Time’s running out for science-fiction to become science-fact…
Predicting the future can be a difficult thing, as most science-fiction writers would be aware. Most viewers accept that science fiction isn't intended to predict the future with perfect accuracy, but more to investigate where humanity could hypothetically end up. One way to nevertheless get around inaccurate predictions might be to set a work of fiction in an unspecified year, though some writers prefer to give an actual year when their story is set.
It's interesting (and sometimes scary) to revisit older sci-fi movies and see what sort of things have come true. The following movies are all set in the 2020s, and within the next few years, won't technically be "futuristic" to contemporary viewers. It's becoming increasingly possible day by day to see which ones reflect real life in the 2020s, and which ones ultimately emphasized the "fiction" in science-fiction over fact.
Before Phase 3's lengthy and climactic Avengers: Endgame, MCU movies tended to be set in or around the years they were released. Besides flashbacks – and movies like the first Captain America or Captain Marvel – the year you watched the movie in theaters tended to be the year the film was set in.
When 2018's Avengers: Infinity Game ended with a literally universe-altering event, a time-jump for much of the following movie's runtime became necessary. Beyond the prologue (and the time travel scenes), the core narrative of Avengers: Endgame takes place toward the end of 2023. Thanks to a pandemic that began spreading in 2020, the MCU's depiction of the 2020s instantly became divorced from reality. However, the empty world of Endgame does look eerily reminiscent of how populated areas looked during the lockdowns of the early 2020s.
Five years before Avengers: Endgame, X-Men: Days of Future Past showed viewers what a time-travel-heavy superhero movie partially set in the 2020s could look like. It splits its ambitious narrative between two timelines: some scenes take place in 2023, in a world where mutants have become an endangered species, while others take place in 1973, which characters travel back to in order to prevent the conflict that puts mutants in danger.
It's a wild ride, and has a great deal of fun with its time-travel premise. It's not an accurate depiction of life in 2023, but it's also not trying to be, and is too strongly focused on fictional mutants to be a more grounded sci-fi movie… plus, it's arguable that most of its best moments take place in the 1973 scenes.
Despite being released just two years after Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla vs. Kong jumps forward about five years, making the series officially become one set in the future. It does this to help explain some of the advancements humanity has made at combating titans, and to give its characters some breathing room from constant monster attacks.
It's a silly but very fun movie that exists to have a giant radioactive lizard fight an equally giant ape. Very little about it suggests it was predicting anything that will actually happen in 2024, but viewers will likely be thankful for that, given how much damage the titular monsters' showdowns cause in the film's action sequences.
The situation for humanity in the world of Pacific Rim is grim, but thanks to Guillermo Del Toro's style and skill at delivering spectacle, it's a lot of fun to watch for viewers. Giant monsters have been attacking the world through portals, and humanity decides its only hope is to build equally giant drivable robots to fight back.
It's unlikely that real-life people would be cool enough in real life to employ such a solution if faced with an attack by giant alien monsters within the next couple of years. But like the recent Godzilla vs. Kong, Pacific Rim isn't about what would realistically happen if Earth was faced with such an existential threat. It's about the coolest, most ridiculous and most entertaining way humans could feasibly defend themselves. When judged that way, Pacific Rim is a sci-fi success.
Due to having different cuts, re-edits and translations in various languages, there's no universally agreed year when Metropolis is set. It was made a long time ago, and is set in what was then a distant future, with the story ultimately being just as effective if it's 100 years in the future or 1000.
A lengthy synopsis submitted to IMDb cites the film as taking place in 2026. This makes sense, because the film was based on a novel written in 1925, presumably developed and filmed in 1926-1927, and released in 1927, and so looking at a world 100 years into the future feels straightforward and appropriate. Though its 2020s world looks different from reality, the themes of wealth inequality and class warfare explored by the film remain vitally (and devastatingly) relevant to our actual 2020s.
Few sci-fi futures look as bleak and miserable as the one seen in Children of Men. Released in 2006, it looked ahead by about two decades, showing a 2027 where society is rundown, few individuals are free, refugee crises have worsened and global infertility has led to no children being born for almost 20 years.
There are aspects of its world that reflect real life, but viewers may take some comfort in the fact that at least there's no worldwide infertility (yet). Overall, an argument could be made that the less people make the real world resemble the one seen in Children of Men, the better everyone will be as a species going forward.
The original RoboCop (AKA the more violent one) didn't give a specific year for its dystopian setting, but the 2014 remake did. It follows the same general premise, telling the story of a police officer who almost dies and is brought back to life with cyborg enhancements, this time specifying that it all happens in the year 2028.
Given this is at the tail end of the 2020s, it's not impossible for RoboCop to become a reality, but it still looks incredibly unlikely. Like many sci-fi movies with dystopian, crime-ridden settings, this is ultimately a good thing, because while the RoboCop movies might be fun to watch, the world they're set in wouldn't be a fun place to actually live.
A striking mash-up of sci-fi and Western – with some gritty, violent action scenes added for good measure – Logan is set in a version of 2029 that seems desolate and grim. Logan/Wolverine is living out a grim existence, feeling downtrodden, experiencing his powers deteriorate and caring for Charles Xavier, who's similarly seen better days.
The loneliness of the world and the character fans follow within it is one of the things that makes Logan stand out among other superhero movies. It's dark and often downbeat, but captures an eerie future that's not quite dystopian but feels far from great, especially for the increasingly rare mutants who the movie focuses on.
Ghost in the Shell is a huge franchise, originally beginning as a manga that's been adapted into anime films, more than one anime series, and a live-action American adaptation. Given how many stories it tells, it understandably spans more than one year, but the well-known 1995 film is at least specified to take place in 2029.
The movie's focus on cyborgs who combat crime makes it comparable to RoboCop, though the tone, style and themes explored differ greatly. Like RoboCop, the world of Ghost in the Shell and the technology it showcases feels unlikely to come true by the decade's end, but again, that's probably for the best.
Even though the Terminator series is about a futuristic war caused by a machine uprising, most of it's not set in that far-off future. 2029 is said to be the year that the machines take over, with various people and robots traveling backward in time to try and prevent or cause (depending on the side) the conflict from happening.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day might be the film that gives the most memorable depiction of this version of 2029, with the increased budget allowing more of the future war to be shown, compared to the first Terminator. We can only hope that machines never become advanced enough to declare war on the human race as they do in the Terminator films, though AI technology does continue to get more and more advanced every year…
NEXT: 'White Noise' and Other Great, Strange Disaster Movies
Jeremy is an omnivore when it comes to movies. He’ll gladly watch and write about almost anything, from old Godzilla films to gangster flicks to samurai movies to classic musicals to the French New Wave to the MCU. When he’s not writing lists for Collider, he also likes to upload film reviews to his Letterboxd profile (username: Jeremy Urquhart) and Instagram account.