It's rare to find a snippet of good news in the midst of the current coronavirus outbreak, but one decade old, Abu Dhabi-produced film is experiencing a second lease of life among the gloom. Steven Soderbergh's 2011 medical disaster film Contagion, which was funded by Image Nation Abu Dhabi, has unexpectedly become the most essential film in the world in the wake of the spread of the virus.
The film features Marion Collard, Laurence Fishburne and Kate Winslet as scientists trying to deal with the outbreak of a mystery global virus, with Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow among the outbreak's victims. Jude Law plays that other essential component of any medical emergency – a narcissistic conspiracy theorist who insists the government is lying to us and claims he has a herbal cure-all remedy.
Contagion was a moderate success on its release in September 2011, following its premiere at the Venice Film Festival at the start of the same month. It took $135 million at the box office on a $60 million (Dh495 million) production budget. The film was critically well-received – it currently rates 85 per cent "fresh" on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and the performances from the impressive ensemble cast were particularly praised.
Even the scientific community were behind the movie. Soderbergh is a renowned perfectionist, who consulted with professional bodies including the World Health Organisation and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention as research during production. The New Scientist was among pillars of the scientific world to praise the movie's accurate portrayal of a global medical emergency, praising its accurate depiction of the frustrations of viral research.
Nonetheless, by 2019, the film had been largely forgotten, and according to its distributor Warner Bros, in December it ranked as the 270th most downloaded film from the studio’s online catalogue.
That has all changed since the Covid-19 outbreak, however, with the film undergoing a resurrection of epic proportions. As of March 16, Warner Bros says that the film is currently its second most downloaded property, after the Harry Potter franchise. That means the film is currently more popular than Warner giants such as the DC Universe and box office smashes like Crazy Rich Asians.
In the Middle East, the film currently sits at the top of both the iTunes and Google Play download charts above more recent Oscar fare including films like Parasite (number two on both sites) and Joker.
Its Abu Dhabi producers Image Nation are not directly involved with Warner Bros' task of distributing the film, however a spokesperson confirmed to The National that, although they don't physically sell copies of the film online, they've noted a distinct spike in web search traffic to the title in their own online catalogue since the onset of the epidemic.
Among the famous names to have been revisiting the film in recent days is director Edgar Wright, who tweeted on Saturday that he'd rewatched the film, and noted that although the film is "bleak and sobering" we could take some solace from the "glimmer of hope" at the end of the film, before going on to joke about an alternative ending in which Gwyneth Paltrow's character dies in a fight over toilet roll in a local supermarket.
We don't want to spoil the ending for anyone who hasn't yet seen the film, but suffice to say that the world doesn't end, and in the current climate, it might be wise to make the most of every little bit of positivity we can find.