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There’s a saying that predicting the future is easy, but getting it right is hard, but for some films, failing to predict the future took a serious effort on the part of the filmmakers. These 5 films demonstrate that there’s right, there’s wrong, and then there’s “Boy howdy, were you were way off the mark with that one.”
While it would be easy to pick on the otherwise excellent Back to the Future II, we say enough with the hoverboards! We’re interested in predictions that were wrong on the facts, not just the dates—some of us are still holding out for hoverboards after all. So in that spirit, we dug deep to find some classic films that were not only wrong about the future but missed the important social trends that would come to define it.
Soylent Green (1973)
If you know anything about Soylent Green, the 1973 film starring Charlton Heston, you know the famous line that gives away the end of this class sci-fi, dystopian crime film: Soylent Green is made from people.
In the 1970s, people suddenly remembered that the human population was growing and came up with all sorts of Malthusian nightmares that the future would hold for a global population that was spiraling out of control.
It was in this context that Soylent Green was made, positing the idea that the way we will eventually have to deal with the much-hystericized population growth would be to resort to industrial cannibalism because there would simply be no way to feed so many people.
Soon after, birth control became more widespread and ideas about family planning matured. We found ways to get better crop yields from our plants and scientists are finding more ways to feed a growing global population.
While feeding all these people is a challenge, scientists and entrepreneurs are more than confident that they will be able to meet the needs of these people going forward.
Besides, we have bigger things to worry about nowadays.
The Island (2005)
The Island, starring Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor, is the kind of film that up until recently might have actually have fallen into the “it might happen” category. Its the most recent entry on the list and might even be forgiven for its inaccuracy given that its a Michael Bay film. This is the director of Armageddon, after all.
Johansson and McGregor are sterile clones living out mundane, slave existences in a quarantined facility where nothing ever changes. The only hope is that at some point, they may win the Lottery and be taken to the Island, an indescribable paradise.
What actually happens is that they are simply organ donors for the person they were cloned from, kept idle but healthy until the person they were cloned from needs spare parts. Johanssen and McGregor uncover this dark twist and set about trying to put an end to it.
In reality, they needn’t worry. In fact, they wouldn’t exist at all, not for the purpose of organ donation anyway. Already, stem cells can be taken from a person and used to grow all manner of tissue in a lab, including organs, though none have been implanted yet.
Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 sci-fi classic Robocop is not for the faint of heart.
Set in the near-future, crime-ridden city of Detroit, MI, Robocop is probably one of the greatest social commentaries on contemporary American society you are going to find and is still painfully relevant at times.
Centered around an urban developer’s vision for remaking the city of Detroit into a pristine city of the future and their subsequent efforts to reign in rampant violent crime in the city, Robocop, like many other 1980’s classics, envisions the crime wave of the late 1970’s and 1980s continuing into the future.
While Robocop makes a number of incredibly accurate predictions about the future, crime was not one of them. Even cities like Detroit, once hotbeds for violent crime, saw things turn around in the 1990's not long after Robocop was released.
Logan’s Run (1976)
Logan’s Run is one of those quintessential 1970’s sci-fi films that feels like people wrote up a hundred-plus plot points, threw them in a fishbowl, and pulled out a half-dozen to make into a movie. It’s not nearly that superficial, however, and says a lot about human fears of growing old, especially for Baby Boomers who must have seen 30 as retirement age.
Set in an idyllic future where everyone lives under a dome, lives easy, and do what bored people in close confines tend to do, the catch is that for some reason, once you turn 30, you participate in the "carousel” and are exterminated.
Some people, obviously, aren’t too keen on such an end to their hedonistic existence and make a run for it. It’s up to Sandmen—get it? They put you to sleep!—to hunt them down and finish them off.
Enter Logan, a Sandman tasked with finding something called the “Sanctuary”, a haven for those who ran and managed to escape to the outside. Logan and his love interest, Jessica, find their way to Sanctuary and discover, lo and behold, life doesn’t have to end at 30.
In reality, once the Boomers hit 30, the party didn’t stop. They became one of the most prosperous generations of human beings ever to have existed, spending much of that wealth on keeping the whole shindig moving, from plastic surgery to pills to cure the ravages of old age.
What’s more, they realized that rather than kill off the millennials at 30, better to just saddle them with loans and live off the interest long into retirement.
Escape From New York (1981)
If you grew up in New York in the 1970’s and 1980’s, you can understand where John Carpenter was coming from when he made Escape From New York. The place was a veritable nightmare that people said was ungovernable. Crime was endemic, blight was everywhere, and the ubiquitous subway system was dangerous at any hour of the day.
So it would make sense that Carpenter would assume Manhattan would make an ideal location for a near-future, maximum security prison where only the worst of the worst from around the country were dumped to fight it out amongst themselves.
Crash land the President of the United States in the middle of the island, give Kurt Russel an eye-patch, call him Snake, and you have one of the greatest 1980’s cult classics you’re ever going to find.
But even by Carpenter’s 1997 time frame, New York—as well as the rest of the US, by and large—, had seen dramatic drops in crime rates that would make such a scenario almost laughable.
Today, the richest of the rich from around the world are clamoring to get into Manhattan, and finding themselves priced out entirely.