In the popular culture timeline, there has always been something magical about the 2000s. Those three round zeros, so daringly potent with content and meaning, have been in the storytelling sights of filmmakers for, well, forever, and have signaled a potential of three extra zeros to the box-office returns in many a producer’s wet dream. For writers, the 2000s have always seemed to be the distant future, even as we approached the new millennium itself, and there’s been no limit to the potential technologies, events and societies dreamed up to fit this sudden leap in our evolution. Below, we present the ten movies set in the 2000s that predicted something incredible, which, perhaps sadly, did not come true.
A note on dates
We only chose movies that have an actual date attached to them, so anything made in the ‘80s or ‘90s and set “in the near future”, or “in several years time” did not qualify, though you can see the honorable mentions for a few of these choice cuts below.
Setting the Stage: Escape From New York (1981)
The Premise: The hands-down best (and perhaps only, with the notable exception of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and that disaster hadn’t even happened yet – or had it??!) post-apocalyptic imagining set in the 1990s, John Carpenter’s seminal film had the balls to make Manhattan Island a maximum security prison overrun with cracked-out gangs (which probably felt a lot closer to reality in the drug-fueled crime spikes in the early ‘80s), cast the bad-ass-motherfucker Isaac Hayes as “The Duke”, put an optical sight on an Uzi, land a glider on the roof of the World Trade Center, and enlist a one-eyed white dude with kneepads and microscopic explosives in his arteries named “Snake” Plissken to save the POTUS and the future of humanity by recovering the secret to free nuclear fusion technology contained on an – wait for it – audio cassette tape!
Crazy: Among other things, that Hartford is now the capital of the country. Also, that terrorists could seize control of a plane and crash it into New York. That could never happen.
But, awesome (?): As noted here, there was a massive increase in the 1990s of incredible mustaches. They missed the mark by a few years shy, but the prediction of a resurgence of upper-lip facial hair in hipster ‘hoods nationwide was prescient. And the Duke’s Cadillac, with chandeliers on the hood, was pretty cool too.
And now for the list.
10. Strange Days (1995)
The Premise: While this film technically does not take place during the 2000s (at least until the last five minutes or so), it is so wrapped up in millennial fervor that it merited inclusion. The last days of 1999 are quickly approaching, and revolution is at hand. A cop turned SQUID (Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices, doye) dealer, Lenny, gets wind of a conspiracy by the LAPD of murdering the leader of the political unrest, a rapper named Jeriko One (hello Tupac death conspiracy/Rodney King + corresponding LA riots much?). He must also save his ex-girlfriend from the evil machinations of a recording-industry douchebag. Yes, I assure you this is fiction.
Crazy: I’m a huge hip-hop fan, but I’m sorry, the political stage of the genre is over in America. If Public Enemy couldn’t start the revolution, who could? Also, mini-discs. Sooo last century. Other than that I think Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) got the mood/setting pretty right.
But, awesome (?): The SQUID is the coolest drug idea ever. You get jacked into someone else’s physical/emotional/pyschological state using a facehugger of the head. Potential for addiction? Massive. Potential for a hangover/arrest/brain damage? Minimal.
9. Timecop (1994)
The Premise: The first entry to the list to contain time-travel as a plot device overlooked one important factor – mullets will not be cool in the 2000s. Other than that, it’s a rocking good time, with Jean-Claude Van Damme kicking and shooting his way back and forth in time uncovering the conspiracies and time-jacking of a corrupt Senator (never heard of that concept, no sirree). Perhaps in a nod to the Delorean from Back To The Future, in order to time travel one must get in a kind of rocket-powered kiddie train, which then accelerates towards a brick wall and then “zow”, you’re in 1994 (or whenever).
Crazy: Time travel gets invented in 1994, and people only start using it to commit crimes ten years later? C’mon people, get with the program. Or as Biff would say: “Hello, McFly!” Also, this is the highest-grossing Van-Damme flick to date (some $100,000,000+ worldwide). Holy moly. What happened to The Quest?
But, awesome (?): All of the signature Van-Damme cliches are in full effect – including “the split” and the “butt shot”. For the ultimate in mulleted Van-Dammage, I suggest John Woo’s Hard Target. Seriously, though, going back in time to mess around would be a lot of fun.
