Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
Few things date as badly as science fiction does, whether it's in a literary form or on the big screen. There are countless examples of various predictions of the future that have ultimately rang hollow - technologies yet to be developed or superseded by better ideas, important dates in the future that have come and gone without incident and we're all still waiting for a time traveller to appear at some point. Elon Musk might be the closest thing yet. Surprisingly, there are also a number of times that predictions have been made in movies that actually did come true. Granted, these predictions might not have be first made in the film - obviously, a film adaptation of a novel is going to recycle ideas first written in the book. However, all of these films depicted ideas or technology which have now become a reality, like video calling or technology at the very cutting edge of our understanding. Let's look back at some, shall we?
20. Le Voyage Dans La Lune (1902)
This short-but-silent adventure film by pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès dates back to the very early days of cinema itself and depicts a space mission carrying five astronauts on a trip to the Moon, more than sixty years before we actually set foot on our nearest heavenly neighbour. What's most interesting is that this was the first time on film a space flight was depicted - instead of an elevator or staircase, this film surmised that a bullet-shaped capsule would be fired from an enormous gun towards the Moon, the same capsule that appears in the now-iconic image of the Man In The Moon with the capsule in his eye. While rockets aren't fired from a gun, the idea itself isn't a million miles away from Georges Méliès's vision.
19. Metropolis (1927)
For a film as ground-breaking as Metropolis, it shouldn't come as any great surprise to see its stark vision of the future come true - well, one part of it anyway. The film was the first to portray robots looking like their human creators in the beautiful form of Maria, played by Brigitte Helm. Her robot counterpart, known as the Maschinenmensch (literally translated as 'machine human'), is still one of the most iconic robots ever to feature in films and inspired numerous filmmakers - most notably George Lucas who arguably matched C-3PO's golden frame to imitate the look and style of the Maschinenmensch. Today, we have possibly the first generation of realistic-looking humanoid robots appearing in places like Japan where they can be seen working as hotel receptionists or even reading the news. Also consider the various humanoid robots seen like ASIMO, the bipedal robot developed and unveiled by Honda back in 2000.
18. Things To Come (1936)
Based on a novel written by H.G. Wells in 1933, this bleak sci-fi epic was a monumental achievement at the time. The film depicts a possible future history from 1940 right the way up to 2036 and postulates that the world would soon be at war again. Of course, the Second World War broke out in 1939 - just three years after the film debuted - which has resulted in the film possibly being considered a touch antiquated. It's difficult to judge exactly how the film stacks up as there are a number of versions of differing lengths but by all accounts, the film is still considered one of the best British films ever made and eerily prescient of the world at the time.
17. Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
Francois Truffaut's adaptation of Ray Bradbury's novel depicts another dystopian society of the future, one where all literature has been banned by the authorities and specialised 'Firemen' are dispatched to burn all books. Inspired by the very real events like book burning in Nazi Germany and Stalin's "Great Purge", the film and the novel take a dim view of totalitarian regimes and is seen as a commentary on the anti-Communist policies of Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Thankfully, it isn't this that the film has been accurate about but curiously, the film was the first to depict an electronic ear-piece that characters use to communicate with - not entirely unlike the earbuds commonly used around the world or hands-free mobile devices beloved by strangers walking past me on seemingly every street.
16. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
"Well, duh!" I hear you moan. Yes, 2001: A Space Odyssey is arguably one of the most accurate science fiction films ever made with its depiction of life in zero gravity, international cooperation in space on board an orbiting space station and perhaps most obviously, the development of artificial intelligence in the shape of the softly spoken HAL 9000. One of its lesser heralded predictions came in a brief scene where one of the astronauts communicates with his family back on Earth via a video-call. Although the technology has been around for a while, the use of video-calling has now become everyday due to the various lockdowns imposed during the global Covid-19 pandemic. With this technology in place, we can see as well as hear whoever we are talking to and can even arrange meeting several people on the same call for business meetings or social reasons.
15. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
While politicians aren't pricing up how much a Death Star would cost to build in real life (at least not yet), one of the film's most iconic scenes did prove somewhat prophetic. As R2-D2 projects a hologram of Princess Leia begging Obi-Wan Kenobi to come to her aid, holograms themselves were just beginning to be used in artistic endeavours such as Salvador Dali's 1972 exhibition in New York and Margaret Benyon's 1969 exhibition at the University of Nottingham. Today, holograms are used in a variety of ways from data storage to security tags often seen on some banknotes. And in a manner more reminiscent of Leia's shimmering form, we even have seen a number of musical stars touring as a hologram on a live stage show long after they have passed from 2-Pac and Michael Jackson to Roy Orbison and Whitney Houston.
