Together in dystopian dreams: 8 eerily accurate visions of the future in movies

16 Jan 2016

Robots, artificial intelligence and villains - the future is what we make it, or is it?

From Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis to George Orwell’s 1984, past visions of the future are coming true whether we like to admit it or not.

Mass armies of worker bees, spied on by the state or big corporations, drugged by marketing into believing in a better tomorrow … that sounds like today.

But these were the terrifying visions of tomorrow dreamed up yesterday by movie makers and writers.

Well, it’s 2016 and humans are just data, numbers on a balance sheet for businesses and are being brainwashed by consumerism and marketing into believing they are the ones who make choices.

This is despite working every hour (thanks to email and the cloud), surrendering their identity to be spied on (social media) and getting locked into commitments that tie them to corporations for much of their healthy lives (student loans, mobile phone subscriptions, mortgages) and more.

As the world’s population soars, the truth is choices are becoming more and more limited and people are running to stand still just to pay rent, get the right college degrees, if they are lucky start a family and be sated with trinkets like smartphones and be so, so grateful in their social media posts. Just like hipsters, they think they are not conforming, but they are.

If George Orwell knew what came to be he would be turning in his grave …

1. Metropolis


Metropolis is a 1927 silent science-fiction film directed by Fritz Lang and written by Lang and Thea von Harbou. Lang and von Harbou, who were married, wrote the screenplay in 1924, and the story was novelised by von Harbou in 1926.

It is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and examines a common science-fiction theme of the day: the social crisis between workers and owners in capitalism.

2. 1984

Be careful, the thought police might be watching and listening. George Orwell’s novel 1984 depicts a totalitarian future society in which a man (John Hurt) whose daily work is rewriting history for the Ministry of Truth tries to rebel by falling in love.

3. Brazil

Brazil is a 1985 dystopian science-fiction film directed by Terry Gilliam and stars Jonathan Pryce and features Robert de Niro, Kim Greist, Michael Palin and Bob Hoskins. The film centres on Sam Lowry, a man trying to find a woman who appears in his dreams while he is working in a mind-numbing job and living a life in a small apartment, set in a consumer-driven dystopian world in which there is an over-reliance on poorly maintained (and rather whimsical) machines. Sound familiar?

4. Gattaca

Gattaca is a 1997 American science-fiction film written and directed by Andrew Niccol. It stars Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law. The film presents a biopunk vision of a future society driven by eugenics where potential children are conceived through genetic manipulation to ensure they possess the best hereditary traits of their parents. The film centres on Vincent Freeman, played by Hawke, who was conceived outside the eugenics program and struggles to overcome genetic discrimination to realize his dream of travelling into space.

5. The Matrix

Written by the Wachowski Brothers and starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving and Joe Pantoliano, The Matrix depicts a dystopian future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality called The Matrix created by a computer to subdue the human population. It spawned a series of three movies with the first movie released in 1999. As virtual reality enters the fray in 2016, the series of movies’ central theme around what is real and what isn’t and who is actually in control matters more and more.

6. Minority Report

Minority Report is a 2002 American science-fiction film directed by Steven Spielberg set in the future starring Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell. Set in Washington DC, the police can apprehend criminals based on foreknowledge provided by psychics. The film’s central plot is the question of free will vs determinism. At a time when social media is urging us to say what is on our mind, the implications are dangerous.

7. A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Released in 2001, A.I. Artificial Intelligence is a touching story set in the late 21st century where global warming has flooded and wiped out coastal cities and has drastically reduced the human population. It is about a robot boy called David who was created to potentially replace a son called Martin who is ill and may die. An imprinting protocol creates a lasting love for the boy robot for his human mother. Unfortunately, for the robot boy, the real son Martin is cured of his illness and a series of unfortunate incidents lead to David being potentially being destroyed. The mother cannot bear to see David destroyed and so he is abandoned in a forest.

8. I, Robot

Released in 2004, I, Robot starring Will Smith depicts a future where humanoid robots serve humanity in every way possible. But suddenly and unexpectedly the machines rebel. The robots take over Chicago and other large US cities, as well as military installations.

As we enter the world of the internet of things, artificial intelligence, machine learning and drones and robots begin entering the mainstream, moral questions of what we will expect from robots and, of course, the economic consequences of machines doing all the work need to be debated.

We are being told the future is what you make it folks, but you can’t help but feel you’ve been had.


John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years