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Failed Future Forecast

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"Politics is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen."

People have been trying to predict the future for as long as human civilization, but in most cases they have been partially or completely wrong when the year in question rolls around.

This is a particularly Omnipresent Trope in near-future Speculative Fiction, since the readers (and author) are usually still around when the prediction fails. If the creator is still alive they may even offer an official explanation.


The fact that the prediction isn't true may be Hilarious in Hindsight or Harsher in Hindsight. See also Time Marches On, which tends more towards reactions of current audiences (e.g. a work becomes unreadable due to Values Dissonance).

Related tropes:

  • Absurdly Huge Population: Many examples exist of people thinking either too small or too big in terms of population numbers.
  • Apocalypse Day Planner: The world continues to exist despite many predictions to the contrary.
    • Mayan Doomsday: As should be fairly obvious by now, the world didn't end on December 21, 2012.
    • Millennium Bug: With some exceptions, our computers did not all crash and burn on January 1, 2000. Though it would be reasonable to assume they didn't all crash because we were warned and companies spent millions rewriting code to prevent it.
  • Dated History: Improved understanding of historical events renders the prediction outdated.
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  • Dewey Defeats Truman: Fiction set in the near future wrongly predicts events that happen in the interim.
  • Future Spandex: Continues to be much less popular than predicted.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: A major historical event is not foreseen, making the prediction impossible. The classic example is writers during the Cold War not predicting the breakup of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union in 1989 and 1991 respectively.
  • I Want My Jetpack: Technological or scientific developments did not come to pass by the designated year.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: Fashionable hairstyles, clothing, architecture, and so on fail to change as rapidly as they do in Real Life.
  • Overpopulation Crisis: Despite what doomsayers would tell you, our population growth is slowing down and we produce more food than ever.
  • Science Marches On: Improved understanding of science renders the prediction outdated.
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  • Society Marches On: A future is shown with similar values to the present, making it seem dated.
  • Space Clothes: As with Future Spandex, above.
  • Technology Marches On: Advancements in technology render the prediction outdated.
  • Values Dissonance: Changes in a society's attitudes occur in a different way and/or different areas than predicted or else had not been predicted to occur at all. Or maybe society tried the changes the author endorsed, only to reject them later as doing more harm than good.
  • Zeerust: Technology portrayed as futuristic comes off as dated to modern day audiences.

Examples in media:

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    Anime & Manga 

    Fan Works 

  • Escape from New York: By 1997 the United States has become a totalitarian theocracy, and New York City is a penal colony.
    • The sequel, Escape from L.A., predicted that in 2000 a massive earthquake would separate a chunk of California from the mainland, creating a new island, which also became a penal colony. This was followed by the president moving the capital to Lynchburg, Virginia, making his term lifelong, and reshaping the US into a puritanical hellhole where things like alcohol, cigarettes, and premarital sex are crimes worthy of the death sentence.
  • The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, a 1981 Speculative Documentary about Nostradamus, has become an amusing example of this trope. Apparently, we're in the late stages of World War III right now, New York City is a radioactive crater, Ted Kennedy was the Democratic presidential candidate a while back, and Loma Prieta's Quake of '89 happened in '88. This Is the Part Where... we explain that Nostradamus typically made his predictions so vague as to be interpretable six ways from Sunday in a successful bid to stay off the Church Police's radar.
  • Soylent Green predicts that by 2022, New York City will have a population of over 40 million people and that overcrowding, global warming, and food shortages will turn the entire planet into a barren, dystopian wasteland where humans are forced to eat the deceased to survive. As of 2017, NYC's population still hasn't reached nine million, and obesity from overeating is a common ailment in much of the world, especially the US.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: So many that it pretty much has every sub-trope above covered (except the apocalypse ones). Notable: taking a Pan Am space shuttle to a commercial moon base, and Turing-testable strong AI.
  • 2010: The Year We Make Contact. No, it wasn't. It also has the Cold War ongoing and the Soviet Union still around.
  • Destroy All Monsters, released in 1968, guessed that by 1999 humanity would have a base established on the moon and the technology needed to keep nearly a dozen kaiju in containment on a small chain of islands. Of course, some films in the Godzilla universe depict technology even more advanced than that already existing in the 1960s, but continuity was never the franchise's strong point.
  • Death Race 2000 presents the turn of the millennium as a barbaric period where millions of people gather around their televisions to gleefully cheer on racers as they run over and kill innocent pedestrians to earn points. The remake, released in 2008, predicted that by 2012 the economy would have collapsed so severely that prisons would become massively overcrowded, making it profitable for prisoners to compete in lethal races.
  • Star Trek:

