Whenever a sci-fi film, particularly one depicting a director’s imaginative interpretation for the future of humanity, hits the Big Screen, it’s usually dystopian. The world has gone to hell; the aliens, the robots, or the humans themselves have squandered the hope for a utopian society; and freedom is the new “F-word.” It’s a bleak view on the future, yet so many sci-fi films adhere to the dystopian narrative. Blade Runner, The Matrix, A Clockwork Orange come to mind.
However, not all sci-fi flicks are dystopian. Some of them flip the script, showing an optimistic outlook on the future of humanity. These sci-fi films are rare– and perhaps that says something about society, and its gloomy mindset on what the future may hold – but they can be a refreshing take on the beloved, longstanding genre. And hey, not everything has to be a bummer, right? What if things actually go well for humanity, what if time-traveling robots don’t set off all the nuclear weapons at the behest of a malevolent AI overlord, à la the Terminator series, what if the future really is an okay time to be alive? Sounds kind of nice, huh?
So, here’s a handful of sci-fi flicks that deny the common, dystopian storyline and, instead, have a positive outlook on the future of humanity.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Although ambiguous, yet presumably taking place in contemporary times, Denis Villeneuve’s 2016 sci-fi drama, Arrival, projects an encouraging outlook for humanity’s future. When aliens invade earth, Amy Adams’ Louise Banks is charged with deciphering their language and the purpose for the extraterrestrial’s arrival on earth. And, after lots of trials and tribulations, she cracks the code. She discovers that, down the line and in the future, the humans are essential in saving the octopus-like aliens from utter annihilation. So, based off that, sounds like the humans must doing something right in the years and decades to come.
6/7 Big Hero 6
Whenever robots or artificial intelligence are introduced in a sci-fi film, it’s usually bad news. It’s all too common; nearly every time, the machines turn against the humans, and things don’t go so well in the battle of man vs. machine. But that’s not the case in Big Hero 6. Set in futuristic San Fransokyo, the film follows a young robotics prodigy, Hiro, and his robot best friend, Baymax. Now, typically that robot would break bad and turn against his young friend. But instead, Baymax’s main function is to protect him at all costs, even when the two get caught up in a malevolent mastermind’s evil scheme.
Tech-savvy teenager, Casey Newton (played by Britt Robertson), discovers a mysterious pin which, when touched, transports her to a futuristic utopia. That’s the basis for 2015’s Tomorrowland. But, like one might imagine, things aren’t so simple. Newton enlists the help of grizzled inventor, Frank Walker (played by George Clooney), to help her navigate this alternate universe and, at the same time, fend off evil, animatronic androids. Eventually, the humans come out on top, and they enlist a new generation of interdimensional travelers to navigate and protect the titular Tomorrowland.
4/7 Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Okay, so this one is technically set in 1989 – not exactly the future. However, in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the fate of the future is in the hands of two San Diegan teenage burnouts: Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves). The unlikely heroes must travel back in time, enlist some of history’s greatest icons (Napoleon Bonaparte, Socrates, Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, and others), and pass their high school history class. That’s because, if they don’t, they won’t eventually write music so beautiful, so universally beloved that it saves humanity from collapsing in the year 2688.
At first glance, Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her may come across as a bit dystopian. In the somewhat near future, humans have ingratiated themselves so deeply with technology that they even date artificial intelligence systems. That’s the position the lead character, Theodore (played by Joaquin Phoenix), finds himself in. He starts dating Samantha, an AI companion voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Eventually, Samantha becomes too advanced to have a meaningful relationship with Theodore; and while that might seem like a sad ending, it actually bolsters Theodore’s faith in real, tangible human connection.
2/7 Meet the Robinsons
Leave it to animated family-friendly movies to provide an optimistic view of the future. Unlike the jaded, “adult” films of the sci-fi genre, the kid’s movies are more inclined to have a hopeful outlook on the future of humanity. Enter Meet The Robinsons, the 2007 animated film in which a young boy gets visited by another curious kid from the future. The time-traveling tyke takes his new friend with him in his time machine to the future, where the two spend an entire day getting into boyish hijinks amongst the futuristic, and benevolent, technology of tomorrow.
At the beginning of the film, Christopher Nolan’s intergalactic epic, Interstellar, shows a bleak interpretation of the future. The earth has succumbed to irreparable climate change; crops are scarce; and storms are more frequent and intense. So, the humans set out to find a new home on a new planet, led by Matthew McConaughey’s character, Cooper. Although the interplanetary journey comes with some major hiccups along the way (like gigantic, world-swallowing waves), Cooper is ultimately successful and makes a safe return to earth…or, rather, humanity. Instead of earth, the future humans – due to time dilation and proximity to black holes, Cooper’s journey took many, many years on earth time – have left their home planet, and now inhabit a cylindrical, self-sustaining space station.