There is a company that ghoulishly named itself Soylent, but we are not currently being fed people! To my knowledge, anyway…

Rollerball (1975)

The 1975 dystopian flick Rollerball predicted that, by 2018, wars would no longer exist. Instead, humanity would exorcise their collective hostilities by tuning into a televised gladiatorial contest in which people kill each other while rollerskating. *Checks notes* To my knowledge, nothing like that existed in 2018, despite the existence of Eurovision. Wars also definitely still happened.

Escape From New York (1981)

John Carpenter’s 1981 cult classic Escape From New York predicted that by the year 1997, America would be in big trouble. In the movie, a nationwide crime surge compels the federal government to convert the entire island of Manhattan into a maximum security prison. When the U.S. President’s plane crashes on the island, Snake Plissken, a convict and former Special Forces soldier played by Kurt Russell, is sent in to rescue the stranded POTUS.

This pessimistic vision of America’s favourite city probably made a lot more sense when the film was made. The 1970s were rough — and they were especially rough for New York. It was a time when muggings and murders were commonplace, when financial ruin had stripped away much of the glitz of prior decades, and when Times Square was a place you went to watch porn, not take pictures with Disney characters. Thankfully, things got better. While crime continued to be bad during the early nineties, by 1997 New York was definitely in much better shape than it was in prior decades.

Blade Runner (1982)

Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner is a stunning mix of noir and dystopia and is broadly considered one of the best science fiction movies ever made. Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, a former cop and “blade runner,” who hunts “replicants,” bioengineered humanoids who are on the wrong side of the law. Scott’s eye for detail creates a fully realised world, replete with flying cars and atmospheric urban landscapes. All that said, there’s just one problem: It’s set in 2019. The closest thing to replicants we had at that point was probably Amazon’s Alexa. Helpful as she is, Alexa doesn’t have the verbal talents to pull off Roy Batty’s “tears in the rain” monologue, nor does she have the legs of Joanna Cassidy, who plays Zhora the replicant stripper. And, despite Uber’s best efforts, we did not (and still do not) have flying cars.

Running Man (1987)

Based on a Steven King/Richard Bachman novel of the same name, The Running Man is set in the year 2017 and imagines that America has become a brutal police state where violent, televised gameshows are the only thing that keep an otherwise unruly public in check. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as an average Joe who is framed for murder and then forced to go on “The Running Man,” one of the aforementioned battle royales. The show is moderated by a ruthless host who enjoys toying with the players. Bloodshed and pyrotechnics ensue.

We can all agree that 2017 was bad but it definitely wasn’t that bad. At least we were not forced to watch a sadistic reality show where matters of life and death were dictated by the whims of a raging narcissist…well, unless you count Donald Trump’s first year in office.

Back to the Future II (1989)

Most of us have probably seen the 1980s classic Back to the Future. It’s the heartwarming story of a teenager who uses a flying car to travel back in time to the 1950s, where he dates his own mum. The 1989 sequel, Back to the Future II, is an even weirder film.

When they hop back in the DeLorean, Doc and Marty end up in 2015, where the world has become so totally futuristic, dude: There are flying cars, people dress in what look like rave outfits, and hoverboards are a thing. However, when they arrive back in the 80s, due to some sort of “butterfly effect,” everything is all messed up: Marty’s dad’s former bully, Biff, has become a rich businessman who looks and behaves very much like Donald Trump. Oh, also Marty’s dad is dead (secretly killed by Biff, sorry). And Biff is also married to Marty’s mother, who is very unhappy and has had a lot of plastic surgery.

The rest of the plot is overly complicated and doesn’t really deserve further explanation, but this movie is so weird that it has appropriately spawned an assortment of conspiracy theories — including that it somehow predicted 9/11 and that it references the Kennedy assassination. I don’t know about any of that, but while this flick may have imagined a future that was just a cheesy reflection of the 80s’, it sure did foresee that a rich, blonde blowhard would end up making life difficult for everybody. Spot on!

Time Cop (1994)

Time Cop, starring martial arts guru Jean-Claude Van Damme, was made in 1994 and optimistically presumed that, in ten years, police would be able to use time travel to solve crimes. Van Damme stars as a D.C. Metro police officer who gets linked up with a secret federal time travelling program and goes back to 1929 to check out the stock market crash that spawned the Great Depression. He then returns to 1994 and bops back and forth between there and 04′. Other dumb things happen. The Civil War is involved for some reason. Anyway, it’s not a great movie. The overall point is that cops can’t time travel. Or at least they couldn’t in 2004. Probably still can’t.

2012 (2009)

Another movie that got pretty much everything wrong: Roland Emmerich’s 2012. Made in 2009, it predicted that within three years the world would come to a cartoonishly catastrophic end and that John Cusack would somehow be one of the only people to survive. In the film, a solar flare unnaturally heats the Earth’s core, leading to an assortment of ecological calamities — including catastrophic flooding, earthquakes, and asteroids for some reason. A thinly veiled parable about climate change, the film does its best to be a thinking man’s action movie, even though it’s really just an excuse to watch shit explode.

While weather-related disaster has been predicted for years, it didn’t cause the world to end in 2012. Yet. We should be worried about climate change. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Emmerich’s other disaster pic Moonfall — where the moon falls out of the sky — is also not an accurate reflection of things to come.