Things to Come (1936)



Critic Consensus: Eerily prescient in its presentation of a dystopian future, Things to Come's special effects may be somewhat dated, but its potent ideas haven't aged at all.


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Movie Info

H. G. Wells was both the author of the original source -- an essay, rather than an actual novel, concerning mankind's future -- and the screenplay (in conjunction with Lajos Biro) of this epic science fiction tale, but it was producer Alexander Korda who framed the terms on which it is presented, vast and elegant, and visually striking. Opening in the year 1940, we see the next century of human history unfold, initially with amazing prescience. In Everytown (a stand-in for London) in 1940, the people prepare to celebrate Christmas amid rumors and rumblings of war -- forward-thinking pacifists like John Cabal (Raymond Massey) try to raise concerns amid a populace either too fearful to think about the risks, or so pleased with business conditions that they're oblivious to the downside of war. And then it comes, devastating Everytown (in scenes shockingly close to the actual World War II London blitz, a half-decade away when these scenes were written) and the country, and finally the world. After 30 years, the war goes on, except that there are no more nations to fight it, only isolated petty fiefdoms ruled by brigand-like strongmen, running gangs organized like tiny armies. Among the most ruthless and successful of them is Rudolph (Ralph Richardson), who runs what's left of Everytown. He keeps his people in line by force, and his war with his neighbors going with his bedraggled troops, while pressuring the tiny handful of scientists, mechanics, and pilots to keep as many of the aging, decrepit planes as they can operating. A few educated men around him -- whom he doesn't really trust -- try to resist the worst of his plans and orders, while going through the motions of carrying them out.And then, one day, out of the sky comes a plane the like of which they've never seen before, sleek and fast, and piloted by a mysterious man whom Rudolph orders imprisoned. It is John Cabal, older but just as dedicated to the cause of peace, and ready to fight for it. He announces the existence of a new order, run by a society of engineers and scientists, called Wings Over The World, here to re-establish civilization. Rudolph will hear none of it, thinking instead to use Cabal's plane and those of any of his friends who follow as weapons of war -- but Rudolph's wife Roxana (Marguerite Scott) sees the wisdom of what Cabal offers and helps him. The bombers of Wings Over The World drop the Gas of Peace, which puts the entire population of Everytown to sleep -- all except Rudolph, who goes down fighting and dies -- allowing the army of the Airmen to enter and free the city.Seventy years go by, during which the Earth is transformed and a new civilization rises, led by scientists and engineers. Immense towers now rise into the sky, and the population is freed from most of the concerns that ever led to it war. In fact, a new complacency starts to take hold amid a populace for whom most needs are now easily met -- all except the leaders, engineers who keep advancing, year after year, with new projects and goals. And now, having conquered the Earth and all of the challenges it has to offer, Oswald Cabal (Raymond Massey), the great-grandson of John and the current leader, is about to embark on the grandest project of all, moving into deep space. The first launch of a manned vehicle, fired by the Space Gun, is about to take place. But there is discontent being spread by the sculptor Theotocopulos (Cedric Hardwicke), who is weary and distressed from this constant push toward new advances and progress -- he wants mankind to reassert itself over this ever-advancing technology, and sees the Space Gun and all it represents as a new threat. In a speech, he exhorts the restive populace to stop the launch. They proceed, en masse, to attack the Space Gun, while Cabal struggles to beat them to their objective and take the next bold step into space. "All of the Universe," he declares, "or nothing -- which shall it be?" ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

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Raymond Massey
as John Cabal, Oswald Cabal
Edward Chapman
as Pippa Passworthy/Raymond Passworthy
Margaretta Scott
as Rowena, Roxana
Cedric Hardwicke
as Theotocopulos
Maurice Braddell
as Dr. Harding
Sophie Stewart
as Mrs. Cabal
Derrick De Marney
as Richard Gordon
Allan Jeayes
as Mr. Cabal
Ann Todd
as Mary Gordon
Anthony Holles
as Simon Burton
Pearl Argyle
as Katherine Cabal
Kenneth Villiers
as Maurice Passworthy
Patricia Hilliard
as Janet Gordon
Ivan Brandt
as Morden Mitani
Patrick Barr
as World Transport Official
Charles Carson
as Great Grandfather
John Clements
as The Airman
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News & Interviews for Things to Come

Critic Reviews for Things to Come

All Critics (26) | Top Critics (4)

Things to Come is an unusual picture, a fantasy, if you will, with overtones of the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon comic strips. But it is, as well, a picture with ideas which have been expressed dramatically and with visual fascination.

