14. A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater – 2006)
Future – “7 years from now” (2013)
The Movie – A Scanner Darkly is based on a sci-fi master Philip K. Dick’s story (Dick’s also wrote Bladerunner, Total Recall, the Adjustment Bureau, etc.) In the near future America has lost its war on drugs, and the new Substance D is the latest drug that is causing hysteria amongst the addicted populace. Keanu Reeves is an undercover cop, and full blown addict trying to stop the spreading of D in southern California.
The film is a trippy psychedelic experience; done mostly in blurred animation which helps explain the “scramble suits” Reeves must wear to stay undercover. Between the animation, the drug lingo, and splitting personalities that come from Substance D usage, A Scanner Darkly is not like any film you’ve ever seen before.
Got it Right? – America’s war on drugs is ongoing and continuing to sputter. In 2013, the year the film takes place, many states legalized recreational use of marijuana on Election Day. There are dozens of tabloid stories of people taking bizarre illegal drugs leading to situations where a man was found eating a homeless man’s face (TRUE STORY).
Perhaps most problematic is America’s addiction to over the counter and prescription medications, a problem faced by millions. We are also constantly kept aware of drugs and addiction via celebrities. Philip Seymour Hoffman, an Oscar winner was recently found dead of a heroin overdose. Losing the war on drugs, I don’t know. But we are certainly not winning.
13. Death Race 2000 (Paul Bartel – 1975)
Future – 2000
The Movie – We’ve all been there. In our cars, on highways and crowded intersections surrounded by pedestrians who seem to be teasing you to kill them. We jokingly assign point values… hey 20 points for that old lady! That’s the subplot in this dystopian future thriller that depicts America in the year 2000 like Rome after the Pax Romana (sorry I’m a history teacher).
After financial ruin and a military uprising, America has become a fascist state. Just like the Roman Emperors, “Mr. President” distracts the populace with gladiator games. Only instead of charity races, there are car races with drivers named Frankenstein, Nero the Hero and Machine Gun Joe. The racers compete to be the last one standing (living) and get points for killing civilians along the way. One driver, as well as an underground resistance organization are plotting to use the race as a backdrop to overthrown the government.
Got it Right? – In many ways, Death Race 2000 is the granddaddy of the modern reality show. Millions of Americans tune in nightly to watch perfect strangers on “reality TV” shows like Amazing Race and Survivor. While some would view modern America as not so different from the radically changing landscapes of 1960s, no one goes to protest or create change today.
A primary reason for this is the distraction of and obsession with reality TV, and mass media. Other films and works of literature would use a similar plot line. Battle Royale and Hunger Games both show dystopian futures where totalitarian governments use competitions to keep the people subservient.
12. The Omega Man (Boris Sagal – 1971)
Future – 1977
The Movie – Like previously mentioned I am Legend, The Omega Man is based on Richard Matheson’s book, telling the story of one lone survivor, Robert Neville (this time Charlton Heston); in a world right after a disease wipes out the entire population, battling infected sub-humans (The Family).
Heston made a slew of futuristic thriller in the late 60s to 70s including this, Planet of the Apes, and Soylent Green. Unlike the later version which relied heavily on CGI effects for its monsters, the Family looks like Romero-esque zombies giving the film a more realistic feeling.
Heston also conveys the insanity of the loneliness he feels being alone against the Family. Also by allowing the mutated Family to speak and have a code of values. They see Neville as a product of science and military might, and thus a symbol of the old destroyed world that needs to be destroyed as well.
Got it Right? – I liked this better than Will Smith’s Legend because I felt the latter was a dumbed down CGI effects film whereas this showed the Family as more angry post-world mutants than monsters. Their hatred of Neville is due to his association with what destroyed their world, science and the military.
In that regard, many of the films themes have come true. The US has military stationed across the globe with current situations in North Korea, Russia/Ukraine, and Syria et. al. One can see where Matheson’s story is at the same time a work of fiction, but also a prophecy of what may come.
