Hollywood is full of dreamers, making up whole worlds from scratch. They love to look past the real world, and wonder what could be. As a result, there are countless movies and shows that have taken a stab at how the future could turn out, and gotten it completely wrong. Flying cars and robot time travelers litter the wastebin of failed predictions. Oddly enough, the films that have often come closest to predicting the future were comedies. By exaggerating our culture to outrageous degrees, a few smart comedies have managed to show us a vision of the future that actually panned out. Idiocracy, Mike Judge’s cult comedy which is airing this month on IFC, has proved to be so prescient, its coscreenwriter actually marveled at his and Judge’s soothsaying abilities. Check out a few of the miraculous predictions our favorite comedies have nailed.
10. EDtv Predicts the Rise of Reality TV
EDtv would read as a pitch perfect parody of reality television if it came out today. What’s remarkable is that this Ron Howard comedy, considered a massive flop at the time, was released in 1999, a year before Survivor, and two years before American Idol changed the game of American television. The movie starred Matthew McConaughey as Eddie, an average Joe transformed into a media sensation, in the vein of Joe Millionaire or Jersey Shore‘s The Situation, thanks to his star turn on a show documenting his life.
All the tropes of the reality TV genre are here. The show within the film is a failure until a drunken confrontation reveals infidelity, and pits brother against brother. Conflict leads to ratings, which leads to more conflict. The hit show turns Ed into an empty calorie celebrity, chasing ratings to maintain his own fame. When his popularity falters, his family members become a proto-Kardashian clan, getting their own spin-offs. From the talking heads who feed off his popularity, while simultaneously putting him down, to the increasingly artificial way Eddie presents himself on camera, this film understood a genre that was just in its infancy. By the end of the movie, Ed’s fleeting fame gets the most ’90s explanation ever — he’s washed up, just like the “Macarena”
Some compare EDtv to The Truman Show, released a year earlier, and while that film was undeniably more complex, tackling larger ideas about privacy and nostalgia, the Jim Carrey vehicle was more of a parody of squeaky clean sitcoms than reality TV tropes. Who would actually watch a boring show about a bland man leading an ordinary life? The American TV audience craves drama. That’s what EDtv understood, calling out all the cliches and desperation of a genre that hadn’t yet broken through.
9. Portlandia Predicts The Hipsterfication of the World
It’s often hard to tell if Portlandia is predicting the future, or if the world is just following Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein‘s lead. A sketch about flirting in yoga class has turned into singles speed yoga. YouTube even has its own verison of militant bike enthusiast Spyke in the form of Casey Neistat’s war with New York City over cyclist rights. And let’s be honest, birds are on everything, even presidential candidates.
But perhaps no prediction coming to pass is more surprising than Preschool Mastermind, a preschool for adults. While Portlandia poked fun at babysitters for the aging hipster, this sanctuary for the kid in all of us was founded by Brooklynite Michelle Joni Lapidos as a place for “grown-up boys and girls” to make play more a part of their lives. For prices as low as $333 (and as high as $999) adults will play games, conduct show-and-tell and have nap times. Discussing the trust fund that pays for all of this is optional.
8. A Failed Matthew Perry Sitcom Nearly Predicts the Date of Gaddafi’s Death
Few remember Second Chance, a quickly canceled 1980s sitcom about a dead man who’s sent back in time to relive his teen years. The material was forgettable. The concept tired. Sure, Matthew Perry completists might remember the Friends star got an early break playing the teen at the center of this sitcom, but otherwise the show has languished in failed TV heaven.
A few years back, Second Chance got a, uh, second chance at fame when the Internet noticed that the show almost correctly predicted the date of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s death. In the sitcom’s opening scene, the show’s protagonist was sent to the Pearly Gates of Heaven, where he bumps into a recently deceased Colonel Gaddafi. The date of this encounter? July 29th, 2011. Gaddafi’s actual death? October 20th, 2011. Not spot on, but considering a group of sitcom writers, more concerned with getting their ALF spec scripts finished than accurately predicting the future, guess-timated this date 24 years before the Middle Eastern dictator met his untimely demise, it’s not all that bad.
7. The Chris Rock Show Predicts O.J. Simpson’s Confessional Book
Airing on HBO from 1997 to 2000, The Chris Rock Show never shied away from controversy. The show was a reflection of the opinionated comedian whose name it carried, ready and able to tackle anything it found funny or infuriating. That’s how Rock ended up predicating O.J. Simpson’s book, “If I Did It,” a full decade before it would be foisted on the world.
All the way back in 1997, Rock was leading a backstage tour of his show during a segment, when he jokingly stumbled upon a VHS tape The Juice supposedly gave him called “I Didn’t Kill My Wife… But If I Did, Here’s How I’d Do it.” Who knows, maybe that’s where Simpson got the idea? Fortunately, his little money-making venture would turn into a failure. While the book, along with a FOX TV special called “O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened,” were ultimately called off, the Goldman family sued for rights to the book, releasing it in 2007 and claiming all the proceeds.
6. Americathon Predicts America’s Decline Before Idiocracy
1979’s Americathon was sort of like Idiocracy before Idiocracy, a broad comedy predicting how far our country could sink. At the peak of the Carter malaise, with gas prices through the roof and growing economic unrest, this movie tried to envision a world where we kept on going in that direction.
Sure, not everything’s right. The “Jews and Arabs” haven’t joined forces. San Diego wasn’t bought by Mexico. The President doesn’t run the country from his apartment in Los Angeles. Everyone knows our next President is going to run the country from his gold plated dinning room in Trump Tower.
