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9 Movies With Evil Corporations That Want to Destroy Humanity

Sometimes art imitates life, even just a little bit.
 
 
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Resident Evil: Retribution
Photo Credit: Screen Gems

 

A terrible virus is unleashed by an evil corporation that turns humans and animals into voracious zombies: it's a plot point so popular with Americans that the Resident Evil franchise has released a fifth movie based on the premise, in theaters now. It's already leading at the box office ($21 million this weekend) and will likely remain wildly popular (it's made upwards of $100 million worldwide, per film), thanks to its star, Milla Jovovich, and its ability to crossover into horror, sci-fi, gaming, and Maxim audiences.

But its righteous storyline about protagonist Alice (Jovovich) struggling to save humanity against corporate global takeover in a near future has its own resonance. Distrust of corporations is steadily increasing around the world, according to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, with business distrust reaching its lowest point in 10 years. The concept that a big evil corporation would do something irresponsible enough to decimate the population is not that farfetched considering some of the disasters we've seen in the past few years (BP's giant oil spill, the housing crisis) and films in which corporations are responsible for unspeakable horrors play on our fears. More often than not, they're redemption stories, the protagonist triumphing over some dastardly deed, and sometimes they're even based in truth—though usually the documentaries on this list have less than perfect endings.

Here are nine films in which a corporation does something horrible to humanity (and occasionally prevails).

1. The Corporation. This is sort of ground-zero of the psychology of it all, a documentary that's just as eerie and terrifying as any of the science fiction films on this list. Legendarily, the film applied tenets of psychiatry to corporations as though their behavior is that of a person, which they are, legally speaking. The result: corporate behavior as analyzed by criteria from the DSM-IV diagnoses such well-known entities as the Coca-Cola Corporation and IBM as bona fide psychopaths, due to their lack of concern for the well-being of people, expunging of responsibility for their actions, and lack of guilt for any of it. The corporations featured in this documentary have unleashed horrors upon the population, from assisting the Nazis in genocide (IBM) to privatizing a poor country's water supply (Bechtel Corporation, in Boliva). So this film is a good primer for the pathos that makes Americans so transfixed by movies that depict outsized corporations doing unspeakable things to us—because the real corporations are so stealth, we need something tangible on which to affix our anxieties.

2. Coma. The 1978, Michael Crichton-directed film (based on the novel of the same name by Robin Cook) plays on the terrifically scary idea that our healthcare providers might be worse than incompetent, they might be evil. When patients at a large hospital in Boston who go in for minor procedures start ending up in comas, one doctor begins to get suspicious, particularly when her best friend is one of those patients. After some investigative work, she discovers that a shadow corporate entity behind the hospital, the Jefferson Institute, is behind the comas, inducing them for profit in a creepy plot twist. It's a paranoia that apparently resonates with today's healthcare-wanting masses—A&E remade the film in the TV format earlier this month, playing on our fears that big medicine is nothing more than another way for the rich to get richer. Even if it means sacrificing our actual bodies.

3. The Island. Another in the corner of terrible corporeal nightmares is Merrick Biotech, the corporation in this 2005 Scarlett Johansson vehicle, which clones humans and keeps their body doubles on a prisonlike island, available for organ transplants whenever they might need one. The problem, though, is that the clones don't know they're clones—they live as though they're the originals, while the originals don't know their clones have the ability to think or be, beyond a purely organic state. It's the evil of good intentions: Merrick Biotech is ostensibly trying to help humanity, but by keeping this giant secret, it's harboring a horrible paradox that at the very least could severaly screw up some people's mental states if and when they happen to bump into their clone-twin. The concept delves into some very real moral questions about the biotech industry, and a cloning ethics debate that was at a furious peak when this movie was made, at the beginning of Bush's second term and stem-cell insanity.

