As a genre, science fiction presents fictional futures and fictional worlds in order to illustrate truths about our own world. But sometimes, multiple sci-fi movies keep making the same prediction as if to say, this is the way things in our society are inevitably heading. And while we obviously never know what the future will literally hold, many of these assertions fly in the face of everything we currently know about the way society is heading. Or they're just futuristic-looking stuff that makes no sense when you give it some thought.
Here are some examples of common sci-fi themes that don't hold up to scrutiny.
We'll All Be Using Flying CarsPhoto: Blade Runner / Warner Bros.
We've dreamed of flying cars for almost as long as cars themselves have existed. In 1926, Henry Ford introduced the "Ford Flyvver," the prototype for what was supposed to be the first flying car for the masses. He abandoned the project two years later when his test pilot died in a crash. Nevertheless, in the decades since, entrepreneurs have tried repeatedly to get a flying car off the ground. At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Uber announced a plan to debut flying taxis by 2023. In science fiction, it's long been assumed that flying cars are an inevitability. Airborne cars have been shorthand for "advanced society" in everything from Bladerunner to Total Recall to The Fifth Element to The Jetsons.
But there are several reasons why we probably won't be seeing flying cars anytime soon, no matter what Uber says: they're impractical, expensive, and dangerous. A flying vehicle is orders of magnitude more difficult to operate than a car or a truck because a pilot has to operate several more mechanical systems as well as maintain situational awareness in a 3D space. Anyone who would want to operate a flying car would need years of training and practice. Creating a professional class of flying car operators would also be difficult because there's already a shortage of airline pilots. And since we still haven't perfected driverless cars, a fully automated flying car is an even longer way off.
Cities themselves would also need to change fundamentally before flying cars could be possible. They would have to add infrastructure to allow for spaces for flying cars to take off and land - and we already let our existing infrastructure, like roads, deteriorate. Cities would also have to devise entirely new systems to regulate vehicle safety and driver competence. Air traffic control systems would need to be completely reimagined.
Society would have to be completely overhauled to allow thousands of tons of machinery to take to the skies. While it might be technically possible for a flying car to exist one day, they won't be replacing your Hyundai.Pretty unlikely?
Everyone Will Wear Spandex, At All TimesPhoto: Star Trek: The Next Generation / CBS Television Distribution
If science fiction is to be believed, the future is going to be a terrifying place. As if murderous androids and aliens weren't enough, we're also going to have to get used to skin-tight bodysuits. This trope was particularly popular in the 1970s and '80s, showing up in everything from Tron to the Flash Gordon remake to Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Like any art, science fiction is informed by the time and place in which it was created. And in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, fabrics like spandex and lycra were still relatively new. Jane Fonda's costume in Barbarella was made from metallic and plastic fabrics specifically because it would have looked futuristic to moviegoers in 1969. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wanted the Next Generation costume department to use spandex because he thought that would be the future of clothing.
There once was a time when a spandex bodysuit would have seemed cutting-edge. But now, a spandex bodysuit just makes science fiction feel dated.Pretty unlikely?
All Food Is Heavily Processed, Unsatisfying MushPhoto: The Matrix / Warner Bros.
This trope actually goes back to the 1930s when science fiction imagined that entire meals would be available in pill form. Since then, many sci-fi writers have come up with the same idea: in the future, food is going to be heavily processed, nutrient-rich, and not even remotely satisfying to eat. In Soylent Green, the titular the main food staple is a wafer purportedly made from ocean plankton, but in fact (spoiler), it's made from humans. In The Matrix, Neo's first meal upon exiting the Matrix is a runny mush made from "single-cell protein combined with synthetic aminos, vitamins, and minerals," which tastes like "snot." In Snowpiercer, the people in the back of the train subsist on blocks of dark red gel that turn out to be made from cockroaches.
Like the overpopulation trope, this one comes from a fear of a future when there will be too many people and not enough resources to feed them. Food shortages definitely could be a problem for future generations. In the past 40 years, the world has lost a third of all arable land due to erosion and pollution. By 2050, the population is expected to be about 9.8 billion, and by then, we're projected to have even less arable land. With looming issues like these, it's easy to imagine societies churning out nutrient paste for want of ingredients like eggs or wheat.
We probably will have to rely more on processed foods, but they probably won't be nearly as bland and unappetizing as science fiction makes them out to be. We already have the Impossible Burger, a soy and potato-based patty that tastes and looks very close to real beef. Companies are experimenting with synthetic wines. Insect protein is going to be a major future food staple, and people are already warming up to the idea. The future of food is a lot brighter than sci-fi would have you believe.Pretty unlikely?
Sports Are Hyper-Violent Fights To The DeathPhoto: The Hunger Games / Lionsgate
According to science fiction, futuristic sports will become so violent that participants lose their lives. Sometimes, these sports have evolved to become so dangerous that death is a normal and accepted outcome, like in Rollerball. But with other sci-fi competitions, it's the entire point, like in The Running Man or The Hunger Games.
Often, these sporting events are meant to make a point about our innate love of carnage. And they do have a bit of a point. Plenty of research has shown that humans are hard-wired to enjoy watching violence. History is full of vicious and deadly spectator sports, from Roman gladiator bouts to medieval jousting tournaments to bare-knuckle boxing. Those sports have mostly gone extinct, but many scholars have argued that modern spectator sports, like MMA or American football, still satisfy those same bloody urges.
But in reality, our bloodlust has limits. Within the last 10 years, as medical science has developed a better understanding of the long-term effects of sports injuries, the public has lost some of its appetite for mayhem. The NFL has instituted stricter concussion protocols in response to public outcry. In the NHL, hockey players seldom fight any more due to the increasing awarness of the danger of head injuries. Boxing, which is inherently violent, has declined in popularity since the 1970s. With other dangerous sports, fans are finding reasons to tune in besides the danger itself. Traditionally, NASCAR fans have tuned in to see crashes. But a University of Iowa study found that, lately, the biggest ratings draw has been the Race to the Cup, the playoff system NASCAR introduced in 2004.
To be sure, sports like American football are still plenty dangerous. But unlike their sci-fi counterparts, modern sports fans don't want to see someone get hurt - at least not all of them.Pretty unlikely?