scorecardresearch Skip to main content

How zombie-apocalypse movies readied us for 2020

All those ‘prepper’ films got people, er, prepared.

AP/Associated Press

All those late nights you spent watching zombie-apocalypse movies may have left you adroop in the morning.

But new research suggests they prepared you for the hellscape of 2020, too.

A study by American and Danish researchers in the latest edition of the journal Personality and Individual Differences gauged participants’ preparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic by asking if they agreed with a series of statements such as “I knew early on which items I should buy in preparation for a pandemic” and “The magnitude of the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak took me by surprise.” The study tested people’s resilience by asking whether they agreed with statements such as “During the pandemic, I have been more depressed than usual” and “Life has felt meaningful during the pandemic.”


Researchers found that fans of so-called “prepper” films — that is, alien invasion, zombie, and apocalyptic films that “prepare” viewers for emergencies — were significantly more prepared for the pandemic and, by some measures, more resilient.

“These kinds of movies apparently serve as mental rehearsal for actual events,” John Johnson, a professor emeritus of psychology at Penn State and co-author of the study, told Science Daily. “To me, this implicates an even more important message about stories in general — whether in books, movies, or plays. Stories are not just entertainment but preparation for life.”

Previous research suggests that apocalyptic entertainment offers not just practical advice on how to stock up on supplies in an emergency, but a psychological boost. “Horror fiction allows people to safely and frequently experience fear, which is typically experienced in the presence of real danger,” the researchers write, citing previous studies. “By eliciting fear in a safe setting, horror fiction presents an opportunity for audiences to hone their emotion regulation skills. Emotion regulation skills have, in turn, been shown to be associated with increased psychological resilience.”


So does that mean it’s finally time to watch “Contagion,” the 2011 pandemic thriller starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and a bunch of other bold-faced names?

Johnson says viewing it now probably won’t help you navigate COVID-19 any better; there’s no more prepping to be done for a pandemic that’s been with us for about a year.

But you may want to put it in your queue. The next disaster, sadly, may not be far off.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe.