The Writers and Directors Who Saw Coronavirus Coming

Spending years crafting a pandemic doesn’t quite prepare you for living through one.

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.

Nine years after “Contagion” killed off Gwenyth Paltrow in record movie time, the film’s warnings about touching your face and trusting misinformation feel eerily prophetic.

But the creators of fictional pandemics weren’t fortune tellers. They just did their research.

“I actually find it really sad that what I end up getting on my Instagram is accusations of being a prophet or part of the Illuminati,” “Contagion” screenwriter Scott Z. Burns said. “I spoke to the same experts that you're seeing on TV. And so you can't believe the movie and not believe them. That's where this information came from. I just turned it into a screenplay.”

As most Americans stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, “Contagion” and its pandemic cohorts have jumped back into popular culture — and to the tops of streaming charts. But spending years crafting a pandemic doesn’t quite prepare you for living through one. VICE News spoke to pandemic filmmakers and novelists to understand how the experience of the COVID-19 crisis is measuring up to their imaginations.

Some said the emotions produced by the pandemic have been entirely predictable. Others marveled at surprises like clean streets, toilet paper hoarding, and government inaction. And the pandemic is changing their expectations for science fiction going forward.

Justin Cronin, author of the apocalyptic trilogy “The Passage,” said due to COVID-19, he’s rethinking elements of the new catastrophe story he’s writing.

“That question is, what's worth saving?” Cronin said. “And if you had to make choices about that, what would the choices be, and who would have the right to make them? This existed in my book with, I think, less emphasis than it will now get. Because it's the unavoidable question of the hour.”