Scientific achievements that deserve their own ‘Oppenheimer’

I half-joked in my Oppenheimer blurb that I have a long list of history books that also deserve to be turned into IMAX-worthy epics.

Well, I’m happy to report my favorite author Steven Johnson is also on board with this movement—specifically for the story of penicillin and other incredible scientific achievements:

If Nolan can create an IMAX blockbuster out of quantum mechanics and Atomic Energy Commission hearings, surely someone could make a compelling film out of this material. There’s even a crazy subplot—that I also wrote about in Extra Life—where Hitler’s life is saved by American penicillin after the 1944 Wolf’s Lair assassination attempt. And yet, for some reason, those films just don’t seem to get made. 

We get endless entertainment offerings about the Apollo missions, but nothing about the global triumph of eradicating smallpox. We get big-budget features following brilliant scientists as they figure out ever-more-effective means of conducting mass slaughter, and not films about brilliant scientists collaborating to keep soldiers and civilians from dying horrifying deaths from sepsis and other infections. Apparently, we like rockets and bombs more than pills and needles—or at least that’s what we’re told we like. 

Johnson’s books are great examples of nonfiction page-turners that could easily be movie material, from the pirates of Enemy of All Mankind to the epidemiological murder mystery at the center of The Ghost Map. Not to mention any number of the threads within Extra Life or How We Got to Now that show the unlikely and riveting origins of miraculous innovations we now take for granted.

There’s also the books in my Technically First series, several presidential biographies, a multitude of microhistories… all surefire $1 billion blockbusters in waiting if you ask me.