There’s been some interest over the last year or so in movies and TV shows that could be funded in the general areas of global catastrophic risk or longtermism. In December 2021, Don’t Look Up became one of the best performing movies ever on Netflix, and has inspired lots of discussion of climate change, raising its salience. I put together a brainstorm of movies and TV shows that I'd like to see funded and made below, and I’d love to hear other people’s ideas – get in the comments.
Disaster movies remakes/reboots
Dr Strangelove is absolutely incredible, and maybe unremakable. But that’s never stopped Hollywood before! Its 60 years old, remake it with Steve Carell as the lead.
Armageddon and Deep Impact are not particularly accurate, but are very engaging. They’re 30 years old. Why not new versions of these, but focused on the dual-use dangers of asteroid mining? Or on supervolcanoes?
I loved the early episodes of Survivors (1975) set in an empty wasteland Britain after a pandemic has killed 99% of the population. Later episodes are a bit post-apocalyptic The Archers (lots of farming problems) but there are some great episodes about rebuilding civilisation. They remade it in 2008 and it’s meh. Remake a better version set in the US.
Turn these books into movies/TV shows
Richard Rhodes – The Making of The Atomic Bomb. Incredibly cinematic book, honestly surprised it hasn’t been adapted yet. I’d want this to be a several seasons-long series. First season is the early dreams of 20th century physics, following Rutherford, Bohr, Fermi, etc. Second season follow Szilárd and others as they escape the Nazis and keep the nuclear chain reaction secret, end with the Einstein-Szilárd letter to Roosevelt. Third season follows the Manhattan Project, ends with Hiroshima and Nagasaki (could be similar to Manh(a)ttan).
Daniel Ellsberg – The Doomsday Machine. There’s been loads of movies made about him leaking the Pentagon Papers, but none on his much more interesting work on nuclear strategy. You could have the weird intense atmosphere of 1950s RAND, him hopping around the Pacific at various bases realising theres no limits on individual pilots starting WW3, his realisation that the missile gap was a mistake and he's just been increasing nuclear risk for five years, preparing to leak on nuclear weapons but the hidden documents buried in the ground are washed away by a hurricane (!), getting arrested with his son on the train tracks to a nuclear production facility, etc.
Cold Dawn (Newhouse) – how the first bilateral restrictions on nuclear weapons (SALT I) were passed. Loads of fun 1970s suits and hairstyles, weird stuff during the negotiations like boating on Lake Geneva, Kissinger as the central character (fascinating antihero). With a possible sequel adapting Endgame (Talbott) in which Rumsfeld betrays Kissinger and kills SALT II. If you want to make a full series out of it, adapt Adler’s story of the arms control community from the 40s to the 70s.
The Precipice – Toby Ord going through the major existential risks, have one scene of him literally in a McDonalds in Geneva saying “The BWC’s budget is smaller than this little McCafe”.
What We Owe The Future – Will MacAskill going through the book, shot on location at the many interesting places he talks about in the book, like a Brian Cox show (e.g. Wonders of Life, Wonders of the Solar System, etc).
Close Calls / Too Close For Comfort
- Arkhipov, 1962 – bottle episode, set entirely in the submarine with broken air conditioning that’s heating up and being depth-charged by US ships in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis – very intense episode.
- Yom Kippur, 1973 – Israel is surprise-attacked, Meir arms her jets, Brezhnev threatens Israel, Nixon is sad and drunk about Watergate, and Kissinger down in the Situation Room has to frantically avoid nuclear war.
- NORAD – In 1960, they were showing a bunch of businessmen around, then the computer was confused by moonrise over Norway. In 1967, they thought a solar flare was the Soviets jamming their radar. In 1979, they accidentally loaded a training scenario onto the computer.
- Carolinas – In 1958, the USAF dropped a bomb accidentally on Mars Bluff, South Carolina. In 1961, they dropped one on Goldsboro, North Carolina.
- Petrov, 1983 – character study following Petrov on his average day, maybe with flashbacks over his life, key scene is him avoiding doomsday, then maybe a few flashforwards of him being scapegoated. There’s been a documentary made The Man Who Saved the World but not a drama as far as I know.
Documentary multiepisode TV series, following a different expert each episode, kind of fly-on-the wall, framed around positive problem-solving.
- DIY Biolabs - going to visit a bunch, seeing what nasty stuff they could cook up, what's their safety like?
- Future Foods - going to a bunch of factories, seeing weird foods that we could eat e.g. during nuclear winter.
- Negotiating the Future - follow climate activists to a COP, arms control campaigners to the UN Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems negotiations or experts to the new Sendai Framework negotiations (which is likely to feature existential risk).
- The Future Generations Bill - see Lord John Bird, co-founder of the Big Issue and sponsor of the UK Future Generations Bill working with homeless people, and also talking in the Lords.
- Financing Doomsday - some finance expert going to some banks or shareholder meetings, could be around climate change, nuclear weapons (Don’t Bank on the Bomb) or Lethal Autonomous Weapons (Keeping CTRL).
- Scenarios - film 2/3 different ones, like Clade X, World War Three: Inside the War Room or Intelligence Rising.
- Biorisk Fieldwork - visiting bat caves, jungles, investigating defrosting bodies up in the Arctic etc.
- Doomsday Clock - follow the run-up to the announcement.
- 'Time to Build' - ramping up vaccine production, ramping up renewables manufacturing: how have these awesome heroes ramped up these good things so quickly?