This year marks the 50th anniversary of the original Star Trek TV series, starring William Shatner as Capt. James T. Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock. The crew of the Starship Enterprise became household names and started a five-year mission that has endured for half a century.
The show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, did a masterful job of integrating technologies of the future into his sci-fi series and later major motion pictures. He allowed us to open our imaginations to the future and many of his innovative gadgets have become everyday devices. Roddenberry wasn’t the first, but he and Jules Verne along with several others were among the finest visionaries. HG Wells wrote about automatic doors, Bellamy thought of debit cards in 1888 – and there are many more.
Here is a list of 10 of the forward-looking films that explored technologies that are a reality today.
In Junior, Arnold Swarzenegger’s character impregnates himself with a female ovum to prove that a fertility drug he invented works. Science not only “saw” that idea recently, but also “raised” the bet by fusing mice sperm with ordinary skin cells to create an embryo that can grow to maturity. That means two males can produce offspring with a gene mixture inherited from both parents.
10. Star Trek Generations (1987) Touchscreen and Portable Computers
You may remember Commander Data speedily using his finger tips to operate and program the Enterprise’s touchscreen computers (as well as portable data pads) in the 2009 TV series and the first feature film “Generations” in 1987. The concept was, and wasn’t, ahead of its time. Rough versions were actually invented in the 1970s, and in 1985 Sega came out with Terebi Oekaki, which used a pen pressing on a plastic board. But it wasn’t until the late 2000s that Apple shook things up with contemporary touchscreen innovation. In 2009, the first virtual touchscreen was built at the Korea Technology Institute. It hasn’t been commercially developed, yet.
Also, the Portable Access Display Devices (PADDs) they carried around resemble today’s iPADs and tablet computers closely. Not bad for 23 years ago.
9. Metropolis (1927) Androids
While many movies during the past few decades have incorporated androids as futuristic tech characters, director Fritz Lang pulled it off during the Roaring ’20s, long before the Star Wars’ C3PO or Arnold Schwarzenegger played The Terminator. Heck, the first computer wasn’t functioning until 1946 and there was no Internet in 1927. In Lang’s film, the mad scientist, Rotwang, turns a robot into a double of the character Maria, in order to dispatch a proletariat worker uprising. It’s all very Marxist and futuristic at the same time. Lang was a veritable Jules Verne of the film industry of his era.
8. Minority Report (2002) Personalized Advertising
Tom Cruise has starred in his share of sci-fi films and that has no relation to his connection to the L. Ron Hubbard-founded religion Scientology. He’s just an A-list Hollywood actor. In Minority Report, we see Cruise inundated with advertisements personalized for his special tastes. Oh the horror! These days, every key stroke we make is accounted for and crunched so that social media outlets can drop ad-bombs in front of us on a minute-by-minute basis.
7. The Terminator (franchise) Hunter-Killers
Getting humans off the battlefield has been a hot topic in recent years and for good reason. AI “thinking” computers are a reality. Artificial intelligence was invented by Stanford’s John McCarthy in 1958 and scientists have been working on perfecting it ever since. Naturally, the military sees its battlefield and covert applications in spades. A report released by the U.S. Department of Defense noted that researchers have created Alpha, a combat-thinking machine that bested a retired combat fighter pilot in simulations, handily. The U.S. military is concerned an unfriendly nation will develop an operational hunter-killer within the next decade. As U.S. Air Force Gen Paul Selva of the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently said, “I’m not talking about something like a cruise missile … or a mine that requires a human to target and release it, it goes and finds its target.”
6. Star Trek (franchise) Communicators
From the early Star Trek TV series in 1966 to the 2016 Star Trek Beyond, the franchise has been on the cutting edge of futuristic technologies. Perhaps the most amazing was the use of hand-held “communicators” in the three-year original series run and the first silver screen epic, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in 1979. They were the spitting image of the early flip top cell phones. Of all the sci-fi franchises, Star Trek truly went where no one had gone before.
5. Total Recall (1990) The Driverless Car
Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in a bunch of futuristic and ancient period pieces that had humorous twists. The annoying, retro-looking automatic cab driver dummy in Total Recall was ahead of its time. The Google X self-driving autonomous vehicle has hit the open roads. The development was led by Sebastian Thrun, who co-invented Google Street View, and was formerly the director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The Tesla Model S in self-driving mode was already involved in a crash this summer. It appears Denis Leary’s various rants in Demolition Man (1993) were prophetic, people should drive themselves.
4. Blade Runner (1982) Skype
Harrison Ford played the futuristic gum-shoe, killer Rick Deckard in Blade Runner. The film’s artificial life forms such as Rutger Hauer’s aggressively passionate Roy Batty and the detective’s love-interest, Rachael, played by Sean Young’s made us question the nature of being human. The film’s use of video-based communication may have been a building on the idea from the 1960s Star Trek shows that put inter-ship communications on the big screen of the bridge, but these were far more personalized and akin to Skype. These days, the video phones don’t take film-lovers back. Skype is practically old-hat already.
3. The Terminator (1984) Military-Grade Drones
James Cameron had a ground-breaking vision of the apocalyptic future and exposed audiences to a glimpse of the military’s inevitable use of technology in the original Terminator, drones. Since then, we’ve seen them appear in movies such as Skyline, Eagle Eye, Mission Impossible, X-Men Days of Future Past. Recent films about the moral confliction about their use to kill enemies in movies such as Eye in the Sky and Good Kill have stirred a good deal of debate and emotions. These days, drones are so common that most anyone can own one and moviemakers are using them to do the filming. The future has arrived in Hollywood.
2. Enemy of the State (1998) Government Surveillance
To say government surveillance is something new or futuristic wouldn’t be exactly correct. They have always been watching the citizenry. And no, you’re not paranoid if it’s true. It’s true, “they” are watching you. Just ask Edward Snowden. Oh wait, you can’t because he’s in exile in Russia for letting you know what the government is watching you. As predicted in the Will Smith classic, agencies like the CIA and NSA mine troves of information from cell phones and GPS, satellites, social media, the works. The moral implications of this, now, fact was also explored by Christian Bale and Morgan Freeman in The Dark Knight. Apparently, we all have a good reason top be a tad paranoid.
1. Back to the Future Part 2 (1989) Hoverboards
When Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) outfoxes Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) during the classic back to the Future chase scene, the hoverboard may have been the best future-action of the franchise. Of course, Biff ends up in the cow manure later as Marty floats away on a hoverboard. You gotta love the inevitable manure scene. These fun, skateboard-like crafts are among the most recent innovations to come out of a sci-fi movie and into our reality. The Hendo hoverboard was invented by Greg and Jil Henderson in 2014 based on a magnetic levitation principle. In 2015, the Romanian-born and Canadian inventor Catalin Alexandru set a Guiness World Record by controlling a hoverboard that traveled more than 300 yards over a lake at heights of up to 16 feet. Welcome back to the future!
Listing image by Paramount / CBS