Movies from a few years to decades ago have made some pretty eerie predictions that seemed far fetched. It turns out the mind-numbing ideas that introduced crazy gadgets, bizarre technology and impossible science may not be as ridiculous as we thought. Prepare to freak out. These are the movies that predicted the future almost too perfect…
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
We’re used to Siri-like interactive computers and the International Space Station now, but director Stanley Kubrick predicted them decades earlier. His film 2001: A Space Odyssey is full of futuristic tech that would eventually exist, including iPad-like tablets (which also existed in a similar form on the original Star Trek).
As impressive as all the gadgets are, the most prescient idea the film had may be Space Tourism. We have to wonder if SpaceX or Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic would exist without 2001 existing first.
In Network, a famous news broadcaster has a break from reality and unleashes his fury about the world during a live broadcast. This leads to him become a ratings sensation, to the point where – once his ratings fall – there’s a plot to assassinate him in order to boost the numbers.
More than 40 years later, this classic’s fictional depiction of the rise of Tabloid TV has become increasingly more real. The current TV landscape has gotten to a place where we, sadly, wouldn’t be surprised if execs hatched a scheme to assassinate The Bachelor for a ratings boost.
Star Wars (1977)
The jury is still out on when light speed and Death Stars will be items we can add to our Amazon wish-lists, but there’s one piece of Star Wars tech that we do have: Holograms. (You can even project them from remote-controlled droids!)
The 2008 Election featured many a person’s first introduction to real-world hologram technology on CNN. Since then, the tech has found other uses – including resurrecting legendary musical artists that have passed away for one more concert performance. So if you’re looking to sneak a message to a Jedi Knight via astromech droid, you’re in luck.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2003)
Erasing memories, especially ones of the heartbreaking variety, is a tech humanity would use and abuse in ways similar to those depicted in this excellent Jim Carrey-and Kate Winslet dramedy. While we lack the means to do exactly what the movie depicts, it’s no longer a feat that is entirely impossible.
Busy researchers at the University of Toronto have discovered that soldiers suffering from PTSD can be “cured” by targeting and erasing individual memories of events inflicting the emotional trauma. Also, a group of Dutch scientists claim that common heart meds can be used to lessen the impact of trauma-inducing memories, or even erase them entirely.
The Terminator (1984)
Writer-director James Cameron not only regularly makes revolutionary advances on the technical side of filmmaking, but also manages to be eerily prescient in his stories when it comes to predicting technology that will soon become a reality.
The Terminator featured automated hunter-killer drones not unlike the ones used by the modern military, though ours are 100 percent purple laser cannon and Skynet free (for now). Ironically, the sci-fi classic also framed the way we talk about real-world development of A.I. and cybernetics – the British have even given the designation Skynet to their network of military satellites, which is kind of playing with fire.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
We wish the version of time travel depicted in this fan-favorite Star Trek sequel, which involves slingshotting around the sun in a stolen Klingon ship, was a real thing. (Make this happen, SpaceX!). But we’ll settle for the one tech the movie did predict: Transparent aluminum.
Yup, the thing Mr. Scott (James Doohan) helped “invent” on 1986 Earth became a reality on our planet in 2009, thanks to scientists at the University of Oxford who bombarded regular aluminum with powerful X-rays. So the next time someone asks you for where they can get enough transparent aluminum necessary to house two Humpback Whales and tons of water aboard their spaceship, now you can help steer them in the right direction.
The Running Man (1987)
We can blame CBS’ Survivor for serving as the launch pad for modern TV’s reality series boom in the early 21st century. But sci-fi fans saw it coming from at least a mile away thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man.
Based on a Stephen King story, the movie takes the concept of Reality TV to a very exaggerated, R-rated place as men are hunted for sport to the tune of millions of viewers and ad dollars. Thankfully, the genre has not caught up to the series depicted here, where contestants are hunted by near-future gladiatorial combatants with names like “Subzero.”
