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Decades ago, movies imagined a futuristic 2022

In 1973's <em>Soylent Green</em>, New York City is in the grips of widespread pollution and overcrowding. It takes place in 2022.
Screenshot by NPR
In 1973's Soylent Green, New York City is in the grips of widespread pollution and overcrowding. It takes place in 2022.

Updated January 4, 2022 at 5:55 PM ET

Movies have been imagining the future for a long time. Perhaps faster-than-light-speed space travel and teleportation in Star Trek could still be in store for the 24th century, but we'll have to wait 300 years to find out.

But for movies from decades past, their distant future is now — 2022.

Here are a few of them:

Soylent Green

In 1973, Soylent Green imagined a New York City of 2022. People still drive '70s -style cars and seemingly fashions have gone back to the 1800s. New York is polluted and overcrowded, with food and water in short supply. The oceans are dying. And one giant corporation is responsible for feeding the masses — with a certain mysterious product.

"Nothing runs anymore, nothing works. But the people are the same, and the people will do anything to get what they need," a voiceover says. "What they need most is Soylent Green."

The movie's dystopian future bears some distant similarities to reality, with climate change already exacerbating hunger and poverty and one giant corporation that could one day control pretty much everything.

Time Runner

A decade after Return of the Jedi, Mark Hamill once again imagined a future involving space travel and aliens, though this one took place on Earth.

In the year 2022, aliens are invading the Earth. Hamill plays a military captain who travels through a wormhole back to 1992 and tries to warn leaders before it happens.

"The future depends on his journey into the past," the narrator warns in the trailer.

Aliens haven't invaded yet, though it was just last year that the government did confirm that unidentified flying objects have indeed been spotted — and it can't explain what they are.

Alien Intruder

Also from 1993 and also featuring an actor from the Star Wars franchise, Alien Intruder features Billy Dee Williams playing a captain leading his crew into space to retrieve a lost spaceship. Crew members turn on each other when a virtual reality alien becomes all too real.

The producers seemed to envision space travel becoming much more advanced in just three decades than it did. Also by 2022, you can see that we have laser guns.

"Virtual reality is no longer harmless fun" in 2022, it seems, the voiceover explains.

In nonvirtual reality, Facebook changed its company name to Meta last year as part of a push toward virtual reality. So far, virtual reality is still far from mainstream and is mainly used for gaming and immersive entertainment. But 2022 could be the year where more notable products come on the market.

No Escape

"Welcome to the future at its most primitive," the trailer warns.

In 2022, the worst of the worst prisoners are sent to a penal colony run by a corporation. Ray Liotta is dumped there, to find it inhabited by warring groups.

When this movie came out in 1994, private prisons were already in existence, though the private prison population didn't peak until 2012 with 137,000 people.

President Biden signed an executive order to phase out contracts with private prison operators last year, though it does not apply to immigrant detention centers.

Jeevika Verma and Jessica Green produced and edited the audio story.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.
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