We’re only a few weeks into 2024, and yet it already feels as if this year is set to be a turbulent one. Attacks in Israel, hostages in Gaza, bombs dropping on Yemen, a Japanese plane crashing in a blaze of fire—we truly are living through wild times.
But maybe 2024 was always destined to be a year of global chaos and dramatic change. After all, it’s the setting for a wealth of spellbinding fiction. From augmented psychic dogs to spiritual space travel, from energy crises and race riots to computer-simulated reality, here’s a look at what the next twelve months might have in store according to some of art’s most imaginative thinkers.
Related: Top 10 Twisted Theories About the Future of Technology
10 Highlander II: Extreme Measures to Ward Off Environment Destruction
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The original Highlander is something of a cult movie, a beloved warrior adventure from the mid-1980s that struck a chord with many fans of the genre. The 1991 sequel, on the other hand, is not. It is one of only a few films to hold a 0% rating from critics at Rotten Tomatoes, even being described by the late Roger Ebert as “the most hilariously incomprehensible movie I’ve seen in many a long day.”
But while most viewers can agree that it holds little artistic merit, what, if anything, does it tell us about the year ahead? Highlander II paints 2024 as a time of environmental catastrophe. Humanity has destroyed the ozone layer, leaving Earth exposed to a deadly onslaught of solar radiation. Fortunately, our lead man, Christopher Lambert, has a solution: a laser-powered shield to ward off the sun’s rays. Except it plunges the planet into endless darkness while temperatures and humidity become almost unbearable.
Last summer saw record-breaking heat waves, and scientists say gaps in the ozone are widening at an alarming rate. Highlander II may be a ridiculous, unpopular movie, but its central themes may be closer to home than we like to believe.
9 Simulacron-3: Questioning the Artificial Nature of Reality
A pioneering work of science fiction, Simulacron-3’s vision for the new year is a far cry from Highlander II. But the 1964 novel is every bit as surreal. In an early example of the cyberpunk genre, author Daniel Galouye imagines a future of virtual landscapes and simulated realities.
The story is thought to have indirectly influenced The Matrix, as well as inspiring movie and TV adaptations of its own. In the book, we see scientists design something known as a “total environment simulator.” The team develops a city in which everyone and everything is computer-generated. The people living there take part in market research with no idea their world is fake. But a series of strange events leads one of the programmers to wonder if he, too, is living in a virtual reality.
Simulation theory, the idea that the world as we know it is a highly complex computer program, has been up for discussion for a while now. Leading minds like Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom have written scientific papers pondering the artificial nature of reality. Perhaps 2024 could be about to throw us a curveball as the year we take the red pill and break free from our computerized faux reality. Who knows what the future holds?
8 Narcopolis: Legalizing Drugs Bolsters Big Pharma’s Shady Dealings
Other than a handful of reviews, Justin Trefgarne’s debut movie didn’t get much of a reception upon its 2015 release. The techno-thriller is set in a future Britain where the government has legalized all drugs. Ambro, a shady pharma company, comes up with a potent new type of narcotic. The movie follows Frank Grieves, a police officer and former addict, in his search for the truth about Ambro.
Narcopolis’s idea of 2024 is a mixed one. Distrust in big pharma has swept through Western society in recent years and shows no sign of slowing down. But the UK government says they have “no plans to alter our tough stance on drugs.” In July 2023, Sunak’s administration blocked a proposal by the Scottish government to remove criminal penalties around possession for personal use.
7 The Outer Limits: Feral Martians That Lurk Beneath the Sand
Rabid monsters that live beneath the vast sand plains of Mars. That’s what The Outer Limits imagined humans would have encountered by 2024. Their episode “The Invisible Enemy” first aired in 1964 and shows a team of astronauts encountering killer sand aliens on a mission to the red planet.
Now that we’re living in 2024, how feasible would it be for astronauts to travel to Mars? Well, the honest answer is that the technology doesn’t exist yet, but scientists are trying to get us there. NASA claims to be working on ways “to send astronauts to Mars as early as the 2030s.” They say advanced propulsion systems, inflatable landing gear, and state-of-the-art space suits should help them on their voyage to the red planet.
Who knows? Maybe sometime next decade, we, too, may end up face to face with a Martian sand monster.
6 A Boy and His Dog: Telepathic Canines after the Apocalypse
Fiction has provided us with a wealth of speculation on what the world might look like after an apocalypse. Most are nightmarish visions that show Earth ravaged by nuclear war or environmental disaster. Very few feature a telepathic dog.
