If you’re gripped with terror at the uncertainty of the coming year, fear not! A dozen or so movies made over the last half-century take place in 2020, so we have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen.
For the most part, that means grandiose journeys in the stars and disaster here at home.
From the mid-20th century right up to 2020’s doorstep, films have mostly envisioned that our current time would be spent contemplating the farther reaches of the galaxy in one form or another: Either by visiting it, or having it visited upon us. That, and dragons.
Here are 6 movies with visions of a future that’s here today.
Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet 1965
Roger Corman’s vision for 2020? Dinosaurs.
This cheap-o ’60s sci-fi adventure sends astronauts all the way to Venus the moon’s been colonized, so no biggie where they discover a throwback planet full of reptilian monsters trying to eat them. To call it a remake of the Soviet Planeta Bur doesn’t really capture the full picture. Corman and friends shot new footage with Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue as the leads and spliced in all the other footage from Planeta Bur itself, redubbing the Russian for English.
In other words, Corman predicted remix culture.
Mission to Mars 2001
With this and Stranded, the early 2000s thought that 2020 would be really interested in sending people to Mars. Curiously, both movies had the same basic idea: going to Mars would be catastrophic, astronauts would die, and the ones that lived would learn that humankind used to live on Mars before we came to Earth.
It turns out that setting the trip in 2020 was only slightly aspirational. It’ll be a while before people are ready to go to Mars, but the Mars Rover holds global fascination, and, as if by sci-fi magic, we totally discovered flowing water on the red planet. Presumably, that means Don Cheadle is waiting for us up there.
Reign of Fire 2002
We might not have much time to concentrate on interstellar travel what with all the dragons filling the sky with fire and death. While most movies set in the future shoot for the excitement of space of the terror of techno-Dystopia, Reign of Fire imagined dragons re-emerging from their slumber with only Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey to stop them.
Think about that for a second. The world is on track for untold progress, we hold the entirety of human knowledge on a tiny block in our pocket, and then fire-breathing beasts just…come back? We go from 2001 to knight of the round table just like that. Except we’ve still got planes and guns. Still, I’d prefer that gigantic lizard-beasts don’t menace us this year. Flight cancellations would be maddening.
This direct-to-DVD-esque action movie’s bold vision for 2020 involves a unified Korea. That…has not happened.
It’s the major unexplored idea in an aggressively simple bad guy chase where an exhausted cop hunts down a serial killer who targets scientists because of some secret experiments that took place years before. In a way, the lack of exploration of North and South Korea come together ends up accidentally fascinating because the film largely deals with the realities of that reunion as the accepted norm and political backdrop for a boilerplate game of cat and mouse. The cops have some lightly advanced tech mostly weapons but otherwise its vision of 2020 - beyond the earth-shattering political change it barely talks about - remains startlingly non-futuristic.
Real Steel 2011
Not only should there be a Real Steel 2, there should have been robot fights at this level by now. Shawn Levy’s movie makes the future personal, focusing almost entirely on the intimate problems between a former boxing dynamo played by Hugh Jackman and his estranged son played by Dakota Goyo who re-enters the former’s life years after abandonment.
It’s an underdog sports story that sticks to the formula, flavored by hypercolored robots taking cues from human handlers, but the most interesting part is how the film essentially makes a bet on the very real sport of robot fighting becoming a heavily popular pasttime within about a non-fiction decade of its release. Of all the movies with a vision for 2020, this had the most promise to actually come true.
Edge of Tomorrow 2014
Here’s the deal. Edge of Tomorrow is a fantastic title. Evocative. Poetic. It creates the visual of someone achingly close to something prized without being able to attain it. Great title. There. I’ve said my piece.
It’s one thing, like Corman, to imagine a world a half-century into the future and another to set your 2014 movie six years later, especially when the warfighting tech and alien invasion circumstances are so brain-meltingly advanced. That also happened with the 2020 of Pacific Rim. The underlying message? We remain woefully unprepared for attacks from goo-filled aliens and Godzilla-sized monsters.
Then again, the military already started testing out exoskeletons, so maybe Edge of Tomorrow is not that far off. Now we just need time-bending aliens to land so we can harness their power.
For the most part, movies have largely been uninterested in 2020. The focus breaks down into three major categories: space travel that goes horribly wrong every time!, cool new weapons for shooting at people and/or non-terrestrial entities, and A Quiet Place, whose inciting incident of sound-hungry aliens attacking us could happen any minute now.
See! Don’t you feel better about 2020?
You should. We’re only two years away from Soylent Green.