8. Rollerball (2002)
The Premise: In classic irony, a political discussion of a corporate dystopia depicted in the 1975 original film is updated (to 2005) to forgo questioning of the elitist class in lieu of gratuitous shots of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, tough-guy talk from an alarmingly manicured LL Cool J, Rollerblades, and a soundtrack that includes Rob Zombie and Godsmack – all for, you guessed it, more pop-cultural appeal and thus, greater profits for the real-life media empire MGM. The titular game involves, as Wikipedia puts it: “an extraordinarily violent extension of roller derby involving motorcycles, a metal ball, and many trappings of the World Wrestling Federation.” Need I say more?
Crazy: Any “extreme” sport portrayed in a feature film in any other context than it’s current existence is DOA. Gleaming The Cube got it right, Rollerball not so much. Also, while it’s undoubted that some seriously effed-up stuff is going on in the movie’s setting of Kazakhstan in 2005, dorks on skates killing each other is probably not it.
But, awesome (?): I could be wrong. Maybe there IS a secret network of sadomasochistic fruit-booters in central Asia tossing each other around a halfpipe with stripes painted on it to loud music (and I’m not even talking about Abu Ghraib). But a Tomatometer score of 3% is not exactly motivating me to find out.
7. Escape From LA (1996)
The Premise: While the actual events of this sequel to aforementioned masterpiece Escape From New York occur in 2013 (man Kurt Russel ages well), it is events in the year 2000 – namely a massive earthquake that separates greater Los Angeles from the rest of the state, and the election of a religious fundamentalist making doomsday predictions as President (who would’ve thought they’d get it SO RIGHT) – that merit its inclusion in this list. Once again, master of the one-eyed-one-liner Snake Plissken is injected with some kind of time-delayed personal hygiene catastrophe and sent into the mix to get the bad guys, who have the remote control, just like at home with the fam. (In this case, the remote control happens to be a link to a satellite super weapon controlled by the POTUS but stolen by his daughter, Utopia, who wants to use it to help Peruvian revolutionaries take over the country. Or something like that.)
Crazy: SPOILER ALERT: This movie ends exactly the same way as the first one, except with holograms. Also, as we now know from 2012, the earthquake that breaks off California will run through Westwood, not the San Gabriel Valley, and the entire city will slide into the ocean like the Titanic. Furthermore, no white man could do this.
But, awesome (?): This movie has perhaps the most unflinching tongue-in-cheek overuse of green-screens ever conceived, resulting in pure, unadulterated awesomeness, like surfing a tsunami and jumping onto Steve Buscemi’s El Dorado.
6. Contact (1997)
The Premise: SETI (the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, aka ET phone tappers and the laughingstock of NASA), finally earns its tax dollars when, in 1998, a signal from deep space containing plans to create a massive intergalactic spinning thingy (in 2003ish) are discovered. The machine is called, cryptically, “The Machine”, which, in version 1.0 (in Florida, where else?) is blown up by a religious fanatic (see: Escape From LA), and, in version 2.0 (in Japan, where else?), Jodie Foster is zip-zapped 26 light years away to Vega where she catches up on her QT with dear old dad. Or not.
Crazy: This film is based on a story by Carl Sagan, the super smart astrophysicist and noted agnostic, and so it is probably the most based in scientific possibility of this whole list. That said, the aliens have not called, and if they did, there’s no way a smart, pretty scientist would get to go on that thing, and Warren Buffet (the obvious real-life counterpart to the film’s mysterious billionaire bankroller of “The Machine” 2.0) is not nearly idealistic enough, nor likely to see the financial incentive of building it in the first place. The whole “religion ruins everything science ever figured out” thing is also pretty far-fetched. I mean, look how intelligent design won the debate against that pesky “evolution” stuff. DOMINATING!
But, awesome (?): The Machine is one of the coolest stargate-type contraptions I’ve seen on film, and it’d be super sweet just to see that thing turning. Also, after watching this video, I’m pretty hopeful there’s other life out there, and, well, I want them to holler at us, preferably sometime soon.
P.S. Jodie Foster gets Rick Roll’d FTW!
5. Battle Royale (2000)
The Premise: In another likely post-economic-crash scenario set “at the dawn of the new millennium”, those docile and obedient Japanese youth of lore are put into a kill-or-be-killed island match where childish jealousies, true love, boy-band hairstyles, daring wits, and short skirts – not to mention axes, exploding collars, knives, guns, a crossbow, poison and other cute otaku-gomi – all play a role in deciding who will survive the bloodbath imposed on them by their schoolmasters, in collaboration with the military government. With enough plot twists to rival any Telemundo soap and delicious irony (not to mention gallons of blood) dripping from every scene, this is what’s in store for us if Barry Obama can’t hold down the unemployment rate.
