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Nationwide Cell Outage Skyrocket Searches For End-Of-The-World Movies Like Leave The World Behind

Thousands of AT&T customers were left without service for hours on Thursday, February 22, 2024, leaving them unable to call friends, text loved ones, and contact emergency services. While it's unclear how many users were affected, NBC News says that over 32,000 outages were reported at 4:00 a.m. EST on Thursday, with the number of outages peaking at 8:00 a.m. EST with some 70,000+ users. Many speculated a cyber attack caused the outage, but the network says it was a technical error. Other wireless carriers, like Verizon and T-Mobile, also reported outages, though they say the issues were caused by users attempting to contact AT&T customers. 

Interestingly, the AT&T outage was nationwide, with issues primarily occurring in cities like Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The situation was undoubtedly serious, leaving users completely in the dark. Luckily, service was fully restored by Thursday evening, but that didn't stop users from thinking about apocalyptic scenarios. In the wake of the incident, thousands took to Google to search for films that feature cyberattacks and the world ending. 

Here are the top 10 movies and TV shows users searched for in the past day, alongside the percentage of increased queries.

  • "Leave the World Behind" – 4,800%
  • "How It Ends" - 4,200%
  • "Don't Look Up" - 4,000%
  • "Revolution" - 3,850%
  • "Contagion" - 2,950%
  • "Planet of the Apes" – 450%
  • "War of the Worlds" – 350%
  • "The Day After" – 250%
  • "The Day After Tomorrow" – 200%
  • "I Am Legend" – 200%

"Leave the World Behind," "How It Ends," and the series "Revolution" all feature situations where communications are cut. 

Leave The World Behind (and conspiracies surrounding it) top the Google charts

When the network outage happened, Netflix's "Leave the World Behind" began trending on social media. Simultaneously, Google search results for the Sam Email-directed picture increased, with queries like "Leave the world behind hidden messages" and "Leave the world behind conspiracy [R]eddit" charting. It isn't surprising that "Leave the World Behind" became the cinematic poster child for the incident; the film, which debuted in late 2023, became one of Netflix's most-watched original offerings. 

"Leave the World Behind" follows two families dealing with the breakdown of modern technology (including cell phone outages), leaving them helpless as they try to make sense of the unconnected world around them. The Mahershala Ali and Julia Roberts vehicle ends with the characters concluding that a rival nation is threatening the United States, with limiting access to technology a key part of the destabilization plan. For users affected by the network outage, it made sense that they would correlate their experiences to one of 2023's most popular films. "Leave the World Behind" notably divided critics and fans, with the film sparking conversations about cyberattacks and our increasing reliance on technology for communication. 

People were particularly curious about the film's ending, hidden messages, and conspiracies. "Leave the World Behind" was produced by Higher Ground Productions, a company backed by former United States of America President Barack Obama, leaving many on X (formerly known as Twitter) to suggest he is warning viewers of impending doom through the movie. 

How Xoop determined its findings

The online chatter surrounding the network outage was difficult to escape, as thousands were impacted. Using Google Trends, we analyzed search increase data for terms such as "outage," "phone outage," "'Leave the World Behind,'" and more. Data was analyzed over the preceding day and is correct as of February 23, 2024. It's difficult to ignore the correlation between the network outage and "Leave the World Behind," as some searches were directly related to the theory that the AT&T mishap was a result of cyberattacks. For example, the search "Movie on Netflix about cyber attack" increased by 3,150%. Another, albeit less specific, search was: "Movie about the world ending on Netflix," which went up by 300%. 

But, as Xoop's findings show, "Leave the World Behind" wasn't the only movie on searchers' minds. Films like Netflix's "How It Ends" and "Don't Look Up" also received a rise in traffic, revealing that thoughts of the world ending were prevalent.

People were curious about the endings to popular apocalyptic films, particularly "Leave the World Behind," wanting to see how the fictional narratives resolved and if there were any clues or hidden meanings. While it would be inappropriate to speculate if a "Leave the World Behind" scenario could happen in real life, it's clear from Google data that searchers are trying to find meaning behind real-world scenarios in media.