Futuristic Forms of Transportation Depicted in Movies: Real or Fantasy?

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In many ways, on-screen transportation serves as more than a means of getting around: From scooters to autonomous cars and getaway vehicles, transportation makes for an enduring supporting character in countless beloved films. Personal vehicles like Doc Brown’s DeLorean and the free-thinking Trans Am known as K.I.T.T. almost come to life in their fictional slice of the universe.

But not all futuristic forms of transportation are created equal, and some concepts are much closer to reality than others. For instance, 2015 came and went without a flying car in sight, as predicted in 1989’s Back to the Future II. But an altered version of the film’s hoverboard is a popular mobility device in modern times, especially among young people.

Marty McFly’s imaginative adventures in a future where hoverboards are ubiquitous and pizzas cooked in seconds are just the beginning. In regards to futuristic movies, there have been both hits and misses where realistic transportation is concerned. Let’s take a look at various fictional versions of the future, and how people get around in the 23rd century, an alternate version of 2015, and beyond.

Looking to the Future of Mobility

Humanity’s relationship with transportation began in a simple manner, utilizing horses to help ease the burden of long journeys, or to carry heavy items. The humans who first domesticated and rode those early horses about 5500 years ago could scarcely have envisioned humming engines and people flying inside steel machines. Today, humanity’s vision knows no bounds, and the sky’s the limit for filmmakers dreaming of future forms of transportation.

One aspect of transportation that hasn’t been touched on by film is predicting future needs. In our current reality, we’re hurtling towards a society where the need for transportation may actually decrease. Even before COVID-19, remote work was gaining traction around the world, thanks to its myriad benefits such as scheduling flexibility. And with remote work, there’s no regular commute, a fact that may permanently alter the transportation industry.

But even remote workers need to leave the house sometimes, perhaps on a hoverboard or eco-friendly electric bicycle. The aforementioned Marty hopped on a borrowed hoverboard in his 2015, but his board differs dramatically from the real thing here in 2020. BTTF’s fictional hoverboard actually lived up to its name, floating an inch or so above the pavement. Conversely, modern hoverboards lack the ability to hover, and are instead outfitted with two opposing wheels.

Driving, Not Flying, Towards Autonomy

Marty’s chase through Hill Valley while operating a bright pink hoverboard was fantastic movie making, but the true stars of the onscreen transportation world have four wheels. What’s more, you’d be hard-pressed to find a sci-fi fan without an opinion on the flying car trope. It’s hard to deny the visual impact of a world in which flying cars are the norm, especially when it comes to a high-speed chase.

And evading the police in a flying vehicle grows more complicated still when the savior of the universe suddenly falls through your taxi’s roof. Movie buffs will never forget how Corbin Dallas (Bruce Willis) met the love of his life, Leeloo, played by Milla Jovovich, in 1999’s The Fifth Element. Flying cars made the iconic movie moment possible, as well as plenty of others including those in Total Recall and Blade Runner.

Yet instead of looking to the skies, perhaps filmmakers should keep their feet on the ground. The real-life future of personal cars is leaning more towards AI tech and alternative fuel sources. For example, it’s virtually guaranteed that vehicles powered by electricity will be an important part of our future. Electric vehicles are better for the environment than gas-powered vehicles and require less maintenance. However, Hollywood hasn’t yet put electric vehicles in a supporting role.

Connecting Commerce and Transportation

When it comes to transportation-based technological advancements, most of the focus is on personal vehicles, from smart cars to hoverboards. Yet global cities are growing at an unprecedented rate, and innovations in mobility should take large populations into account. On a logistical level, it makes more sense to develop efficient public transportation systems designed to move thousands of people in short order.

No matter if a bus, train, or ferry is one’s primary form of transit, however, a fare payment is still required. Fictional onscreen payment systems of the future can vary considerably, but many are digitized. Time is the universal currency in the film In Time, for example, but currency transfers occur digitally and instantaneously. In the real world, commerce still has plenty of analog aspects, but at least we’re not at Mad Max levels of bartering (or cars, for that matter).

In some ways, digital currency owes its existence to the rise of e-commerce, which has in turn impacted the transportation industry. In our digitized world, goods and services arrive faster than ever before, and they have to get there somehow. Unfortunately, Hollywood has yet to explore the connections between e-commerce and transportation, now or in a fictional dystopian future.

Final Thoughts

So what can we expect in regards to the future of transportation? Both onscreen and off, it’s anyone’s guess, although some ideas are more innovative than others. While flying cars don’t appear to be on the horizon, car culture will remain as impactful as ever. Film buffs will continue to watch our favorite big-screen stars speed through life, whether on two wheels, four, or via efficient public transport of the future.

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ScreenInvasion Staff

ScreenInvasion Staff