Some would say that films are a reflection of reality. However, occasionally, the connection is reversed and films gain a prophetic significance. In light of the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV, we look at five Hollywood movies that touched upon various aspects of what has become a reality in China and the rest of the world now.
The movie follows Dustin Hoffman's character, an army virologist, trying to track down the host of a deadly viral outbreak which stems out of Africa, and find a cure as he races against time to prevent the government from wiping out a town that has become ground zero of the infection in the US. Government response and military crackdown, quarantine, and secrecy, among others—everything that Wuhan outbreak elicited—form an important part of the movie.
One particular aspect of the movie is very similar to what a recent study by Chinese researchers suggested: illegal wildlife trafficking could have led to the spread of the virus. While real-life scientists deemed pangolins as a likely intermediate host, the smuggling of a white-headed capuchin monkey — which is that host of the fictitious 'Motaba' virus — out of Africa, sets off a chain of transmissions in the movie.
28 Days Later (2002)
Much before Danny Boyle made the questionably hyped Slumdog Millionaire, he crafted this gem starring the then-unknown, Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) and Naomie Harris (Sky Fall and Spectre). The movie closely follows the breakdown of human society after the outbreak of a lethal rage-inducing virus, also known as the Rage Virus, in Great Britain post the release of infected chimpanzees from a lab.
Yes, the infection is characterized by the 'zombification' of the infected. However, the zombies remain in the background and only serve as signs of impending doom. At its heart, the movie is an exploration of how a disease can set off the collapse of society and evoke diverse primal instincts in people.
28 Weeks Later (2007)
A sequel to 28 Days Later, the movie shows how a disintegrated society tries to piece itself together through characters played by Robert Carlyle(Trainspotting and Once upon a time), Rose Byrne (Troy and X-Men: First Class) and Jeremey Renner (MCU and Mission Impossible franchise).
The plot revolves around how a safe zone established to harbor survivors is breached and how the infection explodes again in a matter of hours. One aspect of the movie that shares a similarity with the current Wuhan virus outbreak is the role of asymptomatic carriers in the spread of the infection and how a localized infection goes global by the end of the movie.
There is a reason why this movie has become one of the most popular movies on iTunes post the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. Buoyed by an exceptional ensemble cast, the movie depicts the spread of a pandemic that claims 26 million lives across the world. While the dissimilarities between the movie and reality can be brushed aside, there are eerie similarities as well.
Scientists have posited that the Wuhan virus may have spread from bats to human beings. In the movie, the virus spreads from a bat to an intermediary host, a pig, and finally to human beings—more similar to the nipah virus. Scientists are exploring a similar link to understand the spread of the novel coronavirus. While it has not been declared a pandemic yet, the disease has made it to the shores of nearly 30 countries.
The death toll is not remotely close to millions like in the movie, but the panic it has generated is the same. Misinformation and false cures are mushrooming, and Jude Law's character, a popular blogger, does both and causes a mad rush among people to seek a cure by lining up in front of pharmacies. We have seen both since the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus.
People thronging pharmacies in Hong Kong seeking masks is a sight that was eerily similar. Shortage of supplies, overcrowding of hospitals with the infected and race to find a vaccination to stem the spread, are shared elements between the movie and the present Wuhan outbreak.
World War Z (2013)
Ok. We agree that it is another movie about a zombie apocalypse on the list. However, if one puts aside the Rage virus-like zombification, the movie does explore the viral outbreak within it in a procedural manner. Help is sought from Brad Pitt's character, a former investigator with the United Nations, to investigate the spread of a potent infection that has precursory roots in rabies infections among animals. He is tasked with honing in on patient zero so that the disease can be understood better and a vaccine can be developed to protect the uninfected.
Unlike Contagion, which also explores the various layers of a scientific approach, this movie keeps it rather simple. Nevertheless, quarantines, lockdowns, government response, formulation of an idea to use an existing virus to create a vaccine to counter the new one, and other ideas, do find a place within the narrative of this zombie apocalypse.