Cinema’s Crystal Ball
From time to time, movies have eerily predicted the future. BY PE TER CROOKS
Filmmaker Adam McKay offered an interesting discussion topic on Twitter recently.
“Which movie was most ahead of its time and prophetic?” tweeted McKay
(@GhostPanther) to just over a million followers. McKay, who won an Academy Award
for his screenplay adaptation of Michael Lewis’ book The Big Short, should know a
thing or two about being ahead of the curve: the movie, which he also directed, is a dark
comedy about a handful of prescient investors who were able to cash in on the collapse
of the U. S. mortgage market during the end of the George W. Bush administration.
While that film, as well as McKay’s upcoming Dick Cheney biographical drama
Backseat (which he also wrote and directed), provide context for recent events that few
understood as they were happening, on Twitter he was asking about an even more specialized category: movies that accurately envisioned future events, cultural shifts and
political movements before they occurred in real life.
McKay’s own pick was Network, the brilliant satire about a low-rated TV news program that juices its ratings by staging coverage to fit a sensational agenda. Writer Paddy
Chayefsky won an Oscar for his original screenplay and Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch
(posthumously) received Best Actress and Best Actor awards for their respective roles
as an amoral news producer and a mentally disturbed anchor ranting about corruption,
consumerism and cultural malaise.
When the film hit theaters in 1976,
there was no Fox News, no Glenn Beck,
no Alex Jones. I remember seeing the
film in a communications class in college
in the early 1990s, the same day Geraldo
Rivera had his nose broken by a white
supremacist during a daytime talk show
— a very Network moment. Years later, I
ran into Faye Dunaway at a Bay Area film
festival and I asked her about the film.
“When you were making that movie,
did it feel like what it predicted could
actually happen someday?”
“Not in a million years,” Dunaway
replied. “It was just such wonderful writ-
ing, but it was so outrageous that it might
as well have been happening on Mars. But
it all came true.”