Movies Set in 2019: Dystopian Sci-Fi Dominates, Will You Survive 'The Running Man'?

When cinema looked toward the future—our future—they saw only bleakness. That's the overwhelming message imparted by movies set in our year of 2019. To a movie, the "near future" of 2019 was seen as a nasty place, full of post-nuclear war wastelands, police state dystopias, science run amok and supernatural disaster.

2019, After the Fall of New York

88 Films

Combine Children of Men, Escape from New York and bad dubbing and you get 2019, After the Fall of New York. The world has been devastated by a nuclear war and only the motorcycle warrior Parsifal can break into New York and secure the last remaining fertile woman for the Pan-American Confederacy. But breaking out of the barbarous city will be the real challenge …

Directed by Italian trash cinema giant Sergio Martino (Torso, Island of the Fishmen), 2019, After the Fall of New York isn't the only spaghetti apocalypse movie set in 2019. Enzo G. Castellari, director of the original Inglorious Bastards, set his 1984 post-apocalyptic thriller The New Barbarians in 2019 as well. The movie, which follows a defector from a ruthless, wasteland gang, is a seeming knock-off of After the Fall of New York, just as After the Fall of New York knocks off Castellari's 1990: The Bronx Warriors.


Kaneda takes aim at an out-of-control Tetsuo. Toho

After its destruction in 1988, Tokyo was rebuilt as Neo-Tokyo, a high-tech city torn apart by political corruption and biker gang violence, including two young punks named Kaneda and Tetsuo. While Tetsuo had formerly depended on Kaneda, his awakening telekinetic powers soon transform him into the most dangerous being on the planet. Only the mysterious Akira, sealed away in a liquid nitrogen-cooled dome, holds the key to controlling Tetsuo's powers and preventing the destruction of Neo-Tokyo.

Released in 1998, director Katsuhiro Otomo's anime epic, based on his own manga series, remains one of the most jaw-dropping and skin-crawling cyberpunk movies ever envisioned. The 2019 of Akira doesn't look much like ours, but who knows, we have a whole year for psychic warfare to break out in the streets.

Blade Runner

Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) administers the Voigt-Kampff test. Warner Bros.

In the early 2000s, Artificial Intelligence was born. By 2019, Replicants built by the Tyrell Corporation are essential to our off-world colonies. The Replicants, nearly impossible to distinguish from real humans, are slave labor and soldiers, with no rights of their own. So when an advanced model Nexus-6 named Roy Batty deserts his post and brings a rebellious faction of Replicants to Earth, it's practically a planetary emergency. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a blade runner trained to assassinate rogue Replicants, is put on the case.

A 1982 adaptation of Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner is the definitive cyberpunk vision of the future.



The vampires have won. In the 2019 of Daybreakers, vampires rule the Earth and the few surviving humans are either in laboratory farms or hiding out in hidden compounds. While the vampire scenario doesn't sound all that likely, Daybreakers is a powerful metaphor for resource crunch and capitalist consumption. In a world overrun by "consumers," blood is in short supply and the necessary technological breakthroughs aren't arriving fast enough. Those vampires not rich enough to afford blood become feral, bat-like creatures, a fate which may soon befall the rest of the population.

The Island

Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson in "The Island." Warner Bros.

2005 saw the release of two powerful stories about clones: Never Let Me Go, a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, and The Island, a movie by Michael Bay. While both are about the lives of clones, biding their time until they are harvested for their organs, they couldn't be more different. The Island is essentially a futuristic escape thriller, as Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson) fight their way free of the cloning facility. But something must have been in the water, because apparently we were really worried about clones in the mid-2000s. Since then, genetics has become complicated in strange new ways we couldn't have foreseen. Rather than cloning, our energy is more aimed at rewriting our genetic code with new tech like CRISPR. In 2019, we're on track for a future more like Gattaca than The Island.

Mock up on Mu

Science fiction and the occult combine in "Mock up on Mu." Craig Baldwin

Craig Baldwin makes loosely narrative "collage" movies that feel like bizarro documentaries fallen out of a parallel universe. In 1991's Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America, Baldwin used a dizzying array of found footage to describe a massive uber-conspiracy involving an alien invasion with numerous parallels to American imperialism in South America. But it's his 2009 movie, Mock up on Mu that shines on a light on the strange future of 2019.

In Mock up on Mu, L. Ron Hubbard is still alive, running Scientology from his rehab center on the moon. But when he sends an agent to Earth, Hubbard accidentally reignites one of the greatest conflicts in occult history, between him and rocket mystic Jack Parsons, one of the founders of Jet Propulsion Laboratories. In the 1940s, Hubbard and Parsons "summoned" a woman they believed to be a nearly divine figure, Marjorie Cameron, as part of a sex magick ritual called the Babalon Working. The trio would get into all sorts of occult adventures, until a dispute over yacht business drove a wedge between Parsons and Hubbard. Hubbard would go on to found Scientology while Parsons would go on to blow himself up.

Mock up on Mu reunites the occult figures in a battle for the future. It's a 2019 built of stock footage from the past, blending the occult with sci-fi futurism to portray an odd future that may not look like ours, but nevertheless captures our era's disorienting strangeness.


Warner Bros. Pictures

Considering it came out in 2017, Geostorm can hardly be applauded for its predictions of 2019. A disaster movie directed by screenwriter Dean Devlin and starring Gerard Butler, Geostorm depicts a world torn apart by rampaging weather satellites infected with a computer virus. Contrary to conspiracy theories, we still can't control the weather, but Geostorm captures, in b-movie blockbuster form, our anxieties about the climate disaster our planet faces in the years ahead.

The Running Man

Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Running Man." TriStar Pictures

In 2019, America is a police state. When police helicopter pilot Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) refuses to open fire on a crowd of food riot protestors, the government pins the ensuing massacre on him. His punishment? Participate in a brutal, but popular, reality show called The Running Man.

Increased food insecurity, militarized police and exploitative television capitalizing on human suffering? Sounds like 2019 to me.

But how close did these movies get to the actual state of the world in 2019? Looking at the movies set in 2019 doesn't give us much of a realistic sense of what life is actually like now that the year has arrived. But many of the movies continue to reflect our anxieties about what the future holds in store. More than any specific prediction, what's so surprisingly similar is how universally pessimistic our idea of this era has always been. Whether we can make this year better than filmmakers had predicted is up to us.

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