The GLP is committed to full transparency. Download and review our Annual Report.

Genetic engineering goes to Hollywood: 10 movies you’ll love and more that you’ll hate

June 21, 2019

Genetic engineering has always been a go-to plot line in science fiction movies and TV shows. The idea of genetically engineering humans to become superior, or engineering animals to have better traits is so enticing – until everything goes wrong – and that’s when the movie magic happens.

CRISPR in TV and Movies

CRISPR and genetic engineering have been featured in film and movies for years and years because of how compelling the concept is.

In the real world, CRISPR is making amazing breakthroughs, and its limitless possibilities sure makes for good TV. If you’re interested in the idea of mixing the science of genetic engineering with science fiction, then you’ll love our list of CRISPR and genetics in TV shows and movies.

synthego logoWe’ve organized these CRISPR cameos into the following categories for whatever you happen to be in the mood to watch:

  • Movies You’ll Love
  • Movies You’ll Love to Hate
  • Genetic Engineering in TV Shows

Let’s get started with the all-time best appearances of CRISPR and genetic engineering in blockbuster movies we love.

Movies You’ll Love

Some of these movies were the pioneers of including genetic engineering in sci-fi–before CRISPR was even a thing, while other recent films are using CRISPR’s new applications and taking them to a whole new level. If you’re looking for the old and soon-to-be classics of CRISPR-themed movies, this is where you should start.

Human Nature (2019)

human natureDirector: Adam Bolt

Actors: David Baltimore, Jill Banfield, Rodolphe Barrangou, Alta Charo, Emmanuelle Charpentier, George Church, George Daley, Jennifer Doudna, Hank Greely, Ian Hodder, Stephen Hsu, Kelsey McClelland, Francisco Mojica, Ryan Phelan, Matthew Porteus, Antonio Regalado, David Sanchez, Fyodor Urnov, Ethan Weiss, Palmer Weiss, Ruthie Weiss, Luhan Yang, Feng Zhang, and Kevin Holden

The biggest tech revolution of the 21st century isn’t digital, it’s biological. A breakthrough called CRISPR gives us unprecedented control over the basic building blocks of life. It opens the door to curing disease, reshaping the biosphere, and impacting our day-to-day lives.

Human Nature plunges headlong into the nuances of microbial immune systems and the surprising and serendipitous path of discovery by talking to the scientists whose research made all this possible. The film also zooms out to consider the broader—and sometimes controversial—social implications. As CRISPR crests into global consciousness, it is vital that the ethical debate that ensues is based on science and not hyperbole. Ultimately, CRISPR is a tool, albeit one with great power, and it will be up to us humans to determine how we will use its potential. How will this new power change our relationship with nature? What will it mean for human evolution? This film will hopefully spur conversations among diverse lay audiences and scientists.

Not yet released, the film has already received high praise and touted as “the best CRISPR primer yet.”

Trailer: Here.

Wider Release Coming Soon. More Information Available Here.

Rampage (2018)

rampageDirector: Brad Peyton

Actors: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris

Davis Okoye (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a primatologist, who is close friends with a rare albino silverback gorilla, has his life turned upside down when he discovers CRISPR has been used to mutate his primate buddy into a gigantic, uncontrollable beast. The premise of this film is that CRISPR technology is designated as a “Weapon of Mass Destruction and Proliferation,” and a biopharma company has misused the science, creating large, hybrid animals, who have unchecked aggression.

Okoye struggles through the action-packed movie to try to reverse the CRISPR process to save his gorilla, and set right the “science gone wrong.” Though this film’s use of CRISPR technology is not completely realistic, it is certainly the most outright mention of CRISPR science in film that currently exists. We’re hoping it will get CRISPR some more of the attention it deserves, like when Dwayne Johnson mentions CRISPR on Ellen.

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Video ($)

X-Men (2000)

x menDirector: Bryan Singer

Actors: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry (Series)

X-Men is known as the loveable, rag-tag, collection of Marvel superheroes – all with genetic mutations that cause their superpowers – who band together to help fight crime. One of the main characters, Professor Xavier, dedicates his life to the study of these genetic mutations and what causes them. Though these films don’t explicitly mention CRISPR, there are some notable parallels.

