Your Motion Picture and Television Connection
Things to Come sets out a future history from 1940 to 2036. It is set in the fictional British city of 'Everytown'. Successful businessman John Cabal (Raymond Massey) cannot enjoy Christmas Day, 1940, with the ominous news of possible war. His guest Harding (Maurice Braddell) shares his worries, but over-optimistic friend Passworthy (Edward Chapman) believes it will not come to pass, or even if it does, it will do good by accelerating technological progress. A bombing raid on the city that night results in general mobilization and global war.
Some time later, Cabal, now piloting a biplane, shoots down a one-man enemy bomber. He lands and pulls the badly injured enemy (John Clements) from the wreckage. As they dwell on the madness of war, they have to put on their gas masks, as poison gas drifts in their direction. When a little girl runs towards them, the wounded man insists she take his mask, saying he is done for anyway. Cabal takes the girl to his aeroplane, pausing to leave the doomed man a revolver. The man dwells on the irony that he may have gassed the child's family and yet he has saved her. He then shoots himself.
The war continues for decades, long enough for the survivors to have forgotten why they are fighting in the first place. Humanity enters a new Dark Age. The world is in ruins and there is little technology left apart from the firearms used to wage war. In 1966, a plague called the "wandering sickness" is spread by the unnamed enemy using its last few remaining aircraft. Dr. Harding and his daughter Mary struggle to find a cure, but with little equipment, it is hopeless.
By 1970, a local warlord called the "Chief" or the "Boss" (Ralph Richardson) has risen to power in the south of England and eradicated the sickness by shooting the infected. He dreams of conquering the "hill people" to obtain coal and shale to render into oil so his biplanes can fly again.
On May Day 1970, a futuristic aeroplane lands outside the town. The sole pilot, John Cabal, emerges and proclaims that the last surviving band of "engineers and mechanics" have formed a civilization called "Wings Over the World". They are based in Basra, Iraq, and have renounced war and outlawed independent nations. The Boss takes the pilot prisoner and forces him to work for Gordon, a mechanic working on repairing the few remaining aeroplanes. Together, they manage to fix a plane. When Gordon takes it up for a test flight, he flees to alert Cabal's friends.
Wings Over the World attacks Everytown with gigantic aeroplanes and drops sleeping gas bombs on the town. The Boss orders his biplanes to attack but they are shot down. The people of Everytown awaken shortly thereafter, to find it occupied by the Airmen and the Boss dead.
A montage follows, showing decades of technological progress, beginning with Cabal explaining plans for global consolidation by Wings Over the World. By 2036, mankind lives in modern underground cities, including the new Everytown.
However, all is not well. The sculptor Theotocopulos (Cedric Hardwicke) incites the populace to demand a "rest" from the rush of progress, symbolized by the first manned flight around the Moon. The modern-day Luddites are opposed by Oswald Cabal (Massey again), the head of the governing council and great grandson of John Cabal. Cabal's daughter Catherine (Pearl Argyle) and her boyfriend Horrie Passworthy insist on flying the spaceship. When a mob rushes to destroy the space gun used to propel the spacecraft, Cabal launches the ship ahead of schedule.
Cabal then delivers a speech about Progress and humanity's quest for knowledge, asking, "And if we’re no more than animals, we must snatch each little scrap of happiness, and live, and suffer, and pass, mattering no more than all the other animals do or have done. It is this, or that. All the universe or nothing. Which shall it be, Passworthy? Which shall it be?"