May 31, 2007 | Full Review…

This is England's first $1 million picture. It's an impressive but dull exposition of a bad dream.

May 31, 2007 | Full Review…
Top Critic

In the realm of 'prophetic science fiction', it is a genre landmark.

Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

[An] imaginative, only occasionally naive forecast of the age of nuclear warfare in 1936.

Jan 1, 2000 | Full Review…

Everyone in this Wellsian future loves it, except for a Luddite (Cedric Hardwicke). "What is the good of all this progress?" he declares. "We demand a rest!" He's supposed to be the villain, but I find him to be the film's most sympathetic character.

Apr 18, 2016 | Rating: 4 of 5 | Full Review…

In all, this is a film which because of its conception and technical achievements demands to he seen and deserves careful and discriminating attention.

Aug 1, 2015 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Things to Come

Things To Come is an interesting, historical curiosity. Viewing it is more an intellectual exercise than it is entertainment. The production is this odd mixture of the quaint, intellectual, and melodramatic and it gets to be grating at times (to the extent that one may not finish the film). Contrary to other reviewers, I did not find the film particularly prophetic but rather a projection of the views at the time it was made. I would recommend it only to those with an intellectual bent and an interest in subjects such as sociology, politics, history.

Robert Brogan
Robert Brogan

Super Reviewer

There is quite a discrepancy between the RT Critic Score and the Flixster User Score for this one. I'd read good things about this film in lists of great sci-fi pictures. The title is often printed as H.G. Wells' Things to Come, but this is not just an adaptation of his work. When watching the short lived and mediocre TV series Prophets of Science Fiction, I was pleasantly surprised to see H.G. Wells in home movie footage from the '30s. Wells lived to 1946. H.G. Wells himself wrote this screenplay. His late-19th century sci-fi vision lived into the era of motion pictures and he was able to contribute his vision of the future to this "seeing is believing" medium. Menzies, who was also an accomplished Art Director, leads the whole team in creating some fantastic sets. Unfortunately, the costumes often leave something to be desired. Story-wise Wells is astonishingly prescient in predicting WWII. The aftermath of the war with a zombie-like disease and medieval-like warring fiefdoms seems a little silly despite the extremity of nuclear fallout. Next Raymond Massey as Cabal, a descendant of a character we met earlier, shows up with an Airforce that is trying to promote science and unite all mankind. Then we jump further in the future, where there are some fun visual effects with an advanced society rebuilt on Cabal's principles. I appreciated the plot of scientific advancement vs. reactionary doubts, progress vs. status quo, however, the execution of the ideas in action is a bit too didactic. The words coming out of the mouths of the characters are stiff and not so engaging.

Byron Brubaker
Byron Brubaker

Super Reviewer


I do give this movie credit for being one of the only sci-fi movies of the thirties, seriously I couldn't find that many, there were about two or three others I found. Anyway. I think H. G. Wells' story of Things To Come was probably much better than this movie. Most of the film is montage of footage of so-called future wars and the progress of mankind, which got really boring after a while. in between that, there are three stories of how war and violence are destroying the world, and the last story doesn't end any different from the other two. It does have good special effects, but other than that it isn't a great movie.

Aj V
Aj V

Super Reviewer


This early sci-fi film, based on an H.G. Wells story, is a good try, but not the classic I had been led to believe it is. Decent special effects for the 30's, and some nifty futuristic machines (I'm sure courtesy of Wells), but especially hammy acting by the leads (Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, et al) and truly horrendous costumes (seemed to cover every time period between the Bronze Age and The Jetsons, at times within the same scene) really distracted from my enjoyment.

Cindy I
Cindy I

Super Reviewer

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