Die Another Day (2002)
Pierce Brosnan’s final outing as James Bond isn’t the worst movie ever made, but it is definitely its cousin. This 007 movie is infamous for its eye roll-inducing dialogue, messy plot, and an overabundance of goofy gadgets – such as Bond’s invisible car.
But that fictional car’s cloaking technology is quickly becoming a very real thing. It’s called “active camouflage” and, for years, various militaries around the world have been working on a version of it to cloak their tanks. While we are nowhere near the level of invisibility achieved by Bond’s Aston Martin, we’re getting closer to a version that brings Bond’s gadgets into the real world.
The Abyss (1989)
James Cameron’s undersea adventure involving a deep-sea rig’s crew of humans having their first close encounter did not resonate with audiences at the box office as much as the director’s previous efforts. But one scene did make an impact: Using breathable liquid to help divers survive at impossible depths.
In recent years, several advances have been made to make a version of the tech depicted in the movie a reality. In 2017, German researchers pushed the process of “liquid ventilation” via a complicated but innovative testing process. Here’s hoping the tech is perfected before the super-judgmental aliens of The Abyss decide to pay our oceans a visit.
Dick Tracy (1990)
Got an Apple or SmartWatch? Then the detective in the yellow trenchcoat should get some of the proceeds. While Warren Beatty’s expensive Dick Tracy did not spawn the franchise that distributor Disney had hoped for, it did make every kid (and some adults) in the audience want their own version of Tracy’s wrist phone.
It would take more than 20 years for us to get our version of a wrist communicator, although the significant design upgrade in modern smartwatches was worth the wait. There’s even a company working on a smartwatch in the style of Tracy’s classic model.
Ghost In the Shell (2017)
This live-action adaptation of the popular anime presented a distant future that has unique technology presently at work. For example, The Major’s (Scarlett Johansson) iconic thermoptic suit, which allows her to blend into her environments to the point of invisibility.
The closest tech we have to the Major’s is the product of a team of Japanese scientists known as “retro-reflective projection” technology (RPT). RPT fabrics act like those worn by the Major, and there’s a prototype coat that allows its wearer to essentially go invisible by blending into their surroundings.
The Lawnmower Man (1992)
Virtual reality got a significant shot in the arm thanks to this adaptation of a Stephen King story. The VR graphics depicted here are admittedly dated, but the movie arguably served as part of the inspiring spark for our recent boom in VR tech.
Interactive entertainment experiences like The Void in Glendale, CA have seemingly taken The Lawnmower Man’s ideas to the next level in terms of the detail and engagement users can find themselves facing as they experience VR sims based on movies like Ghostbusters and Star Wars.
Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Despite this adaptation of the classic Nintendo video game being a critical and commercial flop, it developed a strong fan base over the years, one that lead to certain fans being unable to shake the movie’s unsettling evocation of 9/11 – eight years before it ever happened.
File this under random coincidence: Toward the end of Super Mario Bros., our world (New York City) and that the Koopas call home collide. Reality over the Big Apple cracks – to the point where the Twin Towers slowly reveal structural damage before phasing completely out of sight.
The Net (1995)
Those shocked by the rise of identity theft in recent years might not realize that Sandra Bullock tried to warn us all with her 1995 cautionary tale of data thieves running amok with your personal information.
The identity theft plot faced by Bullock’s character in The Net felt pretty extreme to audiences in the mid-’90s (and to be honest, it is pretty extreme). But more modern audiences are less shocked by the idea of someone’s digital fingerprints getting stolen or erased, with major companies suffering huge data breaches on a regular basis. But, hey, maybe we can thank The Net for making ordering pizza online a reality.
The Cable Guy (1996)
Chip the Cable Guy (Jim Carrey) delivers a speech at the end of this bizarre dark comedy in which he predicts a future full of conveniences we now take for granted, saying “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. There’s no end to the possibilities!”
You know, Chip wasn’t wrong. He successfully predicted Smart TVs, streaming, online gaming, and home shopping. So in a way, Jim Carrey’s $20 million dollar salary for this box office misfire totally paid off, only several years later.
