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The future in film

Updated on March 20, 2013

In western culture, humans noticeably foresee the future similar to how it’s depicted in digital media. Edmund Burke said “to conceive extravagant hopes of the future, are the common dispositions of the greatest part of mankind.” There will be three common themes produced from this topic that will be discussed and they are;

1. The reasons for exaggerated hopes are questionable, but through the use of skewed time and dystopian themes the viewer is subconsciously convinced of future possibilities. Film has been obsessed with the notion of time and as Kevin Hagopian Penn State Senior lecturer in media studies wrote, “the movies have trained their viewers to follow the most contorted temporal patterns with such ease that it seems natural.”

2. Through effects, movies often display futuristic technology and architecture to set the scene. Futuristic animation makes image appear so ‘real’ that it allows unrealistic expectations to be made concerning the future world. When referring to films director Karel Reisz said “[it’s] not a matter of camera angles or fancy footwork, it’s an expression, an accurate expression of your particular opinion.”

3. The cinema isn't falsely representing the future entirely, but shapes and inspires it. Architecture, technology, fashion and idealism are key aspects of all futuristic films. The actual future is uncertain, as ex-Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau stated that “[t]he twentieth century really belongs to those who build it.The future can be promised to no one.”

Our view of the future is within our creative imaginations, although cinema has now replaced our imagination when concerning the future.

scene from Le Voyage dans la lune (journey to the moon)
scene from Le Voyage dans la lune (journey to the moon)


Fictitious futuristic films have existed since the silent film era of the early 20th century.

The early films usually had the intention of being humorous as to keep an audience entertained. In 1902, Georges Méliès a French illusionist and filmmaker released Le Voyage dans la Lune, “which is generally considered the first science fiction film, and a film that used early trick photography to depict a spacecraft's journey to the moon.”

After the futuristic horror era surrounding 1920 films based on Dystopia began to emerge. Dystopia is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "an imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror."

Finally the modern era emerged with advanced special effects inducing the production of highly realistic and convincing films. The 1969 manned space journey sparked a new found interest in Science Fiction abbreviated to Sci-fi. The Star Wars trilogy began in the 70’s with brilliant special effects, it foreshadowed a new age of cinema.

Star Wars revolutionized Sci-fi
Star Wars revolutionized Sci-fi

The concept of time travel has been the most popular staple of science fiction films and television series. Robert Zemeckis' commercially successful and influential 80’s trilogy Back to the Future explored the idea of time travel and gave people a glimpse at what the future might withhold.

car-park scene from Back to the Future of Marty and Doc with their time machine
car-park scene from Back to the Future of Marty and Doc with their time machine

The futuristic movies have influenced our perception of the future shown in various themes through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.


Since the turn of the twentieth century the cinema has been obsessed with and shaped time.

Gifted film makers have exploited the idea of creating alternative time or non-existent time to raise profound questions about our time, in science fiction. In 1908 director D.W. Griffith proposed the use of flashbacks in his film After Many Years causing confusion and excitement, since then ‘flashbacks’ and ‘flash-forwards’ have now become conventions of film making.

The Star Wars film trilogy is one of the greatest Sci-fi pictures of ‘all time’ and uses time as a powerful explanation for the technology made apparent in the films. This is shown in every movie’s opening scene reading “[a] long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...”

Subsequent to shaping time, the cinema has always adored dystopian movies. Whether it’s machine, natural or apocalyptic dystopian, these types of films worry people as to what may occur in the future.

Time and Dystopia is used in films to dramatize the story, adding plausibility to the imagery of the film deceiving the viewers.


All films portraying the future use film props and setting to make the film appear futuristic in the eyes of the viewer.

However these tools create false expectations as they will most likely never come into being. The fabled time machine is the subject of many films and television series, even Albert Einstein proved that time travel could be possible through the use of ‘wormholes’. Although the paradox rendering time travel improbable remains, “if time travel is possible, then where are all the time travellers from the future?”

Hollywood has convincingly portrayed futuristic architecture better than any other visual media. The film Tron Legacy stands out from all other films, with Joseph Kosinski the director being an architect the film is highly persuasive of future architecture to come.

Flynn's safe-house (has changing floor levels)
Flynn's safe-house (has changing floor levels)
Tron City
Tron City

An issue that has arisen in film culture is ethnicity population of the future. In Lost in Space filmed in 1998Britain was depicted as being almost entirely white populated by 2050, this will obviously not be the case. It is incomprehensible that anybody, in recent years, could imagine such a white Britain thirty years hence.

These factors, technology, architecture and ideology show that cinema is only for visual dramatization, but alter the way humans perceive the future.


Films portray the future in many ways correct or incorrect, but they provide creative ideas to all the viewers.

But with the introduction of film and television creativity is lost in most as the ideas concerning the future are only taken from this media. But with new media people are developing our future, although not usually in a positive sense, but in a dramatized one.

Technology in futuristic films is highly disputed whether or not in many cases these technologies will exist. Shown in the second Back to the Future film is the existence of many inventions such as the hover-board. Extravagant urban legends were heard about hover-boards becoming reality when the films were at the height of popularity.

Hover board ridden by Marty in Back to the Future while wearing futuristic Nike power lace up shoes
Hover board ridden by Marty in Back to the Future while wearing futuristic Nike power lace up shoes

Many films foreshadowed futuristic realities which would exist in the later. A confusing storyline of space travel in the film 2001: a SpaceOdyssey is shown, playing in the cinema in 1968. This film changed the way people viewed a space experience prior to the moon landing in 1969.

2001: a Space Odyssey
2001: a Space Odyssey

Film is an incredible avenue for imagination, Stephen Hawking wrote the following sentence in reference to the Star Trek series, but it applies to all of science fiction. “We can explore how the human spirit might respond to future developments in science and we can speculate on what those developments in science might be.”

Humans aren't naive but through the human instinct of curiosity people remain hopeful that much of the ‘cinema future’ becomes reality.


Humans throughout all time have visualized the future, however with the introduction of film that visualization has been affected by what people see on the screen. In the past without cinema our only perception of the future was through our imaginations. However with the introduction of film and television imagination is lost as the ideas concerning the future are only from fictional films. It has been shown that 'modern' development in many cases has been influenced by media in the case of architecture, technology, fashion and idealism. The world is rapidly increasing in development because in the past without being able to perceive the future outside our imaginations it was slow. But with new media people are visualizing our future, although usually in a dramatized sense. Overall, the real question is; does the cinema misunderstand the future or is it actually writing the future? People aren't all that gullible as we’re made out to be, but it’s just that we would like what is seen in these films to come true and we cannot predict whether that will or won’t happen. In the words of Graham Greene, “there is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in...”

Spock (Star Trek)
Spock (Star Trek)


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