The 80s as a decade produced some of the best films the world has ever seen. Still, what if these films were more than just entertainment? What if they actually… predicted the future? From drones to mobile phones to hoverboards, it seems directors in the 80s were well ahead of their time, providing us with a spookily accurate insight into what the future would hold. Now, that future is upon us.
Many gadgets, devices and concepts that were once mere fantasy are now a reality, regardless of how bizarre they may have once seemed. We’ve rounded up our top picks of 80s films that managed to accurately predict the future.
20. The Terminator – Military drones
James Cameron’s 1984 breakthrough hit The Terminator presented us with a bleak future in which intelligent technology rules over humanity. While this AI apocalypse has thankfully not come to pass (yet), The Terminator did present at least one technological development that is now a reality. In the film’s future war scenes, there are drones aplenty, wreaking their destruction on the ground below and leaving chaos in their wake.
Drone warfare is very much a reality today, ever since the first ever military drone was put to the test in 2002, with Osama bin Laden touted as its first target. Despite widespread controversy over the use of drones in warfare, the practical applications of the technology in everyday life have proved many and varied. Outside of the military, members of the general public have been known to use drones for recreation, photography and even dog walking.
19. Airplane II – Airport body scanners
In the 21st century, walking through body scanners at the airport is just a standard part of one’s flying experience. However back when 1982 comedy sequel Airplane II featured the novel idea of body scanners, it was met with amusement and regarded as a gentle running gag. Of course, given the nature of the Airplane movies, their imaginary body scanner shows the naked torso of those who pass through it.
When the TSA first debuted this nifty device 30 years after the release of Airplane II, it caused an uproar. Happily, these days scanners in the US generate an animated image to save passengers their modesty. Airplane II also points at a new form of tourism – space travel – which promises to become a wider reality at some point in the near future.
18. Weird Science – 3D printing
1985’s Weird Science can certainly be said to have given us an accurate look at the future, in its vision of male losers turning to computer technology to satisfy their sexual urges. However, while we don’t have artificial life forms quite like Kelly LeBrock‘s Lisa just yet, the film did make one surprisingly prescient prediction. When Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith design Lisa on their home computer, they then bring her to life via what is essentially 3D printing.
At this point in time, 3D printing did not exist, and would seem to have just been a product of writer-director John Hughes’ imagination. In an eerie twist, just one year after Weird Science hit screens, the first 3D printer was patented, revolutionising the world of printing. No one’s built a person this way just yet, but 3D printing can be used to build complex machine parts as well as other practical and decorative items.
17. WarGames – Cyberwarfare
As quaint and primitive as it may look now, the mighty motherboard computers and gargantuan floppy discs of WarGames were cutting-edge tech at the time. John Badham’s thriller predicted the idea of cyber hacking before the internet was even a reality for the majority of us. However, in WarGames – which sees Matthew Broderick’s mischievous teen hacker unwittingly trigger a nuclear conflict – this hacking was slightly more innocuous than the weaponised calamity it has since become.
Although WarGames didn’t exactly explain the process behind the technology, the film’s depiction of cyber warfare was accurate and decidedly before its time. WarGames even had a significant impact on then-President Ronald Reagan, who ordered extensive research into cyber-security after seeing the film. The research Reagan ordered concluded that the film’s premise was plausible, which in turn saw the president sign a national security directive on telecommunications and automated information systems security.
16. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior – Resource wars
Although the concept of resource wars is hardly original, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior demonstrated the level of destruction they might eventually lead to. George Miller’s 1981 sequel to his 1979 breakthrough hit is set in an apocalyptic landscape where gangs battle one another for fossil fuels. Although things might not have quite gotten to the stage seen in The Road Warrior just yet, it certainly might not be far off. An ever-increasing population relying on finite resources like oil and coal was never going to end well.
It seems that wars over such resources, as seen in recent years in Iraq and some African nations, are likely to become even more prevalent in the coming years. However, the popular dress sense predicted by Mad Max 2 hasn’t become too commonplace yet – although honestly, we’re not sure whether to be happy or sad about that.