Total Recall (1990)
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first movie with RoboCop director Paul Verhoeven’s is best remembered by genre fans for its campy one-liners and its bloody, hard R-rated Martian action. But we can’t forget the two pieces of then-fantastic tech that has become a reality we take for granted: Self-driving cars and next-gen security scanners.
The film’s Johnny Cab drivers resemble Google’s self-driving cars, which will hopefully soon become as consumer-friendly as the Prius. The security scanners are already in effect at airports in the form of x-ray scanners, much to the chagrin of some passengers who have to submit to them. While it’s not as sophisticated (or cool) as the movie’s version, it has nonetheless become part of our travel process.
The Truman Show (1998)
Blame Jim Carrey’s 1998 summer hit The Truman Show for society’s borderline obsession with the next phase of Reality TV: voyeuristic programming geared around watching people conduct their everyday lives.
Like the movie’s Truman Burbank (Carry), the subjects of some of your favorite reality TV shows (think Big Brother and The Bachelor) are scrutinized almost 24/7 – their lives and the events therein edited in post to service as dramatic a narrative as possible to appeal to mass audiences. While our current crop of Reality TV has yet to reach the world-manipulation levels seen in the film, the idea of a show based on the real life of a man who has no idea he’s on television is not as far-fetched as it was 21 years ago.
Enemy of the State (1998)
“It’s not paranoia if they’re really after you” warned the tagline on the posters for this Will Smith thriller from the ‘90s. While other movies like this one have cautioned us to the threat of Big Brother watching our every move, none of them came as close to predicting how accurate that eventual surveillance would be.
Ever see an ad on your computer for something you mentioned in a conversation that was within earshot of your smartphone? Then you might be living a mini-version of Enemy of the State – minus all the Black SUVs and guys with earpieces chasing after you (we hope). In recent years, Americans everywhere were forced to confront the notion of being regularly surveilled by both private companies and their own government.
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Leave it to Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan to give us the sweetest version ever of online dating, way back in the age of dialup America Online.
The two stars’ meet-cute via ancient AOL email messages served as the Beta version for how future dating apps and services like Tinder and OKCupid would work to help us make dating easier…ish. The movie also makes a strong argument for personal contact being the best way to forge a romantic connection.
Minority Report (2002)
When director Steven Spielberg sat down with several futurists to help shape the near-future world of Minority Report, he and his panel of imaginative experts predicted a level of customer-tailored advertising so similar to what we have now it is scary. Our online shopping habits are tracked by our computers and phones to the point where something we talked about randomly in conversation later manifests itself on our screens with the hopes of soon landing in our shopping carts.
Even cooler – or more worrisome, given your predilection to sci-fi movies from 2002 predicting our present way of life – is the film’s depiction of interactive interfaces that can be manipulated via hand gestures. The tech Tom Cruise uses in the movie to investigate precognitions is very similar to modern motion controllers used on various platforms.
“Would you like to play a game?” The most quoted line of WarGames was spoken by the film’s sentient war machine, the computer J.O.S.H.U.A., as it waged a hypothetical form of combat to the point of very real global thermonuclear war after teenager David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) accidentally hacks into it.
WarGames made the case that such hacking, while intentionally innocuous here, would become much more weaponized in subsequent years – most notably in the recent U.S. Presidential election. What WarGames lacks in step-by-step technical processes for its brand of hacking, it more than makes up for with its foreshadowing of the internet at a time when it didn’t exist.
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
This very-meta sequel to Robert Zemeckis’ classic first film uses time travel – a very impressive feat, obviously. But what fans really latched onto were two fictional pieces of future tech and attire – namely the hoverboard and self-lacing shoes.
Both of those things were created in recent years for high-end collectors (although sadly, the hoverboard does not actually fly). But Back to the Future Part II also predicted FaceTime in a scene featuring essentially a suburbanized version of Star Trek’s viewscreen communication. In BTTF II, you don’t need a starship to call up a friend – you just need a screen and the movie’s equivalent of their Apple ID or Skype address.
