The Future Is Now! – How Sci-Fi Imagined The Future

Sci-Fi classic Blade Runner imagined a bleak future for mankind and was set in the year 2019 which through the magic of time passing is now the present. So how do the societies depicted in movies compare to reality?

Blade Runner – set in 2019, Los Angeles, made in 1982

Rick Deckard is a blade runner, a cop who hunts replicants who have made it to Earth. Replicants are artifical creatures that are identical to humans but stronger, faster and maybe even smarter. As Deckard is sent to hunt down a group of replicants he is drawn into the world of the Tyrell Corporation, the somewhat sinister manufacturer of replicants.

The Film – Los Angeles 2019

LA in Blade Runner (IMDb)

This LA is a dark and rainy place, perhaps caused by the radioactive fallout. On top of that, the city is dirty and cramped which is not surprising as the population of LA is 106 million people. Flying cars nimbly navigate this dense mess of towers, surely the only reasonable way to get around. Huge adverts fill the sky and cover skyscrapers and it is hard to escape from their presence.

In terms of technology people use video phones and voice command equipment. But the most obvious technology is one that in the film isn’t supposed to be on Earth – replicants.

The Reality – Los Angeles 2019

LA in reality (Flix Bus)

While not perfect, LA remains a bright and sunny place. The population stands at a more manageable 4 million. And while LA does have it’s skyscrapers it is nothing like the oppressive city Ridley Scott imagined. As for technology, we do have voice command technology and video phones, indeed I’d say we put their video phones to shame, but no flying cars. Nor do we have replicants or anything like them but that’s probably for the best. Perhaps it’s most prescient feature was advertising which is one of the dominant modes of expression in the modern world.

Back To The Future Part II, set in 2015, Hill Valley California, made in 1989

Following on from the hijinks of Back To The Future Doc brings Marty to 2015 to avert a crisis in his family. Once that is settled Marty makes the unfortunate decision to try and manipulate his future which has unforeseen consequences.

The film – Hill Valley 2015

Fashion in 2015 Back To The Future Part 2 (IMDb)

Back To The Future is set in the fictional town of Hill Valley in California but I think we can substitute any small Californian town. Like Blade Runner it has flying cars – seemingly something of an obsession in the 1980s – but additionally flying skateboards. Giant holograms are commonplace and perhaps even a bit old hat. Fashion is bizarre with young people wearing their clothes inside out but that’s balanced by the fact that they change size to suit you. Nuclear reactors are home gadgets, food is hydrated to save space and everyone has LOTS of fax machines.

The Reality – “Hill Valley” 2015

Ben Stiller & Owen Wilson Valentino Catwalk, 2015 (The Independent)

BTTF2 was intentionally a bit out there with it’s predictions so unsurprisingly no flying cars, no holograms on every street corner, no hydrated food. In 2015 the fax machine was deader than Elvis. Clothes weren’t as advanced or worn inside out but arguably fashion was (and still is) just as ridiculous.

2001: A Space Odyssey, set in 2001 made in 1968

2001: A Space Odyssey is an epic Sci-Fi film taking the audience from the birth of mankind to them becoming a higher form of life with a central story revolving around one spaceship’s secret mission and the brilliant computer on board.

The Film -The Solar System, 2001

The supercomputer HAL 9000 (IMDb)

Kubrick focused on two aspects of future technology – computers and space travel. Commercial spaceships drift leisurely through space with clever velcro shoes for flight attendants to deal with the lack of gravity. Not only that but there are even colonies on the moon.

As for computers they have Hal 9000, the world’s greatest supercomputer, thought to be practically infallible although he does speak with an odd arch monotone voice. He spends his time beating humans at chess, lipreading and murdering.

The Reality – The Solar System 2001

In 2001 we just had Windows XP (Computerhistory.org)

Even in 2019 the human race are still stubbornly stuck on Earth with no moon colonies. George Bush scrapped the space shuttle in 2004 and commercial space flight is really just a dream of ambitious billionaires. Deep Blue had beaten Gary Kasparov at chess in the 90s but I don’t think he’d be a match for Hal.

The Running Man, set in 2019 filmed in 1987

A police officer framed for causing a massacre is forced to participate in The Running Man, a brutal gameshow where convicts are forced to fight against trained killers with a chance to win their freedom.

The Film 2019

The Running Man (IMDb)

Another bleak picture of the future – a totalitarian government feeds the population brutal gameshows to keep them quiet. The Running Man is extremely theatrical, the show’s killers have gimmicks and characters and feels like a mix between professional wrestling and The Price Is Right but additionally people die. The audience ecstatically cheer while people are brutally killed the same way they cheer when someone wins The Running Man board game.

The Reality 2019

Mixture of game show and reality TV, Britain’s Got Talent (Celebmix)

Fortunately gameshows and reality television haven’t quite gotten to this stage but there is an increasing element of cruelty in a lot of theses and glee taken in the suffering of others. Fortunately, professional wrestling remains the absurd spectacle it always was with no need to cater to more brutal tastes.

Escape From New York – set in 1997, made in 1981

In a crime ridden future Manhattan Island has been turned into one giant prison, which is fine until the President’s plane crashes on the island. Former special forces soldier Snake Plissken is sent to rescue the President.

The Film 1997

Manhattan – Escape from New York (IMDb)

Crime in America has become a huge problem, in fact, the biggest problem. So much that Manhattan Island has been turned into one giant prison. The island is completely overrun with rubbish and and vicious gangs attack anyone unlucky to cross their paths

NATO is fighting a brutal war with the USSR in Europe that may very well bring about the destruction of the whole world through nuclear Armageddon. One ray of hope is that nuclear fusion has been invented which was hoped to be what brought about peace between the warring sides.

Reality 1997

Reality of Manhattan in the 1990s (huffingtonpost.com)

Crime may have been a problem in 1997 but nothing like the levels seen in the film with law and order largely still in effect. Manhattan Island remained a glorious part of New York City with skyscrapers, museums and Central Park.

As for the USSR by 1997 it no longer existed and the Cold War was long over. Nuclear fusion does happen but only in stars as we haven’t yet worked out how to do it ourselves.

Predictions or Warnings?

It’s important to remember filmmakers weren’t trying to predict the future but merely imagining one way it could turn out and usually their imagined future was not the one they wanted to happen. That said, Blade Runner was very specifically set in November 2019 so we have a little while yet…

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Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.