Movies

32 Movies Set In The Future That Are Now In The Past

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From comedies to sci-fi (especially sci-fi) Hollywood has been churning out movies set in the far distant future. A future, it turns out, that has come and gone here in our actual Earth timeline. Here’s a list where we explore when those movies were made, what year they were set in, and how they look today. 

Michael J. Fox stands confused in front of a future theater in Back To The Future: Part II.

(Image credit: Universal/Amblin)

Back To The Future Part II

This might be the most notorious movie on this list. Back to the Future Part II was released in 1989 and when Marty, Doc, and Jennifer go to the future, it’s all the way to 2015. Well, 2015 came and went a long time ago and we still don’t have flying cars, hoverboards, or self-tying shoes. Jaws 19 still hasn’t been released either. It didn’t get everything wrong though, some of the tech in the McFly home, like voice-activated TV controls and video phones exist. We still have a lot of questions about this movie though. 

Emilio Estevez in Freejack

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Freejack

1992’s Freejack is a time capsule…into 1992. It’s certainly not one into “the future” it presents. When Alex (Emilio Estevez) is transported into the future, he is taken to a crazy, dystopian New York City of 2009. There is really nothing worth talking about what they got correct here because very little of what it shows was reality in 2009. New York City was safer and cleaner than in 1991, not the other way around. 

James Brolin in Westworld

(Image credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

Westworld

Not to be confused with the HBO show Westworld, 1973’s Westworld, written and directed by Michael Crichton was released in 1973. It’s set in 1983 (as revealed in the sequel, Futureworld), which, looking back, was a big mistake. Why not set it in 2083? There is very little about the tech in Westworld that existed in 1983, or 2023 for that matter. They did a decent job with the computers that run the park though, those are somewhat realistic for 1983.  

Arnold Schwarzenegger seated on motorcycle in Terminator 2: Judgement Day

(Image credit: Tri-Star Pictures)

The Terminator Series

So, truth be told, the timeline in the Terminator series is a convoluted mess. So we’re going to stick just to the first couple of movies in the series, the first released in 1984, and the second, Terminator 2: Judgement Day in 1991. Both set the day that the machines took over as August 29th, 1997. Luckily for all of us, this never happened. 

Keanu Reeves Johnny Mnemonic

(Image credit: Tri-Star)

Johnny Mnemonic

It’s easy to make fun of 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic for being set in 2021 and missing the mark in a lot of ways. The present is clearly not nearly as diabolically dystopian as the movie promises, but there’s a lot they got close to correct, or at least not way, way off. The way the internet is used, for example, is not, like, totally different. Sure, we don’t have neural implants…yet, but nothing is in there that we would laugh at today, technology-wise. 

Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner

(Image credit: Warner Bros)

Blade Runner

Another of the most notorious on the list is the sci-fi classic Blade Runner. Released in 1982 and set in 2019, there is more that they got wrong than they got right. Of course, none of that matters, since it’ll always be a stone-cold classic.

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee in The Road

(Image credit: Dimension Films)

The Road

Author Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 dystopian future novel The Road was made into a movie in 2009 starring Viggo Mortensen as a father making his way through a destroyed world with his son. Though it’s never explicitly said when it takes place, it is “several years” after whatever unnamed event caused the destruction, which would set it somewhere around ten years in the future, or 2019. 

Kurt Russell in Escape from LA

(Image credit: AVCO Embassy Pictures)

Escape from New York

The year is 1997. The island of Manhattan is a prison colony and the President has just crashed there. That’s the premise of 1981’s Escape from New York, but that’s obviously not the fate of New York City. At least not year. It also doesn’t make it less awesome of a movie. 

Jean-Claude Van Damme in Timecop

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Timecop

1994’s Timecop starring Jean-Claude Van Damme is pretty silly, so it feels a little silly to criticize it too harshly here, but come on. It’s setting up a “future” in 2004 that includes the actual ability to travel through time. Obviously, that’s not available to us, but again, it’s not it’ll ever be actually possible, so how mad can we be here? 

Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man

(Image credit: Tri-Star)

The Running Man

The Running Man, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, might be the least “Stephen King movie” of all of the movies based on books by the prolific author. Released in 1987, the cult classic is set in 2017. The actual world of 2017 looked nothing like the one in the movie, but, there are some things it did kind of get right. Reality TV, for example, is essentially what “The Running Man” TV show in the movie is. Plus, it also has voice-activated lights and TVs, which existed in 2017. So not terrible. 

James Caan in Rollerball

(Image credit: United Artists)

Rollerball

1975’s Rollerball, starring James Caan, is a wild movie that is totally a product of its time. It’s become a cult classic for good reason. What it isn’t, though, is accurate for the year it was set in, 2018. Roller derby isn’t even popular anymore! Corporations don’t govern the country either. At least not yet. 

Mel Gibson in Beyond Thunderdome

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

The whole Mad Max series takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, like a lot of movies set in the future. The future? Sometime in the mid-2000s for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It’s safe to say the movie was just a little off. 

Charlton Heston in Soylent Green

(Image credit: MGM)

Soylent Green

Soylent Green has one of the best twists in film history, but that doesn’t make it accurate. Released in 1973 and set in 2022, the movie is wrong about a whole lot of things. We’re certainly not eating people… or are we?

A scene from Akira

(Image credit: Tokyo Movie Shinsha Co. Ltd)

Akira

1988’s Akira is one of the most beloved Anime movies of all time, but it sure missed the mark in predicting what 2019 will look like. Once again the makers of a dystopian future movie didn’t nail it when it comes to a cataclysmic event. Maybe if a live-action remake comes along, it’ll set too far in the future for us to call it out. 

A robot in Metropolis

(Image credit: Parufamet)

Metropolis

Going back to the earliest days of film, Metropolis, the silent movie classic made in 1927, gets the future very wrong. Though the movie is set in 2027, we’re confident in predicting that the world won’t be a dystopian factory nightmare in three years. 

The first Purge movie

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The Purge

2013’s The Purge is a perfect example of why, if you’re making a movie about a dystopian future, make sure it’s far enough into the future that people won’t be around to see how wrong you were. Set in 2022, The Purge shows a world where people are so angry that the only way to solve things is to allow them to kill each other on one day a year. Actually, maybe it’s not as far off as it seems…

HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey

(Image credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

2001: A Space Odyssey

Talk about a movie that really telegraphs how wrong it’s going to be, 2001: A Space Odyssey tells us what year it takes place right in the title. The 1968 release is set, well, in 2001, and we didn’t even have Pan Am flights to space. We didn’t have Pan Am at all, as a matter of fact. 

Photo of Kevin Costner in The Postman 1997 Warner Bros. shared with Getty.

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The Postman

1997’s post-apocalyptic western The Postman is set in the “near future” of 2013. Of course, the world of 2013 had not experienced an apocalyptic event, nor was a new world capital set up in Minnesota. 

Ray Liotta in No Escape

(Image credit: Savoy Pictures)

No Escape

In 1994, Ray Liotta starred in a kind of off-brand Escape From New York called No Escape. It’s not the best movie, but it’s fun. It also takes place in a world where corporations run the prisons in America in 2022. Which, frightfully, isn’t that hard to imagine being possible. 

Christopher Lambert in Highlander II: The Quickening

(Image credit: InterStar)

Highlander II: The Quickening

A lot of people would rather that Highlander II: The Quickening wasn’t made. If anything we wouldn’t have to call it out for getting pretty much every after 1999 correct, especially 2024, which is the latest year that occurs in the movie. 

Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta.

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

V for Vendetta

It’s a little difficult to pinpoint exactly when V for Vendetta takes place. Made in 2006, it appears that it takes place in the mid-to-late 2020s. Either way, it’s safe to say that we won’t be living in a world quite like the dystopian London in the movie. While there are some themes that could work, it’s still off. 

A scene from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is the fourth in the original Planet of the Apes series but it’s the only that fits on this list. While most of the movies take place centuries in the future, the “planet’s” origin story is set in the 1980s and ’90s. The movie was made in 1972, so it’s really more of a horror story for viewers at the time. 