15. Star Trek IV – Transparent aluminium
Those who grew up watching Star Trek in its many forms would hope that plenty of the exciting things it predicted would have come to pass. 1986 movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home had some particularly exciting ideas, as it saw the iconic interstellar crew travel back in time to the 20th century in a cloaked Klingon warship. While time travel and cloaking are still a work in progress, one less exciting futuristic prediction from Star Trek IV has come to pass: transparent aluminium.
When James Doohan’s Mr Scott invented this handy metal back in 1986, we’re sure the Star Trek team had no idea it would actually come to fruition. Over 20 years later, transparent aluminium would become a reality when scientists at the University of Oxford zapped aluminium with x-rays. Aluminium oxynitride, to give it its full name, is marketed by the corporation Surmet under the brand name ALON.
14. The Running Man – Reality TV and ‘deepfake’ technology
1987’s The Running Man gave us a surprise glimpse into the future when it introduced the then-dystopian idea of reality TV, much to our horror. Based on a Stephen King novel, The Running Man concerns a group of prisoners who are hunted for sport in the eponymous game, with the ‘show’ being watched by millions of viewers. Luckily, reality TV isn’t at that stage in reality, but with the way things are heading, maybe we aren’t far off.
After all, the main action of The Running Man took place in 2019, and most of us will agree the world wasn’t quite that bad during the year in question. Still, certain other aspects of the movie proved prescient, such as how Schwarzenegger’s Ben Richards is convicted based on digitally altered footage. This would seem to predict the ‘deepfake’ technology that has proved so problematic in recent history.
13. Back to the Future Part II – Hoverboards
Few films offered up quite so tantalising a glimpse of our possible future than 1989’s sci-fi comedy sequel Back to the Future Part II. Although time travel isn’t yet a reality (to our knowledge), Back to the Future Part II did introduce the idea of hoverboards. These are most certainly real – although granted, today’s hoverboards do not work quite the way they’re depicted in the film.
Aside from this, the movie also features self-tying shoelaces, as well as a form of FaceTime, both of which actually exist today. Curiously, the film also seemed to predict the current obsession with 80s retro (which this site naturally advocates!), with one scene set in the Cafe 80s. Sadly, we still don’t have any flying cars with Mr Fusion converters on them, which is quite the disappointment…
12. Short Circuit – Army robots
Number 5, AKA Johnny-5, may very well be everyone’s favourite 80s movie robot. On top of being an iconic 80s film character, he also provided us with an insightful glimpse into the future. Recent years have seen the use of robots in the military increase massively, and many of these are indeed equipped with firearms. Unfortunately, today’s UGVs (unmanned ground vehicles), or army robots, are considerably more nefarious than the star of Short Circuit, and are not blessed with Johnny-5’s pacifist values.
However, at present the real robots are not equipped with the laser guns mounted onto Johnny-5 and his ‘siblings,’ so we can be grateful for that at least. Indeed, while armed robots are a thing, the bulk of today’s military robots are operated by remote control and do not have weapons of any kind.
11. Star Trek III – Mobile phones
We rejoin the crew of the Starship Enterprise – and again, one of the film’s simpler innovations have since become reality. This entry in the big-screen continuation of the small screen sci-fi saga sees the crew of the Enterprise go rogue. In doing so, they make use of what was to them fairly antiquated technology – handheld communicators, as seen in the 60s TV show.
Seeing this lit a fire under a fan of the series named Martin Cooper, an engineer at Motorola. Star Trek inspired Cooper to develop what became the very first handheld cellular mobile phone. As you might have noticed, Cooper’s idea really caught on – and today, there are well over five billion mobile phone owners around the globe.
10. Blade Runner – Digital billboards
Ridley Scott’s 1981 cult classic offers up another of the most striking visions of a possible future to come out of 80s cinema. Happily, as we’re now past the year 2019 (when the film is set), plenty that Blade Runner predicted hasn’t quite come to pass. Still, while there are no replicants fighting for their semi-human rights, the modern world has no shortage of digital billboard signs.