Though the superpowers are naturally occurring in this series (the mutants are born with them), there are some exceptions. “Wolverine” (Hugh Jackman), arguably the most beloved character, was a victim of forced genetic engineering on top of his naturally-occurring mutations in an attempt to “improve” his abilities. In the original series, a pharmaceutical company also aims to rid the world of mutants by using the DNA of a mutant whose power blocks the effects of other mutants to develop a cure that suppresses the “X-Gene” that causes the mutation of humans.

Where to Stream: Starz | Amazon Prime Video ($)

Jurassic Park (1993) / Jurassic World (2015)

juarassic park worldDirector: Steven Spielberg / Colin Trevorrow

Actors: Sam Niell, Laura Dern / Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard (Series)

Jurassic Park has been revered as a classic for years, and Jurassic World helped revitalize the franchise with yet another example of good intentions gone wrong. In Jurassic Park, an alternative version of present-day earth shows scientists using the DNA of dinosaurs found within a mosquito preserved in amber to recreate many species of dinosaurs that were previously extinct.

Jurassic World emphasizes the genetic engineering aspect of bringing the dinosaurs to life even more, as they experiment with combining the genes of multiple organisms. The Indominus Rex – a brand new species – is created by using the genetic makeup of a T-Rex, and adding DNA from the Velociraptor, Giganotosaurus, cuttlefish, tree frogs, vipers, and more. The result: a dinosaur that has abilities the scientists didn’t anticipate, who goes completely out of human control aiming to destroy the park and everything in it.

Where to Stream: Showtime | Amazon Prime Video ($)

Elysium (2013)

elysiumDirector: Neill Blomkamp

Actors: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster

Taking place in the year 2159, a luxury space station houses only the ultrarich in society, all of whom have access to incredible medical care that can diagnose and remove any injury, disease, or other issue in a matter of minutes – while the rest of humanity struggles to survive on Earth.

One of the best parts of this film is the representation of an advanced medical pod that is not only able to cure diseases that were previously incurable (a promising aspect of CRISPR science), but can also detect and cure them in a matter of seconds. In the film, this pod is able to detect and remove Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in a young girl in under 20 seconds.

Where to Stream: FXNOW | Amazon Prime Video ($)

Spider-Man (2002) / The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

spider man amazing spider manDirector: Sam Raimi / Marc Webb

Actors: Toby Maguire, Kirsten Dunst / Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone (Series)

The Spider-Man universe includes more than one version of how Spider-Man gets his powers, but in the original movie (with Toby Maguire), Peter Parker is bitten by a spider who itself was genetically engineered to have enhanced powers. After a little nausea and a good night’s sleep, those powers and spider-like qualities manifest in Peter Parker and Spider-Man is born.

In The Amazing Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield), there is also the added genetic altering component of the villain, Dr. Connors, whose research develops a serum that aims to create perfect limb regeneration using genetic modification. Though the serum does regrow his arm, has a number of other unwanted side effects as well.

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Video ($)

Gattaca (1997)

gattacaDirector: Andrew Niccol

Actors: Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law

Gattaca has been revered for years as a look into the possible future of the real-world consequences of human control over their own genetics. In this “future” of Earth, genetics are quantified and publicly registered – anyone can know what makes up your body, and how likely you are to develop diseases in the future. As the main character Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) states at the start of the film: “My real resumé was in my cells.”

In this film, Vincent is unable to fulfill his lifelong dream of traveling to outer space because of his inferior genetics; the society refers to these people as “in-valids.” In an attempt to remedy that, he actually purchases the genetic identity of another man. In this bleak portrayal of the consequences of genetic discrimination, people go so far as to bring printouts of their genetic ID on first dates just to get it out of the way!

Where to Stream: Starz | Amazon Prime Video

Okja (2017)

okjaDirector: Bong Joon-ho

Actors: Seo-hyun Ahn, Tilda Swinton

For 10 years, a young girl named Mija has cared for her beloved Okja, a giant pig-like animal. They lived peacefully in the rural mountains of South Korea until a conglomerate corporation takes Okja away to New York to use it to generate revenue. The company claims they will revolutionize the livestock industry with larger animals that produce more meat while consuming less feed. Mija begins a long journey to try to rescue Okja.

In this film, Okja was genetically engineered with the purpose of increased meat production in mind. The themes this film explores are very applicable to many of the current debates surrounding GMOs, and particularly, the current meat industry’s standards for what it does to animals.

Where to Stream: Netflix

Want to follow the latest news and policy debates over agricultural biotechnology and biomedicine? Subscribe to our free newsletter.

