The twenty-first century has felt a bit…dystopian. Existential dread has become a hallmark of youth culture, and the list of viable contenders for the actual most plausible Horsemen of the Apocalypse only seems to be expanding. This said time’s arrow does not always land squarely in the chest. The passage of time can also be an incredibly exciting and hopeful thing, and while many stories about the future aim to warn us of the dangers that might lie ahead, others optimistically speculate about how things might improve. Regardless of the approach, images of the future provide a fresh perspective on the present and a chance to evaluate whether or not we like where it might lead us. These depictions become even more interesting when they are given a specific date – allowing us in the (creator’s) future to revel in the fact that we’ve reached whatever benchmark they set and take the opportunity to assess where the expectations were and weren’t met.
In honor of making it to 2024, here are five old movies that set out to predict what our present would be like and how they've ended up stacking up to the present day as we know it.
Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)
Following a pilot who embarks on a test run of the X-80 experimental aircraft and finds himself in the distant year of 2024, this film’s age is revealed in the future’s aesthetic similarity to Disney’s EPCOT. This version of 2024 takes the form of an underground minimalistic metropolis in which rampant disease has rendered most of the population sterile and unable to speak or hear. Violent mutants who claim to be the survivors of a cosmic plague also run around and aim to exact revenge on the humans who they blame for their problems.
What They Got Right: Disease, minimalism.
What They Got Wrong: Impact/type of disease, living underground due to nuclear testing accident, encountering cosmic plague survivors.
Taking place between 2024 and 2044, this film depicts both points in time as cyberpunk-themed realities where thoroughly plugged-in residents spend their time hooked to holographic displays and on newly sanctioned stimulants. The entire world is perpetually locked in dark mode; every location is an office building or nightclub. The film follows the journey of a narcotics cop and his involvement in a multigenerational scheme to bring down Ambro, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world.
What They Got Right: Big pharma is evil, screens are everywhere, and people do kinda dress like that ngl. I love it, though.
What They Got Wrong: We can’t even legalize weed at the federal level; lol, no holograms for us yet.
A Boy and His Dog (1975)
This one is a lot. Despite what the apparently wholesome title might suggest, this film chronicles the story of the deeply toxic and codependent criminal partnership that exists between an eighteen-year-old orphan and his telepathic dog. Set against the backdrop of a post-nuclear war wasteland, the two are only after two things: food and sex…the latter of which is not always consensual. It is a lot.
What They Got Right: People do like food and sex, I guess…
What They Got Wrong: Not usually that much, we’re not in a nuclear wasteland, no telepathic dogs.
Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)
This one is fun. Boasting a Rotten Tomato score of literally 0%, this sequel to the original Highlander sees Connor MacLeod regain his immortal status after killing two assassins from his homeworld, allowing him to embark on a valiant crusade against corporate greed. In the year 2024, the ozone layer wore away completely through the 90s and has since been replaced with an artificial shield. Though the shield was built by none other than MacLeod himself, it had plunged the Earth into relative darkness and created an intense, humid climate. The Shield Company has exploited this situation by using its power to control and profit off of global leadership.
What They Got Right: Themes of climate change and corporate greed.
What They Got Wrong: Ozone layer wearing away, Earth being plunged into darkness by a protective shield, encounters with aliens, immortality, known relationship between those latter points.
Illang: The Wolf Brigade (2018)
Though most of the central action takes place in 2029, it all builds on the events of 2024. In this version of our present, rising tensions between China, Japan, and South Korea prompt Japan to remilitarize and the Korean peninsula to reunify. This gives rise to a variety of new political sects who oppose the new direction of their states and drives a violent battle in 2018 as elite government forces aim to thwart the efforts of those who oppose Korean unification.
What They Got Right: Though this film is outstandingly detailed in its predictions, none of them have actually unfolded.
What They Got Wrong: North and South Korea do not seem to be planning to reunify, and Japan does not seem to have plans to remilitarize.