Mankind is always speculating about what the future will be like. There have been myriad visions of what we have in store for us, and many of them are pretty bleak, as in novels like H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and George Orwell’s 1984. Some movie visions are pretty close to what’s going on now and others could conceivably come true. I mean we’re probably long overdue for an alien invasion or zombie apocalypse if we’re going by the sheer volume of movies about it.
I recently watched “Snowpiercer,” which I liked, and it naturally prompted me to start thinking of other movies about the fate of our species on this planet and beyond. So here are some of my favorite movies about the future in chronological order. I’ve divided them into two categories: apocalypse and flawed enlightenment.
Scenarios: Earth is a hollow shell of what it once was due to an overabundance of hubris and megalomania leading to any number of plagues or wars, including zombie epidemics, and a barren or decaying landscape.
The Road Warrior (1981)
In this sequel to “Mad Max,” the plot doesn’t really matter much; it’s just great action. Mad Max is still on the warpath in the post-apocalyptic Australian outback using his powers for good instead of evil. Gasoline is a rare and therefore valuable commodity, so Max decides to help a group of people defend their stake at an oil refinery. Even after a nuclear holocaust, oil reigns supreme and causes much bloodshed.
Blade Runner (1982)
One of the coolest sci-fi films ever, and as most cool sci-fi films are, it is based on a Philip K. Dick story. I just wish heroes in these films, in this case played by Harrison Ford, didn’t have to be such jerks. But he’s got a lot on his mind – tasked with destroying four rogue replicants (aka androids, synthetics, AI robots, etc.) who are desperate to stay “alive.” Falling in love with a replicant wasn’t part of the plan, but of course, he does. Rutger Hauer and Darryl Hannah play two of the hunted replicants, Sean Young plays the love interest, and Ridley Scott directs.
Children of Men (2006)
In this suspenseful drama from director Alfonso Cuaron, infertility is pushing mankind toward extinction, and the remaining population is in a descending spiral of mayhem and despair. Clive Owen is recruited by ex-wife Julianne Moore to help transport a young woman who is the first hope for humanity’s survival to a safe haven. The movie also stars Michael Caine and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
I Am Legend (2007)
Will Smith carries this spare but engaging zombie apocalypse flick with only a trusty German shepherd at his side most of the way. Once a celebrated scientist with a wife and kid, he works endlessly to discover a cure to the zombie affliction that has turned most humans into night-marauding monsters. But just when he’s about to give up and give in to his loneliness, he is given another reason to hope for survival and fight for life.
Humans have destroyed Earth with their unrelenting damage to the environment, so they take off in a massive, life-sustaining spaceship leaving a little clean-up robot, a WALL-E, behind. Then one day, centuries later, WALL-E and his cockroach friend get a visitor – a robot probe named Eve sent to search for signs of vegetation on Earth. WALL-E is so taken with Eve, he manages to follow her back to the mother ship on a brave new adventure. It’s a simple, sweet love story that manages to get in some hard jabs at human excesses but also show the power of determination.
A flawed “enlightenment”
Scenarios: The world has advanced but has slipped into an Orwellian totalitarian nightmare, a Wellsian state of haves and have-nots, or the status quo but with fancier tools and toys and more planets to ruin.
The future doesn’t always have to be dark and terrifying. It can also be funny and terrifying. Woody Allen in his wacky phase spins a Rumpelstiltskin-like tale into comedy gold playing a New Yorker who wakes up 200 years in the future and finds himself reluctantly fighting the powers that be with an even more reluctant Diane Keaton.
Ridley Scott’s masterpiece of suspense puts us into an intergalactic world controlled by “The Company,” which is obsessed with capturing an alien species to rival all other alien species in terms of its capacity for fierceness and survival. Sadly, only one member of the crew sent to secure the creature is aware of the true reason for the mission or the deadly nature of the beast. A recipe for disaster for the crew, but a recipe for great cinema for us, and we got one of the most badass heroines to grace a movie screen out of it – Lt. Ellen Ripley as portrayed by Sigourney Weaver. Small but incredible supporting cast includes Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronica Cartwright and poor John Hurt.
Total Recall (1990)
My second favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger movie has him dealing with a dangerous identity crisis. He’s supposed to be a humble construction worker with a beautiful wife (Sharon Stone), but he keeps dreaming about what life would be like on Mars, a colonized planet that rations out its oxygen to the lower classes while the upper class breathes freely. His curiosity soon gets the better of him, and he signs up for a virtual reality adventure to live his dream safely in his mind. Turns out it’s not so safe. In fact, it could be fatal if he doesn’t figure out who he really is before the people who do know stop him. “Get your ass to Mars!”
In this frighteningly feasible future, Ethan Hawke plays an “Invalid” – someone who doesn’t have the superior genes of others and is therefore denied the opportunity to hold even a blue-collar job because the numbers say he couldn’t possibly handle it. But he’s determined to prove his ability to achieve despite the biological discrimination he faces when he buys the identity of a disabled “Valid,” played by Jude Law. With Law’s help, Hawke manages to deceive his way into a top job and a top girlfriend (Uma Thurman), but a murder investigation at his company threatens to upend his plans.
Minority Report (2002)
Riveting work from two guys who know how to rivet – director Steven Spielberg and superstar Tom Cruise. In another film based on a Philip K. Dick story, Cruise is an intense pre-crime fighter whose organization uses three preternatural soothsayers (pre-cogs) to reveal crimes before they occur. But when Cruise’s name appears as a future culprit, he has to go on the run to prove he is not a murderer. Great supporting cast features Max von Sydow, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton and a wonderfully twisted performance from Lois Smith.
DIRECTOR: Fritz Lang | HEADLINERS: Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Frohlich
La Jetée (1962)
DIRECTOR: Chris Marker | HEADLINERS: Jean Negroni (narrator), Helene Chatelain, Davos Hanich, Jacques Ledoux
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick | HEADLINERS: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood
DIRECTOR: Terry Gilliam | HEADLINERS: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin
28 Days Later (2002)
DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle | HEADLINERS: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston
DIRECTOR: Christian Volckman | HEADLINERS: Daniel Craig, Catherine McCormack, Romola Garai, Jonathan Pryce, Ian Holm
(Also see: http://theincrediblemontage.com/2013/10/23/the-case-for-privacy)
V for Vendetta (2006)
DIRECTOR: James McTeigue | HEADLINERS: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt, Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry
(Also see: http://theincrediblemontage.com/blog/2013/10/23/the-case-for-privacy)
DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle | HEADLINERS: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Chris Evans
The Book of Eli (2010)
DIRECTORS: Allen and Albert Hughes | HEADLINERS: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Jennifer Beals
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson | HEADLINERS: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels