Remember when the 2000s were a far-off time of flying motorbikes and lizard mutants? No? Well, do you at least remember when they were a momentous age that inspired hope, fear, and reflection? They inspired wild predictions about everything from computer bugs to the Biblical, beast-and-harlot apocalypse, and there were plenty of other reasons to be excited. The movies, TV shows, and video games of the past century had promised many things in the decade starting with 2000, after all.
Well, not one of those things has happened yet. We still live in a world where androids aren’t commonplace, Soviet Russia hasn’t conquered Canada, and getting groceries doesn’t involve bartering with murderous highway bikers. Whatever this decade is called, it’s been one huge disappointment. What follows is a list of grievances, a chronicle of the weirdest no-show events that we hoped the last eight years would bring.
9) Mega Man is created in 200X, Mega Man
There’s a possibility that the “X” in Mega Man’s birth year may be a 9, but we suspect that if the sleek, thickly roboticized world envisioned in those old NES games were just around the corner, we’d see some hint of it now. So we’re left to assume that Mega Man will never come to be, and that we won’t see a future of cyborg chickens and mechanical penguins and haywire robots with names like “Timpani Man” and “Scissor Goldfish.” At least not this decade.
Later Mega Man games try to smooth this over by changing their dates to an even more nebulous “20XX.” But they can’t undo the promises made back in 1989, when the introduction of Mega Man 2 clearly told children everywhere that Mega Man would exist by 2010. Most of those children realized this was a lie before they so much as beat the game’s easiest boss (Flash Man, for the record), and yet there might still be a small, neotenous, reptile part of our brains that wants and partly expects the cute, Astro Boy-ish reality of Mega Man within our generation’s lifetime.
8) The Psychlo Invasion arrives in 2000, Battlefield Earth
Most of us weren’t acquainted with the 2000 promoted by L. Ron Hubbard’s novel Battlefield Earth, as 95 percent of the people who purchased the book were Scientologists commanded by their church to pick up twenty copies each time they passed a Waldenbooks. Yet there’s no question that Hubbard’s idea of an alien invasion, lazily pinpointed at the turn of the millennium, would be unintentionally hilarious just because it would result in things like this 1000 years later.
Yes, the year 2000 would usher in a future of ugly, rubbery, pettily bureaucratic, extra-tall aliens lording over the human race and growing double chins the size of the Yukon Territory. The one redeeming quality: all of us would be long dead by this point.
7) Everyone Loves Death Races in 2000, Death Race 2000
Many dystopias of the movie world prefer to stage themselves in 2000, which, while not the start of a new millennium, was the first year of this decade and an easy-to-remember date of doom and destruction. We all know how uneventful the year’s arrival actually was, since it hadn’t ushered in a United States where a poor and bloodthirsty public turned to watching pedestrians murdered in a cross-country celebration of vehicular homicide. Such would have been the world of Death Race 2000, a world where David Carradine puttered around in a latex mask and women drove longhorn-festooned cars built on the sort of budget only Roger Corman could put together.
In a way, it’s comforting. In the past nine years, we’ve been through economic hardships and several distasteful entertainment crazes that’ll likely have even the 1980s laughing at this decade, but we haven’t given way to televised hit-and-run carnage bookended by hideous, hammy commentators. Yet.
6) Earth launches Nomad, the Asshole Space Probe in 2002, Star Trek
Star Trek has a largely uneventful vision of the 21st century’s early years. We’ll have to wait until the next few decades to see Mars colonized and Ireland reunited. About the only interesting thing the human race was supposed to do this decade was to launch a deep-space probe named Nomad to scour the galaxy for intelligent life. As revealed in the episode “Changeling,” Nomad collides with an alien terraforming probe, gets godlike powers, and decides that his new mission involves destroying all imperfection in the universe. Upon being picked up by the Enterprise, the vibrator-like vagrant probe sets out to eliminate flaws by being a dick to everyone. When he’s not murdering crew members and lovable Scottish stereotypes, he’s indirectly criticizing Uhura’s singing voice.
Instead of being defeated by a round of fisticuffs, Nomad is eventually convinced to destroy himself when Kirk points out that Nomad mistook him for the probe’s creator at the start of the episode. Why Kirk didn’t do this earlier is never clear, since Nomad is an annoying, bland little jerk and no one wants him around. Still, he’s better than Star Trek‘s other plot-driving space probe, Voyager-6, which returned to Earth as a powerful half-alien in the first Star Trek film and took over two hours to do it.
5) Aliens Overrun Colorado Town, Yet Somehow Fail to Wipe Out Human Race in 2004, Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem
Alien vs. Predator: Requiem disappointed many people for many reasons, and its most heinous mistake was reducing the once-proud xenomorph alien to just another schlocky monster. In the original Alien, the creature was a slick H.R. Giger nightmare, freely preying on humans while staying tantalizingly out of sight. Aliens turned the beasts into more plentiful, active threats, but their menace stayed intact. As Sigourney Weaver pointed out at the start of the film, just one alien could kill its way across untold stretches of the world, and we believed it. Even the terrible Alien Resurrection stayed firm on that premise: if the xenomorphs get to Earth, we’re fucked.
