Oct. 21, 2015 — a day the world has been waiting on for decades. Not because it’s Kim Kardashian’s 35th birthday but rather it’s the date Marty McFly, Jennifer Parker and Dr. Emmett Brown time-traveled to in 1989’s “Back to the Future Part II.”
The movie’s vision of 2015 made a few wildly inaccurate predictions: fax machines everywhere, pay phones being used regularly and MLB’s World Series being wrapped by Oct. 22. But there were more than a few technological advancements that the film’s creators — Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis — impressively prognosticated.
Listed below is some of the tech that “Back to the Future Part II” got right:
Keyless locks are a standard feature offered by many car makers today and fingerprint-activated house locks can be purchased for less than $200. In the movie, characters are also seen using their thumbprint to pay for goods and sign documents — another fairly common use of the technology today. It’s safe to say Gale and Zemeckis got this one right.
Thin digital cameras with facial-recognition capabilities
In the film, Doc Brown uses a credit card-sized pair of digital binoculars that take photos and recognize faces. Any person that has a current smartphone has one of these devices in their pocket right now.
Multi-channel TV screens with voice activation
Picture-in-picture was available on consumer televisions in the early 1980s but the idea that everyone would have a large screen capable of showing multiple channels was a solid prediction by the crew of “Back to the Future Part II.” Bonus points for Marty’s son using voice-activation to turn on the TV and find channels, a feature Apple TV introduced this year.
In the movie’s version of 2015, Marty’s kids are seen wearing glasses that show video, among other smart capabilities. In real-life 2013, Google Glass brought this technology to consumers.
The video phone has been a staple of sci-fi movie tech at least since 1968’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but “Back to the Future Part II” predicted its prevalence in everyday homes. In the film, Marty chats with a co-worker and his boss via a TV screen. This is another piece of future tech the writers nailed.
News camera drones
After Biff and his pals are arrested for vandalizing Hill Valley’s iconic clock tower, a USA Today camera drone is seen flying near the scene. Remote-controlled camera drones are commonplace today and have been employed by TV stations including Chicago’s ABC7.
While walking through Hill Valley in 2015, Marty sees a number of billboards that feature holographic advertisements. While most billboards haven’t reached that level of sophistication, digital billboards featuring dynamic images can be seen in cities around the world. Predicting that billboards would move beyond traditional printed ads showed good foresight.
When little Elijah Wood disses Marty’s use of a 1980s arcade cabinet because he had to use his hands to play, he was predicting a divisive trend in gaming. Controller-free gaming tools like Microsoft Kinect and PlayStation Move were released in 2010 but have been viewed mostly as a gimmick. In actual 2015, Marty’s controller preference wouldn’t be seen as old fashioned.
The men behind “Back to the Future Part II” got a few other tech predictions pretty close. Auto-adjustable clothing is now starting to appear; robotic dog-walking drones are used by some people; scientists have recently figured out how to turn trash into energy; and in 2008, Chinese scientists were able to slightly control the weather.
GIF images: ©1989 Universal Pictures
Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.