5 Iconic Movies that Accurately Predicted the Future

5 Iconic Movies That Accurately Predicted the Future

From Soylent Green to Ghost in the Shell, some of the most iconic sci-fi films of the last half-century were set in this decade. Did they get it right?

We don’t have flying cars, android butlers, time machines, dehydrated pizza, or colonies on the moon (yet). But in the past fifty-plus years, innovative filmmakers have, in fact, imagined some of the biggest technological developments of our modern era — sometimes with uncanny accuracy.

In honor of the new decade, here’s a look back at five films that predicted the future.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Edwina Carroll in 2001: A Space OdysseyEdwina Carroll in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

From tablets to flat-screens to international space stations, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke‘s masterpiece got more than one thing right about modern life.

Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space OdysseyKeir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, USA scene still. Image by Mgm/​Stanley Kubrick Productions/​Kobal/​Shutterstock.

For example, computer scientist Stephen Wolfram, CEO of Wolfram Research, has written about the influence of the film on his career. He cites the similarities between the answer engine Wolfram|Alpha, launched in 2009, and 2001’s artificial intelligence HAL 9000. Add voice tools like Siri, and you have a pretty good match for the iconic AI.

Artificial Intelligence in 2001: A Space OdysseyArtificial Intelligence in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, USA scene still. Image by Mgm/​Stanley Kubrick Productions/​Kobal/​Shutterstock.

Then, there’s the AT&T Picturephone the astronauts use in the film. Though not perfect, the phone works a bit like a payphone, charging $1.70 per call, forecasting the rise of everyday tools like Zoom and Skype.

Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood in 2001: A Space OdysseyKeir Dullea and Gary Lockwood in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

How did they do it? To start, Kubrick and Clarke worked with the space scientist Frederick I. Ordway III. They also consulted cutting edge tech companies focusing on future tech. When it came to the details of the displays and computer systems, aerospace engineers replaced conventional prop artists.

Penny Brahms and Edwina Carroll in 2001: A Space OdysseyPenny Brahms and Edwina Carroll in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

Finally, we’re not quite at the point where commercial space travel is a reality, but we’re headed in that direction. Within the last decade, more than 500 startups have entered the field. The “Space Race” of Kubrick’s day might be in the rearview mirror, but between SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic, it’s safe to say we’re in the midst of another one.

Maggie London in 2001: A Space OdysseyMaggie London in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

Blade Runner (1982)

Harrison Ford and Sean Young in Blade RunnerHarrison Ford and Sean Young in Blade Runner (1982). Directed by Ridley Scott. Warner Bros., USA scene still. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

Set in 2019, this film foresaw several phenomena that haven’t yet come to pass, not least of all the humanlike androids at its center, but it did accurately pinpoint other elements of modern life. For one, we have video chats, and in today’s major cities, digital billboards are commonplace.

Digital Billboards in Blade RunnerDigital billboards in Blade Runner (1982). Directed by Ridley Scott. Warner Bros., USA scene still. Image by Ladd Company/​Warner Bros/​Kobal/​Shutterstock.

Virtual assistants, like those found in the homes of Ridley Scott’s characters, have also come to fruition in the form of Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. And, while we don’t yet have Spinners, Porsche and Boeing both say we could get commercial passenger drones as soon as 2025. Several companies, including Uber and AirBus, are currently working on air taxis. Flying cars might not be so far off after all.

Sean Young in Blade Runner Sean Young in Blade Runner (1982). Directed by Ridley Scott. Warner Bros., USA scene still. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

In the Philip K. Dick book on which Blade Runner is based, animals are mostly extinct. Research tells us that we have lost sixty percent of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish in the last fifty years and are entering what many experts have named the sixth mass extinction. We’re not there yet, and we still have time to prevent that from happening, but only if we heed the warning of iconic stories like this one. 

Spinners in Blade RunnerSpinners in Blade Runner (1982). Directed by Ridley Scott. Warner Bros., USA scene still. Image by Ladd Company/​Warner Bros/​Kobal/​Shutterstock.

Finally, while we might not have Roy, Zhora, Pris, and Leon, we do have Sophia the robot from Hanson Robotics. There’s no telling where we might be in another few decades.

