No one could have guessed that a virus of an unknown origin could make over 140 countries descend into a state of fear and helplessness. That is exactly what the explosion of COVID-19 has done! Surprisingly, a few Hollywood movies managed to give us a peek into what a pandemic like this could look like.
Panic? Chaos? Lockdowns? The collapse of society? Self-preservation taking precedence? Worldwide administrational pandemonium? We look at seven movies that ticked all these boxes and more, that have become a reality across the world.
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 a few 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 coronavirus 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.
I am Legend (2007)
Will Smith's character, an army virologist, tries to find a cure for a pandemic that wipes out nearly all humanity. With 90 percent of the world's population dead, and with 9.8 percent mutating into vampiric creatures that prey on survivors who are immune, Smith finds himself as the last human being in New York City, and possibly the world.
Conspiracy theories that the COVID-19 outbreak was a biological weapon or an experiment gone wrong are rife. And the pandemic in the movie is the result of a cancer cure based on re-engineered measles virus going drastically wrong.
In one of the alternate endings of the movie, Smith discovers that a female mutant he tries to cure has recovered. One of his lines, "The cure is in her blood," is what many scientists are saying about survivors of COVID-19. Their blood plasma could hold the secret to developing a cure for the dangerously virulent disease some scientists say.
Do not accuse us of stretching this too far. Hear us out. Firefighters and a journalist shadowing them, respond to an emergency call. Before they can make sense of what is happening, they find themselves in the middle of a rabies-like outbreak within the building. It is passed on by the infected who are again like Zombies. What happens next? The building is quarantined. The army is brought in and no one is allowed to leave, making the residents vulnerable to infection.
Remember the Diamond Princess? With almost complete unanimity, experts across the world have slammed Japanese authorities for imposing a two-week quarantine on the ship that led to a massive outbreak aboard it. Yes, people did not bite each other. However, much like in the movie, the close proximity to the infected within a constricted space is what led to the spread of the disease.
The journalist in the movie discovers that the virus was intentionally released. Is it not what China has accused the US of? Bringing the virus to China intentionally? Other similarities include the hushing up of the outbreak—something that Iran and North Korea have been alleged to have done.
There is a reason why this movie has become one of the most popular movies on iTunes post the novel 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 SARS-CoV-2 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.
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. It causes a mad rush among people to seek a cure by lining up in front of pharmacies. From cures like drinking bleach and partaking in bovine excreta, to brawling at stores for essential supplies driven by media-led panic, we have seen it all.
Aspects such as overcrowding of hospitals with the infected like in Iran, and the race to find a vaccination to stem the spread, are shared elements between the movie and the present COVID-19 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 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.