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Published December 31, 2018
Updated May 1, 2019

51 Fascinating Depictions Of How People In The Past Envisioned The Future

Retrofuturism Transportation Painting

Forrest J. Ackerman Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty ImagesRendering of futuristic urban transports. Artist: Anton Brzezinski.

Retrofuturism is the past’s vision of the future — that is, it’s what the people of yesterday thought today would look like.

These visions run the gamut from charmingly naïve and amusingly ambitious to alarmingly accurate, and they’ve inspired a movement in the present as artists, designers, musicians, and filmmakers channel the technological dreams of a bygone age.

The term “retrofuturism” is a relatively recent one. It appeared in the wake of the technological advances of the ’70s and ’80s, when science made enormous strides — but not always in the directions that the inhabitants of the early 20th century had anticipated. The dreams of the past began to look quaint and implausible in a way that many found nostalgic.

Norms Googie Architecture

LA Conservancy ArchivesNorm’s restaurant was built in 1957 in the Googie style so popular in retrofuturism — and this La Cienega branch is still open today.

It makes sense that retrofuturism as a genre rose to popularity at the same time as dystopian science fiction and fantasy were garnering renewed interest. As the future was beginning to look like a stranger, scarier place than it once had, a new enthusiasm emerged for the sometimes comically rosy predictions of previous generations.

Today, retrofuturism is on the rise. While previous decades have seen the movement confined to cult classics, its themes and iconic looks are becoming increasingly mainstream. The Incredibles director Brad Bird cited retrofuturism as one of his influences, and it’s not hard to see retro sensibilities in the look of the Pixar classic.

Video games have also taken an interest, notably the popular BioShock series, which was influenced, according to designer Ken Levine, in part by retrofuturistic works like George Orwell’s 1984.

It’s enough to make you wonder — what will the generations of tomorrow think when they look back on our visions of the future? What will they think about our dreams?

All That's Interesting
A New York-based publisher established in 2010, All That's Interesting brings together subject-level experts in history, true crime, and science to share stories that illuminate our world.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.