Due to fears stoked by the coronavirus, the 2011 movie Contagion with a few pandemic with some similarities to current events has reached the iTunes rental charts, reflecting the way people often use fiction to process reality.
Yet that film is merely one example of a recurring theme in movies related to such an epidemic, a longtime staple of fantasy that has always been informed by science fact.
Unsurprisingly, the Hollywood version of worldwide pandemics has usually spiraled off in fantastic directions, giving birth to zombies in movies such as The Omega Man, World War Z, and Pandemic.
However, more sober stories have tapped into the notion of mankind being threatened with annihilation by a microbial killer but not by nuclear weapons (a favorite topic within the 1950s and ’60s).
For example, during The Andromeda Strain, the 1971 thriller which was based on a book by the prescient author Michael Crichton, who repeatedly returned to concepts, scientific and technological breakthroughs created existential threats to human beings.
The juxtaposition of these impulses within the genre are often seen in two movies released in 1995: 12 Monkeys, a science-fiction plot about using time visit attempt to thwart a nascent plague which will wipe out most of humanity; and Outbreak, a more grounded premise during which an airborne virus gets inadvertently smuggled into the US from Africa, requiring a team of doctors (led by Dustin Hoffman) to race against the clock trying to save lots of a town where the infection is spreading.
Nor have screen versions of those stories been confined to fiction. Last year, the National Geographic network aired The Hot Zone, a story that was based on fact about the emergence of Ebola virus in 1989, and scientists reacting to potential exposure within the suburbs of Washington DC, via imported monkeys.