2016 is forgotten in science fiction. As everyone knows, 2015 was the year we finally caught up to Back to the Future II, with its futuristic vision of flying cars, hover boards and self-drying jackets. Segueing into the second half of this decade, however, it’s clear there’s no fictional analogue to celebrate.
It’s a shame, really, because science fiction movies in particular once viewed the 21st century as the advent of sweeping change, for better or worse. Of course Death Race 2000 (1975) pictured a totalitarian dystopia with the most popular sport involving fast cars mowing down innocents. On the flip side, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) hypothesized lunar colonies and interplanetary travel.
Now there’s a few ways to date your future. There’s the ambiguity of “The Near Future”, such as in the first X-Men (2000). You can jump ahead a century or more from the present, such as Alien or Star Trek. Or a few decades ahead provides a sense of inevitability and urgency.
Some recent movies used this tactic: 2002’s Minority Report (2054), 2006’s V for Vendetta in the late 2030s (the graphic novel it’s based on, released between 1982-1985, takes place in 1997), and 2008’s Doomsday (2035). But history is catching up to others.
Kicking off the double ohs is 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984). Based on the 1982 book, this sequel to 2001 has space travel to Jupiter and the artificial intelligence HAL 9000. The prominent role of the Soviet Union’s astronauts, however, dates the movie badly.
2011 is also neglected in the annals of sci-fi, but 2012 saw humanity transformed by plague into rabid vampires. In I Am Legend (2007) Will Smith is a US Army virologist trying to cure the mutated measles virus. Set in the year everyone half-jokingly (but half-not) panicked over the Mayan apocalypse, it also predicted Batman vs. Superman with a conspicuous advertisement Smith’s Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville passes in Times Square.
2013 is another hellish Big Brother vision. This time Escape from L.A. (1996) posits an earthquake in the year 2000 leaving Los Angeles as a prison split from the mainland United States. Here advancements in technology like holograms are key plot elements, as well as orbiting satellites that release electromagnetic pulses. This latter point results in the entire planet getting reverted to the Stone Age.
In 2014, global warming fears lead to climate engineering that accidentally catalyzes another ice age. Salvation is The Rattling Ark, a perpetual motion-powered train circumventing the planet. Said train not-so-subtly breaks up the classes, with impoverished in back and wealthy up front. As seen in Snowpiercer (2013) by 2031 the result is rebellion.
Skipping to 2017 and the opening of The Running Man. Based on the 1982 novel by Stephen King pseudonym Richard Bachman (set in 2025, and not unlike the oppressive military state in Bachman’s The Long Walk), the 1987 movie predicted reality television and the economic crisis with surprising accuracy. After Ben Richards refuses to slaughter protesters he’s imprisoned for two years, and is then subjected to a broadcasted struggle for survival.
2018 has a couple of different bleak views. On the one hand there’s yet another brutal game in Rollerball (1975) distracting the masses from their oppression. On the other Skynet nukes the world in the early 21st century and John Connor leads a resistance against the machines, as in Terminator: Salvation (2009).
The end of the decade brings two evocative visions: one spawned the cyberpunk subgenre and the other evolved from it. Blade Runner (1982) envisions 2019 as smog-covered and rain-soaked. Most abandoned earth for space and lord over robotic slaves, while those left behind are bombarded by advertisements. The other, Akira (1988), imagines a psychic explosion left Tokyo devastated and kicked off World War III. The result is neon chaos overrun with youth biker gangs and armed troops.
Although we don’t have flying cars or interstellar colonization in 2016, we have avoided some predicted pitfalls. Humanity managed to not wipe itself out, yet, by disease or science and game shows haven’t devolved into bloodbaths, yet.
Of course, there’s always next year.