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Leave the World Behind: New Netflix movie is supposedly a warning from the Obamas

Published Dec 19th, 2023 3:00PM EST
Leave the World Behind on Netflix
Image: JoJo Whilden/Netflix

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The #1 Netflix movie in the world right now is Leave the World Behind, an apocalyptic thriller that imagines the nightmare scenario of a cyberattack — and all the resulting technology glitches and blackouts that would ensue.

Based on the 2020 novel of the same name by Rumaan Alam, the movie was directed by Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail and backed by the Higher Ground production company launched by Barack and Michelle Obama. What’s more, Leave the World Behind racked up 41.7 million views during its first week on the streamer’s global Top 10 chart, which is to say that so many people have now watched the movie that an interesting theory has begun to catch on (from viewers who’ve been reading more into it than what’s actually on the screen).

President Obama was reportedly not shy about delivering extensive notes to Esmail throughout the production, presumably drawn from his perspective as the former commander in chief about the movie’s subject matter. For that reason, some viewers also think Leave the World Behind is a barely veiled warning from the Obamas about how a cyberattack might unfold — and the devastating effect it would have on the country and its psyche.

Leave the World Behind on Netflix
Mahershela Ali as G.H., Myha’la Herrold as Ruth, Julia Roberts as Amanda and Ethan Hawke as Clay in Netflix’s “Leave the World Behind.” Image source: JoJo Whilden/Netflix

In the movie, a family whose parents are played by Julia Roberts and Ethan Hawke shows up to a vacation rental on Long Island. All of them are tethered to devices like phones and tablets as they’re on the road to their getaway — already disconnected from each other, in other words, even as they’re about to begin a vacation in which they literally leave the world behind.

At one point during the family’s stay at their Airbnb, the owner and his daughter turn up, and all of them are thrust into the strange and unnerving reality of a blackout that looks like the result of a cyberattack. Which, in turn, looks like a prelude to war.

Everyone (in the movie) has their pet theories for what’s going on. It’s a government conspiracy. It’s hackers. It’s some mysterious rogue entity. Viewers, meanwhile, are reacting similarly. “Have y’all watched Leave the World Behind?” one viewer wrote on X. “I feel so uneasy, because this can easily happen TOMORROW.” Added another viewer on X, “Forget tomorrow, we’re pretty much on step 2. Step 3 is coming and the Obamas are mocking all of us who don’t live in the Hamptons as they warn us it’s coming.”

Leave the World Behind on Netflix
Julia Roberts as Amanda in “Leave the World Behind.” Image source: Netflix

Esmail himself seemed to confirm the underlying sentiment, in an interview with Vanity Fair in which he explained that that the president, “having the experience he does have, was able to ground me a little bit on how things might unfold in reality.”

In addition to Roberts and Hawke, the cast of Leave the World Behind also includes Mahershala Ali, Myha’la, and Kevin Bacon. And all of them, directed by Esmail and guided by Obama’s insights, work together to turn this Netflix drama into an easily believable end times nightmare. “The movie Leave the World Behind is definitely a message to what’s happening and what’s to come,” another viewer opined on X. “It’s very much in line with what we’ve been saying for years: Stock up on none perishables and water. Also, the fact that the Obamas are exec prod’ers is making my dog ears go up.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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