Historically, science fiction plays fast and loose with its portrayal of technology. Back to the Future Part II was the 1989 sequel to Back to the Future and it made some surprisingly accurate predictions about our modern world.
The best part of the “Back to the Future Prophesy” is how campy the whole thing is: of all movies that show the future, Back to the Future Part II is possibly the most tongue-in-cheek. Many things that were presented as satire or outright jokes turned out to be closer to reality than anyone expected.
For those who don’t know, the first third of Back to the Future Part II takes place in the Fall of 2015, no matter what all those memes on Facebook might have wanted you to believe over the last few years.
That “Present Time” is creeping up on us: we’re less than a year away from living in what my generation always saw as “The Future” thanks to Robert Zemeckis and his interview about the Hoverboard.
Obviously, the lack of a functional Hoverboard is something we all fixate on, but with the date in the film less than a year away, I got to wondering…what were the things that Back to the Future predicted about 2015? So here’s 36 things Back to the Future predicted about 2015, in order of appearance!
36 Things Back to the Future Predicted About 2015
1. Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion was presumably some kind of cold fusion device, something many scientists believe to be impossible (or at least impractical). Don’t expect your car to run on garbage any time soon.
Letting people fly cars sounded like a dangerous idea back in 1989, and that was in an era that only banned lawn darts a year before.
In our future, we’ve actually gone the opposite route: instead of letting people drive cars in increasingly stupid ways, we’re linking them into GPS and creating Google Cars with the hope that, within ten years, many cars will drive themselves.
3. Google Glass (Part I)
These were special glasses Doc Brown wore only for use in the car. I mention them because of the presumption that they were linked into cameras surrounding the car, allowing the driver greater visibility of what’s going on around them.
While we don’t use glasses, back up cameras, parking sensors, and center console interfaces are standard in many vehicles. And obviously Google Glass is a thing and will no-doubt incorporate itself into all aspects of Augmented Reality.
4. Sleep-Inducing Alpha Rhythm Generator
That was the thing with which Doc Brown used to knock out Jennifer. A handheld alpha-wave generator to induce sleep and knock someone out with no trace, because what about that doesn’t sound preposterously date-rapey?
It’s another invention I’m not surprised hasn’t been invented, though I can’t imagine the medical technology is too far away.
5. License Plates
For some reason, lots of 80s and 90s movies assumed that the pinnacle of human data-keeping lay within the bar code. But the assumption isn’t way off.
We saw the rise of things like Quick Response Codes not long ago, used to ID almost anything. On top of that, states are already proposing making license plates electronic.
6. Weather Prediction
The film makes the joke that the weather service is accurate down to the second, compared to the (presumably awful) postal service.
This is funny for a number of reasons, given the rise of electronically tracking packages in this century and the general availability of immediate weather data through a variety of online services. Later in the movie, Marty McFly, Jr., turns on The Weather Channel: when’s the last time you had to do that?
7. Medical Breakthroughs (Part I)
Doc mentions he went to a “rejuvenation clinic and got an all-natural overhaul. They took out some wrinkles, did a hair repair, a change of blood.” While this is a bit extreme, plastic surgery is more accessible than it’s ever been, and medical technology has never been as advanced as it is right now. We’re 3-D printing organ tissue.
8. Digital Cameras
Thirty years ago, that technology would have shocked you. Now, you can only focus on how funny it is that someone thought we’d still have pay phones in 2015.
9. Power Laces
We have no power laces…yet. Nike hopes to get them out by 2015. Chances are, you won’t even notice when the technology becomes available: that’s how much technology we constantly have becoming available.
UPDATE: Sept 21, 2015: Sure enough, Nike did it.
10. Automatic Clothing (Part I)
More ridiculously stupid technology; there’s a reason we haven’t invented it. Same goes for Doc Brown’s transparent necktie. Some stuff in 2015 sure looks like it was thought up in the late-1980s. Like the hat in the next picture!
There’s all kinds of fashion in Back to the Future Part II, but I chose to showcase how kids wear all their clothes inside-out in the future. Tell me that you can’t imagine that being a trend.
It’s not related to technology, but Doc Brown’s joke about how lawyers were abolished, allowing justice to work faster, is worth paying attention to.
The prediction, while not accurate (since we still have lawyers), was actually pretty solid. The 1990s saw a huge rise in frivolous lawsuits leading to some judicial backlash again st frivolous suits in the last decade.
It’s always fun to look at how movies of the past expected cars of the future to be. “Bubbley” seemed to be a word that got tossed around a lot, possibly because cars in the 80s looked like the concept models were designed using Legos.
A 1988 Toyota Corolla looked like this:
And here’s a blurry close-up of the “overly curvy 2015 car” in the 1989 movie:
And here’s what a Toyota Prius looks like today:
14. Automated Gas Stations
We don’t quite have the technology to make fully automated robotic vehicle service a reality, but we have made auto maintenance significantly faster and easier.
Cars are becoming more computerized all the time, as well; it’s only a matter of time before we’re plugging our cars in at the pump to run a quick diagnostic.
That just looks ridiculous. McFly’s comment after about how “the shark still looks fake” is especially funny now. Hollywood CGI of the 1980s could be done on a consumer PC of the 1990s; today, many consumers use the exact same software professionals do.
Anyway, we don’t have fully 3-D cinema as in that picture, which was obviously a joke about both Jaws 3D and the numerous sequels, but modern 3-D films have made a comeback in a big way. 3-D movies were invented over a century ago but they didn’t really hit their stride until the 1950s, coming and going ever since.
Despite decades of 3-D entertainment, we’re only now seeing the first 3-D televisions for in-home use.