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14. Demon Seed (1977)
Much less heralded in 1977 than Star Wars was this sci-fi horror flick based on the novel by Dean Koontz. The film depicts a house apparently operated by an artificial intelligence called Proteus (voiced by Robert Vaughn) who takes control of the various appliances within to help keep Julie Christie a prisoner. Although our development of artificial intelligence hasn't yet reached as malevolent a stage as Proteus, our homes are now occupied by a variety of voice-activated user interfaces such as Amazon's Alexa or Google's Echo which can operate some of our home comforts without our intervention. Whether we're heading down a path where Alexa refuses to unlock our front door unless we agree to some serious privacy invasion is another matter, thankfully.
13. Blade Runner (1982)
Now hang on, I hear you say. Blade Runner is notorious for its uncanny ability to predict forthcoming bankruptcies - of the eight companies featured in advertising within the film, five of them were either gone or bought out in the not-too-distant future - but that's not what interests us today. We've already discussed humanoid robots earlier in this article but they are still lightyears away from the indistinguishable, thinking and feeling replicants like Roy Batty depicted in the film. However, the film did feature flying cars known as spinners which became as synonymous with the film as Vangelis' iconic synthesizer soundtrack. Yes, flying cars haven't arrived just yet although there are some companies working on them at the time of writing. What we do have, though, are drones capable of carrying passengers over distance through the air - think of them as a flying motorcycle with four rotor blades instead of two wheels. Spinners might not be here just yet - but who's to say how long we will have to wait...
12. The Terminator (1984)
And while we're on the subject of drones... viewers of James Cameron's nightmarish vision of a post-apocalyptic future will be familiar with the concept of the war against machines, featuring ragged troops led by John Conner going into a battle for survival against mighty robotic tanks and flying war machines. Yep, militarised drones - something we have become used to already in conflicts around the world as technology has now enabled us to assassinate people and bomb military installations from the safety of a computer desk thousands of miles away. Let's just be thankful that Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn't been turned into an unstoppable cyborg yet...
11. Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home (1986)
For me, this marked the point when the films started become a dumb parody of itself as the original Enterprise crew travel back in time to bring a couple of whales in the 24th century with them - honestly, don't ask why! But curiously, one of its sci-fi gizmos is apparently now a reality - transparent aluminium is used by the crew to construct the tank on board their ship in which to transport the whales safely to the future. Described as being as transparent as glass but retaining the density and strength of regular aluminium, transparent aluminium could be based on a compound called aluminium oxynitride. Marketed as ALON by the Surmet Corporation, it is often used in the manufacture of bullet-proof armours and blast-resistant glass. Oh and the year the patent was granted? The same year that Star Trek IV was released - 1986.
10. The Running Man (1987)
Back to Arnold Schwarzenegger now. This cult favourite sees his wrongfully imprisoned character brought onto an ultra violent TV show where he can either win his freedom or lose his life to a number of blood-thirsty Gladiators-style characters such as Jesse Ventura's Captain Freedom or Erland Van Lidth's memorable appearance as the electric Dynamo. The film wasn't the first to depict reality TV of the future in such a way - though based on a Stephen King short story, The Running Man was found to be a plagarized version of a French film called Le Prix du Danger while earlier films such as Death Race 2000 featured the eponymous race as a televised national event. These days, reality TV has become a staple of schedules all over the world from classic shows like Survivor (which has had more seasons than The Simpsons at this point) to more violent offerings like The Contender and more physically arduous concepts like the Japanese show Sasuke, more commonly known around the world as Ninja Warrior.
9. Back To The Future Part 2 (1989)
During Marty McFly's first trip to the then-future of 2015, we are treated to a number of innovations and predictions such as flying cars (again, what's the obsession with flying cars?), the release of Jaws 19 (directed by Steven Spielberg's son, Max) and of course, those hoverboards. But despite not trying to create a scientifically accurate view of the future, Robert Zemeckis actually managed to predict a number of innovations that had come to fruition by 2015 such as hands-free video gaming, smart-home technology, fingerprint scanners on tablet computers and even smart-watches. But the most interesting development was Nike's unveiling in 2015 of self-tying sneakers as worn by McFly in the film. Released on sale in limited numbers for the first time in 2016, the shoes are extremely valuable and Nike themselves have admitted that the film influenced their decision to develop them in the first place.
8. Total Recall (1990)
Back to Arnold Nostradamus now and another sci-fi action film, albeit one much goofier than his earlier outings thanks to the outrageous direction of shock-meister Paul Verhoeven. Total Recall is based on a short story by Philip K Dick (the same mind behind the novel that inspired Blade Runner) and sees Arnold's character caught up in a gripping power struggle on a terraformed Martian colony - or does it? Whether or not the film is a hallucination or not is pretty much irrelevant for the purposes of this article - what we're interested in is the film's interesting take on self-driving cars. At one point, Arnie rides with the animatronic Johnnycab (voiced by Roberto Picardo) where he sits as a passenger while the car drives itself to the destination. These days, self-driving cars are being developed and tested by a multitude of manufacturers to the point where their everyday use is not a question of if but merely when.
