Biological warfare in popular culture
Biological warfare (BW) — also known as bacteriological warfare, or germ warfare — has had a presence in popular culture for over 100 years. Public interest in it became intense during the Cold War, especially the 1960s and ‘70s, and continues unabated. This article comprises a list of popular culture works referencing BW or bio-terrorism, but not those pertaining to natural, or unintentional, epidemics.
(Chronological, then alphabetical within years)
- Jack London, in his short story "Yah! Yah! Yah!" (1909), describes a fictional punitive European expedition to a South Pacific island that deliberately exposes a Polynesian population to the measles virus, causing many deaths.
- In London's science fiction tale, "The Unparalleled Invasion" (1910), the Western nations wipe out all of China with a biological attack.
- James Tiptree, Jr.'s "The Last Flight of Dr. Ain" (1969) is a short science fiction tale about a scientist traveling the world releasing a virus targeted to eliminate humanity before it can destroy all life on Earth via climate change.
- Tiptree, Jr.'s "The Screwfly Solution" (1977) is a short horror science fiction story about a disease that turns the human sex drive into a drive to kill.
- In Stephen King's novel The Stand (1978), a weaponized strain of influenza (officially known as Project Blue and nicknamed "Captain Trips") is accidentally released from a remote U.S. Army base.
- In Frank Herbert's science fiction novel The White Plague (1982), a vengeful molecular biologist creates an artificial plague that kills only women, but for which men are the carriers. He releases it in Ireland (to support terrorists), in England (to oppress the Irish), and in Libya (to train said terrorists), and then holds the governments of the world hostage to his demands lest he release more plagues.
- In Tom Clancy's Executive Orders (1996), Iran attempts to use a strain of Ebola thought to be airborne to infect and devastate the population of the United States while the government is recovering from a separate issue from the events of the prior novel.
- Richard Preston's thriller The Cobra Event (1998) describes an attempted bioterrorism attack on the US with a genetically engineered virus ("Cobra"), that fuses the incurable and highly contagious common cold virus with smallpox. The symptom of the resulting disease ("brain-pox") mimic Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, the common cold, and Nuclear Polyhedrosis Virus.
- In Suzanne Collins's book Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods (2005), there is a plague, which turns out to be a biological weapon which accidentally infected an innocent bystander prematurely.
- Matthew John Lee's thriller novel The Quick and the Dead (2008) depicts the aftermath of an attack on the British Isles using an enhanced smallpox virus. (The author is credited in later editions as John Matthew Lee.)
- Alex Scarrow's TimeRiders novels (2010–2014) feature the use of a biological weapon, code-named Kosong-ni Virus (after the village that was ground-zero for the virus), that destroys approximately 99% of life on Earth within a few weeks.
- In George R. R. Martin's fifth A Song of Ice and Fire novel, A Dance With Dragons (2011), the Yunkai army catapults corpses infected with Pale Mare, a fictional cholera-like disease, over the walls of Meereen as a form of biological warfare. (See Gabriel de Mussis for the historical precedent to this.)
- Richard Powers' "Orfeo" (2014), tells the story of Peter Els, a contemporary composer accused of bioterrorism after biohacking musical patterns into the bacterial human pathogen Serratia marcescens
- In Chris Ryan's novel Hellfire (2015), a joint bio-terrorism plot by ISIS and Boko Haram involves attempting to release an aerosol of a genetically-modified version of the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis during the London Marathon.
- In Terry Hayes's novel 'I Am Pilgrim' (2015), there is an attempt to introduce a bio-engineered strain of smallpox virus into the USA.
(Chronological, then alphabetical within years)
- In The Satan Bug (1965), at "Station Three"—a top-secret US bioweapons lab in the Southern California desert—the protagonist investigates the murder of the security chief and the disappearances of the director and head scientist; two lethal bioweapons—a strain of "botulinus" and a recently developed virus (the "Satan Bug") which could wipe out the earth's population in months—are missing.
- On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), the sixth James Bond film, women are being brainwashed by the villain to disseminate bio-warfare agents throughout the world.
- In The Andromeda Strain (1971), although the microbial threat in this science fiction film is a natural one returning to earth with a satellite, the scientific response team comes across germ warfare simulations, strongly indicating that the responsible US government projects were designed to actively search for harmful bio-agents for use in BW.
