Setting Films in the Future: The Challenge

Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future Part II (Universal Pictures).

When it comes to setting films in the future, there’s a challenge that comes with dating it in which the technology is able to catch up.

This is a problem that comes with films such as Back to the Future and Blade Runner to name a few.  We don’t have flying cars.  Los Angeles hasn’t become a dystopia.  But somehow, Biff Tannen has been elected as the President of the United States.  I don’t think that Back to the Future screenwriters Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale could have anticipated this at all.  As for Blade Runner, screenwriters Hampton Fancher and David Peoples were working off of Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

While some of the technology has seemingly caught up with BTTF, others have not.  For one, where are the flying cars?  When the calendar hit October 21, 2015, flying cars had yet to arrive.  A huge disappointment if I must say.  On the communications front, there was a lot that the film got right.  This includes flat-screen televisions,  biometrics, and even the technology in which we communicate.

For the things that BTTF got right, the lack of flying cars may be the most disappointing.  If you were thinking of buying self-lacing shoes, forget it.  This was another area where the film got it wrong.  Apologies to Superman but phone booths are very much a thing of the past in 2015.  But according to the second BTTF film, they never went away!  The film depicts the use of fax machines and while email has largely taken over, fax machines still exist–just not quite in the way they were used in 1985.

Blade Runner
Blade Runner (Warner Bros. Pictures).

This brings us to Blade Runner.  The 1982 film was set in 2019.  Guess what?  It’s now 2019 and the dystopian LA in the film is far from reality.  While technology has come a long way, we’re still a ways off from having replicants walking among us.  The billboards–wow, is this more right than ever!  The world’s climate isn’t quite at the point as it is in the film but if we don’t take the needed action, it very well could reach that point.  I fear that pulling out of the Paris Accord will have disastrous consequences.

They did get some things right as people do talk to Siri and Alexa.  The film falls victim to similarities in BTTF in that public phone booths just don’t exist.

Meanwhile, 2020 will be the year that sci-fi sports film Real Steel took place.  The film was based on a short story, “Steel”, written by Richard Matheson in 1956.  The film sees human boxers being replaced by robots.  So far, humans have yet to be replaced by robots during boxing matches.

In spite of everything that both Back to the Future and Blade Runner got wrong, we’re still living in a reality where Biff Tannen is elected president.  How did we get here?

Both Back to the Future and Blade Runner are available on home video.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.