On Oct. 21, a teenager from Hill Valley, CA, will arrive in our time in a flying car, to save his family. He will use our hoverboards and our portable garbage-powered nuclear reactors, and will be there to witness the Cubs wining the World Series over Miami. OK—maybe Back to the Future Part II is not intended as prophesy, but it did get a lot of things right when it came to the technology we use in 2015.
Here’s what the film correctly predicted 26 years ago that we would be doing with our lives today.
This may well be the year of the Apple Watch, but we’ve had wearable technology for a few years now. Nike launched its first step tracker in 2006, and FitBit launched the Ultra in 2011. Samsung went big into the wearable game over the past few years, with multiple watches, wristbands and headsets now on sale.
In the film, several characters appear to be wearing smartwatch-style gadgets on their wrists, and Marty’s future kids wear headsets at the dinner table. They can make and receive calls, as well as watch TV. While it may not have the 80s-chic of those video glasses, Google Glass was released in 2013—with a new version expected this year—and Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset may hit the market later this year.
Large flat-screen TVs
The McFly residence has a massive flat-screen TV where Marty Jr. can watch multiple channels at once. We’ve got that. Multichannel picture-in-picture viewing has actually been around since the 70s, but today we have taken sensory overload to the extreme, with channels like NFL Redzone, and functions like the Xbox One’s ability to have a TV channel running while you play a video game.
We don’t have flexible screens that we can pull down yet, but there are some on the way. We also don’t have the “Scenery Channel,” but if you’ve ever hung around an electronics store’s TV section, you can probably get the same effect.
We’ve had fingerprint-scanning technology available for a while now—if you’ve taken a trip to the US in recent years, you’ve most likely had your fingerprints scanned at security. In 2013, Apple included fingerprint scanning in the iPhone 5S, as did Samsung in 2014 on the Galaxy S5. Apple also introduced Apple Pay—the ability to pay using your fingerprint via cards stored on an iPhone—in 2014 on the iPhone 6.
In Back to the Future Part II, Biff actually pays for a taxi using his thumbprint, which we can do in any cab that accepts mobile payments now. The difference between the film and what we have now—payment happens through our devices, whereas in the film, the fingerprint itself was all Biff needed to pay.
In the film, Marty is freaks out when a 3D shark pops out of a movie theater and appears to swallow him. Turns out, it was just an ad for “Jaws 19″—Marty jokes, “the shark still looks fake.” We don’t have too many 3D projections of that sort yet—we’re working on it—but we do have 3D TVs, 3D movies, and 3D video-game systems that don’t require 3D glasses to play.
Sadly, we haven’t had a “Jaws 5” yet, let alone fifteen more sequels.
While the USA Today doesn’t currently have a hovering robot reporter to cover court cases, we do have personal unmanned drones that can record video remotely for us. Continuing the USA Today theme, Back to the Future actually predicted the USA Today would redesign itself, although its predictions were a little off.
Back to the Future may actually have beaten Star Trek on this one. When Biff pays for the cab with his thumbprint, and when Marty is asked to chip in to save the clocktower, we see a tablet-shaped device that seems to about as commonplace as tablets today.
When Jennifer is escorted to her future home by the police, the cops mention that she should really have the lights programmed to turn on when she comes home. Smart home products like Google’s Nest thermostat and Philip’s Hue light bulb are quickly making the programmable home a reality.
In a perfect example of life imitating art, Nike released a short-run version of Marty’s iconic Nike Air Mags in 2011, but they did not feature the self-lacing feature see in the film. It looks like, however, that power laces will be coming to a new version of the shoe later this year, created by the Nike designer who worked on the original shoes in the film.
- Hoverboards. We don’t have Pitbulls or Mattel hoverboads yet, but one company is getting pretty close. Another is not.
- Drinks with squirt tops. Pespi with squirt tops are all over the film, and Pepsi brand Gatorade now comes in squirt bottles as standard. Pepsi also announced a tie-in “Back to the Future” bottle for Oct. 21.
- Hands-free gaming. While we don’t see it in the film, kids at Café 80s mock Marty for having to use his hands to play an arcade game, implying that Xbox Kinect-style gaming is the norm in their 2015.
- Automated gas stations. Tesla is working on a robo-snake arm just like the one at the Texaco station in 2015 Hill Valley.
- Microwave dinners. The first microwave-safe tray was marketed in 1986, but microwave dinners didn’t get popular til the 90s. We also don’t have Black & Decker “food hydrators,” but the concept of microwave meals for dinner has become commonplace today.
- Bionics. While we don’t have bionic implants quite like Griff does in the film, there are multiple groups working on figuring out how to expand the human body’s capability with exoskeletons, and robotic replacement limbs.
What it didn’t get right
There’s some stuff that the film obviously didn’t get right about 2015—we don’t have time travel, flying cars, self-fitting clothes or hoverboards. Double neckties thankfully never came into fashion, Princess Diana can sadly never become Queen, and we don’t have a female president (as this paper suggests). The film also suggests that in 2015 we’d be able to predict the weather, though the post office still is inefficient. Though for a movie set at a time when the Nintendo Electronics System was the height of technology and the World Wide Web had just been invented, the film gets a surprising amount right.
It’ll be interesting to see if movies from today will be as accurate about 2041.
In case you haven’t had enough Back to the Future nostalgia just yet, watch the original theatrical trailer before you head home and watch the whole film tonight:
Correction (Jan. 4): An earlier version of this story said that Powerade was a Pepsi product, instead of Gatorade.
Update: This story was originally published on Jan. 4, 2015. It was updated with a few additional pieces of information on Oct. 20, 2015. We’ll check in tomorrow to confirm that Marty has indeed not arrived in the present day.