  • June 29, 1999, a 1992 book by David Wiesnernote  involves giant vegetables falling onto Earth, apparently alien food. 1999 passed and no such thing happened.
  • K. A. Applegate's Remnants series has Earth struck by a planet-killing asteroid in 2011. Though funnily enough a much more minor prediction in the book did come true: that the United States would have a black president in 2011 (though a man, not a woman).
  • The Space Odyssey Series predicted lunar bases and manned missions to Jupiter by the first year of the 21st Century. More egregiously, the movie predicted that we would be flown there by PanAm, which went out of business in 1991.
  • George Orwell's 1984: Although there are some concepts in the novel that we'd be wise to heed as milder versions have crept into Real Life ("Orwellian" political euphemisms or doublespeak, control of information and "the memory hole", increased surveillance and "Total Information Awareness", perpetual war and war footing, etc.), the developed world in 1984 wasn't divided into three totalitarian superstates (although the Third World, in terms of Cold War proxy wars, bore some similarity to that geographical southern quadrant constantly fought over by the three big powers as described in the novel), and the West at any rate wasn't living anywhere near the level of oppression as described in the setting of Airstrip One (Britain), Oceania. Orwell himself discussed this as more of a counter-prediction: hoping that such a dystopia wouldn't happen (it seemed possible to him at the time). In that case, he got his wish.
  • Both the book and the movie of H.G. Wells's The Shape of Things to Come predicted that World War II would lead to the collapse of civilization and the rise of a technocratic new world order. Among Wells's howlers was the prediction that the German army would be fought to a standstill by Poland. However, he did accurately predict the second world war coming (admittedly not that hard) along with the fact it would happen by 1940 (the war began four months before).
  • The predictions Nostradamus made in The Prophecies were, as previously mentioned, usually pretty darn vague, but he did have a few unambiguous ones. For instance, his very specific prophecy for July 1999 — he could only have dated it more precisely if he'd specified which day of the month — which completely and utterly failed to happen. Paris was not, in fact, smitten by winged terror from the skies. Or if it was, they kept quiet about it.
  • G. K. Chesterton discusses this trope in the introduction to The Napoleon Of Notting Hill:
    The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games to which it is most attached is called, "Keep to-morrow dark," and which is also named (by the rustics in Shropshire, I have no doubt) "Cheat the Prophet." The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.
  • Looking Backward, published in 1888, predicted that by 2000 the US, Europe, and much of the world overall would be socialist. Not only did this not happen, but most socialist states collapsed in the late 80s/early 90s. However, it did accurately predict skyscrapers, credit cards and radio (the last being around the corner at the time).
  • Make Room! Make Room! predicts a world population of seven billion in 1999 turning the world into a starving dystopia. It was about a decade off on the population and parts of the world are suffering from epidemic obesity. It also has New York City with a population of thirty five million. Almost twenty years later, it has not even reached nine million.
  • LeVar Burton wrote his only novel, Aftermath in 1997, predicting the US would be in a state of utter economic and social collapse by the present as a result of a civil war. However, he got one prediction right, that a black president would be elected in 2008 (it's his assassination that triggers said civil war).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • Earth would suffer the Eugenics Wars in the 1990s, during which Khan Noonien Singh would come to prominence. After the designated decade came and went with no Eugenics Wars, the novelverse retconned them to have taken place in secret.
    • We had Sleeper Starships in the 1990s. Moreover, sleeper ships were supposed to be obsolete by the year 2018.
    • At some point they're going to have to explain why the 23rd century went back to flip phones.
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: "In the year 1987, NASA launched the last of America's deep space probes. ..." Granted, we haven't sent any manned probes past Earth orbit since Apollo 17 in 1972, but we're still sending unmanned ones.
  • Doctor Who: A stranger in a suit and duster did not, in fact, carry the Olympic Torch in the final leg of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Matt Smith did carry the torch for a leg, but it was in Cardiff, not London.
  • We did lose a spacecraft with all hands in 1986, but it was a seven-person crew, not a two-person crew. Also, it was an accident rather than a Cyberman invasion, and in January rather than December.
  • We all remember where we were on September 13, 1999 when a huge nuclear explosion blew the Moon out of Earth orbit as detailed in Space: 1999.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The New Breed, a 1986 tag team who claimed to be from 2002, said (among other things) that Dusty Rhodes was President of the US in the future. They also thought that LazorTron (Hector Guererro) was real because in their time there really were robots.

    Video Games 
  • One of the first sections of The Mario Paint Player's Guide is "Mario Paint: A History", which is a brief overview of art, animation, and music, with an accompanying timeline of artists and works. The final part of this section is "The 90s", which features the following timeline:
    • 1992—Mario Paint Introduced
    • 1993—Mario Paint Player's Guide
    • 199?—First Mario Paint Exhibit
    • 200?—Mario Paint Institute Opens
  • The Metal Gear games have made a habit of presenting extremely inaccurate visions of the near-future (though there is also some Alternate History at work, since even in games set in the past the technology is more advanced than it really was in those time periods). Thankfully the year 2014 wasn't dominated by a global war fought by nanomachine-powered soldiers as shown in the games.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: The Strong Bad Email "2 years" involves Strong Bad making some tongue-in-cheek predictions for the biggest developments in Strong Badia's future, such as the population tripling to "Population: Tire, Bundt Cake Pan, and Coach Z", the Stop Sign and Cinder Block going through a break-up, the construction of "a world-class hole", The Cheat painting an elaborate "FIREWORKS OR DIE!" mural on the Fence, and the Tire winning "the Title". None of these predictions wound up coming true.


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