And what happens when they finally get there? Well, the first Alien vs. Predator is set in Antarctica, which barely counts as Earth. In Requiem, however, they’re overrunning a small Colorado town, murdering children and pregnant women. And what happens? The government nukes them and fixes everything. There’s the truly insane thing about it, and the reason we’re sorta glad it didn’t happen. It’s an invasion by the galaxy’s most lethal killing machines, who end up taking out fewer people than a bad tornado season.
4) Judgment Day Take Two in 2004, Terminator 3
The first two Terminator films had many young moviegoers wondering just how they would fare in the aftermath of a nuclear war and the ensuing struggle against mankind’s new machine oppressors.
Frankly, the movies’ limited glimpses of the future make it look kinda fun, like a real-life version of Contra where no one brushes their teeth. Terminator 2 promised us a Judgment Day, consisting of a self-aware supercomputer and a massive nuclear strike, on August 29, 1997. But then Terminator 3 came along and told us that Judgment Day and its burning swing sets were postponed until 2004. It also told us that a third Terminator movie can disgrace its respective source material even more than the third Alien or the third Godfather.
Now we have Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which once again screws around and puts off Judgment Day until 2011, as though it’s some office party that no one really wants to have. We’ve already been fooled once, and we’re not buying it. Just give us a future where we shoot robots and live in filth.
3) Giant Transforming Robots Have a Big-Ass War in 2005, Transformers: The Movie
Another robot apocalypse was prophesied by another ’80s cinematic staple, but in the case of the Transformers movie, the robots were supposed to slaughter each other. Though the conflict grew to include a planet-eating Galactus-like robot and a world of mechanical piranha, the Earth was where it started, with the Decepticons, after over 50 episodes of hackneyed failure, finally figuring out how to shoot the Autobots. And so they did, in a gruesome battle that left many familiar Transformer icons dead, provided the animators felt like drawing their untimely deaths and shattered corpses. Otherwise, kids had to fill in the blanks, devising their own explanations about Bluestreak and Tracks getting traded to The Smurfs during the off-season.
Of course, Transformers weren’t real, and we all knew that. But we wouldn’t mind a few of the movie’s more appealing innovations, like the mechanized, transforming suit that the film’s unlikable kid hero gets to wear. The best that the real 2005 could get us was a Segway. 2) Corporations Ruin America Then Blame Injun Terrorists in 2008, Shadowrun
Shadowrun is Dungeons & Dragons for kids who’ve read Neuromancer fourteen times. In other words, it’s a tabletop RPG universe set in a 21st century where elves hack into virtual-reality computer networks, street samurai trolls carry assault shotguns smart-linked to their cybereyes, and you can say things like “Slot the stick out of those drekkin’ go-gangers for some cred before some ‘plex vatjob geeks you first” and people will known exactly what you mean. It’s also a world where Native American nations occupy half of North America and evil corporations wield more power than any country, so Shadowrun had to explain how all of this came to be. Here’s how: in the early 2000s, corporations start grabbing land all over the U.S., often by yanking it from Native American reservations. In response, the revolutionary Southern American Indian Movement forms and starts striking back against Exxon and GE and Boston Market. By 2008, SAIM operatives are desperate enough to take over a missile silo. They launch one warhead before SWAT teams raid the facility and kill them all. Fortunately for world peace, U.S. President Jesse Garrety notifies the USSR in time for them to shoot down the errant missile. Those dastardly corporations seize upon this, and, in the years to come, force the government to round up every possible SAIM member (i.e. every Native American) and send them to “re-education camps.”
This all sets the stage for a mass Native American uprising and a percentage of the population mutating into elves and orcs. And we won’t see any of it, because nothing in Shadowrun’s back-history went right. The USSR broke up, there’s no president named Garrety, and the government isn’t driven to paranoid extremes by terrori…well, one out of three is a start.
1) America bombs a Japan-owned Pearl Harbor in 2008, Gunbuster
Anime is often highly biased toward Japan. If you doubt this, we invite you to watch any given minute of Adult Swim’s weekend airings of Code Geass, in which Japanese freedom fighters of the future resist a big, evil British-American empire, all without the faintest glint of historical irony. By comparison, the 1988 video series Gunbuster is quite temperate. Most of the important characters are Japanese and the only possible American is promptly killed off, but there’s no real nationalistic grandstanding. For that, you’ll have to look to the Gunbuster backstory, as detailed in the booklet for the otherwise useless Gunbuster vs. Diebuster movie’s DVD release.
In Gunbuster‘s alternate history (which was technically the future in 1988), Japan never stops riding that big-ass economic bubble of the 1980s and eventually becomes the richest and therefore best nation in the world. This allows Japan to actually buy Hawaii from a financially ailing United States in the 1990s. But America, being a country of bullying hateful barbarian imperialist gaijin swine, isn’t about to take this lying down. Instead of smashing Toyota pickups or letting Hulk Hogan beat up a sumo wrestler, America lashes out with its military. In 2008, U.S. forces bomb Japan’s Pearl Harbor. Of course, this kicks off a war. Of course, Japan wins, thus guaranteeing Glorious Nippon and its insecure teenage pilots a safe future that will never come. Think about that as you watch those jelly-eyed girls and chubby robots bounce around during Gunbuster‘s opening song.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.