8 Non-Future Science Fiction Films That Aren't

8 Non-Future Science Fiction Films That Aren't ...

Science-fiction films tend to set themselves in the future, whether that's many years or a relatively short period of time. It's also quite common to see science-fiction set in some sort of alternate present that reflects the world at the time the film was made, to best comment on topical themes or issues.

When it comes to setting science fiction within a certain time period, the less common approach is to look back to the past. However, as the following 11 films demonstrate - particularly the recent entry in the Predatorseries, Prey - it can still work very well and create an interesting contrast. To keep things more interesting, each film must be set multiple decades back from the date it was released (not just a few years).

'Prey' (2022) - set in 1719

Prey feels completely different from the Predator franchise. The series was a well-known but rather generic collection of science-fiction/action films that always featured a group of people going up against a singular alien life form with superior technology, who'd hunt the unfortunate group for sport.

Prey maintains its well-worn premise, but by setting itself 300 years ago and focusing on a young Comanche woman's encounter with the titular foe (there are also some French fur traders who ultimately serve as cannon fodder for the Predator), the series' stakes are increased, and the action scenes suddenly feel very different and even more intense.

'The Iron Giant' (1999) - set in 1957

The Iron Giant, set just over 40 years before its release, evokes 1950s nostalgia throughout. Primarily, it's best remembered for being a wonderfully touching and well-made film about a young boy embracing a gigantic metal robot, and being one of those family films that can be enjoyed by adults and children in equal measure.

The narrative itself feels quite timeless, and almost as if it could be set during nearly any period in recent history. Beyond the simple and charming plot, the retro feel of the film and the 1950s setting help differentiate it visually from other animated films of its time. That's particularly remarkable when you consider how Pixar was just starting its rise to fame in the second half of the 1990s, while increasing the popularity of more modern-looking CGI animation.

'Frankenstein' (1931) and 'The Bride of Frankenstein' (1935) - set in the 1800s (probably)

The first film is said to be set in the 1700s, but then Bride of Frankenstein comes along and implies the film will be set in 1899.

No matter, because in the end, it's a period setting, and even if both films take place in the 1800s, that still counts as the 1800s. And while other well-known Universal monster series' like The Mummy and Dracula feature fantasy or supernatural elements, the Frankenstein series combines horror with science-fiction, since the monster is created (and by an iconic mad scientist).

'The Rocketeer' (1991) - set in 1938

The Rocketeer is far from the most dramatic science fiction film set itself in the past, although the story and the pre-WW2 aesthetics are crucial to the film, and the fact that it involves a proto-superhero using technology to defeat Nazis is what makes it so memorable.

It also reflects the type of campy and endearing entertainment that was popular in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly when it came to action-packed adventure series. In 2011, director Joe Johnston directed the first Captain America film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which had a similar setting, but somewhat similar science-fiction elements (plus Nazis as the villains again).

'Wild Wild West' (1999) - set in 1869

Wild Wild West may not be a particularly excellent film, but it is one of the finest examples of science-fiction transported back to the distant past. That's because it's a somewhat unholy amalgamation of western and science-fiction (with some action and not particularly funny humor added for "good" measure).

It's a misfire despite a large budget and a solid cast led by Will Smith and Kevin Kline, who often brings in elements of westerns for good measure (think Fireflyor Cowboy Bebop). It's at least interesting that Wild Wild West does something different: being a western first and foremost.

The 'Back to the Future' trilogy (1985-1990) - part set in 1955 and 1885

Back to the Future series, which is all about time travel, often travels past on several occasions. Most of the first film is shot in 1955, with protagonist Marty McFly getting to know his parents' generation while attempting to get back to the future. Part II also includes several scenes set in 1955, as well as moving into the future, to 2015.

But it's Back to the Future Part III that really raises the bar when it comes to science fiction in the past. It goes back an entire century, all the way to 1885, and spends almost the whole movie there. It ends up feeling more western than science-fiction, but it's a sci-fi device that keeps Marty and Doc Brown stuck in the old west...

'Star Wars' (1977) - set "a long time ago"

Given the famous sentence: "A long time ago, in a faraway galaxy," the Star Wars series isn't clear on when it will take place. But one thing is for certain, however vague it might be: By "a long time ago," Star Wars is undoubtedly set in the past, making it the most well-known science fiction series explicitly set during years gone by.

Star Wars qualifies as a fantasy series in many ways, resulting in the "old" or "a long time ago" timeframe making more sense. Furthermore, the series does draw from our own history, further blending the past with otherwise futuristic concepts and visuals.

'Life of Brian' (1979) - set in 33 CE

Okay, Life of Brian isn't a science fiction picture. It's a little sneaky to assume it is. The classic Monty Python film is a comedy about a guy named Brian who has a lifelong obsession with the unfortunate. (In reality, he's just a very unlucky boy.)

Brian is taken in an alien spaceship for a brief and horrifying few minutes before being ejected from the craft, only to find himself back where he was "abducted." It's not addressed later in the film. But during that brief and out-of-this-world moment, this film - set some 2000 years ago - transforms into a science fiction film.