The movies that predicted an outbreak like coronavirus

March 13, 2020

Amid fears stoked by the coronavirus, “Contagion” — a 2011 movie about a pandemic with potentially eerie similarities to recent events — has been climbing up the iTunes rental charts, reflecting how people often use fiction as a means to process reality.

Yet that film is only one example of a recurring theme in movies associated with such an outbreak, a longtime staple of science fiction that has always been informed by science fact.

Not surprisingly, the Hollywood version of global pandemics has frequently spiraled off in fantastic directions, birthing armies of zombies in movies like “The Omega Man,” “World War Z” and “Pandemic.”

More sober stories, however, have tapped into the notion of mankind being threatened with annihilation not by nuclear weapons (a favorite topic in the 1950s and ’60s) but a microbial killer.

Early examples include the 1971 thrillerThe Andromeda Strain” — adapted from a book by the prescient author Michael Crichton, who repeatedly returned to concepts (see “Westworld” and “Jurassic Park”) in which scientific and technological breakthroughs created existential threats to humankind.