Last week, humanity saw two minutes of our future, in the FlashForward series premiere. But can they alter their fates, or are they set in stone? We look at other premonitions and flashforwards from science fiction for clues.
If You See the Future, You Can Change It
Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer: In the source material for the television series, the consciousness of the human population is flung 21 years into the future for two minutes. Although some who see the vision are resigned to their eventual fates or actively seek them out, there are those who quickly prove that the future isn't set in stone — by killing themselves so their visions cannot come to pass.
Next: Nic Cage plays a fellow who can see two minutes into the future. It's helpful for winning blackjack, but he otherwise finds that by observing his own future, he changes what his future will be.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer: Alice Cullen has a limited ability to see into the future, but her vision of the future depends entirely on the decisions humans and vampires have made in the here and now. If a person changes his/her mind at the last moment, the future will be very different from what Alice has perceived.
The Power of Five by Anthony Horowitz: Matt Freeman accurately predicted his parents' death, but did nothing to prevent it. Later, Matt learned that his dreams are, in fact, precognitive, and that seeing the future allows him to change it.
Star Wars: A handful of Force users, notably those related to Anakin Skywalker, have Force Visions of possible futures. While the Sith tend to see the visions as true or try to make them come to pass, the Jedi tend to view the future as ever-shifting. Of course, Anakin Skywalker was prodded down his path to the Dark Side because he was trying to avert the future he saw, only to end up helping it along.
Marvel Comics: Several characters in the Marvel Universe have the ability to see into the future, but there are plenty of indications that those visions aren't set in stone. Irene Adler, also known as Destiny, has the ability to see probable futures and determine which events and choices would lead to which future. Similarly, Layla Miller has the ability to see paths of causality and understands how to change or avoid future events. And though Tick-Tock sees a mere 60 seconds into the future, he sees diverging paths as well and knows which ultra-near future is most likely to occur.
No Heroics: Timebomb can also see 60 seconds into the future, and can make small changes based on his predictions. But burned out from the superhero life, he mostly uses it to predict whether pick-up lines will succeed, or whether the train will come.
You Can Change the Future, But Only to a Certain Extent
Lost: Desmond Hume sees visions of the future, notably of Charlie's death, and can avert specific instances he foresees. But he eventually realizes that Charlie's death is inevitable, and that he can only hold it off for so long. Other castaways have similar visions of the future, but are unable to prevent those visions from coming to pass.
Supernatural: Sam Winchester has visions of the future that sometimes allow Sam and his brother Dean to avert catastrophes. However, Sam's powers are a far cry from the divine prophecy exhibited by Chuck, whose visions of the future always come true.
You Can't Change Anything
The Dead Zone: Johnny Smith's visions of the past and near future are always accurate, and he uses his precognitive and postcognitive abilities to solve crime. His accuracy becomes distressing, however, as he captures glimpses of an apocalyptic future tied to the congressional election of Greg Stillson.
Premonition: When Sandra Bullock experiences the day after her husband's accident before the accident ever occurs, she thinks she has been given the opportunity to save him. But it's her attempts to avert his deadly accident that end up causing his death.
Your VIsions May Come True, But Are Still a Warning
Angel: Doyle (and later Cordelia) receives visions of people in trouble. Said people always end up in trouble, but the purpose of the visions is to give Angel time to save the victim — or the world.
Charmed: Phoebe Halliwell is another recipient of warning visions from the powers of good, visions that let Phoebe and her sisters take down demons and evil warlocks.
Eastwick: We don't yet know the full extent of Roxanne Torcoletti's precognitive powers, but in the pilot she's able to see the beginning of her daughter's assault, allowing her to nip it in the bud.
The Matrix Reloaded: Throughout the second Matrix film, Neo is plagued by visions of his beloved Trinity dying. She is shot and falls, just as it happens in his dreams, but he is able to make the choice to save her after the fact, digging the bullet out and bringing her back to life.
Your Vision Will Come True, Just Not in the Way You Thought
That's So Raven: Raven Baxter's brief flashes on the future always come true, but she generally misinterprets their meaning. Plus, she'll often spend half the episode trying to keep her vision from coming to pass, even though her actions inevitably lead up to the scene from her vision. After 100 episodes, she still hasn't learned.
Minority Report: Presumably, the visions of the precogs aren't 100 percent accurate, since the three occasionally occasionally disagree on how and whether a crime will be committed. But on top of that, they can only see the literal visual of the crime and not the circumstances, and the precrime unit may, at times, misinterpret the visions.
Battlestar Galactica: Caprica Six, Sharon Agathon, and Laura Roslin share a dream-like premonition. Although it's not a literal vision of the future, at least Sharon fears it signifies a future in which Baltar and Caprica kidnap Hera, although in the end, they merely rescue the child from Cavil and his forces.
Blake's 7: The Orac supercomputer is capable of many astounding feats of computation, and when it falls into the hands of the Liberator crew, it claims it can predict the future. To prove it, Orac shows them a video of the Liberator exploding. But it then proceeds to manipulate events so that a ship identical to the Liberator explodes, thus fulfilling its own prophecy.
Heroes: Although time travel has changed more than a few future events, premonitions hold quite a bit of predictive water. But even as most of Isaac Mendez's paintings come true, they don't occur in the way the viewer might expect, and Angela Petrelli's prediction that Matt Parkman would save Nathan's life has a horrifically twisted outcome.