California’s Fictional Future

In this week's newsletter, we create a DIY futuristic California film festival.

Harrison Ford as Rick Decker in the 1982 film Blade Runner.
Harrison Ford as Rick Decker in the 1982 film Blade Runner.

Flying cars, cloning, and really great neon—Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, Blade Runner, managed to correctly predict a number of present-day realities. Set in November 2019, this sci-fi classic features a grim dystopian Los Angeles, complete with bioengineered replicants and relentless rainstorms. In “Blade Runner and Los Angeles, Then and Now,” Alta Books editor David L. Ulin examines the L.A. of November 2019, both in Scott’s imagination and in reality. And in honor of Blade Runner’s “distant future” finally meeting up with the present, we offer this collection of films set in the California of tomorrow—and beyond: 

The Terminator, directed by James Cameron (1984): If you haven’t seen this blockbuster set in L.A., you likely know its most famous tagline: “I’ll be back.” In The Terminator, future real-life California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a cyborg assassin from the year 2029. And in what perhaps may have been a nod to Blade Runner, 1987’s The Running Man—also starring Schwarzenegger, this time as a police helicopter pilot—was also set in a very dystopian 2019 L.A.

Strange Days, directed by Kathryn Bigelow (1995): The film looks only four years into Los Angeles’s future—and sees a war zone. Virtual reality plays a big role in Strange Days’ version of 1999, as do modern-day social issues like racism, income inequality, and sexual violence.  

Escape from L.A., directed by John Carpenter (1996): This follow-up to Escape from New York is one of a number of sci-fi sequels in which the setting moves to California, including Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In Escape from L.A., an earthquake turns Los Angeles (specifically the area from Anaheim to Malibu) into an island from which, as the title would indicate, one would absolutely want to escape. 

Big Hero 6, directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams (2014): This Disney animated film is set in San Fransokyo, a charming blend of San Francisco scenery and Tokyo aesthetics. Aimed at children, the film spares us a smoldering dystopia in favor of colorful artwork and a happy ending. 

Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve (2017): Jump ahead 30 years in this Oscar-winning sequel to Scott’s original film as a young replicant blade runner discovers a startling secret. In addition to a barren Los Angeles, this version of Blade Runnertransports us to Las Vegas, a wasteland dotted with casino carcasses. 

And, of course, no list of films set in the future is complete without the cult favorite Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Released in 1989, it’s a tale of two stoner teens from San Dimas, California, who travel back in time courtesy of a phone booth from the year 2688. Phone booths in 2688? As if, dude!

Which of your futuristic favorites did we miss? Email to let us know and you may see your comments in a future newsletter.

Beth Spotswood is Alta's digital editor, events manager, and a contributing writer.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Alta Newsletter