This technology, which is frequently seen but never commented on in the movie, is of course everywhere today, largely replacing old-fashioned printed billboard posters. Of course, the digital billboards of today don’t feature all the brands seen in Blade Runner – notably Atari and Pan Am – as these companies went out of business after the film was released, leading to urban legends about a Blade Runner ‘curse.’ Beyond this, Blade Runner is another future-set film that features people communicating by video calls, which of course is commonplace now.
9. Twins – Designer babies
1988 comedy Twins cast Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito as the unlikeliest pair of long-lost twins imaginable. Director Ivan Reitman’s film posits that Schwarzenegger’s Julius was the product of a genetic experiment to create the perfect human being – whilst DeVito’s Vincent was an unexpected side-effect. The film arrived a decade after the birth of Louise Brown, the first child born as a result of IVF treatment.
In the years since Twins, this technology has been explored further to the point that the term ‘designer baby’ – a child whose genetic make-up has been tampered with – has entered the vernacular. The ethical implications of such a process have made the technology hugely controversial, and legal efforts have been made to clamp down on possible exploitation. Even so, 2018 saw the birth of the first genetically modified babies in China: interestingly, these were twins, named Lulu and Nana.
8. Akira – The cancellation of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Given that this 1988 Japanese animated classic begins with Tokyo getting nuked, we can be very glad that much of what was predicted in Akira hasn’t come to pass. However, it’s come to light recently that one brief moment in the 2019-set film seems to eerily predict recent events. Akira is set in the rebuilt Neo-Tokyo, in which the Olympic Games are set to be hosted the following year – and on an advertisement noting this, there is some graffiti bearing the words ‘just cancel it.’
This moment, amazingly, came true, as Tokyo had indeed been poised to host the games this year until the COVID-19 pandemic forced its cancellation. There had been claims that other signs seen in Akira mention a viral pandemic, but this has been proven inaccurate. Even so, while the Olympics are not a key plot point in Akira, they do have a significant role to play, as the specially built Neo-Tokyo Olympic stadium becomes the setting for the explosive climax.
7. The Abyss – Breathable liquid
While 1989’s The Abyss is probably the least celebrated film by iconic director James Cameron, it was still a forward-thinking piece of work. The film centres on a deep-sea rescue team who venture into unknown waters and encounter a strange new form of life. The film is most widely remembered for its early use of CGI – but it also pointed toward a new form of breathing for divers, in liquid form. Some eye-opening moments in The Abyss involve the use of this breathable liquid, which enables divers to go deeper than they could with oxygen tanks.
While this technology is not yet perfected, it is close to reality, and is still being worked on today. One early scene in The Abyss proved controversial for showing a live rat submerged in this liquid.
6. Tron – VR gaming
One film that really seemed to give us a glimpse of the future, whilst also being as definitively 80s as possible, was Tron. This 1982 Disney production starred Jeff Bridges as a master games designer who, by means of strange new technology, is digitised and transported directly into a video game world he helped create. Now, obviously we’re not yet at a point at which human consciousness can actually be digitised – although this is a theory that’s being worked on as a possible means of life extension (as explored in the more recent Johnny Depp movie Transcendence).
Tron was absolutely correct, however, in predicting that video games would become considerably more immersive than they were back in the early 80s. In the years that followed, virtual reality technology would be developed further, a possibility that thrilled many and terrified others. This might not be quite the same as literally being transported into a video game, but it certainly isn’t that far off.
5. Videodrome – YouTube
Director David Cronenberg first came to fame as the master of ‘body horror,’ presenting medical distortions of the human body that no one in their right mind would want to see become reality. In 1983’s Videodrome, however, the Canadian filmmaker pointed toward a future few could have predicted at the time. The unsettling sci-fi horror stars James Woods as the programmer of a sleazy TV station, who discovers an illegally broadcast show called Videodrome which appears to showcase unsimulated violence.
