No one could have predicted 2020… except for Hollywood. As everyone on earth noted earlier this year, Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion did a fine job of predicting how a Covidesque virus could wreak havoc with every aspect of our lives. But other films did, too — some of them far less known. Let’s have a look at the movies that predicted 2020.
What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968)
This American Life reported earlier this year on a forgotten 1968 box office disappointment called What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? The film imagines a kind of inverted COVID-19, where instead of making people miserable, a virus makes people happy — with disastrous results for the economy. George Peppard and Mary Tyler Moore star as a couple whose relationship is shaken when he stops being a cynic. It’s set in New York City, where the U.S. felt the first serious agony of COVID-19.
The Stand (1994)
Technically this was a TV miniseries, not a movie, but it was strikingly on the nose in its depiction of how a deadly pandemic spreads quickly — and accurately predicted that some people, even at the highest levels of government, would downplay the threat. In a bit of good/terrible timing, there’s now a new version from CBS All Access. Both are based on a novel that modern-day Nostradamus Stephen King wrote way back in 1978.
Contagion deserves tons of credit for predicting how a global pandemic might shake out, but Outbreak got there first. The Dustin Hoffman-Morgan Freeman-Rene Russo film was a little optimistic, in that it imagined a federal government competent enough to at least try to keep the virus contained in one location. Outbreak correctly predicted that a small animal would spread the virus, but it guessed an African monkey instead of an Asian bat/pangolin/whatever it was. Here’s the trailer.
We know, enough about Contagion. Soderbergh was rewarded for his fortune-telling by not only being named to head a Directors Guild of America COVID-19 task force but chosen to produce what will certainly be remembered as the COVID-19 Oscars.
Before the Fire (2020)
How’s this for eerie? Director Charlie Buhler and writer-star Jenna Lyng Adams made a movie about a pandemic that forces an actress to pod up with her boyfriend’s family, as flights are cancelled, the postal service stars to drag, curfews begin, and people start stockpiling weapons. Then, as the film debuts at a film festival in March, the festival becomes one of many to shut down out of COVID-19 anxiety. And then flights are cancelled. The postal service starts to drag. Curfews begin. And people start stockpiling weapons. You can check out our interview with the filmmakers here, and watch the trailer here:
The Time Machine (1960)
Oh gosh, I’m sorry, I forgot one. Mind if we go dark? This H.G. Wells adaptation imagined a two-caste future in which humans have evolved into Eloi and Morlocks: The soft, pampered Eloi do little real work and live lives of comfort and pleasure, except for when the scrappy, resentful Morlocks, who have nothing, rise from their subterranean caves to kill the Eloi. I’m not saying we’re there yet, but leaving some people to fend for themselves while others get rich off a booming stock market isn’t good.