But for all the details this movie got wrong, it somehow got a lot right. China became a capitalist nation, and an economic force in the world. The USSR collapsed. America’s debt to other nations grew exponentially. The relative of a former President would rise to hold the office himself. Granted, if you keep throwing predictions against a wall, some are bound to stick, but it’s still pretty impressive how many this unassuming John Ritter comedy got right. Still waiting for Jay Leno to get punched in the face though. That would be the cherry on top.
5. Scrubs Predicts Where We Found Osama Bin Laden
The Janitor on Scrubs always seemed to have one up of J.D., the forever frazzled intern at Sacred Heart. But never before had the Janitor pulled one over on us. In the seventh episode of Scrubs’ sixth season, titled “His Story IV,” J.D. found himself longing to debate the Iraq war with his colleagues. No one seemed interested. Well, no one except for his greatest foil, who matter-of-factly stated that we should be looking for Bin Laden in Pakistan. While J.D. has no idea what he was talking about, four short years later the whole world would pay attention, as a Navy Seal strike would kill Osama Bin Laden in — wait for it — Pakistan. If only our military leaders had been tuning into Must See TV, we might have nipped that in the bud years earlier.
4. Airplane II Predicts Airport Body Scanners
If you’re a fan of Nostradamus, but wish he’d had a bit more T&A in his prognostications, this might be the one for you. Airplane and its appropriately titled sequel, Airplane II: The Sequel, were well-oiled joke delivery machines. The second they plowed through one gag, they were on to the next. When you’re chasing that many laughs in a movie, you’re bound to stumble in some unexpected directions. Seeing how a large part of the movie’s audience was made up of teenage boys, jokes that had a little titillation were par for the course. Somehow the instinct to make a joke as an excuse to show some naked breasts ended up predicting a future air travel security measure.
Early in the film, a blink-and-you’d-miss-it joke about scanners at an airport shows a monitor exposing the travelers’ naked bodies. No one could’ve known at the time that such a sophomoric gag could be so prescient, but after 9/11, airports stopped being the happy-go-lucky locations our movies used for sight gags and romantic reunions.
In recent years, most passengers have had to pass through a full body scanner that showed a virtually naked image of our bodies to a select few TSA agents. After an uproar from concerned travelers back in 2013, who didn’t feel like flashing their junk every time they caught a Southwest flight to Phoenix, the TSA altered their machines to show more generic outlines, and not the Full Monty. A win for personal privacy, for sure, but a loss from the horny teen boy that lives inside all of us.
3. South Park Predicts the Downfall of our Favorite Stars
South Park has been on the air for 19 years. With that many episodes in the can, the show was bound to stumble upon a few eerie coincidences. Still, the specific nature of the show’s predictions has us thinking that Trey Parker and Matt Stone may have a crystal ball or two up their sleeves. It may seem obvious now that Miley Cyrus would turn into an over-sexualized unicorn of pop music fluff, but back in 2008, she was still a sugary sweet Disney star. Somehow, South Park was ahead of the curve, predicting she would follow in the footsteps of Britney Spears, and go off the deep end.
The show was also onto Tom Cruise’s connections to Scientology way before the documentary Going Clear exposed the church’s secrets. And of course few predicted the social media meltdowns and bizarre public behavior of Kanye West better than the South Park gang.
Back in 2009, the episode “Fishsticks” caused Kanye to write an angry blog (a blog post! how quaint!) about how the episode hurt his feelings. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Kanye would erupt over a perceived slight. And really, is Kanye loving on a fish any crazier than that time he loved on Kim on a motorcycle in the “Bound 2” video?
2. Idiocracy Predicts Donald Trump’s America
We live in strange times. A reality show “carnival barker,” in the words of Martin O’Malley, has ridden a wave of resentment to the precipice of the Republican nomination. Yes, there are many reasons to be pissed these days, but the toxic mix of stupidity and anger that Mr. Trump seems to have built his political career on is threatening to become the new American way. And what if it does? What would that world look like?
A lot of people lately have been pointing to the 2006 cult hit comedy Idiocracy as a marker for our new way of life. The blending of politics and entertainment, turning our presidential race into a wrestling match, full of heel turns and cheap insults, certainly resembles the administration of President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho. The screaming crowds who are fed exactly what they want to hear, without the foggiest idea on how to deliver their promises, doesn’t seem that far off from a Trump rally. Sadly, Idiocracy would be preferable to what we have now. It may have been full of dumb people, but they weren’t foaming at the mouth, and full of hate. So while Mike Judge may have had an idea of where this country was going, even he didn’t know how ugly it could get.
1. The Simpsons Predicts Everything
If we’ve learned anything from Airplane II and South Park, it’s that making non-stop jokes over long periods of time leads to some eerie predictions. There is no better example of this than The Simpsons, which has seemingly predicated every twist and turn this world has taken over the last couple of decades.
Roy of Siegfried and Roy getting mauled by a tiger? Check. Arnold Schwarzenegger making bad “ice” puns? Check. Farmville becoming an addictively popular video game? Check. A nuclear accident causing tomatoes to mutate? Check. Voting machines malfunctioning in the 2012 presidential race? Check. Eerily predicting the Syrian war, right down to the flag of certain Syrian rebel groups? Check. Don Mattingly getting benched because of his hair? Check. Predicating an equation that equals the mass of Higgs Boson 14 years before it was discovered? Check. Hinting at the specifics of 9/11? Check. Predicating that our universe is shaped like a donut? Unsurprisingly, check. And last, but hopefully least, predicting the Presidency of Donald Trump, right down to how he announced his candidacy. Check. It’s nice to see, as the television world pushes for more diversity, that the writing staff of The Simpsons has always made room for a precog or two.