- In The Omega Man (1971), a science fiction film starring Charlton Heston, in 1975, BW between China and Russia kills most of the world's population. The protagonist, a U.S. Army scientist/physician, renders himself immune with an experimental vaccine. (In Richard Matheson's source novel, I Am Legend (1954), the plague is coincident with a great war, but it is unclear that it originated with BW.)
- The Crazies (1973), a US Army plane carrying an untested bio-weapon (a virus code-named "Trixie") crashes near a small Pennsylvania town contaminating the water; infected victims either die or become violently homicidal, and heavily armed U.S. troops in NBC suits and gas masks soon arrive.
- In the Alien franchise of four British-American films—namely, Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), and Alien: Resurrection (1997)—a key plot-driving element of the story background is that the "Bioweapons Division" of the sinister "Company" must have a specimen of the creature at all costs even at the expense of the "expendable" humans that get in its way. This is most fully developed in the fourth installment wherein a remote "Army Medical Lab" is attempting—as part of a secret military/commercial partnership—to tame the monster. It will be used in "urban pacification" as well as other, supposedly less malign, purposes, such as materials science and vaccines. It is later revealed in Alien: Covenant that a rogue android named David 8 had designed the Xenomorph based on creatures found on planet Origae-6 in order to create a perfect organism.
- In the Japanese movie Virus (1980), a deadly virus ("MM88") created accidentally by an American geneticist amplifies the potency of any other virus or bacterium it comes into contact with; in 1982, MM88 has been stolen from a lab in the US, and a team of Americans vies with a shady East German scientist to recover it, but fail, and a pandemic, initially known as the "Italian Flu", results.
- In Men Behind the Sun (1988), a Hong Kong–Chinese historical war horror film graphically depicting war atrocities at the secret Japanese BW facility Unit 731, during World War II, details the various cruel medical experiments inflicted upon Chinese and Soviet POWs.
- In 12 Monkeys (1995), a deadly virus wipes out almost all of humanity in 1996, forcing remaining survivors to live underground. A mysterious group, known as the Army of the Twelve Monkeys, is believed to be behind the virus.
- 28 Days Later (2002), where a deadly modified rage virus is released by a bioterrorist in Cambridge, destroying the UK
- Dasavathaaram (2008) is an Indian Tamil science fiction disaster film about a virus outbreak from a laboratory.
- Philosophy of a Knife (2008) is a Russian-American horror film covering the aforementioned Japanese Army's Unit 731, mixing archival footage, interviews, and extremely graphic reenactments of the vile experiments performed there during WWII.
- In The Crazies (2010 remake of the 1973 film), the water in a small Iowa town becomes contaminated with "Trixie"—a "Rhabdoviridae prototype" bio-weapon—after a military cargo plane en route to an incinerator in Texas crashes; infected victims become cold, calculating, depraved, bloodthirsty killers.
- 7aum Arivu (2011) is an Indian science fiction martial arts film about the spreading of an ancient virus.
- Jurassic World (2015) and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) are American science fiction films, include a plot of using genetic-engineered dinosaurs as military animals.
(Alphabetical by series)
- In The 100, season 1, episode 10, the Grounders infect the exiled Murphy with a hemorrhagic virus, then allow him to escape. While fleeing, he stumbles into area surrounding The Ark survivors' camp and infects those who make contact with him. They then unwittingly spread the virus throughout the camp, which sickens some members and kills others. Lincoln explains to Octavia the Grounders use the virus to "soften up" the enemy before attacking them.
- In Between a village is infected with a bioweapon, killing everyone over the age of 21, and the remaining people as soon as they become 21.
- Foyle's War, season 4, episode 2 (2006) features a minor outbreak of anthrax after biological weapons research during WWII escapes containment.
- In "Place of Angels" (1968), the 23rd episode of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (a British puppetry drama), at the "Bacteriological Research Centre" near Manchester, England, activation of a culture of "K14", a synthetic virus, threatens the lives of millions.
- In the Falling Skies penultimate episode, "Reunion" (August 23, 2015), an alien known as the Dornia gives the protagonist, Tom Mason, a bioweapon to end an alien invasion of the Earth. After Mason's wife Anne and friend Marty modify the virus to be harmless to humans, Tom sets out to deploy it in the series finale "Reborn" (August 30, 2015). Tom infects himself as the alien queen is draining him of his blood, so the virus passes through Tom's blood into her. As the queen is organically linked to her entire race, the bioweapon destroys them, freeing the Earth from oppression.