A scene from Death Race 2000

(Image credit: New World Pictures)

Death Race 2000

Death Race 2000, released in 1975 was set only 25 years in the future, as the name of the movie implies. While it is one heck of a b-movie, starring Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine, it gets everything about the totalitarian future it predicts at the turn of the century. The idea of a road race across the country as TV entertainment isn’t that far off though. 

The Droogs drinking some laced milk

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

A Clockwork Orange

Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange was released in 1971 and puts forth the idea of a dystopian future where gangs of oddly dressed teenagers commit unthinkable acts of violence. The year is never directly revealed in the movie, but it seems like some alternate timeline of the 1960s by the style of decor. The movie is based on a book of the same name by Anthony Burgess. In Burgess’ diary, he revealed that it was intended to be set in 1980

A scene from BBC's 1984

(Image credit: BBC)

1984

George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four has twice been made into a film. The first, on BBC, in 1954 and the second in 1984. Ignoring the one in ’84, the future predicted by Orwell and the ’53 film got everything wrong. Sure, there are elements that we worry about today, and “Big Brother” has become part of the modern lexicon, but there was no nuclear war in the 1960s and the world is not divided into only three countries. 

Keanu Reeves in A Scanner Darkly

(Image credit: Warner Independent Pictures)

A Scanner Darkly

This one is a little tricky to nail down when in the future it takes place, but hear us out. The original story on which the movie was based, was published in 1977 and set in 1994. The animated movie, A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater, was released in 2006. By doing the same math, we arrive at 2023 and either way, both stories are way off. 

Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson in The Island

(Image credit: Dreamworks)

The Island

In 2006, Michael Bay directed The Island with Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor. It’s not a well reviewed film, nor was it a hit, nor did it get the future of 2019 correct either. Like many on this list, it’s set in a dystopian future that just didn’t come to pass. At some point, writers and directors are just going to have to give up on predicting the downfall of human civilization, right?

Billy Dee Williams in Alien Intruder

(Image credit: PM Entertainment Group)

Alien Intruder

1993’s Alien Intruder, starring Billy Dee Williams, is a crude, terrible movie that frankly, we’re glad it got 2022 wrong. Not just because a future like that looks terrifying and we’re glad it didn’t happen, but because no movie this bad deserves to be right. One thing we will say is that it did almost get the virtual reality stuff correct…at least what it will be used for, which we’d rather not talk about. 

Kurt Russell in Escape From LA

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

Escape From LA

15 years after John Carpenter and Kurt Russell made Escape From New York, they returned for Escape From LA in 1996. In the movie, an earthquake in 2000 cut off Los Angeles from the mainland, and a prison was set up on the new island. In 2006, Snake Plissken (Russell) basically did what he did in New York. Last we checked, LA was just fine in 2006. 

Sandra Bullock in Demolition Man

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Demolition Man

1993’s Demolition Man with Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock technically takes place in 2032, so we’ve got some time to see how close it is to reality (hint: not close), but it’s on this list because the two main characters played by Stallone and Wesley Snipes were cryogenically frozen in 1996. To date, we still don’t have that kind of technology. 

Don Cheadle and the cast of Mission to Mars

(Image credit: Touchstone Pictures)

Mission to Mars

In 2000 Tim Robbins, Don Cheadle, and Gary Sinise starred in Mission to Mars, about the first manned mission to Mars. The film is set in 2020, which may have made it plausible in 2000, but it sure did miss the mark as we are not much closer today than we were then with that prospect. Maybe by 2035, when Matt Damon’s The Martian is set, we’ll get there. 

Pamela Anderson in Barb Wire

(Image credit: Gramercy Pictures)

Barb Wire

Okay Okay, we admit, it’s unfair to pick a movie like Barb Wire, starring Pamela Anderson, for its accuracy, but still, here we go. Set in 2017, this 1996 movie plays on the premise that a second Civil War is underway. Who would ever believe that by 2017 the political climate would be such that a civil war could even be the faintest bit possible? Certainly, the makers of the film would know that by 2017 everyone would be living in peace and harmony in the US and the political division would…wait a minute…just how wrong is this one? Yikes. 

The main takeaway from this list of movies set in the future but now in the past? Filmmakers need to choose dates way into the future. Buck Rogers isn’t on this list because it’s 500 years in the future! That’s the way to do it. 

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