Deadpool (2016)

deadpoolDirector: Tim Miller

Actors: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller

Deadpool – everyone’s favorite anti-hero – spends this film aiming to get back at the man who experimented on him, and countless others, in an attempt to create – yep, you guessed it – human super soldiers. This film depicts a villain who collects “volunteers” who think they will be turned into super soldiers once injected with a serum, but instead, are tortured until their bodies create enough adrenaline to activate the serum.

The main character Wade Wilson’s (Ryan Reynolds) modification manifests in the form of accelerated healing – essentially to the point of immortality. His limbs can regenerate, his body can even eject bullets that pierced through his skull. This film depicts the ever-so-interesting concept that genetic modification of humans could one day lead to superpowers.

Where to Stream: FXNOW | Amazon Prime Video ($)

Blade Runner (1982)

blade runnerDirector: Ridley Scott

Actors: Harrison Ford, Sean Young

Blade Runner is a classic sci-fi movie that depicts a future (2019) in which the police force is tasked with hunting down and eliminating residual bioengineered beings known as “replicants.” These modified humans have super strength, super speed, increased agility, resilience to force, and of course, are extremely intelligent.

In this film, the only way a “replicant” can be identified is using the “Voight-Kampff Test,” a polygraph-like test that measures heart rate, eye movement, and even blushing while answering emotionally provocative questions to determine whether a being is truly human. Though a bit more action-driven than it is a “make you think” type of movie – it’s definitely worth the watch if you love the fear that other more intelligent species will one day supersede humans.

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Video ($) | The 2018 remake can be found here on HBO Now

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

wrath of khanDirector: Nicholas Meyer

Actors: William Shatner, Leonard Nemoy, Ricardo Montalbán

Khan Noonien Singh, one of the most beloved villains in the Star Trek universe, is noted in his first appearance (Episode 22 “Space Seed”) as a remnant of 20th century selective breeding that aimed to create the “perfect human.” Instead of these “perfect” humans all getting along and making the world a better place, they (of course) conquered more than ⅓ of the globe together and became warlords launching a globe-wide eugenic war.

Though only the plot for the first appearance of Khan in season 1 of Star Trek, the battles between Khan and Kirk explore the fear that genetically engineered humans will overpower the rest of us regular Joes that are left unaltered. If you love some classic sci-fi, this movie is for you.

Related article:  Argentina, Brazil, Canada, US call for 'science-based' biotech crop import rules to prevent global trade disruptions

Where to Stream: Starz | Amazon Prime Video ($)

Those are the movies featuring CRISPR that should make for a fun watch, but these next few, though applicable to genetic engineering and modification, don’t exactly hold up to today’s standards. They sure can be fun to watch though!

Movies You’ll Love to Hate

These movies feature genetic engineering and CRISPR modifications, but the overall plot and execution of the movie isn’t really something to write home about. If you love some bad dialogue or cheesy sci-fi, these are the films for you.

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

deep blue seaDirector: Renny Harlin

Actors: Saffron Burrows, Samuel L. Jackson, LL Cool J

A classic movie that many people think doesn’t necessarily hold up to today’s standards (or never did in the first place), this shark-attack thriller is an interesting take on science’s current attempts to cure prominent diseases. In this film, scientists use brain cells from sharks to cure Alzheimer’s disease – until, of course, everything goes wrong.

Though the science is proven to work in the film, the scientists enhanced the sharks in ways that help them hunt humans even more effectively when chaos ensues in an underwater research lab. If you want to see a hilarious and action-packed movie where scientific scenarios meet LL Cool J and Samuel L. Jackson’s sense of humor, then this movie is for you.

Where to Stream: Netflix | Amazon Prime Video ($)

Resident Evil (2002)

resident evilDirector: Paul W.S. Anderson

Actors: Milla Jovovivh, Michelle Rodriguez (Series)

In this video game-based film, the “Umbrella Corporation,” creates something called the “t-Virus” which mutates humans and animals, essentially, turning them into various types of zombies. A former Umbrella employee named Alice (played by Milla Jovovich) turns into a warrior, battling the zombies while attempting to uncover the truth about what happened to the world, which has now fallen into utter chaos.

This movie examines the apocalyptic results of a world in which big corporations experimenting with genetic mutation are left unchecked. Of course, the premise is a bit of a stretch here as the primary goal of the original development of the t-Virus was to “improve” the human race on a large scale. With 6 films gradually uncovering what happened to humanity, you’ll be entertained for hours!