- In the Sliders series finale, "The Seer" (2000), the main characters land on a world where their enemy, the Kromaggs, were wiped out with a bioweapon. One, Rembrandt Brown, injects himself with the virus (harmless to humans) and returns to Earth Prime in an unresolved cliffhanger in hopes of using it to free his homeworld.
- In Season 7 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, we find out about a disease which is killing off the Founders; this disease later turns out to have been caused intentionally by Section 31.
- In Season 4 of The Americans, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings must work with another KGB spy, William, to acquire and use deadly bioagents. In the first episode of the season, "Glanders," the two aim to acquire the deadly bacterium Burkholderia mallei. Throughout the season, endeavors like this continue and intensify, putting the characters in grave danger. So it goes.
(Alphabetical by series)
- In Act of War: Direct Action and its expansion the Consortium a syndicate of corporations, PMCs and terrorists use a modified strain of Ebola known as Ebola II hemorrhagic fever strain causing the infected soldiers to lose health and die. It is often deployed by the Super-weapon Falling Star which drops satellites than can carry the weapon on enemy targets.
- During the campaign in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014), Atlas CEO Johnathon Irons develops a bio-weapon called Manticore, designed to attack all the population that is not in the Atlas database. Irons deployed the weapon late in the campaign, killing most the Sentinel soldiers in New Baghdad planning to attack him.
- In Command & Conquer: Generals the Global Liberation Army(GLA) makes extensive use of biological weapons and has a General who specialize in Bio and Chemical warfare named Dr.Thrax. The GLA units such as the Toxin Tractor and Toxin rebels spray Toxins on enemy units and later use Anthrax Beta, a weaponized strain of Anthrax. Anthrax Beta is also used in SCUD Missiles and the air dropped Anthrax Bomb. Dr.Thrax's troops access to the more potent Anthrax Gamma strain.
- In Crysis 2 (2011), a large outbreak of "Manhattan virus", a gruesome disease causing complete cellular breakdown, causes civil unrest; people panic upon an alien invasion by the Ceph, the tentacled, squid-like alien race from the previous game, Crysis (2007).
- In Resident Evil (1996–present), known as Biohazard (バイオハザード Baiohazādo) in Japan, the titular Resident Evil originally was discovered through a plant that was taken by Umbrella Corporation, which starts the birth of biological weapon known as t-Virus, which mutates it's victims into zombie-like creatures. Later installments of the game and other works in the franchise (e.g., films) saw the release of still more biological weapons over time, created mainly by the fictional Umbrella Corporation and various other organizations. The viruses are also often engineered to radically mutate the subjects into grotesque killing machines, referred to in-universe as B.O.W.s, short for Bio-Organic Weapon.
- In Tom Clancy's The Division (2016), an eco-terrorist unleashed heavily modified variant of smallpox in New York City, in a bid to kill a large portion of the population. The spread of the disease spiraled out of control, resulting in the complete breakdown of law and order and rise of hostile factions in the city, mostly on Manhattan Island, which was ground zero of the virus.
- In Batman: Arkham Knight (2015), Scarecrow threatens the city with his newly created strain of fear toxin and bombs planted throughout Gotham, forcing the evacuation of the city's six million civilians. Towards the end of the game, Scarecrow disperses the fear toxin throughout Gotham with a tank vehicle called Cloudburst. The toxin forces people to experience illusions of their worst fears as though it was real. This leads to mass murders, suicides and a complete breakdown of the city.
- In the Mass Effect franchise, the genophage is an agent that genetically modified the Krogans to stop their aggressive expansion into Citadel Space. The agent made it difficult for Krogans to conceive children. Even when conceived, most Krogan pregnancies henceforth resulted in stillbirth.
- In the Metroid series, the Chozo race creates the Metroid (fictional species) to combat the X Parasite on SR388. The Space Pirates try to capture and breed metroids and use it as a bioweapon, but their plans are foiled by Samus Aran twice: once in Metroid (video game), and another time in Super Metroid. At the end of the events of Super Metroid, the last metroid is killed, ending the threat of metroids once and for all.
- In Fallout (series) F.E.V.
- Lee, Matthew John (May 22, 2008). The Quick and the Dead. Melrose Books. ISBN 978-1906050788.
- Lee, John Matthew (July 28, 2013). The Quick and the Dead. McIatyre, Catherine (Illustrator). (Kindle, Illustrated ed.). Amazon Digital Services, LLC. ASIN B00E7Q738A.
- Lee, John Matthew (February 2014). The Quick and the Dead (EPUB 2/Adobe DRM ed.). Melrose Books.