Seriously, pop open an MRE, Netflix and chill.
There is nothing a lot of people love more than a good disaster movie. The genre is as old as celluloid itself, and when one considers the father of all biblical disaster stories, the saga of Noah and the flood one can see why – the whole world dies, except for eight folks who had a crash course in shipwrighting.
The father of modern disaster films was, of course, Irwin Allen who started the Airport movies (based on Author Arthur Hailey’s novel by the same name).
Those movies were minor disasters: aircraft, skyscrapers, and ships – disasters to be sure, but localized catastrophes. That was until Allen, of course, went big with The Swarm, which was also a disaster for his career.
Disaster movies have always done well whether the economy was doing well or not, political scandals abound or whether we are at war or peace.
Apocalyptic films seem to worry people sometimes. Some concern was raised by critics when the 1996 motion picture Independence Day was released due to the fact the audience broke into applause when the White House was demolished.
President William Clinton seemed unphased by the reaction. However, in the film ‘2010’, when a tsunami destroyed the white house by then, it was passé. Maybe Danny Glover was right; he was just too old for that stuff. Woody Harrelson, however, seem rather disconcerted.
Beyond the issue of simple enjoyment motion pictures by the very nature can serve as more than reflections of societal trends, they can point out our lack of preparation for realistic scenarios.
When the Motion Picture Meteor came out in 1979 the movie was considered silly, but enjoyable. (5/10 on IMDB) However, when the exact same matter arose some years later based with tandem apocalyptic asteroid films Armageddon and Deep Impact, it provoked conversation of planetary readiness of having the ability to deter such an event.
It seems unlikely that we will be able to send Ben Affleck or Jon Favreau up to space yet. The likelihood of another Extinction level earth/asteroid event remains slim, (According to the NASA there is a 0.000001 percentage chance of such a giant asteroid hitting Earth each year and only a 0.1 per cent chance of an asteroid big enough to level a city. However, NASA currently searches for asteroids that could pose a threat to Earth via its Near-Earth Object program.
The most obvious cautionary tale films debuting in the 1960s were those about the dangers of nuclear war. There are hundreds of films dealing with Fallout, nuclear winter, and of course Mutants. However no film left as much of a societal impact than 1983 Jason Robards television film ‘The Day After”.
Far from being an uplifting film with a triumphal survival ending, the film showed the authentic effect of what a nuclear strike on Lawrence, Kansas would look like, complete with radiation sickness, fallout and spontaneous hemorrhaging. The movie was said to have caused President Ronald Reagan, and the Chairmen of the Joint Cheifs of Staff to be so unnerved that the film a direct causal influence on the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. In Reagan’s memoirs, he drew a direct line from the movie to the signing.
The 1964 Fail-Safe, about the accidental nuclear bombing of Moscow, and the US president subsequent nuking of New York to prevent a reciprocal bombing of New York failed to have as significant an effect as the ’83 film. However, both movies are considered the high water mark of nuclear disarmament movies.
When it comes to prescience, the March 16th, 1979’s motion picture The China Syndrome a film about a near nuclear plant meltdown debuted a remarkable 12 days before a near-meltdown occurred at the Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. The timing was so unnerving that it provoked a significant anti-nuclear power movement, which of course was unsuccessful.
However, seven years later, when the catastrophic Chernyobal nuclear meltdown occurred in Russia, it caused new revised and safer nuclear policies. The recent HBO miniseries Chernobyl showed a historical accurate depiction of that disaster.
When the Fukushima Tsunami/multiple meltdowns of their nuclear power plants occured, a general societal shift seems to taken place, with a late-arriving move away from nuclear power. For example, in 2022, Germany will show down their last plant.
To date, the Fukushima disaster seems to have been so devastating that it has produced no disaster based films, other than the May 16th, 2014’s Godzilla.
As the world is now dealing with the Covid-19 Coronoviris pandemic, many people are looking to the past at such precautionary films as Wolfgang Peterson’s 1995 realistic portrayal of a pandemic in Outbreak, and 2011’s Contagion by acclaimed Oscar winning Director Steven Soderbergh.
People still like to be scared, even topically withthe 2016 film Pandemic, and 1994’s ABC miniseries based on Stephen King’s The Stand trending topically. A CBS-All Acess miniseries remake of The Stand began in 2019, and it will be interesting to see what effect the current pandemic has on its future.
What can be drawn from popular consumption of these films, novels, and even roleplaying and video games is that they serve as bellweathers for our cultural and political reactions to disaster.
It does appear rather unlikely, however, that a zombie apocalypse may break out. Nevertheless, the one very valuable lesson we should draw from this is the importance of having supplies ready and, never, ever letting Carl out of the house.
John R. White is a USAF veteran, and has served as Art Director for the Honor Flight Network, and Honor Flight Northwest Ohio. He is most well known as the Author of ‘The Tales of the Airship Neverland’ steampunk series, and the author and designer of the ‘Airship Neverland’ Roleplaying game.