Not a day goes by when climate change isn’t on news headlines somewhere. Whether it’s unseasonable weather patterns or politicians using it as a talking point, we can all see its effects on our daily life. Since movies are nothing if not a reflection of everyday life, it’s not surprising that our worries about the environment fighting back have long been on the big screen.
A classic of creature features, the original Godzilla tells the story of an ancient beast awakened by nuclear testing. This film is particularly poignant since it was filmed less than a decade after the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and director Ishiro Honda drew parallels that would be immediately obvious to the public in Japan. By the early 1950s, the public was aware of the literal fallout of the atomic bombs: cancer, birth defects, PTSD, and public stigma were all dealt with by the survivors. On film, mankind’s tampering gave rise to a literal monster sent to rampage.
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Roland Emmerich’s 2004 climate change disaster film imagines a future where all of the ill effects predicted by climatologists happen at once. Ocean currents change dramatically overnight, New York City freezes solid thanks to superstorms, and the United States is forced to evacuate to Mexico in order to find habitable temperatures. While the scale is exaggerated, the core idea is not. Alberta Energy has found that carbon dioxide accounted for 83 percent of greenhouse gasses in 2013, and the Global Carbon Project says the amount of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels increased at a rate of about 2.3 percent from 2012 to 2013.
I Am Legend (2007)
This film starring Will Smith as Robert Neville is the third movie adaptation of Richard Matheson‘s novel of the same name. In the film, a genetically engineered virus has wiped out seemingly all of humanity save Robert, who now lives in the ruins of New York City. The survivors who have not been killed have mutated into vampiric creatures. While a vampire virus may be unlikely, global pandemics are a very real threat. In 2014, an outbreak of the Ebola virus in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone made international headlines and caused widespread panic among even those who had not been exposed. The thought of a deliberately mutated virus on that scale is enough to make anyone panic.
The Bay (2012)
In this found footage movie, intrepid investigators discover that their coastal town’s water supply has been poisoned by runoff from a chicken farm, culminating in a plague of deadly parasites that runs rampant through its human hosts. Combining a governmental cover-up, body horror, and an environmentalist message, The Bay will make viewers question what is in their water. Director Barry Levinson was inspired by the real-life pollution of the Chesapeake Bay.
World War Z (2013)
Based on the novel by Max Brooks, World War Z stars Brad Pitt as a United Nations investigator trying to stop the zombie apocalypse. With zombies attacking the healthy and the Center for Disease Control taking an active role, it’s not hard to see this as a plague movie. And as with real diseases, the fight to cure, treat, or avoid the disease takes center stage – alongside the zombie-killing action, of course.
If as a culture we’re so frightened of these things that we put them on film, then we should be aware of the threat that they present. Education can be found in the unlikeliest of places – even in a horror movie.