The Future City in Films – A Top 10 List

By Gabe Bailer

Has the future city already been designed by Hollywood? Some sci-fi movies it sure seems so. These movies bring the future of urban and social environment to life and relays us a visual sense of what the future landscape can encompass. From flying cars, to mile high skyscrapers, to artificial intelligence, vertical cities, to social injustice, dystopian landscapes, the vision of the urban future is alive and tantalizing as designed by Hollywood.

So with my love of sci-fi movies here are my list of top 10 movies with the visual imagery and creative intuition of what the urban city of the future may be.

10 Children of men

Taking place in the landscapes of England in 2027 where mankind is dying as it can no longer appropriate. Starting in the streets of London you see the two sides.  For the “common” folk streetscapes of London are littered with gas fizzling deteriorated autos traversing the deteriorating London infrastructure. Then on the other side of the tracks, the tranquil side of London with the glorious English parks where the elite live. The dystopian side of me has always been drawn to this movie but there is a bigger cultural element to this. “Refugees” defined as anyone not English and aptly referred to as fugees are herded like cattle and thrown into refugee camps. Children of Men is a much watch and a scary precursor to our future. You’ll have to watch the movie to see if mankind survives.

9 Looper

Another dystopian theme sci fi movie focuses on the use of time travel utilized by organized crimes to “erase” people from existence. The movie takes place in Kansas City with organized crime running the city. A backdrop of high-rise buildings combined with shantytowns with people living in shambles and beat up cars dress the landscape. An interesting theme of the movie is that 10% of the population has a mutant gene which gives them telekinetic powers. Not to be a spoiler but let’s just say TK is a very important piece of the movie. Is a mutant gene coming to our population? Are we evolving as a mankind with X-Men?

8 Back to the future 2

When doc brown says to Marty where we’re going has no roads, we knew the flying car was a reality and the DeLorean flies off to Hill Valley. The year was of the movie was 2015 and unfortunately the flying ubiquitous car isn’t here yet. Auto cars seems next in line but flying cars will be upon us eventually. Out of all the sci fi movies on this list BF2 is the best positive portrayal of the future. From the highways of the sky, to the robotic gas attendants, to the hologram movie promotions and of course levitating skateboard. On a side note, in the future there are also some hare Krishna’s. There is a scene with a pack of Hara Krishna’s dancing and singing their hara ways.

7 I robot

The inevitable is coming. Ai (artificial intelligence) is upon us. Who would have thought a Will Smith movie would make this list but it did. The year is 2035 and the largest corporation in the world is not the ubiquitous amazon but US Robots and Mechanical which beat Google, FB and Apple to monopolize AI. Here robots are becoming bother personal assistants and are protected by the three laws of robotics. Meaning they will be obedient robots, but there is always a catch. Are they getting too smart where they will have a one off against mankind? Possibly.

6 Total recall

You can’t have a sci fi list without an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. This is the first Philip k Dick book to make the list (others are coming). Here Mr. Arnold saves the day for what planet mars…yes here Mars is colonized by a private conglomerate. Is this a foreshadowing for Elon musk? I mean Mr. Telsa did after all just launched the SpaceX reusable Falcon 9 rocket which has enough fire power to carry truckloads of material to Mars. Anyway back to Total Recall, besides the robotic Johnny cab drivers, the domed quadrants of mars with of course Venusville (the X-rated quadrant with the infamous dancer with you know what if you’ve seen the movie), the X-ray vision security before you board the train system with the wrath of terrorism along train lines this could be a scary precursor. Total Recall is a timeless Sci-fi movie and seems closer to reality with Elon Musk.

5 Star Wars

When one thinks of Star Wars one doesn’t think future cities. But hence besides the in between Jedi force, the x wing, the fraught landscapes of Tatooine, Jakku there are cities of the future. As a clarity, the cities within here incorporates all movies on the SW portfolio.

First is Bespin the mine floating city operated by the swindler Lando Calrissian in Empire Strikes Back. Imagine an independent city floating, with its own government and own police force flying the twin pod cloud car then look no farther than Bespin.

Then there is Coruscant the capital of the known Republic.  The whole city is one big planet in the style of Isaac Asimov’s foundation. The city with mile high buildings, ubiquitous flying cars is the definition of Ecumenopolis. Which is Greek for a “city made of the whole world”.

On a side note, Star Wars New Hope was one of the first movies where we sensed that droids were looked down upon. When the bartender at the Mos Eisly bar stares scornly at r2d2 and c3po and says with his gruff voice no droids are allowed shows the droids are a step below us humans.

4 Artificial intelligence

AI has several plot lines but the question whether you’re a boy or a robot is the centerpiece of AI. But a scary theme as well is the effects of global warming. Here in the future, coastal cities have been wiped out and population has diminished. To supplement the world population a Mecha advanced humanoid has been created with our protagonist David being one. As David is expelled from his house for uncertain “robot” behavior his search is for the blue fairy to find out if he’s a real boy. On the search he comes across the Mecahs who search for spare parts in a robot junkyard, and a pleasure robot. The AI theme is a common place on this list and will become a source of intrigue as it continues.

3 Minority Report

There are no murders in DC. The reason. An experimental pre-crime program where three psychics contained within a room predict murders with Tom Cruise jumping, flying in before the crime occurs. This future urban landscape features autonomous cars, mile high skyscrapers, ubiquitous advertisements spurned by scanning of the eyes. Will the future city be free from crime? In this instance we’ll need three psychics willing to do the job.

2 Metropolis

The sci fi staple with the defining name and is by far the youngest film on this list by over 60 years being crafted in 1927. Here the defining theme is class separation with the elite in the tower in the skies while the underground workers humpback to work the machines that power the cities. The high rise buildings with an interconnected train and roads that stretch across the skies of the built environment. It is the first formal vision of what the future city may encompass on the movie screens

1 Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049

A double hitter here. You know this one has to make the list. With the defining opening of Los Angeles in 2019 with Vangelis soundtrack blaring away and the flying cars blade runner is destined to be number 1. Let’s start with the first blade runner.

Here the skyways are littered with flying cars, the massive skyscrapers are pyramids shaped, the neon signs illuminate the sky and the gritty rainy streets remind us that we have to be wary of the global warming. Here the off worlds are beckoning to be colonized and the use of replicants (artificial intelligence) are used to establish and develop these worlds. However when a pack of these replicants go rogue Blade Runners are called in to save day and retire these rogue replicants.

Blade runner 2049 takes it one step further of the futuristic urban dwelling. The dystopian landscape remains with the mile high skyscrapers along billboards illuminating the skyline. Now there are holograms prancing he streets such as ballerinas and now personal hologram companion aptly called the JOI. This program provides companionship and is personalized to your every need. Here our protagonist falls in love with his JOI and takes her to the scavengers trash garbage areas outside of Los Angeles and searches for the answer of the miracle of replicants. You have to see the movie to understand this reference.


These movie are spectacles of the future urban world and are also scary reminders of what the future may bring.