The Future of Manufacturing, According to Movies

Movies often offer glimpses into the future. 

While futuristic technology may seem fantastical to present-day audiences, filmmakers can also be uncannily prophetic. There’s no shortage of movies that have correctly predicted today’s manufacturing technologies. 

So as we peer beyond the Fourth Industrial Revolution, perhaps the biggest clues are within the entertainment we enjoy today. 

The following are some of the most notable examples of movies depicting the future of manufacturing, in chronological order by the year they take place.

Metropolis (1927)

The pioneering scifi film Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang in 1927, depicts a dystopian future in 2026 with society sharply divided between wealthy elitists and the working poor. 

Gustav Fröhlich is Freder, the wealthy son of city ruler who discovers the grim conditions of the workers when he ventures into the city’s depths. After meeting Maria and her robotic double, both played by Brigitte Helm, he becomes determined to bridge the social divide. 

The story unfolds with dramatic visuals of towering skyscrapers and massive factories. The world of Metropolis is full of technological wonder and social turmoil. 

The film’s depiction of large-scale automation and robotics aligns with current trends in manufacturing, though fully sentient robots are unlikely to materialize by 2026. 

I, Robot (2004)

The 2004 science fiction thriller I, Robot is inspired by Isaac Asimov’s short story collection of the same name. Set in 2035, the film follows Del Spooner, a technophobic Chicago detective played by Will Smith as he investigates a possible robot crime. 

He’s led to a much larger threat to humanity, joined by Bridget Moynahan as a robot psychologist. Directed by Alex Proyas, I, Robot blends action with philosophical questions about the perils of AI and the role of robots in society. 

In this 2035, autonomous vehicles and advanced robotics are common, with robots assuming various public and domestic duties. Manufacturing is highly interconnected, with automated assembly lines producing humanoids en masse. 

Robotics and industrial automation is advancing rapidly, making this portrayal somewhat plausible for the not-so-distant future. 

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

The follow-up to 1982’s Blade Runner is set 30 years after the first film. It follows Officer K, a new blade runner and replicant played by Ryan Gosling, who uncovers a long-buried secret that could plunge society’s remnants into chaos. 

The discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard, a former LAPD blade runner from the original, played by Harrison Ford, who’s been missing for decades. Existential dread oozes from the neo-noir aesthetics, with a plot that explores identity, humanity, and the moral implications of artificial intelligence. 

In this future, highly advanced synthetic humans called replicants are embedded into society for various labor-intensive tasks. The tech suggests a profound mastery of biotechnology and synthetic biology. 

While biotechnology has advanced considerably in recent years, synthetic humans are probably a ways off. Achieving that by 2049 is a far-off possibility due to the technical challenges and ethical considerations.

Minority Report (2002)

Steven Spielburg’s Minority Report, released in 2002, is based on the 1956 Philip K. Dick short story of the same name. Tom Cruise stars as John Anderton, the head of a special PreCrime police unit in the year 2054 that uses psychic technology to arrest and convict murderers before they commit their crimes. 

When Anderton himself is predicted to be a murderer, he goes on the run and uncovers deep flaws in the system he once trusted implicitly. 

The advanced tech depicted includes personalized advertising through retinal scanning, autonomous vehicles, and Precogs, humans with psychic abilities kept in a state of semi-consciousness. 

The depiction of these technologies suggest significant advancements in biotechnology and data systems. 

While personalized advertising and autonomous vehicles are in development, the fully integrated and ethnically complex systems such as predictive policing and biometric surveillance are unlikely to materialize in our timeline by 2054. 

Total Recall (2012) 

The 2012 reimagining of 1990’s Total Recall is set in a dystopian future near the end of the 21st century. The world is divided into two superpowers: The United Federation of Britain and The Colony of Australia. 

Total Recall 2012 stars Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid, a factory worker seeking escape from his mundane life. He turns to Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories, but the procedure sets off a string of events revealing his entire life might be a fabrication. His wife, played by Jessica Biel, is actually an undercover agent monitoring him. 

The 1990 and 2012 Total Recalls draw from Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for the Wholesale,” but they approach technology differently. Total Recall 1990 emphasizes futuristic gadgets, vehicles, and living environments.

The 2012 version, however, dives deep into the future of manufacturing with rapid construction, advanced robotics, and highly integrated AI. There are also highly efficient transportation systems like “The Fall,” which transports commuters through the Earth’s core. 

Most of the advanced technology in either Total Recall is likely to remain science fiction into the next century. 

Elysium (2013)

Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium, released in 2013, depicts the year 2154 with Earth ravaged and overpopulated. In this future, wealthy elitists live on Elysium, a luxurious space habitat with advanced medical tech that can cure any ailment. 

Everybody else, however, lives in poverty without healthcare access. Matt Damon plays Max Da Costa, an ex con turned factory worker who embarks on a dangerous mission after a lethal radiation dose gives him just days to live. 

As he tries to break into Elysium and release its medical tech to the world, the story explores social inequality, justice, and the effects of advanced technology.  

Despite technological advancements, there’s still a need for human factory workers in Elysium’s 2154. While some of the technology in Elysium is possible in our timeline, humanity is a ways off from instant cure-all solutions and automated societal management. 

WALL-E (2805)

WALL-E, a 2008 Pixar film, depicts Earth in the year 2085 as an abandoned wasteland covered with garbage. Humans fled the planet due to the overwhelming pollution, but the robot WALL-E remains diligently cleaning up the planet. 

After meeting EVE, a sleek robot sent to check for signs of life on Earth, WALL-E goes on a space-bound adventure that alters humanity’s relationship with the planet. 

In the world depicted in WALL-E, the manufacturing landscape on Earth is nonexistent, but the broader context suggests highly advanced and integrated industrial technologies. 

The presence of robots like WALL-E imply that society has reached a high degree of automation. Since robots can perform complex tasks autonomously, the manufacturing processes before the exodus would’ve been highly automated with robots building other robots akin to self-replicating systems. 

In the film, humans live in a massive spaceship called Axiom. The ship’s ecosystem includes everything from food synthesis to waste management, suggesting an advanced, closed-loop system emphasizing resource recycling and manufacturing efficiency. 

In the present day, robotics in waste management is advancing. Comprehensive space living solutions are still just concepts. 

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