ICYMI: 5 movies where biopharma goes horribly wrong
Last Friday was Halloween here in the U.S., and BioPharma Dive had a weekend of spooky stories and twisted tales. For our non-Western readers and the otherwise uninitiated: Halloween is an ostensibly solemn Christian tradition (some say it also has pagan roots) that was originally meant to respect the dead and faithful departed. The U.S. and several European countries have turned this into an excuse to play dress up, carve pumpkins, watch scary movies, and have children demand candy from strangers. Because that's just how we roll.
But there's no denying that Halloween is one of the greatest holidays for thrill seekers and horror lovers. And pharma tends to make a lot of appearances in these macabre tales (apparently there are a lot of really shady phase III trials out there turning humans into flesh-craving monsters). We've tried to identify a healthy sampling of scary movies that relate in some way to biopharma (ranging from the truly horrifying to movies with horrific implications) for your enjoyment.
Who's in it: Jude Law, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow
Who directed it: Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean's 11, Erin Brockovich)
What's the story: A deadly and mysterious virus instigates a worldwide epidemic, leading to mass panic, quarantines, and a rush to find a cure (sound familiar?). The movie explores what a global response to such an epidemic (especially one that affects the U.S. and Europe) would look like, and the political and scientific machinations that go into searching for a cure and Patient Zero during a time of distrust and paranoia.
Was pharma the hero or the villain? A little bit of both, but mostly the hero.
Scary Scale Ranking: 5/10; It's more horrific for what it says about human nature and politics than anything else.
What we learned from this: Gwyneth Paltrow should really stay away from sushi on cruise ships.
2. 28 Days Later
Who's in it: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Brendan Gleeson
Who directed it: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, 127 Hours, Sunshine)
What's the story: A group of animal rights activists breaks into a laboratory and frees multiple cages of monkeys which are being used for clinical trials. Unfortunately, the particular product being tested on these primates is a "Rage" virus, which then promptly gets passed on to the human population through monkey bites. That leads to a hellscape of zombies (literally) eating humanity from the inside as society crumbles. A lot of legitimately profound allegorical commentary on the nature of mankind in this one.
Was pharma the hero or the villain? Villain. But overzealous environmentalists and the inherently evil nature of man were also culpable here.
Scary Scale Ranking: 11/10 (some seriously scary stuff here)
What we learned from this: It's probably best not to experiment with drugs whose primary endpoint is to enhance the most destructive and aggressive components of man. Just saying.
Who's in it: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chanéac, Brandon McGibbon
Who directed it: Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Paris Je T'Aime, Haunter)
What's the story: Scientists Clive Nicoli (Brody) and Elsa Kast (Polley) make hybrid animals in their state-of-the-art laboratory. Despite orders from their employer to cease an experiment creating a viable female creature out of several animals' DNA, the researchers go on to make "Dren," a freaky humanoid hybrid that becomes a stand-in for the childless couple's daughter. But as Dren gets older and begins to feel those growing pains and animal urges, things take a horrific turn...
Was pharma the hero or the villain? Tried to be the hero, but couldn't control those pesky DIY scientists.
Scary Scale Ranking: 7.5/10 (builds to 10/10 by the end)
What we learned from this: As if we hadn't already learned this from Jurassic Park, if you're going to create strange and potentially deadly creatures in a lab, for the love of all that is holy and unholy, make sure it isn't amphibious and capable of randomly changing gender on you.
4. The Fly (1986 remake)
Who's in it: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, and Human-Fly-Hybrid Jeff Goldblum
Who directed it: David Cronenberg (Videodrome, A History of Violence, eXistenz, Eastern Promises)
What's the story: A mad, but charming and brilliant scientist played by the one-and-only Jeff Goldbum begins experimenting with a procedure that will allow for instantaneous teleportation. Unfortunately, while running experiments on himself in the "Telepod," he inadvertently links his DNA with that of a housefly's. Goldblum's gruesome transformation into a man-fly hybrid is still, to this day, one of the most unnerving, revolting events to happen onscreen in a major motion picture.
Was pharma the hero or the villain? Neither. This was pretty much Jeff Goldblum's show.
Scary Scale Ranking: 7/10
What we learned from this: Don't ever spend the night at Jeff Goldblum's apartment. And don't run extensive, controversial experiments out of your home. The FDA looks down on that.
5. Side Effects
Who's in it: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Who directed it: Steven Soderbergh (the guy's got a thing for/against pharma)
What's the story: This isn't really a straight-forward "horror" movie per se, but it's definitely suspenseful, and it explores frightening aspects of what Soderbergh clearly perceives as the seedy underbelly of the American pharmaceutical industry. Young, attractive couple Emily and Martin Taylor (Mara and Tatum) are on the rocks after Martin gets released from jail for committing white collar crimes. Emily suffers from severe depression and has suicidal tendencies. But then, a promising new pill changes her life completely, making her feel true happiness and invigorating the couple's love life. Things take a turn when the meds turn out to have deadly side effects and lead to Emily murdering her husband while in a fugue state. But is there more going on than meets the eye?
Was pharma the hero or the villain? The villain, by a wide margin (although other shady elements are also abound).
Scary Scale Ranking: 6/10
What we learned from this: Black box warnings are pretty clutch.