4. Soylent Green. This sci-fi classic predicts a dystopian future that's entirely manmade, the planet having been decimated thanks to the vagaries of overpopulation. After pollution and global warming deplete the crops, humans all over the world are starving, and New York City's only recourse is to consume pellets dispersed to them by the Soylent Corporation, which processes nutritious food rations for a weakened population. But their ingredients are worse than (almost) anything you can find in a can at the bodega, and in a disorganized world, there's no one to keep them in check—so the pop will eat itself, as it were. A good argument for FDA regulation, also a fairly good argument for why the film's star, Charlton Heston, went crazy and bought a ton of guns. You're in enough apocalypse movies, you might start getting a little paranoid.

5. The Insider. Here's another good case for government regulation: the film based on the true story of big tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand, who told "60 Minutes" in 1996 that his former employer, Philip Morris, and other major tobacco corporations knew that nicotine in cigarettes is both addictive and causes cancer. Blowing the lid on a major coverup—many top executives had perjured themselves under oath, as well as knowingly misled millions of customers—the film explores the drama that led to a landmark $246 billion settlement on the part of Big Tobacco, from the CBS producer who first pursued the story, to the near-destruction of Wigand's life thanks to a corporate smear campaign. This is one of the rare redemption stories on this list that's also true, and inspiringly, a host of ominously powerful corporations were essentially stopped by a single honest man.

6. Daybreakers. Okay, this one is a tad convoluted, but it's a great horror movie that also plays on peoples' fear of corporations. So, nearly the entire world has been infected by a vampire virus that, well, turns us all into vampires. This is working out all right for society except that, since most of the global population drinks human blood, there's a human shortage. Fewer than 5% of humans remain, so a corporation called Bromley Marks is working on a synthetic version of blood, because when vampires don't get fed, they don't die, they just turn into crazed, freakish Nosferatu monsters (whereas normal vampires are merely civilized night people). But if a better solution comes along, will the greedy head of Bromley Marks go the weaker route if it makes him more money? What do you think? The vampires aren't really a larger metaphor here, but it sure helps flesh out the corpo characters that they've got fangs and beady little eyes.

7. District 9. Think of this science fiction film's evil corporation, Multi-National United, as a cross between the SS and Halliburton. A military conglomerate that's predicated on having the biggest weapons and being the biggest xenophobes, MNU is responsible for a Johannesburg internment camp where a population of not-so-attractive but kind-hearted aliens is stranded and imprisoned by humans. Of course, the deadliest combination is that of the corporate psyche (no conscience) and the military one (kill everything), so this entire film is about innocent aliens trying to get home while keeping their advanced weaponry out of the hands of the warmongers. Complete with commentary on racism and, well, species-ism, the underlying lesson here is that corporations will flout laws, whether governmental or moral, for their own greedy ends.

8. Brain Twisters. This film's storyline is a parent's biggest fear: those computer games your kids are playing are making them completely violent. A really bad 1991 movie, Brain Twisters follows a college professor's video-game research, expedited at the behest of a major corporation, which is being conducted on students. Instead of Call of Duty (or maybe exactly like Call of Duty), though, the professor's games actually control and warp the mind of the player, flipping on the homicidal and/or suicidal switch in their brains for the benefit of the corporations' profits, presumably. This movie is not worth watching, but it is notable that it plays on the concept of corpo video games ruining the minds of the youth (which the professor does by using... fractals).

9. Pootie Tang. A Chris Rock classic (written and directed by Louis C.K.), Pootie Tang not only spoofs blaxploitation flicks but also makes comedic commentary on corporations' stranglehold on America. The title character is a parody of a Sweet Sweetback style badass who also happens to be incredibly empowering to the youth through his various talents, including singing and doing Bruce Lee moves with his belt—a positive role model whose PSAs and influence are affecting the sales of the evil LecterCorp. Because the corporate bottom line is always, well, the bottom line, LecterCorp launches an offensive against Pootie Tang, leading him to implode his own career and infecting the youth with act-alikes that will tow the line for its products. For a big over-the-top comedy, the script is pretty true to life—but then when you've got truthtellers like Rock and C.K. telling the tale, you aren't going to get anything too false about the American predicament. And it's a lesson: when corporations aren't doing overtly terrible things, they're still trying to control our free will with their outsized pocketbooks and influence. One of the worst sins of all.