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Film / I Am Legend

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They aren't talking about the dog.

I Am Legend is a 2007 post-apocalyptic action thriller film directed by Francis Lawrence, written by Akiva Goldsman, and starring Will Smith. It is a loose film adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel of the same name (and the only one to bear the name).

The film is set in 2012 New York City, three years after the outbreak of a man-made virus originally created to cure cancer by genetically re-engineering the measles virus led to 99% of the world's population being infected. Those who were not killed were turned into hostile mutants called Darkseekers, named for their extreme vulnerability to sunlight.

Virologist Robert Neville (Smith) is the last human left in the city, and maybe the world. As he is immune to the virus, he works to create a remedy while defending himself against the Darkseekers, with his German Shepherd dog Sam being his sole companion.

The film notably has two endings: one which was intended to be included by the film that was closer in spirit to the original novel that left the door open for a sequel, and a more action-driven Focus Group Ending that was shot for the theatrical release and made the film a standalone. The latter was eventually released on home video formats with an alternate cut of the movie, which hyped up the different resolution as a "controversial ending".

In 2023, it was revealed that a sequel, following the events of this version of the film, was in development. Smith is set to return as an older version of Robert Neville and co-produce alongside Michael B. Jordan, who is set to co-star, with Goldsman returning to write the script.

Four animated shorts which tell unrelated side stories about the rest of the film's world were also released as tie-ins.

