Here’s What We Know About Barack Obama’s New Netflix Movie

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Dec 19, 2023

You might have heard that the Obamas have a new movie available for streaming. They served as executive producers on the latest movie from director Sam Esmail, and their production company, Higher Ground Productions, produced the thriller.

But just how were Barack and Michelle Obama involved with the Netflix movie? And what other projects do they have on the horizon? Let’s get into it.

The Obamas Are Leaving the World Behind

“Leave the World Behind” is one of the first films under Obama’s Higher Ground Productions. The film, which stars Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, Myha’la, and Kevin Bacon, follows a family vacation on Long Island that is interrupted by two strangers arriving with bad news during a blackout.

The trailer for "Leave the World Behind"

Source: Netflix/YouTube

As the two families stay with each other during the end of the world, tensions rise as they grapple with their place in the situation, if there is one.

Barack Obama Had Some Notes on the "Leave the World Behind" Script

The thriller, which was written and directed by Sam Esmail, revealed that the former U.S. president had a few notes on the script. Esmail reveals to Vanity Fair that Obama helped to develop character interactions and ground the film to reality.

G.H. Scott, played by Mahershala Ali, watching TV static with Ruth Scottfrom, played by Myha'la, in "Leave the World Behind"

Source: Netflix/YouTube

“He had a lot [of] notes about the characters and the empathy we would have for them,” Esmail said. “He was giving notes as a fan of the book, and he wanted to see a really good film.”

What Is "Leave the World Behind" Based On?

Based on Rumaan Alam’s novel of the same name, the story is placed in the disaster genre, one of Esmail’s favorite genres. How is this one different? Esmail said that this one is focused on the story rather than the set pieces.

The novel cover of "Leave the World Behind"

Source: DatBot/Wikimedia Commons/Canva

“What I think Rumaan did so well in the novel, and what I tried to capture in the film, is to invert that and make the focus be on the characters and their reaction,” Esmail said to Vanity Fair. “The spectacle of the disaster is secondary and off in the distance.”

Elon Musk Had Something to Say About “Leave the World Behind”

Not everyone was a fan of “Leave the World Behind.” In one scene, Roberts’ character has to dodge incoming Teslas piling up on the highway as the self-driving feature of the car has been hacked. Tesla founder Elon Musk took to X, his social media platform, to comment on the scene.

Amanda Sandford, played by Julia Roberts, standing in the highway in "Leave the World Behind"

Source: walex19/Reddit

“Teslas can charge from solar panels even if the world goes fully ‘Mad Max’ and there is no more gasoline!” Musk wrote on X. Many questioned whether Musk had watched the movie, criticizing him for missing the point of the scene.

Some Believe the Obamas Were Warning "Leave the World Behind" Viewers

“Leave the World Behind” has a lot to say about the U.S. government, revealing at the end that a “three-stage maneuver that could topple a country’s government from within” has been the cause of the chaos.

A ship crashing into a busy beach in "Leave the World Behind"

Source: Netflix/YouTube

Since the Obamas had a seemingly heavy hand in the scriptwriting process and the final cut of the film, some viewers thing that the political figures were trying to warn us.


Viewers took to social media with conspiracy theories about what the Obamas’ involvement in the project could mean. One X user wrote, “The movie ‘Leave the World Behind’ seems like a message & a lot of ppl say that hate it, but the message seems like it’s preparing humans to know how to survive w/o the internet, the Obamas produced it soo, they probably telling us w/o actually telling us something gonna happen” (via UNILAD).

The cast standing at a open door in "Leave the World Behind"

Source: Netflix/YouTube

Another X user wrote: “If you have Netflix, you need to watch ‘Leave the World Behind.’ A scenario like this has kept me up nights for many years” (via UNILAD).


Many Viewers Are Upset With the Ending of “Leave the World Behind”

It seems that many viewers had issues with how “Leave the World Behind” ended. Many felt that the big questions in the film were not given a conclusive answer to satisfy the viewers’ curiosity, but that seems to be the point of the film.

Julia Roberts as Amanda Sandford Mahershala Ali as G.H. Scott in the kitchen in "Leave the World Behind"

Source: Netflix/YouTube

However, Alam reflected on the ending with Variety, saying he found it “so satisfying and so rewarding,” featuring a “particular jolt of humor” that is unique to Esmail’s storytelling.


What Is Higher Ground Productions?

The former president and the first lady have previously kept their executive producing endeavors on children’s programs, documentaries, and historical dramas. However, the two are branching out to feature films.

A grayscale photo of Barack and Michelle Obama

Source: Luke Vargas/SeanFleming

Founded in 2018, Higher Ground Productions has already released 17 projects, with the mission of creating entertaining, informative, and inspiring projects for audiences of all ages.


Higher Ground Has a Few More Projects That Came Out This Year

“Leave the World Behind” was not the only Netflix project the Obamas’ production company released this year. In November 2023, “American Symphony,” a documentary about a musician’s process of composing a symphony, was produced by the company, with Michelle Obama describing the project as a testament to the “power and inevitability” of music (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Jon Batiste dancing in the trailer for "American Symphony"

Source: Netflix/YouTube

In the same month, a biopic about Martin Luther King Jr.’s adviser Bayard Rustin landed on Netflix. “Rustin,” produced by the Obamas’ production company, shines a light on an important figure who was largely forgotten because he was an openly gay Black man.


What Is Next for the Obamas' Production Company?

In a recent New York Times piece, the Obamas discussed several projects that are in the works. One project includes an adaptation of David W. Blight’s “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” with Kemp Powers (“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”) set to write the screenplay and Regina King directing.

Higher Ground Productions logo on a purple gradient background

Source: Higher Ground Productions

Another adaptation is also in the works. Higher Ground is teaming up with Steven Spielberg to adapt S.A. Cosby’s crime thriller, “All the Sinners Bleed.”


The Obamas Have Proven Their Company's Mission to Be True

Whatever your feelings are toward “Leave the World Behind,” Higher Ground is focused on making some pretty big projects that capture the audience’s attention through questions. It seems apparent that the Obamas are focused on making thought-provoking entertainment, and we are here for it.

Jill Biden, left, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, President-elect Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama wave to the crowd gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington

Source: Get Archive

While the production company is still fairly new, it will be exciting to see what other projects they put out over the next few years.