7. Dick Tracy (1990)
Warren Beatty's stylish tribute to the comic strip character was a long gestating project for Beatty, bringing to life the veteran crime fighter while maintaining the character's unique look and colour palette. Largely unknown beyond the US, the film disappointed at the box office and ended costing parent company Disney quite a lot of money. The character was created back in 1931 by Chester Gould, a smart but tough criminal investigator with his trademark bright yellow trench coat and a wristwatch that doubled as a two-way radio. Not entirely unlike today's smart watches which not only monitor a variety of biofeedback from the wearer but also play music and videos, play games, translate different languages and yes, can also make calls similar to a mobile phone. I hear that some of them can even tell you the time...
6. The Lawnmower Man (1992)
The Lawnmower Man is a prime example of what I discussed at the beginning of this article - bad sci-fi, dating very badly. The film's special effects that were ground-breaking in their time now look laughably bad today and the film was one of a number at the time to depict what was loosely termed 'cyberspace' as an actual thing rather than a concept. What the film did accurately predict was the use of virtual reality headsets, allowing the wearer to view and interact with a digital world as they would in the real world. These days, virtual reality has come on in leaps and bounds since the early Nineties with headsets able to transport us to lifelike locations from the comfort of our sofa - gone are the blocky polygons of yore as seen here.
5. The Net (1995)
Another tech-based thriller from the Nineties, this early starring role for Sandra Bullock saw her play a woman whose identity has been stolen and exploited by nefarious ne'er-do-wells. At the time, the prospect of having your identity stolen wasn't often seen outside of a Hitchcock picture but today, having your identity compromised is a very real problem for many. Internet security has never been stricter than it is these days compared to the more innocent early years of the Internet and the prospect of your driving licence, your printed bills or some proof of your address being used to utterly destroy your life seemed like the sort of whimsy this film was accused of by critics at the time.
4. The Cable Guy (1996)
Given the quality and stature of some of the films we've discussed so far, this quirky Jim Carrey psycho-comedy seems like an odd fit. After all, the film was much darker in tone to much of Carrey's output at the time and audiences were divided as to the film's overall merits. But Carrey's deranged stalker, cable-TV installer Chip, delivers a brief monologue that proves surprisingly prophetic...
"The future is now! Soon every American home will integrate their television, phone and computer. You'll be able to visit the Louvre on one channel, or watch female wrestling on another. You can do your shopping at home, or play Mortal Kombat with a friend from Vietnam. There's no end to the possibilities!"
Is it me or does that correctly predict smart TVs, home shopping channels, streaming services and online gaming? Not bad considering that Netscape was still a thing back when the film was released.
3. Die Another Day (2002)
Bond films have a somewhat unheralded history of making predictions via the numerous gadgets produced by Q or used in the field by 007. These include fingerprint scanners, remote controlled doors, voice modifying devices, tiny spy cameras, homing devices and digital binoculars. But this final entry in Pierce Brosnan's time as Bond contained some dubious (some may say ridiculous) gadgets on screen. The worst offender by far was Bond's latest Aston Martin which could famously turn invisible at the touch of a button - the 'science' behind it was a number of tiny cameras around the car which projected what they saw onto the side of the car which was comprised of LED screens. While the actual effect is much less effective than shown on screen, it hasn't stopped the likes of Mercedes-Benz from developing the technology in promoting their forthcoming zero-emissions F-Cell vehicle. Although, if the quick Google search I did is accurate, the technology is still far from perfect...
2. Minority Report (2002)
Another Philip K. Dick adaptation now and this one featured Tom Cruise using some nifty gloves in mid-air to interact with his computer. This technology has inspired a number of developers to try and produce such gizmos but at the time of writing, we're still waiting. However, one of the less innocuous predictions has sadly become commonplace - the film featured personalised advertising that adjusts to the individual walking by and while we're not at the point of billboards shouting out to us, we have already gotten used to online advertising being tweaked to suit our purchasing and browsing habits through our social media activities. How embarrassing would it be if you were purchasing some medical cream for an intimate area and were bombarded with commercials for similar products? No wonder Cruise was running everywhere...
1. I Am Legend (2007)
This Will Smith vehicle, the third adaptation of Richard Matheson's sci-fi novel of the same name depicts an abandoned New York city populated by monstrous subhuman mutants and a lonely Smith with just a dog for company. And despite what conspiracy theorists will have you believe, we haven't seen the fall of society just yet thanks to the pandemic. What we did see a few years after this film's release was the release of another film teased in I Am Legend - a poster can be seen in Times Square depicting the Superman logo on top of the Batman logo (as seen above) which was ultimately used by studio executives (albeit slightly adjusted) when Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice was released in 2016.
© 2021 Benjamin Cox