This film provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: invokedThe Focus Group Ending basically made all the Foreshadowing of the Darkseekers' intelligence and later-to-be-revealed compassion for each other moot.
  • Actor Allusion: Will Smith and his Marley, particularly "Three Little Birds", which he earlier mangled in Shark Tale.
  • After the End: Three years into the future, the Krippin Virus has long since killed 90% of all humans while 9.8% became Darkseekers and 0.2% are immune, with the struggle for survival against the Darkseekers only further decimating the immunes' numbers. On what could be considered a silver lining, the low number of survivors means Neville seemingly doesn't have to worry about running afoul of bandits or scavengers. There's lots of Scenery Gorn with the overgrown ruins of New York City where Neville has lived on his own except for Sam. At the end, it turns out there are more immune survivors than initially thought, with Neville's treatment providing hope that humanity can retake the world.
  • The Aloner: Dr Neville.
  • All There in the Script: The recurring Darkseeker with a grudge against Robert Neville in the film is called the "Alpha Male."
  • AM/FM Characterization: Neville is a fan of Bob Marley and shares his love of Exodus with Anna. His daughter is even named Marley.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: The DVD short "Shelter," wherein an infected girl begins seeing her family as the monsters, while she believes herself to be uninfected.
  • Apocalypse How: A definite Class 2 for humanity, with a good chance that the low number of uninfected being hunted by the larger number of Darkseekers would've made it a Class 3a in the long run if not for Neville's cure getting delivered at the end. It's probably a mild Class 4 in terms of the Earth's biosphere, as while some plant and animal species seem to be flourishing with human civilization gone, some animal species are susceptible to The Virus and those with low population counts could become extinct due to infected animals and Darkseekers hunting them for food.
  • Artistic License Physics: The main spans of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges are destroyed but the back spans remain intact with main cables in tension - in reality, the spans would have all collapsed into the bay.
  • Art Shift: The film switches between anamorphic Panavision for the present, and Super 35mm (which is grainier) for the flashbacks. The shift was quite noticeable on large theater screens, especially in IMAX.
  • Badass and Child Duo: Anna and Ethan are a rare Gender Inverted version. While we don't see her fight much, the two of them came to New York from Maryland, across a wasteland infested with Darkseekers. The two of them were from the same group of refugees, and survived by dint of being immune to the airborne strain of the virus.
  • Big Applesauce: As noted on that trope's page, the setting was moved because the visual impact of an empty New York is more effective than Los Angeles, the book's setting.
  • Big Word Shout: Neville roars "DIEEEEE!" as he launches a grief and rage-fuelled attack on the Darkseekers in the wake of Sam's death.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Neville kills himself to allow for the survivors' escape. It's implied that they managed to create the cure afterwards. Then again, like Focus Group Ending below shows, it was not like that originally.
  • Booby Trap: Dr. Neville's zom... er, infection victim traps. The Darkseekers eventually learn to set traps themselves.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Averted; Neville wakes up from a nightmare by quietly opening his eyes, as a normal person would do.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Neville shouts upon seeing the dummy mannequin Fred standing in front of Grand Central instead of the store.
  • Contamination Situation: Sam, the dog, is infected with a virus that turns her into one of the mutants. Robert Neville has to strangle her before she fully turns and tries to kill him.
  • Cool Gun: Neville's rifle; a Colt Law Enforcement Carbine with an ACOG scope and PentagonLight MD3R flashlight.
  • Companion Cube: The mannequins were this for Neville.
  • Cope by Pretending: Neville deals with being the last non-infected human in New York City not just by talking to his dog Sam, but by setting up mannequins in a video store and talking to them as if they are real. Once Sam dies and he revisits the store, the pretending doesn't work anymore.
    Neville: Please say hello to me...
  • Cosy Catastrophe: Robert Neville lives in relative peace and luxury in his house, even playing golf and browsing through video stores.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Dr. Neville, going home at night and also blowing up his house. He also keeps a rifle in an umbrella stand, and hides weapons including the grenade in the finale in random drawers throughout his house.
  • Creepy Doll: Well, Creepy Mannequin anyway: If you watch very closely, when Neville sees Fred out in front of Grand Central, Fred's head turns slightly to look him in the face.
  • Cure for Cancer: The start of the apocalypse, as it was a viral injection that would kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, it mutated in the wrong way, becoming a deadly virulent plague with a high fatality rate. The people it didn't kill, it transformed into monsters.
  • Different World, Different Movies: A billboard in the abandoned Times Square has a Superman/Batman logo. A "World's Finest" or Batman Vs. Superman film was in talks at the same time as this film, but fell through, so this reference was all we got...until 2016 that is.
  • Dramatic Sit-Down: Robert Neville has a moment like this after his dog is infected by the vampire disease and he puts it down. The dog was his only companion for three years during the vampire apocalypse. The following shot is of Neville sitting in his car after burying the dog's body and blankly staring at the now empty passenger seat. He's in the process of attempting suicide when two unaffected survivors show up and help him.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: As Robert loses his wife Zoe, her last words to him were "I love you".
  • Evil Stole My Faith: When Anna speculates that her coming to New York to find Neville is some part of God's plan, Robert launches into a furious tirade that given everything he's seen since KV got loose, there can be no God.
