“Not too distant future” is a self-explanatory and clichéd expression, but what I find most interesting about the universes it inspires is that they are all situated on our familiar planet of Earth. Sometimes Earth is almost unrecognizable, as directors and screenwriters extrapolate from current trends and technologies to create a realistic possibility of what might become reality. It is the tension between what-is and what-could-be that leads to some unique and thought-provoking universes.
5. “I Am Legend” (Francis Lawrence, 2007)
“I Am Legend” is the ubiquitous “mass-plague destroys Earth” choice for my list. The universe in “I Am Legend” is really not too different from the present day, but I am fascinated by how it portrays solitude and the life the main character leads during the film’s quiet moments. Of course, what makes this universe different besides an absence of man is the presence of “former humans” in the shape of vampires who stalk Will Smith. Lacking in the social commentary like some of the other films on this list, “I Am Legend’s” portrayal of the near future effectively shows the consequences of mass disease in modern society.
4. “Gattaca” (Andrew Niccol, 1997)
Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman star in this sci-fi film that focuses on the morals and implications of genetic selection. In this vision of Earth, each person is engineered from the best genes, eliminating the chances of disease and crafting the ultimate person in terms of intelligence and physical capacity. Hawke’s character Vincent was conceived naturally and discriminated against for his imperfect genetic make-up that limits his personal and professional life. This is a serious and abstract film that points to the dangers of genetic manipulation while set in a universe that evokes a futuristic, art-deco aesthetic.
3. “Looper” (Rian Johnson, 2012)
Rian Johnson brings audiences a cynical version of the future on Earth; one where men still find themselves at lonely strip clubs and telepathy is no more than a party trick for most. The universe of “Looper” is made unique by the possibility of time-travel, an integral feature to the film’s plot. Combined with this heightened scientific possibility is a contrast of time travel’s sole purpose – quick and dirty assassinations carried out by crude rifles. Despite the dark vision “Looper” painted for the near future, I was drawn by the subtlety of the film and found myself absorbed by the film’s realistic possibility of our society.
2. “Children of Men” (Alfonso Cuaron, 2006)
Alfonso Cuaron carefully directs and creates a tight-woven and high-intensity film about a world that has lost the ability to reproduce. From start to finish, “Children of Men” is an action-packed movie that touches on many contemporary social problems including the notion of terrorism, immigration policy, and the role of women in society. As with other films on this list, the outlook of Earth in the near future is somewhat bleak in this universe, but Cuaron skillfully incorporates little moments of light that give the viewers hope.
1. “La Jetée” (Chris Marker, 1962)
Composed almost entirely of still-photographs, “La Jetée” is a haunting short film by Chris Marker. Made during the height of the Cold War, “La Jetée” shows a world manipulated by time-travel in the aftermath of World War 3. A man is sent back in time to find a solution to prevent the world’s demise and in his journey will uncover a deep secret of his past and fate that keeps the audience suspended until the film’s final frame. “La Jetée” was the inspiration for the Bruce Willis film “12 Monkeys,” but the ingenuity and unsettling atmosphere created by Chris Marker in this grim universe cannot be matched.