The Futuristic City in Blade RunnerThe futuristic city in Blade Runner (1982). Directed by Ridley Scott. Warner Bros., USA scene still. Image by Ladd Company/​Warner Bros/​Kobal/​Shutterstock.

The Truman Show (1998)

Laura Linney and Jim Carrey in The Truman ShowLaura Linney and Jim Carrey in The Truman Show (1998). Directed by Peter Weir. Paramount Pictures, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

Perhaps the story of Jim Carrey’s Truman Burbank, who was adopted by a corporation and went on to unknowingly star in a 24/7 reality television show about his life, seems more relevant today than it did decades ago when it first hit theaters.

Jim Carrey in The Truman ShowJim Carrey in The Truman Show (1998). Directed by Peter Weir. Paramount Pictures, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

Between hidden camera shows and reality series following the everyday lives of the rich and famous, it seems television has evolved to mirror the fictional world of Seahaven Island — at least in some ways.

Jim Carrey Being Broadcasted in The Truman ShowJim Carrey in The Truman Show (1998). Directed by Peter Weir. Paramount Pictures, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore/​Shutterstock.

For instance, in recent years and for a small fee subscribers to CBS All Access have been able to watch the Big Brother house guests via 24/7 live feeds, echoing the prophecies set out by the 1998 film, albeit with the consent and knowledge of the players. Meanwhile, series like The Joe Schmo Show have used actors to convince one unsuspecting player that they’re part of a larger reality television competition.

Holland Taylor, Jim Carrey, and Laura Linney in The Truman ShowHolland Taylor, Jim Carrey, and Laura Linney in The Truman Show (1998). Directed by Peter Weir. Paramount Pictures, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore/​Shutterstock.

Reality Television and The Truman ShowJim Carrey in The Truman Show (1998). Directed by Peter Weir. Paramount Pictures, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore/​Shutterstock.

“We used to make jokes (on set) about what was going to happen with ‘reality TV,’ which wasn’t even an expression then,” actress Laura Linney would later recall. “Lo and behold, it’s done that and gone beyond.” Today, celebrity reality shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Only Way Is Essex combine reality and production planning for something between real life and scripted television.

Chronicling Daily Life on The Truman ShowJim Carrey in The Truman Show (1998). Directed by Peter Weir. Paramount Pictures, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

Beyond the scope of celebrity, the Peter Weir-directed film also spoke to our interest in “normal people” and the mundane details of their lives. Today, people get famous for starring in viral videos and chronicling their daily routines on social media. The Truman Show didn’t have commercials, much like influencer channels today, but it did have scripted product placement — an early indicator of the ubiquity of “sponsored content” in today’s world.

Laura Linney in The Truman ShowLaura Linney in The Truman Show (1998). Directed by Peter Weir. Paramount Pictures, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

“I think it’s ironic that Truman was running from cameras, and our society is running toward them,” the writer/producer Andrew Niccol told Vanity Fair in 2018. “No need to secretly broadcast a life when we broadcast it ourselves.”

Minority Report (2002)

Samantha Morton and Tom Cruise in Minority Report Samantha Morton and Tom Cruise in Minority Report (2002). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Twentieth Century Fox, USA scene still. Image by David James/​20th Century Fox/​Dreamworks/​Kobal/​Shutterstock.

For a film about “PreCogs” (people capable of seeing the future), this movie has its fair share of accurate predictions, due in part to Director Steven Spielberg’s idea to consult a team of futurologists. From gesture-controlled tech to individually tailored advertising, several of the film’s prophecies have come to pass. In fact, billboards like the ones in the movie — that recognize and target passersby — are now in development

Advanced Tech in Minority ReportTom Cruise in Minority Report (2002). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Twentieth Century Fox, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

The film is set in 2054, so we still have a few decades to go. But we’ve already seen the emergence of driverless cars, voice-controlled smart-homes, and optical recognition (remember that indelible eye-transplant scene?).

Tom Cruise in Minority ReportTom Cruise in Minority Report (2002). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Twentieth Century Fox, USA scene still. Image by Shutterstock.

Even more striking, “predictive policing” based on data and artificial intelligence is a reality today, used in twenty of the fifty largest police forces in the US according to CNN. It remains to be seen whether or not these approaches are as effective and objective as we might imagine, or if, as in the film, we’re headed towards dangerous territory. For example, machines that learn biased data will become biased, just like people can.