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Video ($)

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

attack of the clonesDirector: George Lucas

Actors: Hayden Christiensen, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman (Series)

The Star Wars series likely needs no introduction, as it has been one of the most successful film franchises of all time. Yet – it might not have occurred to you that Episode II – Attack of the Clones is actually largely about genetic engineering. It becomes clear that some kind of dark force has built an army of clones to help fight a war they are trying to create in a relatively peaceful world.

In the film, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) discovers a facility that is building clones. They are shown as growing in womb-like containers, but the creator describes how they are genetically modified to allow for growth acceleration (half the time of a normal human), total obedience, and less independence than the human they are modeled after.

A big point made in the film is that these human clones are superior to the “droids” – machines that are widely built and utilized throughout the universe – a very applicable point of discussion in today’s society.

Where to Stream: Nowhere currently!

Splice (2009)

spliceDirector: Vincenzo Natali

Actors: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley

In this horror/thriller – a seemingly successful experiment goes awry when geneticists specializing in creating species hybrids do an experiment with humans (though they are forbidden), and create “Dren,” a human/animal hybrid. A great example of how science needs to be aware of the consequences associated with genetic engineering, yet not a blockbuster film that’s going to make you question whether genetic engineering should continue in the world. If you like some scary scenes that make you jump, this is the film for you.

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Video ($)

The Fly (1986)

the flyDirector: David Cronenberg

Actors: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis

The principle of this film isn’t quite as directly related to CRISPR as some of the others we’ve mentioned, but it is a classic for many reasons. A scientist perfects a teleportation device, but unfortunately, a fly slips in while he is transporting himself. The result is the slow transformation over time of the genetic merging of fly and man. This movie examines more of the emotional toll a big mistake like this during an experiment would make.

Where to Stream: Google Play ($)

Mimic (1997)

mimicDirector: Guillermo del Toro

Actors: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam

In this film, it’s the classic story of humans trying to solve a major issue, but drastically underestimating what it is they’ve really done until all chaos breaks loose in the world. An evolutionary biologist and her team of researchers whip up a species of bugs to infiltrate the cockroach plague that is decimating New York city. The idea is that this new species of bugs will infiltrate the cockroaches by mimicking them and then destroying them, but instead, they continue to evolve and set their sights on eliminating humans instead.

Where to Stream: Hulu

Sharktopus (2010)

sharktopusDirector: Declan O’Brien

Actos: Eric Roberts, Kerem Bürsin

When the military genetically engineers a half-shark/half-octopus to use as a weapon, the creature, of course, has a mind of its own and goes on a rampage – killing everything in its path. If you loved films like Sharknado (2013) where the premise is a bit of a stretch but it made for great entertainment (despite the fact it’s not really a great movie), this kind of film is perfect for you.

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Video ($)

Island of Lost Souls (1932)

island of lost soulsDirector: Erle C. Kenton

Actors: Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Leila Hyams

This is a classic old film you might want to check out if you love old movies – or old books – as this film is based on the premise of the classic Victorian-era novel The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), written by H. G. Wells. In this film, a man is shipwrecked on a remote island with a scientist who initially appears normal, but after a series of events, it becomes clear that this scientist is using the island to conduct genetic experiments. This film (and book) is one of the earliest examples of the moral quandaries associated with genetic engineering, and asks the classic question of humans: just because we can do something, does it mean we should?

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Video ($)

If you’re in the mood for some TV instead of a film, these TV shows all involve CRISPR or genetic editing.

Genetic Engineering in TV Shows

Luke Cage (2016-present)

luke cageActors: Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi

In this addition to the ever-growing Marvel universe, a loveable down-and-out but morally principled man uses his incredible strength and powers to clean up the mean streets of Harlem. Each episode is packed with great action scenes, as well as cameo appearances of various Marvel characters.

This TV show actually references the CRISPR technique, claiming: “We used a process called CRISPR to fuse the subject’s DNA with another DNA to gain its attributes.” In the show, the experiment was obviously botched, creating another superhero, but it’s a big win for CRISPR as the show is generally well put together, and Luke Cage is a loveable hero.

