"Minority Report" (2002)
Viable element: Technology that identifies crime before it happens.
Why? Far removed from the hopeful optimism of Steven Spielberg's "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Minority Report" exists in a perpetually bleached-out, rain-soaked futureworld where crime is foreseen by three psychic beings (mutants in the "X-Men" mold but confined to a fish tank, barely aware of their surroundings), with cops (like Tom Cruise) assigned to "pre-crime:" the apprehensions of murderers who haven't actually murdered anyone yet. It's a morally and philosophically thorny issue and one that is dealt with in surprising detail by the Spielberg film, though its provocative power could have been amplified further had he used the original title card that ended the movie that said something about the number of murders in the District of Columbia following the cancellation of the pre-crime governmental initiatives. This would have left some lingering doubt in the audience as to just how evil the whole experiment was, and questioned whether the end justified the means. But Spielberg, feeling that the ending was too downbeat, deleted the card and instead what we got was the gooey happy ending that has been the source of much consternation and debate.
Chances Of Actually Happening: Well, with pre-crime, it kind of already is. While the use of psychics is way more fantastical than the real world, you can look no further than your local newspaper and the recently uncovered evidence of widespread NSA spying, the data from which could easily be strung together to try and stop things that are about to happen. And if theres one thing that "Homeland" and "24" have taught us, it's that governmental agencies monitor "chatter" as a way to predict where an attack might occur, so it's not such a big leap to apply that to regular crimes too (which is exactly the premise of "Person of Interest" btw). And judging by the generally apathetic response Edward Snowden's leak has gotten, no one's even going to mind that much.
"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)
Viable element: Space tourism.
Why? In Stanley Kubrick's boldly imagined classic "2001: A Space Odyssey," outer space is just a brief commercial ride away (on the Orion III space plane, for those playing at home). This idea of breezy space travel is something that it shares, along with a circular orbital space station, with "Elysium," and countless other science fiction tales. But there was something about the way that Kubrick brought it to life: it's very mundaneness made it seem real and alive in ways that, had it been fancy and tricked-out, would have seemed phony. In fact, it seemed a lot more placid than the typical commute into New York City but like much of the rest of the movie, its power lies in its simplicity. What is kind of funny is that, despite the number of things that Kubrick's film ultimately got eerily right about what life in the future would be like, he got the provider of space tourism wrong: Kubrick chose PanAm as the company that would last well into the future, when in fact, the company shut down on December 4th, 1991. Still, he's in good company: "Blade Runner" also features references to PanAm, among other companies that fell victim to the "'Blade Runner' curse."
Chances Of Actually Happening: Space tourism is happening, very soon in fact. With nationally funded space programs all but defunct, private companies are moving into the cosmos (as pointed out by a recent, totally brilliant New York Magazine cover story), on a global level. The furthest along and by far the flashiest is Virgin Galactic, the new outing by Virgin founder Richard Branson, whose program will offer orbital human spaceflights. Branson's plan rests on that thin, blurry line between the insane and the visionary.
"The Island" (2005)
Viable element: Organ harvesting from clones.
Why? Because rich people get old and die, and in "The Island," they just order a spare part from one of their perfectly duplicated clones, who are stored away in a secret facility in the desert. This isn't a terribly original idea ("Logan's Run" and last year's "Cloud Atlas" cover similar thematic ground and a 1979 movie called "Parts: The Clonus Horror," was so similar that its creators sued the producers), but it is a singularly powerful one: the quest for immortality is a staple of science fiction, as is the cautionary notion that, with scientific advancement, comes morally thorny repercussions. In "The Island," Michael Bay populates a world full of clones that are unaware that they're meat for the grist, but once they become aware, they stage a revolution (of sorts). The material would probably have been better suited for a director who could navigate the subtle emotional intricacies of the issue, and often times it feels like a tug of war between the director who is striving for something more and the one who is perfectly happy to stage a massive, futuristic car chase. But still: the idea of organ harvesting from clones resonates.
Chances Of Actually Happening: While breeding fully formed clones for the specific purpose of organ harvesting seems a bit out of the question (one thing that "The Island" never answers is, if these clones are being grown as exact doubles for their sick real world counterparts, wouldn't the clones have the same genetic deficiencies?), specifically growing test-tube versions of certain organs (like that rat that had the human ear on its back) or synthesizing blood that the body won't reject, is real world science being developed right now. Six days ago, it was reported that American scientists had grown a human ear in a lab. This isn't science fiction anymore; it's science fact.
Nearly every science fiction movie ever
Viable element: Laser cannons
Why? Here's a hot tip: if you want your movie or short story to seem hopelessly futuristic, just add some laser cannons. Apparently in the future, ballistic, projectile-based firearms are obsolete. Instead, everyone is using lasers. Because lasers are really future-y. Two franchises that have proven endlessly influential in the science fiction genre, "Star Wars" and "Star Trek," heavily feature laser cannons, as do countless other movies, both good and bad. (For future reference of the laser cannon influence, look no further than the popular series of "Laser Cats" digital shorts that originally appeared on "Saturday Night Live.") Keep your lousy bullets and cannon balls, we've got lasers!
Chances Of Actually Happening: Disappointingly, the most commonplace thing lasers are used for today is the handy removal of unwanted body hair (gross). But that's all about to change... for the awesome. Earlier this month it was revealed that laser cannons are very much on the horizon, and being worked on right now... although so far the only thing they've been able to do is pop balloons really well. Hey, scientific progress sometimes inches along, it doesn't burst forth with galvanic intensity and when the planet comes under attack from a balloon-shaped alien intelligence, we've nothing to worry about.
"Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" (2004)
Viable element: Memory erasing.
Why? Because, at its heart, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is a romantic comedy, one that just so happens to be wrapped inside a thick blanket of science fiction, it has to have a gimmick that appeals to the heart as much as the head. It's in keeping with this that our schlubby hero (Jim Carrey) goes to a low rent experimental doctor's office that specializes in erasing unwanted memories. Specifically, Carrey wants to get rid of the memories of an ex-girlfriend, played by Kate Winslet. In doing so, however, he goes down the rabbit hole of his own brain and the movie tantalizingly offers the question: what would you do if you found out that your ex already had the procedure done? Or what if you figured out you had it done once before? The script, by Charlie Kaufman, is one of the most "special" special effects in the history of science fiction, without a single laser fired or robot sent back through time. It's a movie about memory and technology and love. And no matter how wild the technology gets, we can still relate.
Chances Of Actually Happening: It could be happening very soon. As far back as 2009, brain researchers seemed to be on the cusp of technology and practices that would allow you to erase unwanted or traumatic memories. The real-world implications would probably be more military-based than just wanting to zap away memories of an ex-girlfriend, most likely to help with the healing in post-traumatic stress situations. There's also EMDR therapy, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is kind of like a lo-fi version of what they do in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."
So what other science fiction-y technology did we leave off that you think could be just around the corner? Pods that magically teleport you from one location to the next ("The Fly")? Giant robots built expressly for the purpose of battling equally giant robots ("Pacific Rim")? What about the colonization of the moon ("Moon") or Mars ("Total Recall")? Maybe you think time travel isn't just possible, it's probable? When it comes to speculative science fiction, what seems totally far out now could happen sooner than we could ever imagine.