One of the many repercussions of the global pandemic is that it has made planning for the future extremely tough. That tropical vacation you’re saving for this summer? Who knows whether you’ll be able to fly to that country at that time. That mid-January drink with buddies? Better hope nothing changes before then.
However, in the Before Times, science fiction was busy imagining what the world would look like, circa 2022. How accurate were their best efforts? While we’ve still got 12 full months for all the prophecies to come true, as the New Year commences we can start to assess the accuracy of five movies set in the once-far future world of 2022:
Charlton Heston’s most famous science fiction movie, set in a dystopian future version of Earth, is 1968’s Planet of the Apes. But Soylent Green, released in 1973, is by far bleaker — and, notwithstanding the slim chance of a simian takeover in 2022, more prescient. The movie takes place in a future (well, present) world in which overpopulation, climate catastrophe, and pollution mean that regular folks subsist on a diet of wafers made by the titular Soylent Corporation.
The corporation’s latest product, called Soylent Green, is a nutritious foodstuff that’s supposedly made from ocean plankton, but which (spoiler alert) turns out to be made from human flesh. Cue the famous line: “Soylent Green is people!”
In real life: The climate crisis backdrop seems particularly on the money, even if things haven’t quite reached the sweltering all-year-summer world the movie depicts. The part about alternative, unusual foodstuffs certainly rings true as well, though – whether it’s seafood made out of red algae (served, at least at one point, in the Alphabet cafeteria), lab-grown meat, calls to eat insects, or the bleedable Impossible Burger.
True, none of those are in any way equivalent to cannibalism, but it’s also probably fair to say you wouldn’t blink twice if you read that a Y Combinator startup was launching a new wafer product that promises to give you all the natural nutrients your body needs. Heck, there’s already a food company called Soylent that’s doing great business. One sample testimonial quoted on its website: “I’ve eaten Soylent for 3 years. Here’s how it changed me.”
The 2013 movie The Purge was set in the year 2022, making it a far nearer-term future at the time of filming than 2022 seemed when Soylent Green was shot. The 2022 of The Purge universe depicts a United States in which a totalitarian party has taken over and turned it into a near crime-free world with unemployment rates at around 1%.
Oh, yes, and if that sounds better than current life, it should be balanced by the fact that they’ve also passed a law that makes any crime legal for one night per year. So, you know, a mixed bag, really.
In real life: Crime hasn’t been erased and the pandemic has had a big impact on employment: both unplanned (businesses struggling in the wake of closures) and more planned (people resigning from their jobs in large numbers to pursue other things.) Unemployment certainly isn’t at 1 percent, though.
It would be wrong to say that politics doesn’t have a hint of dystopia at times in the real 2022. On the plus side, political discourse is more about whether President Biden should continue pushing his Build Back Better social spending legislation in the face of challenges than on whether making murder socially acceptable once a year is a good idea.
Still, scenes of people locked inside their homes while mask-wearers rove largely empty streets could, frankly, come from either version of 2022.
The 2022 depicted in Alien Intruder looks a whole lot like a straight-to-video sci-fi movie made in 1993. The film is about four convicts with life sentences who are sent on a deep space rescue mission led by Billy Dee Williams (or, at least, a character played by him). On the way, they’re allowed to spend their time in virtual reality environments, living out assorted sexual fantasies. However, when a mystery woman called Ariel appears first in VR and then in reality, the crew starts to turn on one another.
Think of it as a mixture of Suicide Squad, Ex Machina, and [insert spaceship drama of your choice], but not as good as that billing suggests. They also use very chunky laptops from a future in which the MacBook Air never existed. (Then again, maybe using 1990s-era laptops is one of the many ways future convicts are punished.)
In real life: Space trash is a real problem in 2022, just as it evidently was in 1993 when Alien Intruder was made. Of course, in 2022, space trash literally describes the problem of orbiting detritus from satellites and rockets, rather than simply junky sci-fi movies.
As to whether Alien Intruder accurately predicted the real 2022, the best you can say is that both space travel and virtual reality continue to be areas that are being explored. Prisoners aren’t, as far as we’re aware, being sent on deep space missions, however.
If you were really bold, you could possibly make an argument that Alien Intruder’s plot serves as an analogy for the world of fake news, in which concepts that spread through the virtual world end up driving us apart. Probably not enough that we should cast Nick Stone, the writer of Alien Intruder, as a modern-day Nostradamus, though.
On a positive note, Billy Dee Williams remains on our screens in the real 2022.
Speaking of Star Wars alumni, Mark Hamill’s 1993 included his very own straight-to-video sci-fi thriller set partially in 2022. In Time Runner, Hamill plays a soldier from the far-flung year of 2022 who travels back through time to save the world (“A new kind of terminator,” intones the movie trailer, over a distinctly sound-alike ripoff theme, just in case you wondered which movie franchise this was riffing on).
To do this he must stop a full-on alien invasion which begins with aliens who pose as humans that look like regular humans. That’s a good way to save on the alien effects budget if you can make it work!
In real life: We can’t really comment on the veracity of the “is the world’s ruling elite secretly a race of extraterrestrials?” conspiracy theory. But, if it is true, it’s not quite as blatant as it is in this movie.
There’s not a whole lot to say about the rest of 2022 depicted in Time Runner, aside from that it looks like a budget version of a certain dystopian future imagined by James Cameron. And that 1990s hairstyles are, like assorted other 1990s nostalgia, probably coming back in vogue. Not sure if that one counts as a successful prediction.
Independence Day writer and producer Dean Devlin made his directorial debut with this 2017 disaster movie about freak weather events caused by weather-controlling satellites put in place to, err, stop freak weather events. Gerard Butler rushes around trying to stop a series of CGI-heavy disasters from obliterating parts of the planet.
In real life: Seeing as Geostorm was only released in 2017 (although it was filmed in 2014 and 2015), it’s by far the newest film on this list – meaning the shortest period of time between its filming and the 2022 year in which it’s set. For that reason, it’s no surprise that it has a 2022 that looks (at least pre-geostorms) more like the actual 2022 than some of the earlier, more speculative entries on this list.
The science part of things is a whole lot shakier. With that said, climate engineering research does have its basis in reality, while the last few years have increasingly highlighted how terrifyingly commonplace extreme weather events are. Unfortunately, in the real world, solutions will have to involve more than just Gerard Butler’s stubbled jawline.