Back to the Future 2 sent Marty from 1985 to the future. 30 years into the future to 2015 (to mirror the 30 years in the past he visited in the first film). The movie itself was made in 1989 but that’s close enough. The writers were probably not spending too much time trying to predict the future, so much as make some educated guesses for world-building and more importantly, jokes. The thing is, they got quite a bit right (through the lens of the 80s) and the stuff they got wrong gives us an insight into how things were different a generation ago. Let’s take a look:
What they got right:
Thumb ID for electronic transactions
The police ID Jennifer Parker when she’s passed out by a thumb scan. It also works as a door key. While we don’t exactly do either of those, we absolutely could. Computers and smart phones can be coded to unlock on thumb prints and there are some stores that you can use your thumb scan which is tied to your credit card.
We absolutely use drones for cameras. Maybe not for breaking news like when Griff crashed into the museum but drones are a great way to get footage for sporting events and newscasts. And Amazon wants to find a way to get them to deliver packages. Drones are definitely a part of our lives.
Charles Fleischer (Roger Rabbit) may look unconvincing in that old-man makeup but he’s collecting signatures on a tablet. That’s 100% a thing we can do these days. It probably seemed like Star Trek sci-fi when they made it but tablets are a huge part of our everyday lives now.
Flat screen TVs, wall-mounted and a widescreen aspect ratio, multiple channels
If Back to the Future 2 nailed anything it was TVs. They predicted flat-screens. They predicted we’d hang them on our walls. They figured out that we would have options to watch multiple channels simultaneously (sure, mostly we just stream one thing at a time but you can watch multiple NFL games on gameday if that’s what you want) and perhaps most impressively, they predicted the widescreen aspect ratio. TVs in the 80s were square. Impressive all around.
Not only do people use this at work all the time to talk to people in other time zones or even just in another building but we can use tools like Skype and Facetime to talk with family and friends. They got this one 100% right.
3D movies and sequels
We don’t have hologram movies, but 3D seems to have returned as more than a fad. And there’s no question that we’re obsessed with sequels and remakes with our movies. At the time, 4 Jaws movies seemed extreme? How about a dozen Fast & the Furious or Marvel superhero films? More prescient than they even intended.
A Miami baseball team
We can only give them about 33% correct on this one because the baseball team was named the Marlins and they are in the National League, not the American League. Still, they correctly guessed an expansion team and that’s pretty cool.
If anything, our wearable technology is less cumbersome than the glasses Marty, Jr. wears. He also is able to tell there’s an incoming phone call while watching something. It’s more likely someone would prefer to watch something on a smartphone or tablet but Google Glass and VR headsets like the Oculus Rift mean this isn’t that far-fetched a gag.
Voice activated technology
When Jennifer Parker is escorted to her future self’s home, she mutters “lights?” and the lights come on. With stuff like Siri and Cortana on our phones and our gaming/entertainment consoles also able to listen and answer our requests, we definitely have the technology for a smart house. It probably just wouldn’t be that convenient.
Motion-sensitive video games
The kids act like the old arcade game from the 80s is a baby’s toy because you have to use your hands. Well, with stuff like the Wii or Kinect at home, to say nothing of arcade games, you absolutely can play games without a controller these days.
What they got wrong:
Automatic dog walkers
I mean, maybe we could attach a drone to a dog collar but it just seems dangerous not to be there with your pet. Irresponsible, really. And I doubt it could clean up dog turds.
If there’s one thing they got flat out wrong, it’s the fact that no one’s using smartphones in 2015. I mean, that’s just an absurd idea today. The filmmakers just had no idea how prevalent cell phones would become. Handheld computers, basically. They were so close with the police and the signature gatherer, but nope.
Fax machines everywhere
I guess faxes were so ubiquitous in the 80s that it was completely inconceivable that we’d ever move on. But good luck finding a fax machine these days. We scan stuff or take pictures and email or text it to people these days. And our trees are grateful for it.
Look, a lot of the fashion is just a gag, but it’s still so weird. Double ties, vinyl hats and jackets, neon colors. It was just 80s fashion without a budget or filter.
We have some hydrated food but it does not inflate or anything. I think this bit of technology was based more on getting some money from Pizza Hut for a tie-in than any sort of real prediction.
Look, we could make a car fly. But not with anti-grav technology. Physics don’t support that. But even the idea of flying cars is just not realistic. I’d be shocked if this ever became a thing. Maybe mass transport but individual flying vehicles are just too dangerous. We have lots of car accidents in just 2 dimensions. You add a third and the first person to text while flying could take out a school playground. Or if someone forgets to fuel up, suddenly we have massive bombs dropping out of the skies on us. Even in this movie, with Doc being careful he almost crashes both in 2015 and when they return to 1985.
We’re a long way from having individual fusion reactors to power ourselves. But there are more environmentally friendly options that exist. Solar panel roofs to allow you to power your home. Or even power your electric car. It’s not 1.21 gigawatts but we do have options to power ourselves and be less reliant on a networked grid.
Laser discs having ever been popular
In the first scene in 2015, Doc and Marty are in an alley that’s stacked full of abandoned laser discs. And yeah, we have definitely transitioned to digital, streaming media. But Laser Discs never got so popular and then obsolete so quickly that they crowded our streets with their remnants. You don’t see any old media doing that, really.
What they made happen:
If there was anything from Back to the Future 2‘s future we all wanted it was a hoverboard. Hendo has made one, sort of. It works with magnets so it requires it’s own metal skatepark surfaces. But it exists and works. We’re not quite near what they have in the movie, but it still got made.
Nike has pledged to find a way to make the shoes that were just props in the movie. They already sold a limited edition prop version without the self-tying laces, but they swear those are coming.
What they probably got wrong:
C’mon, the Cubs look good but I can’t see them winning the World Series. Princess Diana died long before she could become Queen. And we’re still a year away from a female president.