12 Sci-Fi Films Set in a Future That's Already in the Past

Movies like “1984,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “2012” have inadvertently dated themselves

The future is now. From “2001: A Space Odyssey” to “Blade Runner” — which begins on “Los Angeles/November, 2019” Hollywood has depicted a sci-future that now seems very dated — though in some cases films even got some things right.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968)  Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus did not manage to predict a future of commercial space travel or intergalactic exploration that led to a new paradigm of existence and meaning in the universe. But, it did predict that we would have intelligent computers. Thankfully, Siri and Alexa are not as murderous and conspiring as HAL 9000.

“Death Race 2000” (1975)  While the new millennium did not bring about TV shows that featured violent street races to the death as imagined in this David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone thriller, we have seen a surge of reality TV programming not unlike the one in the film. “Death Race” was later remade in 2008 with Jason Statham starring.

“Escape From New York” (1981)  John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York” imagined that all of Manhattan has been turned into a giant, maximum-security prison to manage violence and crime run amok — and that we’d realize this future by 1997.

“Blade Runner” (1982)  Perhaps realizing that we would not have lifelike, sentient robot “replicants” by the year 2019, “Blade Runner” actually got a sequel in 2017 that kicked things forward to 2049.

“1984” (1984)  A recurring theme on this list is that movies whose titles are years are inherently dated. And there’s no better example of that than the adaptation of George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.” The book was first adapted to the screen in 1956, then again in 1984 itself. But the year still has an unusual connotation with the future, as the latest season of “American Horror Story” was subtitled “1984” and even the next “Wonder Woman” movie will be set in 1984.

“The Running Man” (1987)  Another example of how reality TV has taken over the airwaves, Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in this campy sci-fi set in 2017 where he’s recruited for a deadly, futuristic game show in which he’s forced to fight for his survival.

“Akira” (1988)  The futuristic anime “Akira” is set three decades after a nuclear bomb fell on Tokyo and started WWIII, causing gangs of motorcyclists to take to the streets in a battle against oppressive government forces. That didn’t happen, but then neither has a planned live-action remake of the film, which has been in development hell for so long that it has passed when the time when the movie is set to take place (2019). Fun fact though: the main character of “Akira” awakens to start the film underneath a stadium that’s currently under construction in Tokyo, and Japan is building a stadium for when the city hosts the 2020 Summer Olympics.

“Back to the Future Part II” (1989)  Damn if scientists haven’t tried hard to give us hoverboards by the year 2015, when Robert Zemeckis’ “Back to the Future” sequel is set. But we did get an obscene amount of “Jaws” sequels, some of them in 3-D no less. The movie was also a year early on the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series as the team broke a 108-year drought to win the World Series in 2016.

“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)  The events of “Terminator 2” are set in 1995 with the expectation that Judgment Day and a nuclear apocalypse triggered by sentient machines was right around the corner in August 1997. 

“Freejack” (1992)  In “Freejack,” right before a race car driver played by Emilio Estevez is about to die in a horrible car wreck, he’s transported to the year 2009 where wealthy billionaires harvest young bodies and implant their own minds inside them so they can live forever. The trailer explains that they harvest people from the past who aren’t poisoned by years of a deteriorating ozone layer. Anthony Hopkins, Mick Jagger and Rene Russo also star in the sci-fi film.

“Strange Days” (1995)  The events of Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days” are set in 1999 just four years removed from when the movie was actually released. It played early on Y2K paranoia and predicted that technology would advance so quickly that we’d have advanced virtual reality and the ability to live within other people’s memories in no time at all.

“2012” (2009)  Roland Emmerich didn’t get the year right, but he was ahead of his time when it comes to imagining a global catastrophe tied to climate change, a story he also told with “The Day After Tomorrow.”
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