Coined originally by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash, the “Metaverse” is simply a term for an alternate digital world — think virtual reality headsets and total computer immersion, a potential successor to the internet and its clunky web browsers. It’s a concept since expanded on by movies and video games such as Second Life, which was just that — a simulated digital second life — and now even tech companies.
Here are seven memorable films that give us a glimpse at what that future could look like.
Based on a novel of the same name, this 2018 movie, directed by Stephen Spielberg, depicts what it would be like if Second Life became a much more advanced, immersive community. It’s set in 2045, in a world barely worth living in. Yet there is a virtual reality escape known as the OASIS, where the film’s lead, Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan) finds himself trying to save the planet from an evil corporation. (Stream on HBO Max™)
One the earliest depictions of the Metaverse in film (predating even Stephenson’s coining of the phrase), this 1982 release shows programmer Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) entering a software world. There, he must interact with various digital entities in the hope of escaping. With their help, Flynn manages to defeat the villain who’d trapped him. He then reappears in the real world, where his victory has led to a workplace promotion, proving that selflessness — even when a computer brings you into a parallel universe — can lead to positive results. (Stream on Amazon Prime)
In the beginning of this 1999 film, we meet Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) as he is about to be kidnapped by evil agents. But Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) calls from another realm to intervene and Neo learns that the world he knows is actually a simulation; in reality, his body is a pod, feeding machines. Offered the blue pill or the red pill — learn more or go back to sleep — he chooses to stay awake and fight. It’s possible this movie shows the way our world is right now; how would we know? And if we did, would we take the blue or red pill? (Stream on HBO Max)
In this 2001 remake of the excellent 1997 Spanish movie Open Your Eyes, David Aames (played by Tom Cruise) suffers a disfiguring car accident and hires a virtual reality firm to give him a better future. All seems copacetic until Aames’ mind begins to wake up and he remembers what’s happened, and what he’s done. Much like The Matrix, this film asks the question: Is ignorance bliss? (Stream on Amazon Prime )
This 2009 film, winner of three Oscars®, is all about looking for new land, which, in essence, is what the Metaverse is all about. It’s set in a future when humans have depleted Earth’s natural resources, leading to a severe energy crisis. In response, a government agency begins mining a densely forested moon inhabited by a species of 10-foot tall blue-skinned humanoids called the Na’vi. There, paraplegic soldier Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington) uses technology to cognitively inhabit a genetically engineered Na’vi body. During his journey, Sully is healed by a Na’vi princess (played by Zoe Saldana) and, as his bond with her grows, he is drawn into a battle for the survival of her world. (Stream on Disney+)
In the year 2054, new psychic technology allows the police to track and arrest criminals before they commit crimes, and police officer John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise) is utilizing it to try and clear his name of a crime he’s accused of committing. Yet if found guilty, Anderton would be kept in a prison made of a state of pleasant virtual reality, which causes us to wonder: Is this better than the potentially brutish prisons of today? Humanity may find out sooner than later. (Stream on Hulu).
In this recent release, Guy (played by Ryan Reynolds) discovers that he is an NPC (non-player character) in a video game, where, one day, he wakes up when “Molotov Girl” — the avatar of real-life person Millie Rusk (played by Jodie Comer) — sings his favorite song. Upon realizing what’s happening to him, Guy decides he must save his friends from potential deletion … and he falls for Molotov Girl in the process. All of which begs the question: If you found love in a digital world, would you follow your heart? (Stream on Amazon Prime)