But for author Harlan Ellison—and for director L.Q. Jones, who brought his vision to the silver screen—genetically enhanced intelligent canines are what 2024 has in store for us. In Ellison’s novella, two further world wars have almost destroyed humanity. Billions are dead. Many of the survivors hide themselves away in underground cities. Vic and Blood, the young man and dog in the book’s title, stick together to survive the wastelands. Food is scarce; women are scarcer still. Together, the pair hunt without mercy, tracking down everything they need to feed their hunger and satisfy their desires.
Of all the works in this list, A Boy and His Dog offers probably the bleakest view of the future. But global tensions are sky-high, and regional conflicts keep spilling over into full-scale wars. Maybe we should prepare ourselves for the conflict and the telepathic dogs to come.
5 Beyond the Time Barrier: Nuclear Recklessness Brings Us Near to Extinction
Like many on this list, Beyond the Time Barrier paints 2024 as a year of environmental ruin. Nuclear testing in the 1970s played havoc with the ozone layer, leaving Earth unshielded against cosmic rays. The radiation transforms some of humanity into shaggy-haired mutants that live on the surface, while others find solace underground. Those that evade full mutation are often left mute and infertile.
Not surprising for a ’60s B-movie, Beyond the Time Barrier contains a lot of unrealistic sci-fi. Viewers can enjoy the delights of time-traveling airplanes and a spaceship that splits in two. Not only does this technology not exist today, it’s impossible by all known science. But the stark warnings about reckless attitudes to nuclear technology are as important today as they were over 60 years ago.
4 Frontlines: Fuel of War: Energy Crisis Leads to Bloody Global Conflict
Frontlines: Fuel of War hit the shelves in 2008, but the Xbox 360 game is set 16 years later amidst a violent global grapple for dwindling energy supplies. Oil reserves are low; natural gas is running out. In this pitiless fight for resources, the U.S. and EU have teamed up to form the Western Coalition, as have Russia and China in the Red Star Alliance.
Frontlines players find themselves in the role of a Western Coalition fighter. They use explosives, helicopters, and air strikes—everything in their power to combat foreign enemies on the vast battlefields of war.
While Frontlines’ world-building is hardly rich in nuance, its broad vision for the future seems to be growing into a worrying reality. China and Russia now have a more unified energy relationship than before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In 2019, China embarked on a $400 billion deal with Russia’s Gazprom to supply gas via the Power of Siberia pipeline. Meanwhile, Russia remains one of China’s main sources of crude oil, second only to Saudi Arabia.
3 The Last Days of American Crime: Government Brainwashing to Repress Crime
A futuristic sci-fi heist movie, The Last Days of American Crime is a Netflix original adapted from the Rick Remender graphic novel of the same name. The U.S. government is poised to broadcast an advanced signal that stops anyone from committing a crime. Once the American Peace Initiative goes off, there will be no more illegal activity, giving criminals a short window of time in which to squeeze in one last job.
Obviously, this sort of mass mind-control technology does not and probably will never exist. Or is that what they want you to think?
2 Parable of the Sower: Environmental Disaster Leads to Spiritual Space Travel
From the visionary mind of Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower is one of the most beloved and respected pieces of environmental sci-fi ever written. Butler writes about a world torn apart by climate disaster and social inequality. The better-off families live in closed neighborhoods. By building walls around their streets, they keep themselves separate from the drug-addled criminal wastelands outside.
In this deeply divided society, one young woman comes up with a new spiritual belief system. Earthseed, as she calls it, is based on change, empathy, and a desire to leave Earth so humanity can continue on other planets.
1 Star Trek: Riots against Social Collapse Inspire Positive Reform
First broadcast almost 30 years ago, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is strangely accurate in its predictions for 2024. “Past Tense” is a two-parter from season three that sees the crew wind up in what is now modern-day San Francisco.
The trio is beamed down to a version of the U.S. beset with inequality. The divide between rich and poor is plain to see. Hoards of people have nowhere to live. State racism often results in violent police crackdowns against people of color in the deprived “sanctuary districts.” But the episodes end on an optimistic note for the future. The anger of the lower classes spills over into a series of riots, bringing attention to their plight and inspiring a mass movement for social change.
A prescient view of the 21st century from a show that has never shied away from political and social narratives. But the writers say they never set out to tell the future but to reflect the state of the country as they saw it at the time.
“We weren’t being predictive,” explained Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who came up with the idea with his colleague Ira Steven Behr. “We were just looking out our windows in the ’90s. My wife worked with homeless and mentally ill people as a psychotherapist. Ira said what convinced him to do the episodes was walking through Palisades Park in Santa Monica and seeing all the homeless people there. They’re still there. It hasn’t changed.”