Does Hollywood need more movies like Star Trek and fewer like Avatar and The Matrix? According to Silicon Valley tech investor Peter Thiel, the dystopic futures portrayed in Hollywood movies are contributing to the "deceleration" of the tech industry. I doubt that movies have that effect, but Thiel does bring up an interesting point. Are there sci-fi movies set in the future that don't make it look bad?
Turns out, there are few futuristic films that aren't dystopias. After scouring this list, this one, and this one, I didn't come up with many films. One kinda exception? Contact, which shows off some new technology but is set in the present. Thiel cites Star Trek as a rare positive example. Using that logic, Star Wars is also a positive depiction of the future, its Death Star notwithstanding, since isn't overly focused on the connection
between technology and evil. And why would they be, when they have Jedi magic? The 2011 indie
Robot & Frank was a rare humanistic sci-fi film, centering on the
relationship between an aging man and the robot entrusted to care for
him. These movies are rare examples of good movies that focus on a positive future, but there's a reason most others delve into the negative. What's the point of showing a perfect
future world? There's got to be something wrong with it to make it
interesting, or someone bad to fight, whether it's too-smart robots,
power-tripping leaders, or aliens.
Dystopias tend to have Big Brotherism, an accentuated form of inequality, hedonism, or environmental ravaging, to name a few choice examples. These are all problems that already exist in society, albeit at a more manageable level. The future is an excuse to look at how new technology brings out the worst in humanity. The viewers get to gawk at the snazzy technology, and maybe connect the problems of the future to the problems of the present. Just because a society may have some problems doesn't take away from the awe of seeing people swipe virtual computer screens, ride in flying cars, or teleport. Most importantly, Thiel is forgetting about the endings. Eventually, the Terminator is killed (for the time being), the Na'vi are safe, and Wall-E starts to restore Earth's environment. Presumably, a lot of people in dystopias live happily ever after once the credits roll. The PayPal and Facebook investor should know more than anyone about the disruptive nature of technology. That's one metaphor these films address that resonates with viewers across time.