Future-Past Cities: How 20th Century Cinema Envisioned Today's Cities

Haciömeroğlu T. N.

CPUD'22 VII. International Online Conference on City Planning and Urban Design, 01 April 2022, pp.11-16

  • Publication Type: Conference Paper / Full Text
  • Page Numbers: pp.11-16
  • Eskisehir Osmangazi University Affiliated: Yes



Even though we have not lived through the first quarter of the 21st century yet, it already seems to create major

shifts in the history of humanity due to worldwide political, economic, technological, and climate changes. These

constant changes in the new millennium affect everything at an unstoppable speed, including the cities. Many

different factors cause the transformation of a city. Unless there is a major destructive event like a war or a

disaster, understanding the changes in the city and answering the question of the effectiveness of the city

planning and execution takes a long time. Fortunately, the cinema is a great platform to create and transform

cities reasonably quickly. Cinema is the ultimate source for creative and experimental works for cities and

architecture. Besides disasters and wars, cinema creates whole cities based on ideologies, technological

developments, major climate changes, unseen invasions, etc.

This paper aims to study science fiction movies produced in the 20th century but set in the late 20th early 21st

centuries and analyse how different factors such as ideology, economy, climate change, and social shifts affect

and transform the city of “today”. More than ten movies such as Just Imagine (1930) set in the

1980s, Metropolis (1927) set in 2026s, Soylent Green (1973) set in 2022s, Escape From New York (1981) set in

1997s, 1984 (the book is written in 1948, published in 1949 and the first adapted movie was produced in 1956)

set in 1984, Brazil (1985) set in somewhere in 20th century in its own words and similarly Equilibrium (2002) set

in a not so far future, are selected based on their production and future projection dates and narratives relation

to the city.

The study on the narratives of these movies reveals the backstories and factors that cause the significant

transformations in the cities, such as nuclear wars, changes in ideologies, sudden and prolonged epidemics and

pandemics, economic decline, climate change, social injustice, uncontrolled growth of human population, massproduction

and mass-consumer cultures. Finally, these factors are cross-examined with the city forms, dynamics

of the cities, and daily life shown in the movies. Then a comparative analysis is done between imaginary “today

or near future” cities and real cities of today. In the end, results show several worryingly accurate predictions

that envision the cities in catastrophic scenarios in the near future.