16. Automated Consumption
In Back to the Future Part II, The Cafe 80s uses these creepy TV waiter things, remember? While we don’t have that level of weirdness, we do have self-checkout lines and the ability to electronically order all kinds of food.
Nothing in Back to the Future Part II can compare to the ultimate achievement in automated consumption: E-Commerce.
17. Elijah Wood
Did you remember that an 8-year-old Frodo made his feature film debut in Back to the Future Part II? Just worth mentioning – of all the people featured in the trilogy, he’s really the only one still working in “our future.”
18. Medical Breakthroughs (Part II)
We discover that Griff has some “short circuits in his bionic implants,” which we could believe makes him the douchebag he is if we didn’t know about his genetic stock. Though, speaking of that, we completely mapped the human genome in 2003.
Anyway, we discover that Griff is basically a technologically-enhanced human. And we know that’s a thing. Neural implants, nanomedicine, and microchip implantation are not words we associate with science fiction in our world: they are emerging technologies.
So I guess we can forgive you for this, Tony Hawk. But I won’t let Robert Zemeckis and Christopher Lloyd off the hook so easy. Joking about hoverboards is like playing with my emotions.
20. VTOL Vehicles
Harriers were new and super cool back in the late 80s but the concept of Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) was hardly new. So if we were going to be flying those death traps, we’d damn-sure be landing them like that.
Again, we’ve gone the opposite direction. Forget landing: we can’t trust humans to even park their own cars properly.
21. Automatic Clothing (Part II)
Yeah, OK: another one about the stupid jacket. But get this: air technology is being incorporated into keeping people dry. An air umbrella is in the works!
22. Powerful Handheld Devices
That guy’s clearly holding a large smart phone or small tablet PC. He asks Marty to give money to charity by using the device. What makes that particularly impressive is that this was 1989.
Cell phones in 1989 looked like this
The first real PDA wouldn’t be invented until 1991, and it would look like this
But Back to the Future Part II decided that, in 2015, when people wanted to get stuff done, they’d just have these buttonless handheld devices made of nothing but screen.
Compare that to what Star Trek: The Next Generation, made at the same time as Back to the Future Part II, thought a tablet would look like in the year 2360.
And just keep in mind that the most advanced handheld technology in 1989 was the Nintendo Gameboy
23. Media Drones
That is a USA Today drone recording the scene. The idea of this technology in 1989 was mind-blowing; we were impressed with missile nose cameras during Desert Storm two years later.
24. Mobile Garbage Receptacles
First of all, I think we’ll all take a Roomba over a moving trash can, any day.
That said, check this out:
25. Cop Cars
This is another one that’s only interesting if you take into account that, in 1989 (when this film was made), police cars looked like this
And twenty-five years later, police cars now look like this
All things considered, that’s pretty impressive.
26. Fingerprint Scanners
Between the embedded microchips I mentioned before and the cheap options for fingerprint technology, keys and signatures will soon be a thing of the past. If you currently want a biometric door lock like the one in the scene above, it’ll cost you $180.
27. Home Automation
The McFly Home recognizes greets each family member and controls a variety of systems (including the lights). Modern home automation is developing rapidly, covering everything from atmosphere to pet feeding.
28. LED and LCD
LED and LCD technology are becoming so cheap that, while the idea of a cop wearing a billboard on her hat is ridiculous, many economists believe consumer product packaging will incorporate “electronic paper” in the near future, making cereal boxes come alive.
29. Screens Everywhere
A screen depicting the outdoors covering a window. It’s hard to think of a better metaphor for modern living than that.
30. Indoor Gardening
In lieu of “Medical Breakthroughs (Part III),” let’s just ignore the ridiculous upside-down old man with back trouble.
The idea of a home kitchen utilizing an indoor garden to grow fresh produce, while seeming Jetsons-like to audiences in 1989, is far from outrageous today.
31. Food Hydration
32. Google Glass (Part II)
One of the funniest aspects of the film is accuracy of future home life. The entire family is technology-dependent to the point where it permeates all their lives without them even thinking about it, not exactly different from the modern times it was satirizing.
Considering this was a time where most people didn’t own anything electronic without a cord attached and the pinnacle of mobile media was the Sony Walkman, this freakishly accurate prediction of “wearable communication/multimedia devices” is spot-on, but it doesn’t stop there!
Back to the Future Part II absolutely nailed flat panel display to the point where you suspect they might actually have a working time machine. The TV in the McFly home looks exactly like a modern TV in shape, size, and even the way it’s mounted on the wall.
Again, this was 1989: a time when “a nice TV” looked like this
And remember that “a nice TV” looked like this in 1968
That’s hardly what you’d call substantial development.
But in 1989, looking at history and into the future, the filmmakers managed to predict that, twenty-five years later, “a nice TV” would look like this
That’s pretty impressive.
34. Video Calling
There was a time not long ago where the idea of video calling, even through a closed system, was impossible. Now we can do it wirelessly, anywhere in the world.
35. Card Readers
Card readers are now pretty normal stuff, but back then, it was true sci-fi.
Just look at that scene. Everything that made it look futuristic to 1989 audiences is currently available; most of it actually seems dated.
36. Faxes Everywhere
The point of this whole scene isn’t the faxes, but the fact that every room in the house has a fax machine in it, which immediately informs the entire family of any event.
While faxing is pretty much a thing of the past, multiple electronic devices tied into a communications network that constantly updates you about what’s going on is exactly what all of us experience in the modern world. It’s probably a big part of how you found my site and this piece.
Back to the Future Part II was impressively correct in how it gauged human technological progress. Most of the stuff you see when watching the first forty minutes of the movie will surprise you in how close it came, especially when you consider how far off we seemed to be at the time the film was made.
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