2019 was the year Blade Runner, Akira and The Island took place, but we’re a long way from a society of Replicants or a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk world filled with biker gangs.
It seems that cinema might not be the greatest predictor of the future. We still don’t really have the hover boards we were promised in Back to the Future Part II and they’re running almost five years late at this point.
There’s something of a sci-fi quality about 2020 which made it seem impossibly far away right up until it actually happened, and it was impossibly more dystopian than we could have ever predicted.
Here’s what the movies — good and bad, big and small — thought would happen in 2020.
There were definitely aliens on the way, if movies are anything to go by. The premise of 2017’s A Quiet Place — and its terrifying-looking sequel due in 2020, but now coming in 2021 — focuses on a world in which human beings must remain silent in order to avoid the danger posed by aurally-sensitive aliens, who have colonised the Earth. Suddenly, every noise is potentially fatal, which is a problem if someone keeps leaving upturned nails lying around on staircases.
Meanwhile, in the bonkers time loop sci-fi Edge of Tomorrow from 2014, Tom Cruise plays a PR man suddenly thrust into a human-alien conflict and forced to relive the same day over and over again. Doug Liman’s movie, based on the brilliantly named Japanese novel All You Need is Kill, is set in 2020 but states that the aliens arrived five years earlier. So we might be okay on that front.
Based on Hollywood predictions, Emily Blunt was either going to become a terrified mother fighting off aliens, or a mech-suited soldier fighting off aliens. Either way, the movies got it wrong both times.
Super cool mechanical exoskeletons
Speaking of Edge of Tomorrow, 2020 marked the year in the human-alien war that the Earthlings manage to turn the tide with the development of very cool, very advanced mechanical exoskeletons for use on the battlefield. It is these suits which allow the humans to win a major conflict prior to the addition of Tom Cruise’s PR man to the military. Interestingly, the production designer Oliver Scholl and his team looked at prototypes for exoskeleton suits in the real world to inspire the sci-fi versions.
For Cruise and Emily Blunt, though, wearing the suits was no picnic. They weighed an average of 39 kilos, with one of the heaviest examples tipping the scales at 59 kilos due to the addition of a rocket launcher and sniper rifle. The actors were lifted in the air by chains between takes so they didn’t have to shoulder all of that weight for too long. It might be a while before the suits are battlefield ready, so let’s hope those aliens stay away.
Mars and space colonies
Cinema’s fascination with space travel has always seemed to assume that humanity’s exploration of the stars would continue exponentially after man landed on the moon. Even before Neil Armstrong made his small step, though, 1965 sci-fi Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet had decided that human colonies on the moon would be de rigeur by 2020. It’s only when humans try to make it to Venus, the Roger Corman-produced film theorises, that monsters will start to attack.
Brian de Palma’s widely panned Mission to Mars from the year 2000 — based on a Disneyland attraction — suggested that the first manned flight to Mars would end very badly indeed, while the Spanish film Stranded, released just a year later, features a similar set of astronauts stranded on the surface of the red planet after a crash landing.
In terms of real world plausibility, manned exploration of Earth’s closest neighbour has often been mooted. Recent years have seen Elon Musk, Barack Obama and the Donald Trump administration all pledge to get human beings to Mars. Musk fancies his chances at getting people there by 2024, while the two most recent Presidents of the United States have set the 2030s as a target.
Monsters from below
If there isn’t enough of a threat posed by alien invaders from above, cinema also suggested that a threat may emerge from beneath the Earth’s surface itself. In 2013’s Pacific Rim from Guillermo del Toro, a plethora of massive, angry monsters known as Kaiju emerge from “The Breach” in the Pacific Ocean. Humans build the robotic Jaegers to fight back — more on them later — and, in 2020, the film introduces the audience to the ill-fated sibling pilots of the fighting robot Gipsy Danger. As far as we all know, there haven’t been any rumblings in the Pacific just yet.
Almost more outlandish is the plot of the 2002 movie Reign of Fire, which suggests that there’s a hidden population of dinosaurs hibernating somewhere within the Earth. It’s set in 2020, decades after the initial drilling and with the dragons now the dominant species. Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale are among the surviving humans.
And the reason these dragons escaped? Drilling for the London Underground. It’s all TfL’s fault. First, delays on the Northern Line and now murderous, fire-breathing dragons. See it, say it, scorched it.
With so many vicious beasts marauding around the Earth this year, human beings will naturally have to meet them in some way. Well, cinema suggests that the solution is really big robots with elite level fighting skills. In Pacific Rim, it’s the Jaegers — metallic behemoths so huge that they require two pilots, connected and synchronised via a mental link.
Meanwhile, in the oddball 2011 sports movie Real Steel, there’s a rather different use for giant robots. That film’s big sci-fi conceit is that human boxers in 2020 have been replaced by fighting machines. There’s no life or death battle here, but there are lots of big machines hitting each other really hard, with far more coherence than the average Transformers film. That’s the sort of future we want to live in.
Most future-set movies start from a pretty bleak place, whether it’s dragons dominating the globe or some sort of apocalypse ravaging society. In the 2000 TV movie Code Name Phoenix, however, the starting point is a utopian Earth in which world peace has been achieved. Of course, there’s a threat to that equilibrium in the shape of a virus that halts the human ageing process, and could therefore destabilise the planet. But it starts nicely at least. Let’s focus on the peace and stuff.
Natural Disasters and War
In stark contrast to the world peace of Code Name Phoenix, the trashy-titled 1983 Italian film 2020 Texas Gladiators opens in a land — Texas, obviously — that has been ravaged by the impact of wars and numerous natural disasters. Law and order have been thrown aside and criminal gangs dominate, with the remaining peaceful people gathering around churches. There’s eventually something of a happy ending in which a safe haven is formed, but there’s a lot of misery along the way.
Lasting peace in the Korean Peninsula seems a long way off but, according to the 2002 South Korean film Yesterday, it’s due to happen this year. The movie follows special investigations officers on the hunt for a serial killer called Goliath, but its most intriguing wrinkle is the idea that North Korea and South Korea have managed to put their differences aside and unify.
It’s not entirely out of the question either, with reunification a long-term goal in the region. In 2018, the South Korean president Moon Jae-in proposed that the two nations be brought back together by 2045.
Total Human Extinction
Don’t let the presence of Luke Goss from 80s boyband Bros fool you, 2009 Syfy channel movie Annihilation Earth is an entirely serious attempt to predict the future. Probably.
Read more: Bros brothers tease film biopic
Goss plays the leader of a team of scientists who investigate the deadly explosion of a particle accelerator in 2020 and soon discover the possibility of similar explosions at other facilities which, if triggered, could destroy the planet. Somewhat surprisingly, that’s exactly what happens, and the movie culminates with pieces of what was once Earth floating in space, while the word “extinction” appears on screen.
As bleak science-fiction goes, it’s pretty dark. Things don’t get much worse than the drummer from Bros blowing up the planet. Suddenly, everything else looks optimistic in perspective. We’d take the dragons over this.
Now this one was actually happening. Bizarrely and impressively, the 1988 anime classic Akira managed to predict the location of the 2020 Olympics. The film is set in the rebuilt, post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo in 2019, but a billboard on show in one scene declares that construction is taking place on the stadium for the 2020 Olympics in the city.
Read more: Troubled timeline of the live-action Akira
Back in reality, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games were due to take place in Tokyo — albeit one rather less plagued by biker gangs than in Katsuhiro Otomo’s story. However, the film failed the predict they would be cancelled due to the global coronavirus pandemic.