Where to Stream: Netflix

Heroes (2006-2010)

heroesActors: Hayden Panettiere, Zachary Quinto, Sendhil Ramamurthy

Heroes gained a lot of popularity in the sci-fi community, due to its large cast and amalgamation of stories from various perspectives – it had many loveable heroes and loveable villains! In this series, seemingly normal humans discover at various times that they have superpowers, and aim to find and protect each other while thwarting various attempts on their lives.

All of the characters in this series are born with their powers, except for one – Mohinder Suresh – who learns how to genetically alter humans to give them powers, and does this to himself. Similar to the X-Men film series, what he discovers becomes an incredibly dangerous threat to the other people who have powers.

Where to Stream: Nowhere currently!

Orphan Black (2013-2017)

orphan blackActors: Tatiana Maslany, Dylan Bruce, Jordan Gavaris

Orphan Black tells the story of Sarah Manning, a con artist who through an act of fate, realizes that she is a clone, and that multiple clones of her exist throughout the world, all of whom are part of an illegal cloning experiment – with the added twist that someone is out to kill her, and all of her clones.

Though this action-packed cloning conspiracy story is not specific to CRISPR, a lot of the issues Sara faces, including the effort to control human life, an unchecked and overpowered biotech corporation, a eugenics program, and political lobbyists, all fit within the standard archetype of the sci-fi genre and could relate to CRISPR-based science fiction.

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Video ($)

Dark Angel (2000-2002)

dark angelActors: Jessica Alba

In this short series starring Jessica Alba, a genetically enhanced nine-year-old super soldier escapes from a secret U.S. government facility with others like her to avoid the place they are trained to be assassins and soldiers used for ideologies they don’t believe in. Yet again, we stumble upon the desire to create enhanced human beings, and the dissatisfaction with the fact that these enhanced beings, for some reason, don’t want to blindly follow orders.

Where to Stream: Nowhere currently!

The Simpsons – “The Man Who Grew Too Much”

the simpsons(Season 25 – Episode 13)

Actors: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardly Smith

The Simpsons, a TV classic for almost 30 years, of course, has an episode related to CRISPR-style genetic engineering. In this episode, Lisa discovers that the vegetables in the cafeteria are genetically modified so that they won’t rot. Lisa embarks on a research mission to determine if there are side effects to this and if GMOs are a good thing or not. You’ll have to watch this entertaining half-hour show to see which perspective she takes on it!

Where to Stream: FXNOW

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED (2002-2003)

mobile suit gundam seed(Anime)

Actors: Sôichirô Hoshim, Ted Cole, Brian Dobson

This popular anime series takes a look at the conflicts that arise between the Earth-dwelling “Naturals” and the genetically-altered superhumans known as “Coordinators.” The central conflict derives mostly from the jealousy of the Naturals, and hatred of their enhanced abilities. This leads to many hate crimes and eventually, an all-out war. Very applicable to the possible issues surrounding genetically enhanced humans, and how they would be treated if they were to exist.

Where to Stream: Hulu | Yahoo View

Andromeda (2000-2005)

andromedaActors: Kevin Sorbo, Lisa Ryder, Laura Bertram

In this show, set thousands of years in the future, a territory-based struggle between humans and the genetically engineered “Nietzscheans” leads to many questions of right and wrong based on human genetic engineering. The differences in the “species” is a central point of conflict throughout the series, but in general, this is a great 5 seasons of solid sci-fi.

Where to Stream: Amazon Prime Video

CRISPR is Making Science Fiction More Real Than Ever

Not only is CRISPR the subject of movies, but it turns out CRISPR technology can also be used to store a digital copy of a movie in living bacterial DNA. Is that not more entertaining than a rampaging gorilla or a theme park filled with dinosaurs?

Genetics and genetic engineering play so well into sci-fi because our DNA is what separates us from other organisms. Humans consider themselves the most advanced species on the planet, and the fear that science will go one step too far and change that sure makes for an entertaining film.

However, it’s always important to remember the science behind TV and the movies isn’t always perfectly sound. Be sure to check out the rest of our blog to get the real facts on what’s going on with CRISPR these days.

A version of this article was originally published on Synthego’s website asBest Movies and TV Shows Featuring CRISPR and Genetic Engineeringand has been republished here with permission.  

The GLP featured this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. The viewpoint is the author’s own. The GLP’s goal is to stimulate constructive discourse on challenging science issues.

News on human & agricultural genetics and biotechnology delivered to your inbox.
Optional. Mail on special occasions.

Send this to a friend