Videodrome reflects anxieties around home entertainment at the time, as the rise of home video and cable/satellite television provided viewers with access to all manner of unfiltered content. These anxieties have become ever more pronounced in the 21st century, as social media and streaming sites like YouTube are constantly being pumped full of new, user-produced content. While efforts are made to crack down on harmful content, footage of real-life atrocities still manages to get through – and once the genie’s out of the bottle, there’s no putting it back.
4. RoboCop – Google Glass
Director Paul Verhoeven’s satirical sci-fi action masterpiece RoboCop was in many ways an accurate reflection of where America, and indeed the world was heading in the corporate-controlled, profit-driven 80s. Happily, this has not yet resulted in policemen being sent to their death then resurrected as cyborg crime-fighters (at least, not to the best of our knowledge). That said, the scenes in which we see the world through RoboCop’s digitally-augmented eyes did anticipate future technological developments.
2013 saw the release of Google Glass, the first glasses to display information directly before the wearer’s eyes on command, similar to how RoboCop receives information. While this proved controversial (as tends to be the case with radical technology), the practical applications of this for essential workers have been explored. Notably, the New York Police Department equipped some officers with Google Glass in 2014 to examine how useful the device might prove in investigations, leading to suggestions of RoboCop-style policing.
3. The Last Starfighter – Video games as military training
1984’s The Last Starfighter has a lot in common with Tron: for one, both films were early showcases for computer-generated imagery; for another, they both centre on video gaming. In The Last Starfighter, Lance Guest’s high schooler Alex finds himself unwittingly recruited to fight in an alien war in deep space, with the video game on which he holds the high score turning out to be a training device for starfighter pilots. Flight simulators were nothing new in the mid-80s, so in some respects what The Last Starfighter was proposing wasn’t especially far-fetched (the alien angle notwithstanding)
In the years since, however, video game depictions of warfare have gone to lengths to become ever more true to life. More recently, it has come to light that the military does indeed utilise its relationship with the video game industry for training and recruitment. A study by the US Navy in 2010 concluded that the advanced cognitive functions of proficient video gamers generally makes them better soldiers.
2. They Live – Ad-filtering glasses
Director John Carpenter’s 1988 cult classic They Live gave us one of the most nightmarish visions of 80s America. The satirical thriller sees Roddy Piper’s working class hero put on a strange pair of sunglasses which expose the world as it really is: with hideous aliens ruling over the human populace, and hypnotic messages lulling people to sleep through the media. Most famously, They Live’s glasses present the real messages behind billboard advertisements: hidden messages reading ‘conform,’ ‘do not question authority,’ etc.
They Live has inspired no shortage of paranoid conspiracy theorists who take the film a bit more literally than was intended – but it has also inspired the creation of glasses that serve a similar function as those seen in the film. As outlandish as it sounds, in 2018 artist Ivan Cash created special sunglasses that actually filter out digital advertising. While the shades, dubbed IRL Glasses (i.e. In Real Life), do not actually filter out an alien signal – sorry, conspiracy theorists – they block out any light emitted by LCD/LED screens, making them appear blank.
1. Brazil – Constant government surveillance
Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil is pretty much the definition of a dystopian vision of a possible future – and, as tends to be the case in this subgenre, the scariest part is how close to our existing world it really is. The film stars Jonathan Pryce as an aimless minor employee in a vast, all-controlling corporation, who longs for something more but ultimately finds there really is no escape from the system. There’s plenty about Brazil that was true to life on release, but in the years since another of its predictions has become reality: that we live under constant surveillance.
Be it closed-circuit TV cameras that we can see on the streets, or the orbiting satellites constantly looking down, the powers that be today are able to keep track of our every move. This was an alarming thought when Brazil first hit screens, yet today we seem to accept this reality without much concern (probably because if we thought about it too much we’d go tumbling down a rabbit hole of paranoia…).