For the most part, sci-fi tends to do a whole lot of predicting of what will happen by basing those ideas in what already has happened. In the best sci-fi movies, audiences can recognize the faults of reality through a seemingly distant but advanced view of things to come. Some of the best examples of science fiction were prescient in their then-lofty but earnest predictions about how future humanity would be living in the mysterious and strange near-future of the 21st century.
Stanley Kubrick threw in a multi-functional screen/computer-type thing that was basically a chatty iPad in 2001, and now he’s regarded as a visionary. In Total Recall, Paul Verhoeven totally called Google’s self-driving cars three decades early, though thankfully Google isn’t yet churning out Johnny Cabs. Even Back to the Future Part II had its fair share of hits. It a fine thing, to hail these forward-looking creatives. We can also mercilessly mock the movies that tried to predict the future and failed miserably. These are those movies.
A movie made in 1994 that said time travel will be possible in the late 1990s and commonplace by 2004 that stars the inimitable Jean-Claude Van Damme? It must be true! Since it’s now 2016, let’s all jump into our time machines, travel back to ’94, and give director Peter Hyams a high-five for getting it so right. Thankfully time travel isn’t a reality, and JCVD isn’t a police officer that can suddenly jump through time to lay down the law.
Did the makers of the 2009 disaster movie extravaganza 2012 truly think the proponents of those bogus Mayan 2012 apocalypse predictions were on to something? If so, they need a new business model. They’d only have three years to capitalize on the fruits of their labor: a $200 million CGI-saturated movie starring John Cusack about solar flares heating up the Earth’s core and heralding the end times.
It takes a particular kind of person to name their movie after a specific year. That kind of hubris could either make you look like your prophesies add to your mystery (ahem, 2001, ahem), or make you a hopelessly outdated joke less than half a decade after your movie came out. Though 2012 does have some clever biblical undertones, it’ll live on until the end of the world as that one movie that gave in to the full paranoia of the impending death of everyone on the planet.
3. The Terminator
Blame the Cold War for James Cameron’s obsession with nuclear holocaust, but Judgment Day simply didn’t happen when August 29, 1997 rolled around nearly 20 years ago. But just like the titular T-800 the Hollywood machine just keeps on going and going, and the sequels to Cameron’s 1984 original followed shortly thereafter.
After Cameron’s own T2 in 1991, the other Terminator movies never made as big of a bold, world-ending prediction as the original. They just made predictions about fate and free will while falling back on the director’s prediction that we’d eventually all destroy ourselves. Even though the Doomsday Clock is staying firm at three minutes to midnight, thankfully, complete nuclear annihilation hasn’t happened yet. In that case, we’d have to take The Terminator off this list, but we’d all be dead.
In the hard-hitting future of 1996, hackers will rule the world. At least that’s what this 1995 camp classic starring Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie wanted you to believe. Hackers is a perfect case of studio executives and an overzealous screenwriter riding a craze to the point of absurdity. In the movie, a hacker named Dade “Zero Cool” Murphy unknowingly uncovers a high-tech embezzling scheme masked by a computer virus that will destroy the world’s ecosystem. Zero Cool and his friends — with hacker names like Acid Burn, the Phantom Phreak, Cereal Killer, and Lord Nikon, who go around screaming credos like “Hack the planet!” — are targeted for the crime by another super hacker named “The Plague,” forcing the group to launch their own cyberattack to prevent ecological disaster.
While cybercrime is a reality, and even being covered by auteurs like Michael Mann in his movie Blackhat, Hackers went the cartoonish route. It oversimplified legitimate computing by increasing the level of ’90s cheese and upping the techno-cliches.
1. Demolition Man
Boy, oh boy. Where to begin. This mid-’90s Sylvester Stallone movie is set in 2032, so we still have time to make it there, but we’re gonna go ahead and say that the real world 16 years from now will look nothing like Demolition Man.
This movie posits that a 2010 earthquake mashed Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Barbara into a single metropolis called San Angeles; Taco Bell is the only place to eat because of something called the “Franchise Wars”; all violence, including firearms, has been outlawed; sex doesn’t involve physical contact; and toilet paper has been replaced by a mysterious bathroom method involving three sea shells.
Even though some of the predictions are on the right track, including the whole Taco Bell thing hinting that all brands are essentially the same, Demolition Man is a movie that needs to be watched to believe all the absurdities.