    Robert Neville: God's plan?! All right, let me tell you about your God's plan. There were 6 billion people on Earth when the infection hit. KV had a 90 percent kill rate; that's 5.4 billion people dead. Crashed and bled out, dead. Less than 1 percent immunity, that left 12 million healthy people like you, me and Ethan. The other 588 million turned into your Darkseekers, and then they got hungry, and they killed and fed on everybody. Everybody! Every single person that you or I has ever known is DEAD!!!! Dead! There is no God! There is no God.
  • Feral Vampires: The Darkseekers are essentially this as well as Technically Living Vampires: they feed on meat (such as blood), and they're severely burned by UV rays such as those present in sunlight, which forces them to shelter in dark ruins throughout the day and only come out at night.
  • Flashbacks: These scenes tell how Robert's family died and why he's stuck in New York.
  • Focus Group Ending: Infamously so, ruining most of the Foreshadowing and creating a few Plot Holes. Originally, the ending was much closer to the novel it was based on, with Neville realizing that the infected are intelligent, and just want to take back the flock member he captured to test his cure. A shocked Neville allows them to do this, after which the infected leave without causing further trouble. The event leads Neville to ponder the implications of how he has been carrying out his research into finding a cure, and realizes that in the eyes of the infected, he is the monster, as to them he is some strange creature who is abducting and killing them for seemingly no reason at all. In the final version of the ending the intelligence of the infected is just implied, but ultimately ignored, and Neville makes a Heroic Sacrifice to help the others escape with his cure. The original ending was eventually included as bonus material on the DVD, where it was named the "controversial" ending.
  • Foreshadowing: Neville captures an infected female with a snare trap, and the Alpha of the pack leaves the dark to glare at Neville before walking back into the dark. Neville takes it as a sign that they've lost their self-preservation skills. The Alpha later shows up, having caught Neville in the exact same type of snare trap he built with a pack of dogs, hinting that the infected are intelligent, and that the Alpha wants the girl back.
  • Gender Reveal: Right in the middle of the Tear Jerker that is Sam's death, Neville uses her full name for the first time, somehow making the whole thing even more devastating:
    Neville: I'm sorry, Samantha...
  • Ghost City: New York. The DVD extras show Hong Kong also became this.
  • Guns Do Not Work That Way: The ACOG scope on Neville's rifle has a reticle from a Russian PSO-1 scope as used on the Dragunov sniper rifle.
  • Harmful Healing: The cause of the virus that killed most of humanity and turned the rest into Darkseekers was a cure for cancer involving a modified measles virus.
  • Heroic BSoD: The loss of Sam the dog and his subsequent rampage resembles a Despair Event Horizon, but he comes back from it a little after being rescued by Anna and Ethan and ultimately manages to finally find a human cure.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Robert sacrifices himself by locking himself in the laboratory with the infected and a grenade, allowing Anna and Ethan some time to escape with the cure.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Done more subtly than in the novel, the camera pans to the photos of the dozens of infected that Neville killed doing experimentations on when he does the same to the one he's currently working on. Anna even looks on with horror when she sees the failed experiments.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The terrifying screams made by the dark seekers. Note that unlike most similar effects these were not a combination of animal sounds or created in a studio but were actually created by a single voice artist, Mike Patton of the band Faith No More.
  • Hellish Copter: The fate of Neville's family, as they were being evacuated from the city no less.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Neville refuses to believe in God due to the events after the outbreak.
  • The Immune: Dr. Neville.
  • It Can Think: The Darkseekers are very intelligent, replicating Neville's traps as well as taking out the defense floodlights around Neville's house.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Anna watches Neville experiment on a captured zombie, and asks whether what he's doing will "cure her." Neville responds "Actually, it will probably kill it," with the second "it" slightly emphasized.
  • The Last Man Heard a Knock...: Dr. Neville meets up with the other survivors.
  • Living Prop: Ethan. He has no lines and never does anything other than not die. Only thing that he's used for is to illustrate how much time Neville had on his hands when Neville recites Shrek by heart.
  • Loners Will Stay Alone: Neville is lonely for reasons evidently unrelated to his social skills, but he exhibits many of the characteristic traits of the more extreme examples of this trope, such as making imaginary friends out of puppets.
  • Mad Scientist Laboratory: Dr. Neville's basement lab, which requires several generators to power and is quite impressive for a post-Zombie Apocalypse lab.
  • Manly Tears: Neville sings Bob Marley's 'Three Little Birds' to Samantha as he holds her in his arms. When she begins to attack him, he strangles her and weeps. The next day, he walks into the video store and breaks down when he finally talks to the girl-mannequin.
    "Don't worry... 'bout a thing... 'cause every little thing, is gonna be alright..."
    • Also:
      "I... I promised a friend I would say hello to you today... Please say hello to me... Please say hello to me..."
  • Mayor of a Ghost Town: Neville, more or less.
  • Mind Screw: Fred the Dummy. Neville is less than pleased to see him outside the store.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Similar to the He Who Fights Monsters entry, it's rather subtle in the original ending; after returning the mate to the alpha male, Neville looks over at the wall containing pictures of past infected who died in his experimentation.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: Rather easy to do because civilization has completely halted in the present day (2012) but in the brief flashbacks to 2009 when it all started going wrong, it still applies.
  • Nice Day, Deadly Night: The last human resident of New York, Robert Neville, is free to roam about during the day with his dog and do whatever he wants in the abandoned city. But at night, he has to board in his house, cover up his scent, and securely seal every window and door, lest the Darkseekers, who can only survive in the dark, come to kill him.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: A single woman's attempts to find a cure for cancer using human clinical trials ultimately led to the Darkseeker outbreak that Neville and his dog are surviving against.
