Science fiction has always drawn inspiration from real-world fears. Since the news in 2016 is dominated by doom, the year’s scifi movies and TV shows have been doing their part to reflect our nightmarish times—and to dream up the worst-case scenarios we might face in the future. Such as these...
UFOs have long been a staple of science fiction (emphasis on the fiction). But lately, the possibility of actually contacting extraterrestrial life has never seemed more within reach. There’s the alien megastructure mystery, the strange signal that was recently detected emanating from a near-ish star, the thrilling discoveries of Earth-like exoplanets, and the continued obsession with the Fermi paradox.
And if pop culture is any indication, the aliens we’re going to encounter won’t be friendly. Independence Day: Resurgence—from apocalyptic disaster-movie maestro Roland Emmerich—suggests that even decades of preparation won’t be enough to prevent wrath from above. We’re in similar levels of deep shit according to 10 Cloverfield Lane and The 5th Wave. And once the aliens touch down on Earth, they aren’t at all interested in building intergalactic friendships. The USA show Colony depicts what it might be like to live in a Los Angeles controlled by alien occupiers. In short, it ain’t too nice.
Another perspective comes courtesy of Arrival, which looks to offer some hope amid the chaos; an early review dubbed it “the anti-Independence Day” for its thoughtfulness and lack of explosions. And we may need it more than we realize—the film is due out November 11, by which time we’ll know who the next U.S. president will be.
Science fiction has plenty to say about shady government and all the conspiracies it inspires and the lives it destroys. The Hunger Games and all its imitators nearly exhausted the theme of teens growing up in dystopian times. Now, it’s time for tweens to panic. Stranger Things is the obvious example here, with telekinetic Eggo lover Eleven being the product of an off-the-books Department of Energy experiment to create human weapons.
Side effects of this scheme include the unleashing of a monster that dwells in a parallel world, the loss of innocence among all the kids in Hawkins, and death (RIP Barb, that seemingly nice guy who ran the local diner, and who knows who else).
The uniquely talented kid at the center of Midnight Special endured pursuit not just by the government, but a sketchy religious cult, while the tykes in Let’s Be Evil turned into monsters after being overly exposed to virtual reality. The title character of the upcoming M.R. Carey adaptation, The Girl With All the Gifts, is a preteen with special qualities that just might help her survive the apocalypse—if the sinister scientist who’s determined to hunt her down doesn’t snatch her up first.
As the planet gets hotter, storms get worse, climate change causes food shortages, the Arctic melts, toxic air pollution takes up residence in the human brain, and worse, scifi’s future landscapes start to seem inevitable rather than speculative. On Wayward Pines, a few cool people and a whole mess of jackasses survive way past the extinction of the human race, only to discover that the environmental damage wrought in the 21st century is still dangerous as ever thousands of years later. Zoo imagines a world in which an infection causes animals to rise up against humans; it’s a storyline both silly and compelling enough to have recently been renewed for a third season.
Elsewhere, disease and plagues run rampant. The Last Ship is about the few humans who’ve survived a terrible virus outbreak, as is the very, very, different in tone Last Man on Earth. Today, Zika, tomorrow... global pandemic?
The Purge: Election Year, High-Rise, and Mr. Robot all seem kind of possible, if not probable, given the way the world is going. The least subtle of the bunch even used “Keep America Great” as its tagline, and was released on Fourth of July weekend.
While season one of Mr. Robot was all about planning a hack that would bring the world’s biggest and most evil corporation to its knees, season two has been all about the aftermath—and how things have somehow gotten worse. Of course a big part of that is how the main characters have been forced to deal with the consequences of their actions. But the show also telegraphs how a disruption meant to kneecap the big baddies has caused a lot of collateral damage. Small businesses have gone under, piles of stinky NYC garbage hasn’t been picked up in weeks, and the economic instability has actually allowed the puppetmasters to grow even stronger.
Aliens are scary, but homegrown zombies and demons are somehow way worse. Which would you rather deal with, The Walking Dead’s ghoulies (which have a way of making the few humans left standing turn evil, too), or the ancient and very pissed-off Deadites that threaten all of existence on Ash vs. Evil Dead?
Gonna go with Deadites. They’re scary as hell—way scarier, in the immediate moment at least, than pollution—and at least you’d get to party with Bruce Campbell as the world ends.