11 technologies that didn't survive into the sci-fi future

The future isn't what it used to be.

Take a look at science fiction movies set in the years to come: Stories that take place dozens, or even hundreds, of years from when they were made may seem logical for that future. But now we know the future of the past is no longer accurate because of the technology of the present.


In other words, it's like watching classic Star Trek and noticing that the crew doesn't have seatbelts. Or cell phones. Or email. Or any post 1969 tech.

We found 11 moments that might not pass inspection with the techno-savvy moviegoers of today. These moments don't ruin the movie, per se. But they do make you think, "Why are/aren't the characters using [fill-in-the-blank]."

Fifth Element (1997) – There's an app for that

Will taxi driver Corbin Dallas prevent evil from destroying the Earth? Only if he has the stones for it. Mystical stones that can be found on 23rd century luxury liner, Fhloston Paradise. In order to board the cruise ship, he and "wife" Leelo flash their multipass. But today, there's an app for that: Airlines such as JetBlue have apps that put your boarding pass directly on your cell phone.

However, The Fifth Element predicted something that even the greatest visionaries could not: the photobomb and the selfie. (Blink and you'll miss it, but both moments are in the scene where Dallas meets the wacky talk-show host, Ruby Rhod.)

Escape from New York (1981) – Let's get physical (media)

Bob "Call me Snake" Plissken is sent to New York City—now a prison in the year 1997—to rescue both the president and the message of peace he's recorded for the world to hear. On cassette tape. Because what else would your Walkman play in 1981? Today, of course, there's the handy-dandy USB stick.

Also, back in the day, backing up messages took seemingly eons, but now it takes less than a second to duplicate a file; Mr. President would obviously have had a backup. But more importantly, there's encryption: These days, the contents of the message would be available, but only the president would have the key to decrypt it.

(Currently, that's true of just about any message. Yikes.)

Minority Report (2002) – Kinect the dots

PreCrime is the act of thinking about committing a crime, and in the year 2054, that's enough to get you sent to the big house. Policeman John Anderton is in charge of the PreCrime unit, and it's his job to sift through information that can lead to an arrest—which he does through nifty gloves that allowed him to stream reports like a conductor directs an orchestra.

These gloves look great on camera. But they haven't been necessary ever since the Xbox Kinect and other motion sensing devices have hit the market. They recognize hand gestures sans hardware.

At least the gloves keep Anderton's fingers warm.

Blade Runner (1982) – Can't touch this

In this stylish homage to film noir, five replicants who suffer from accelerated decrepitude have come to Earth to extend their short lives. It's up to Rick Deckard, the eponymous blade runner, to "retire" them. With guns.

After finding a photo in the home of a retired replicant, Leon, Deckard enhances the image with a computer using voice commands. Although voice commands have become more popular thanks to Siri and Android's speech recognition, multitouch seems more intuitive for this kind of work. We say that Deckard would probably pinch and zoom on the picture of the next soon-to-be ex replicant.

And the odds that Leon would have bothered to print out a photo are even lower than the skinjobs' reversing their accelerated decrepitude.

Johnny Mnemonic (1995) – Keanu Reeves' head is surprisingly small

Johnny is a courier who stores data in his head, and in Johnny Mnemonic, his job—and his brain—are at risk when his contact dies before removing the data. But why store 320 GB's worth of data in your brain when you can store it at 150 atoms per bit at room temperature? It's not quite available for prime time…but it could very well be by the time the movie's setting rolls by, in 2021.

(Also, see Minority Report, re: gloves.)

Considering that the NSA can defeat most encryptions, it's not a bad idea to keep the particularly sensitive stuff (your year book photo; porn porn porn) off a network. Perhaps in 2021 you'll be working for Johnny's mnemonic courier service.

Avatar (2009) – What metaphor is she smoking?

Avatar isn't the only science fiction film to suffer from this particular problem—I'm looking at you, Blade Runner, Aliens, The Fifth Element, and many others—but this 2009 movie is the most recent. Here, in this idyllic world of Pandora, scientist Grace Augustine puffs on cigarettes in between witty quips. Writer/director James Cameron explained that this proved Grace "didn't care about her human body."

Cameron hadn't kept an eye on e-cigarettes, a smokeless nicotine delivery device. E-cigs might not replace leaf tobacco—even though its current rate of growth is impressive—but an impassioned scientist knows that the longer she keeps her body alive, the more time she has to spend on her research. That Na'vi data doesn't collect itself, ya know.

Robocop (1987) – There are cameras in the cameras

If you remember darkly humorous satire Robocop, you might recall the running televised commentary of on-screen events. It was practically a window into the world of the hyper media-ized here and now.

But even though there were cameras in on the action, Robocop didn't manage to predict citizen journalism via the ubiquity of cell phone cameras. If Robocop were being remade today (and in fact it is), commentators would include the average person and the average cell phone camera.

Particularly when it comes to any action involving the police. In fact, filming policemen on duty has become a hazard of the 21st century, and people who do so risk arrest—even though it's currently legal in 38 states.

Back to the Future 2 (1989) – Where we're going, we don't need faxes

Back to the Future 2 makes some amusingly accurate predictions of the year 2015. Marty and Jennifer's kids use personal displays (Google Glass, perhaps), recognize Caller ID (which was pure science fiction in 1989), and even eat more fruit.

BttF2 misses its mark with its ubiquitous fax machines. In one scene, Marty is fired by fax. Now, employers have been known to fire their employees by text. (Stay classy, texters.)

But what about the food rehydrators that expand small portions into McFly family meals? Considering that a lack of water may be one of the greatest problems of the future of food, BttF2 may not be predicting 2015 but the year 2050.

Serenity (2005) – Or they could just use Dropbox

In this 2005 film (which wrapped up the mysteries surrounding the 2002 television show, Firefly), our heroes are determined to broadcast their news that the government is behind the creation of the evil Reavers. But there's a catch: "We haven't the equipment to broadwave this code."

No, but they did have the ability to transmit the video to the man who does, Mr Universe, i.e., the guy who they're currently talking to by video.

What they needed was YouTube, a service created earlier in 2005 to share videos. If they had had it, our heroes wouldn't have needed to strap corpses to the hull of their ship to pass unnoticed through Reaver space.

Or they could have just built a website.

The Matrix (1999) – Second Law of Thermowhatnow?

At first, it seems as if The Matrix is set in its present year of 1999. Soon we learn that the characters are in an artificial simulation, and in fact, they should be setting their clocks to the 22nd century. The Machines, the winning side of the human/Machine war, are harnessing our "biokinectic energy" to power themselves. But humans only generate a paltry 10 to 100 millivolts. (Also, why not just use cows?) And solar power is out, 'cuz nanomachines.

But with recent advancements in fracking and geothermal energy, it's more likely that the Machines would use the energy trapped within the planet, environmental consequences be damned. After all, it's not as if they're renewing their Greenpeace memberships. 

Aliens (1986) – "It's a rescue mission. You'll love it."

The colony of LV-426 has gone silent, and it's up to the Marines (and the survivor of the previous movie, Alien, the PTSD'd Ellen Ripley) to discover why. Set in the distant future, the Marines land on the seemingly abandoned planet and work their way through the seemingly empty corridors until they find very real trouble.

Or they could have sent drones to do their dirty work. Although the U.S. Marines of today are still on the ground, drones are being tested at the moment to take damage so that humans don't have to.

In space, no one can hear a drone scream, either.