Tom Cruise, Samantha Morton, and Steven Spielberg in Minority ReportTom Cruise, Samantha Morton, and Steven Spielberg in Minority Report (2002). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Twentieth Century Fox, USA scene still. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

Whether predicting the power of corporations to intrude on our privacy, the pervasive nature of surveillance, or the ethics of policing and the role of free will in our modern era, this film’s meaning has changed over time — moving from a dystopian thriller into something far more realistic. “Just remember, the best science fiction stories have the most dire warnings about civilization and the future,” Spielberg told WIRED back in 2002. “Most of them are cautionary tales.”

Predictive Policing and Minority ReportSamantha Morton and Tom Cruise in Minority Report (2002). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Twentieth Century Fox, USA scene still. Image by 20th Century Fox/​Dreamworks/​Kobal/​Shutterstock.

Contagion (2011)

Movie Poster for Contagion Movie poster for Contagion (2011). Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Warner Bros., USA Poster Ad. Image by Warner Bros/​Kobal/​Shutterstock.

Inspired by the SARS pandemic and the flu outbreak, this Steven Soderbergh-directed film gained renewed popularity amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The writer, Scott Z. Burns, consulted with experts at the World Health Organization. The team also worked with Dr. W. Ian Lipkin and Lawrence Brilliant to better understand health and infectious disease to bring the story to life.

Consulting with Experts for Contagion Kate Winslet in Contagion (2011). Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Warner Bros., USA Poster Ad. Image by Warner Bros/​Kobal/​Shutterstock.

At the time, some experts understood the forecasting potential of the film. As the science journalist Laurie Garrett wrote for CNN at the time, the story was “part reality, part fantasy, totally possible.” When working as a consultant on the movie, she stressed the importance of conveying a global narrative, rather than one that could be contained locally — an idea that came to pass this year.

Jennifer Ehle in ContagionJennifer Ehle in Contagion (2011). Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Warner Bros., USA Poster Ad. Image by Warner Bros/​Kobal/​Shutterstock.

The novel coronavirus, like the virus in the movie, causes respiratory illness and spreads through droplets. In the film, as in real life, people are encouraged to stand several feet apart, and avoid handshaking and touching their faces to stop the spread.

Kate Winslet in Contagion Kate Winslet in Contagion (2011). Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Warner Bros., USA Poster Ad. Image by Warner Bros/​Kobal/​Shutterstock.

While much of Contagion hasn’t been realized — the death toll of the novel coronavirus is more than 350,000 not 26 million — it did point to the escalation of misinformation and online conspiracy theories, which have been spread and debunked in recent months.

Kate Winslet in ContagionKate Winslet in Contagion (2011). Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Warner Bros., USA Poster Ad. Image by Warner Bros/​Kobal/​Shutterstock.

And then, of course, there’s that final scene, in which the origins of the fictional virus MEV-1 are finally revealed — a bat, displaced by habitat loss, passes it to a pig, who is slaughtered. A chef prepares the pig, then shakes hands with the woman who would later become the first identified case.

We don’t know where and how the novel coronavirus originated, but experts do believe it likely stemmed from our unnatural relationship with animals, including habitat destruction and the wildlife trade. In that sense, Contagion might also have been an early warning.

Anna Jacoby-Heron and Matt Damon in Contagion Anna Jacoby-Heron and Matt Damon in Contagion (2011). Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Warner Bros., USA Poster Ad. Image by Moviestore Collection/​Shutterstock.

By early March of this year, the film had become one of the most popular in the Warner Bros. library, climbing the iTunes charts and trending on Amazon Prime Video. Some people even asked the screenwriter for advice, which alarmed him. Of course, Contagion is a disaster movie, but at least to some extent it’s also a mirror of our times.

Cover image of 2001: A Space Odyssey via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Learn more about pop culture history with these photo tours from the Shutterstock Editorial archives:

Seven 20th-Century Writers and Artists Who Defied the Status Quo9 of the Cutest, Most Endearing Star Wars Creatures Ever11 Celebrity Couples That You Forgot Existed, in Pictures5 Iconic Actors Who Have Played The JokerA History of Cyber Cinema, In Photos

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