Blade Runner (1982)
The rain-slicked, neon-lit future of Blade Runner’s 2019 Los Angeles has yet to manifest fully in the real 2019, but some of the landmark sci-fi film’s concepts have taken root. In particular, the Spinner, off-world travel, and digital billboards.
Today, digital billboards are practically everywhere, most notably in major sites like Times Square or (ironically) modern-day LA. And while the Spinner and all its flying-car glory have yet to become things we can purchase at CarMax, Germany’s plans for their Velocopter indicate that one of the movie’s coolest props will soon become a fixture of our garages.
Videodrome featured a unique and disturbing form of user-generated television, subverting the traditional network system and revolving around shocking acts of violence. Today, Videodrome (the show within the film) would seem familiar to anyone who has ever watched a video on YouTube.
YouTube’s deep, deep bench of user-generated content rivals the version depicted here. While notorious director David Cronenberg went “full Cronenberg” with his depiction of the tech and the cautionary tale it inspired, we’re glad YT has yet to release vids or a portal for them that allows viewers to literally melt into their screens while watching them.
Demolition Man (1993)
Sadly, we still don’t have the Three Seashells, or reliable instructions on how they work. But one correct prediction made by this ‘90s action guilty pleasure starring Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes was the self-driving car.
Google has ramped up efforts to make driverless vehicles a common part of our freeway experience sooner than we think – with other companies developing similar versions as well. Here’s hoping they come pre-programmed with GPS coordinates that take us to Taco Bell, the winner of the movie’s Franchise Wars.
Starship Troopers (1997)
Interactive TV is now a fixture at gas stations, airports, and Bandersnatches everywhere. This isn’t a surprise to anyone who either tracked trends in info-tainment or who bought a ticket for director Paul Verhoeven’s underrated sci-fi satire, Starship Troopers.
The film used the service (“Would You Like to Know More?”) mostly to promote state propaganda and the campaign of Earth’s military force to combat space bugs threatening to invade our world. Modern media and news outlets have achieved a level of this type of “messaging” in recent years, but we are (thankfully) far from the days of broadcasting from the trenches of a war against giant space insects.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
The show that launched the feature film franchise inspired such future tech as mobile phones, Bluetooth earpieces, medical hypo-syringes (known on the show as hyposprays), and universal translators. What’s unique to Wrath of Khan, however, is the film’s introduction of terraforming into the mainstream.
Pioneers like Elon Musk are endeavoring to make terraforming a reality in regards to plans to help colonize Mars in the future. Here’s hoping that whomever cracks the science of making life from lifelessness has more long-term success than the makers of Khan’s Genesis Device did.
Weird Science (1985)
If you were an ‘80s kid growing up with John Hughes films, then you likely related to Wyatt (Ilan Michael-Smith) and Gary’s (Anthony Michael Hall) plan to create a magical and super cool lady friend by tossing whatever tech and Barbie dolls they had around the house into their computer like the Swedish Chef.
Their attempt to create sentient life pre-dated the advent of the 3D printer by the better part of three decades. While society has yet to create a printer capable of producing living people to the exact specs Gary and Wyatt had in mind, we can thank these two weird scientists for maybe putting us on that path.
Jetsons: The Movie (1990)
Of all the pieces of tech to become a reality from the animated family’s future, you’d think it would be the flying car. Instead, we got… the cleaning robot?
Roombas have topped your aunt’s Christmas list for years, as droids-turned-housekeepers have helped us become even more avoidant of doing our chores or cleaning our rooms. Why bother when DJ Roomba can do it?
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
Mad Max’s post-apocalyptic wasteland is the product of a conflict that waged across the globe and crippled its resources to point of near-extinction. Here, gasoline and bullets are prized commodities more valuable than gold or diamonds.
Given the current state of the world – with recent escalations in the potential threat of nuclear war and the impact on resources in the Middle East and Africa – the only thing scarier than the future Road Warrior depicts is how close ours is coming to one day mirroring it. (Best start training for Thunderdome now.)