Crazy: As fucked up as the Japanese educational system (by whom I was employed for a year) can be, I seriously doubt they would go this far to humiliate and demoralize their own children with the simple goal of keeping them obedient. What do you think video games and tentacle porn were invented for anyway?
But, awesome (?): Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series references this film ad nauseum, and if you hated Kill Bill for its self-conscious orgy of staged irony (which makes it un-ironic, doye) and endless conversations about basically nothing, this is the payoff you’ve been waiting for. Plus you get to watch cute 13 year-olds (played by 17 year-olds!) wrestle in their sailor suits. Case closed.
Fun fact: Did you know that Kitano (“Beat”) Takeshi is a comedian and game show host IRL? He carries around a plastic hammer and wears a bowlcut wig. Moshi-moshi!
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The Premise: The granddaddy of all so-called “space operas”, Stanley Kubrick’s tale of a spacefaring future where a computer goes haywire and takes over the helm of an astronaut’s sanity is the thinking man’s Terminator. Like other deep thoughts, it’s based on a really good book, this one by Arthur C. Clarke, and the film goes where no filmmaker has gone before – into an ambiguous and epic consideration of evolution, mankind’s role in the universe, artificial intelligence and extraterrestrial life. The monolith that makes the apes (and HAL 9000) go crazy, while portrayed in the film as an artifact of an alien race, is a symbol – but of what is open to lasting interpretation, which, in addition to the strong basis in science, gives this film legs well beyond its sell-by date.
Crazy: “Dear staff: due to budget cutbacks, there is no way the spacious interiors, attractive flight attendant uniforms and stylish retro furniture on the space station will be spared the red pen.” Also, while the monolith in the film shows up in the darndest places (pre-history, the moon, Jupiter), my dad already has one in the den. It’s called a Pioneer Elite Kuro and damn does that thing make you want to do nothing but obey its commands. Evil is amongst us.
But, awesome (?): Who else but Kubrick could make the line “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” one of the creepiest (and thus coolest) things to come out of cinema in 40+ years? And the trailing shot of the astronaut running along the curved interior of the ship is mind-blowing to this day. I’d also like to think that during all actual spacewalks, the music of Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss Jr. and Gyorgy Ligeti is playing on the astronauts’ iPods.
3. Freejack (1992)
The Premise: Oh haro there! It’s 2009 and we have a new technology for your old and rich but dying friends: we’ll stick your brain/shell of a soul in the body of a Person Who Was About To Die But Got Time Traveled To Our Time (hereforth known as “PWWATDBGTTTOT”) from 1991. Many people have already undergone this procedure, including R. Kelly and Sarah Palin. To do this we’ll be hiring time traveling mercenaries called “bonejackers”. Those who refuse the lobotomy and escape, such as Academy Award winner Emilio Estevez, are called “freejacks” and will subsequently try to convince their ex-girlfriend (that foxy Rene Russo, now 15 years his senior) to take them back. We also deal with Aging Rockers Who Sold Out To Become Corporate Mercenaries (“ARWSOTBCM”s) such as Mick Jagger. After that, things get pretty complex.
Crazy: Time traveling mercenaries? Mick Jagger with power over anything but a microphone and women’s undergarments? Rene Russo as M.I.L.F.? These things become trivial when you realize that YOU TOO can have your brain/shell of a soul implanted in the lithe young body OF YOUR DREAMS right here in 2009! Units are flying out the door! Come on down today! Sale ends at midnight on Dec. 31!
But, awesome (?): The reviewers who took such a dismal shine to this film forgot one thing: that it’s the single most convoluted, complex, and thus intriguingly original story in this entire decade of film predictions, thus making it awesome. If I were an old dude, I’d totally want to have my brain/shell of a soul implanted in Emilio Estevez. I mean, just imagine all the blow that guy does. And did I mention his girlfriend is Rene Russo?