    Interviewer: And how many people have you treated so far?
    Dr. Alice Krippin: Well, we've had 10,009 clinical trials in humans so far.
    Interviewer: And how many are cancer-free?
    Dr. Alice Krippin: 10,009.
    Interviewer: So you have actually cured cancer.
    Dr. Alice Krippin: Yes, yes... yes, we have...
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The commercials suggested the film was an action thriller instead of the slow horror-drama it is.
  • Oh, Crap!: Anna and Neville when they realize the Darkseekers managed to track them home.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The infected creatures. They display characteristics that are a cross between vampires and zombies. Their skin, which is pale, is harmed by sunlight, they're incredibly fast and strong, they have a decayed appearance, are hairless, and spend most of the film acting like stereotypical fast zombies. Except that they have rudimentary intelligence and feelings for each other...
  • The Plague: Besides being The Virus, the Krippin Virus also overlaps with this trope, as it only turned 9.8% of the population into the Darkseekers while 90% of the human race died from the virus. It's responsible for the After the End plot with (seemingly) very few immune humans left.
  • Race Lift: Neville is black in the film.
  • Reclaimed by Nature: New York City has been heavily reclaimed by wildlife and flora.
  • Ridiculous Future Inflation: Gas costing $5.95 a gallon.
  • Sanity Slippage: Mostly happens before the "current" time of the movie, though it gets really slidy after Neville is forced to mercy-kill his only companion, the dog. Talking to your pet? That's fairly normal even now. Talking to a mannequin? A little odd. Expecting, nay, begging it to talk back? (See Manly Tears) Yeah, you're pretty far gone. Spending three years as the only uninfected human in New York City, hell the entire world, or so he thinks, will probably make you a little unstable. There's also the fact that even when reunited with other humans, he still seems a little broken. Among which being the refusal to think that other humans even could be out there or that the infected aren't the mindless beasts he thinks, despite ever-growing mountains of evidence otherwise, and going blank as he spoke along with the movie Shrek in a way that would make Pavlov proud.
  • Saw "Star Wars" Twenty-Seven Times: The number of times is not specified, but Neville has seen Shrek enough to know the dialogue by heart.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Sam the dog is actually Samantha
  • Scenery Gorn: Much of the movie dwells on the spectacle of New York returning to nature and the traces of the desperate last days, e.g., the blown bridges. The portrayal of the vegetation, contrary to popular belief, is actually quite conservative. In reality it's likely that the speed of New York's reclamation by nature would be much more thorough by three years later. As one example, if such an extinction were to occur there would be no one to man the water pipes underneath the city, the subways would flood within a week and almost all of the surface streets would cave in from the erosion. As a rich pool of nature right in the middle of Manhattan, Central Park would also increase the rate of reclamation.
  • Science Is Bad: The vampire/zombie plague began as a cure for cancer.
    Neville: God didn't do this, we did!
  • Shoot the Dog: Literally. Alright, literally figuratively: More like "Choke the (Zombie) Dog".
  • Shout-Out: The aforementioned Batman-Superman billboard.
  • Sole Surviving Scientist: Dr. Robert Neville is about as alone as you can get.
  • Sound-Only Death: Combined with a Leave the Camera Running shot of Neville's anguished face as he strangles his infected dog just off-screen.
  • Staking the Loved One: Neville's dog Sam got bitten by the "vampire" dogs and he must put her down when it becomes obvious that the antidote he's been trying to develop didn't work.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Dr. Neville uses steel manacles to do this to a vampire while searching for the cure. Several, in fact.
  • Survivor Guilt: So, so much.
  • Synthetic Plague: The mutated cancer cure rage virus.
  • Technically Living Vampire / Technically Living Zombie: The Darkseekers are infected victims of the Synthetic Plague who didn't die but instead mutated into bald, albino cannibals who are reduced to a largely primal mindset. A news report before the start of the apocalypse compares The Virus' symptoms to rabies, and they're still alive three years after the outbreak. Their superhuman feats are somewhat justified because one of the symptoms of the virus are that the Darkseekers' adrenal glands are pumping constantly.
  • There Is Another: A whole village of them, in fact.
  • Unstoppable Rage:
  • Urban Ruins: I Am Legend depicts a post-apocalyptic version of the Big Applesauce which has been overrun by zombie-like creatures.
  • The Virus: The Krippin Virus is a Hate Plague which causes infected humans and animals (the ones it didn't kill anyway) to physically suffer baldness and albinism and turns them into Technically Living Vampires who are especially deadly due to their adrenal glands being constantly open.
  • The Voiceless: Ethan never says anything throughout the movie. Well, he does say "It's cold." at one point.
  • Wham Shot: In the opening, after Dr Krippin proudly states that her experimental viral treatment has cured cancer, the film cuts forward three years to reveal a desolate, deserted Manhattan, showing that something obviously went horribly wrong.
  • Where It All Began: A variant; Dr. Neville refuses to leave New York City because it's ground zero for the virus, and he will not let it win in his backyard.
  • Workout Fanservice: Neville starts out his day with a big shirtless workout. So does his dog.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Dr. Neville finds himself walking over a fortune in bank notes, abandoned on the floor.
  • Worthy Opponent: Dr. Neville seems to consider the virus itself to be this. While documenting the results of his latest failed attempt to cure the virus, he comments on the elegance of its design with what is clearly a tone of grudging respect.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: With Vampire Fast Ghouls that aren't really vampires. Close enough, even if the film is Not Using the "Z" Word and instead calls them "dark seekers".