11. Alien Nation (Graham Baker – 1988)
Future – 1991
The Movie – Aliens come to Earth and… join the police force? In this cool new take on alien invasion, the “newcomers” are otherworldly human-like aliens. They learn English, join our work force, and seemingly mean no harm. James Caan plays Sgt. Matthew Sykes, who is forced to accept a newcomer as a partner (Mandy Patinkin). Together they uncover a drug ring led by a newcomer played by General Zod himself, Terrance Stamp and work to bring him down.
The film touched on many themes, including racism (using aliens as the others in the way Pleasantville used “coloreds”). This was also one of the first films to use aliens in a uniquely new way, instead of as invaders, monsters, and destroyers. There are parallels between this and District 9, another terrific and unique alien film. The film also spawned a TV series, comic books, and TV movie sequels.
Got it Right? – Well, no, no aliens yet of course. But still a great premise.
10. Robocop (Paul Verhoeven – 1987)
Future – “the near future”
The Movie – Detroit is a cesspool of violence, poverty and crime. Super corporation OCP (Omni Consumer Products) is about to make a fortune by churning out a mechanized police force to take control over the riddled city.
Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is brutally murdered by coke-sniffing mobster Clarence Boddicker (who coincidentally works for OCP’s evil business head Dick Jones). Rather than bury Murphy he becomes the prototype for the new Robocop and sets out with a mission: Dead or alive, you’re coming with him! Of course he not only shoots bad guys in the junk; he also helps take down OCP and get revenge for his “murder”.
Got it Right? – Well, the Robocops no; but the economically depleted, criminally ravaged cesspool known as Detroit….DING DING DING… We have a WINNER! Evil corporations dominating every aspect of our lives in an endless pursuit of MORE money… You win AGAIN!!!
9. 2012 (Roland Emmerich – 2009)
Future – 2012
The Movie – This one’s pretty simple. It’s 2012, and the Mayan calendar happens to be RIGHT! The world is ending! As in the ground is collapsing between your feet, buildings in every major city are tumbling down, trains are flying out of tunnels into a fiery blaze, and best of all… John Cusack is driving JUST FAST ENOUGH to avoid ALL of this!
2012 is as much a comedy as it is epic disaster flick, but sometimes you just need a “shut your brain off” movie to enjoy for a few hours. Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) was quoted as saying if he was going to make another disaster movie, he had to do the end of the entire world. Just like Independence Day, Emmerich takes his aggression out on the White House, this time via tidal wave complete with aircraft carrier smashing down onto it.
Got it Right? – Like Y2K all over again; years of panicking and stockpiling the shelters for a doomsday that doesn’t arrive.
8. Deep Impact (Mimi Leder – 1998)
Future – 1999 – 2000
The Movie – Figured I’d just stockpile the two disaster flicks back to back. Deep Impact was the much better comet/meteor hitting the Earth blockbuster to come out in the summer of 98. While Armageddon made more money and had a better soundtrack (Aerosmith), Impact was a better scientific and thought provoking movie.
Journalist Jenny Lerner is assigned to look into the background of Secretary Alan Rittenhouse who abruptly resigned from government citing his wife’s ill health. She learns from his secretary that Rittenhouse was having an affair with someone named Ellie but when she confronts him, his strange reaction leads her to reconsider her story.
In fact, a meteor, discovered the previous year by high school student Leo Biederman and astronomer Dr. Marcus Wolf, is on a collision course with the Earth, an Extinction Level Event. A joint US-Russian team is sent to destroy the meteor but should it fail, special measures are to be put in place to secure the future of mankind. As the space mission progresses, many individuals deal with their fears and ponder their future.
The other thing that separates this from Michael Bay’s noisy blockbuster is the fact that half the comet actually hits Earth, wiping out the east coast with a thousand foot high tsunami and killing millions.
Got it Right? – No comets yet, but how about predicting the coming of a black president! Morgan Freeman totally owned the role of President Beck with his familiar calming voice in the midst of a horrible situation. A decade after the film came out; Barack Obama would use his voice to preach change in the midst of horrible economic meltdown. Not quite a comet, but still an impressive foreshadowing of America’s future.