2. Lik Wong a.k.a. Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)
The Premise: Most of the films on this list you’ve probably seen. This one you haven’t. Because this is the only film to have garnered the Hong Kong film rating board equivalent of an NC-17 – and not for erotic content. No, this is the bloodiest, gnarliest, campiest kung-fu movie ever made, and I have certainly seen my share. It takes place in what seems to be a privatized North Korean prison in 2001 (AGAIN with the hating on corporations! Really they’re here for the public good, can’t you see that?), complete with a cement-filling cell and a ceiling-press cell and controlled by a “Gang of Four” who are using it to grow poppies, pay off prison officials, murder snitches (and random old and/or effeminate inmates) and cackle mysteriously (no relation to the similar doings of the “Gang of Ten“). The plot would take longer than watching the actual movie to explain, but the gist of it is that Riki, our hero, needs to kill everybody, in as many bloody ways as fucking possible, to avenge the heroin-junkie-chase-induced suicide of his sister/girlfriend, to free the surviving inmates (apparently on infinite respawn) and to topple the corrupt drug kingpin warden. Kids: just say no to drugs.
Crazy: This kid Riki has some serious chi-kung skills. He can retie a sliced tendon in his right arm with just his teeth and left hand. He can punch a hole (or three) through your chest. He can have innumerable small holes punched in his flesh, via bullets, knitting needles or a double-hook hand, have razor blades stuffed in his mouth, glass dust sprayed in his eyes and be buried alive and still come out ready to uppercut your chin off or bitch-slap your eyeball out. The final fight is between Riki and the receding hairline of the Warden, who, for some unexplained reason, mutates into a balding version of the fucking Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I won’t tell you which one of them gets forced into a meat grinder, ’cause I want you to watch it.
But, awesome (?): Riki is also a flautist.
1. Death Race 2000 (1975)
The Premise: You knew it was coming. The film that singlehandedly established the careers of David Carradine (RIP) and Sylvester Stallone remains the defining vision of what life-if-Reagan-gets-elected would look like. In the year 2000, a fascist military state ruled by a religious zealot (keep telling yourself it’s just a dream) uses a televised transcontinental 3-day race to keep the populace docile (and agile). The gladiators, in tricked-out clown cars, score points not just for their speed, but by how many innocent pedestrians they can run down. Of course, there’s a resistance movement, led by the awkwardly-hairstyled Thomasina Paine, and the seemingly cold-hearted Frankenstein gets into the back seat with Annie, Paine’s great-granddaughter, for the good of the people.
Crazy: Apparently, not just the banning of racing and the economic collapse, but also the poor telephone service is blamed on the country’s greatest enemy, France. Also: even in the distant future, even being sown together from the body parts of great departed racers and an array of high tech robots, even with a hand that turns into a grenade, even with a car that looks like a stegosaurus, there’s no fucking way David Carradine could be considered a sex-symbol.
But, awesome (?): The ultimate wet dream of suburban drivers, who doesn’t assign point values to people crossing in front of you? Life’s a game, as they say. This quote sums up this film’s entire raison d’être: Frankenstein: “You want to offer me your body, is that it? You want to make love to me because I drive a monster and wear this costume?” Girl: “No, Mr. Frankenstein. That wouldn’t be fair to your navigator. It’s taken her years of hard work to earn that privilege.” Can I get a hell yeah?
There are a whole slew of films that didn’t make this list because their creators had half a brain and set them “in the near future”, thereby inoculating themselves from letting their false predictions be proved wrong. Personally, after seeing Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), I couldn’t wait to see if things “panned out” in the late ’90s with that whole Skynet nuclear war prediction. But I can see the logic of giving your film legs beyond an arbitrary date.
Some of these, such as Gattaca, where liberal eugenics determines society’s hierarchy, could arguably be set in the 2000s. RoboCop, on the other hand, fails to pass muster. As Cracked.com put it, when discussing the plodding-bionic-man-as-supercop dystopia: “a careful analysis of the fashions, haircuts, vehicles, and computers seen in this 1987 movie lead us to believe it took place no later than 1988.” A similarly dated feel undermines John Carpenter’s other classic, They Live (1988), which, while not exactly a “crazy prediction” movie, still contends, á la Timecop, that mullets will never go out of style.
Looking Forward to the Next Decade
Subscribe to our RSS feed and come on back to PopTen in, well, ten years’ time for the next installment of “Movies That Predicted Crazy Shit That Didn’t Happen (But Might Be Awesome If It Did)”, featuring:
And finally, at long last: