We’re not saying this is motivated by recent events that fill us with fear and anxiety, but we’re saying that if you happen to relate to that feeling, here’s a list of really cathartic virus outbreaks movies that will get you through it. We have you covered, whether you want reality, fantasy, horror or even computer stuff. Find yourself free to take a personal day and not leave the house while watching. And, before you ask, this entire gallery might have been nothing but zombie movies, but we chose to restrict it to Zombie movies that make the front and center of the disease aspect.
Horror films are the ideal place to discuss our fears in our own homes ‘ health. So it’s fair that since we’re all stuck in our own homes in self-isolation we’d want to discuss our abject terror of the COVID-19 virus driving normally sane people out to buy booze and toilet paper.
Maybe it’s a fascination with the movies that predicted how a pandemic will play out placing Steven Soderberg’s Contagion on iTunes ‘ top ten most rented list. Maybe it’s seeing characters that you can relate to coping with a brand new illness in a tale that is essentially fiction that put Outbreak in the top ten of Netflix.
It is not shocking that we suddenly seem to have an appetite for infection and quarantine films, so here are some of the best ones and where you can watch them from home.
12 Monkeys (1995)
In the masterful sci-fi fable of Terry Gilliam, an unbalanced prisoner named Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time from 2035 to 1996, where the remains of humanity remain underground. His mission: to locate and obtain a sample of the virus that wiped out humanity in order to research it and find a cure for future scientists. Based on the French short film La Jetee, 12 Monkeys is about how human intelligence and emotion can distort time and fact, and a chilling core metaphor is their dream of a dying world buried underground by the spread of a pathogen.
28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle’s groundbreaking’ running zombie ‘ film holds a spot on the list, where many zombie movies might not be caused by animals infected with a virus due to the clarification that the outbreak is triggered by it. These are not reanimated zombies, but sick people. The infection is called’ rage’ and the infected person is extremely aggressive and highly contagious. Our hero is Cillian Murphy, unaware of the virus due to a hospital stay in a coma who finds London a desolate wasteland just 28 days after the epidemic began.
The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Based on the best-selling 1969 novel by Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain chronicles a team of four scientists ‘ desperate attempts to solve the mystery of a rapidly mutating extraterrestrial virus before it can spread around the globe. The claustrophobic underground lab setting makes the film feel comfortable even as the Andromeda organism’s ramifications are both devastating and frightening. Directed by the great Robert Wise with pulse-pounding urgency, the film’s emphasis on science makes it even more realistic — and scary.
The Bay (2013)
Oscar-winner Barry Levinson (Rain Man) is the unlikely director of this overlooked eco-horror that sees a Maryland coastal town contaminated with a flesh-eating fish parasite. A found footage film with numerous threads told by news coverage, phone video, social media, and police surveillance is a cautionary tale that Levinson says is focused largely on fact.
In this film by director Fernando Meirelles (The Two Popes), based on the novel by Jose Saramago, a highly communicable disease blinds most of the world’s population. Neither of the characters— in a cast headed by Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo — are called, as the film reflects the metaphorical theme of the novel while not shying away from the crimes that crumble as civilization. Less about science and more about human nature, Blindness implies that to survive a global disaster, society would need to adapt multiple perspectives— a lesson worth learning as we navigate our way through the COVID-19 crisis.
Cabin Fever (2003)
What are you saying? Will you have Cabin Fever? Thanks to your lucky stars it’s not that kind of like that! Eli Roth’s film debut was this action-horror that sees a group of kids holidaying in a cabin invaded by a virus that consumes flesh. It’s incredibly gory and disgusting (that leg shaving scene, eesh), but the way it deals with horror tropes is also very amusing and sharp.
Chris Pine stars in this post-apocalyptic road movie that sees a virus wipe out a significant portion of the population. An uninfected foursome head out to a small resort they believe is plaque-free where they are hoping to wait for the pandemic. We encounter desperate survivors and hostile forces on the way, and finally, turn on one another. Not the funniest of the movies on this list.
Children of Men (2006)
Director Alfonso Cuaron’s modern masterpiece might well in many respects be the most frightening film on this list— both because of Cuaron’s hyper-realistic cinematic style and because his world is so recognizably ours in many respects. With an unexplained disease preventing the birth of any new children for 18 years (after a global flu pandemic), the planet is on the verge of a breakdown of civilization. Just one lone young woman — who is pregnant in some way — provides a ray of hope against a storm of despair. In these uncertain days, the film’s enduring theme of trust against all odds can end up being a balm.
Steven Soderbergh’s realistic portrayal of what could happen in the wake of a pandemic shows scientists struggling to determine the source of a lethal virus and attempting to create a vaccine as cities are in quarantine, false reports trigger panic buying, and inoculation supplies are not enough to treat everyone at risk. For an all-star cast of Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow, it’s a somewhat scary and classy look beyond our own doors.
Legendary filmmaker George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead) made the initial Crazies in 1973, focusing on a small town that was decimated by a infectious agent and finished off by the government’s failure in trying to control the epidemic. In its skewing of the bureaucratic and military mentality, Romero’s film was crudely crafted yet razor-sharp; a 2010 sequel by director Breck Eisner is less cynical, more polished and more intense, and ultimately, more efficient. Both deserve a watch.
It Comes At Night (2017)
Given what the deceptive trailer implied, this isn’t a zombie film, but it’s a sorts of virus film that sees a couple and their teenage son isolating themselves in the woods because of an unknown danger that has taken hold of the planet. Yet the family’s domestic peace is disrupted when a young couple and their child arrive seeking refuge. Metaphorical, intelligent and scary, It Comes at Night is a bleak quarantine picture.
The Masque of the Red Death (1964)
The seventh and most experimental adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s cult filmmaker Roger Corman, The Masque of Red Death is a medieval fable set in an unspecified Italian village where a sadistic prince (Vincent Price) rules both the poor peasants outside his palace walls and the debauched guests at a ball inside. He orders the village burned to protect it as a plague threatens the land— but that doesn’t prevent Red Death from finally entering the palace walls. Masque may be a myth, but it remains true to its underlying message— that sickness and death do not differentiate between rich and poor.
A classic Wolfgang Peterson infection blockbuster where we see medics fighting a virus brought by an African monkey to a Californian city. Outbreak is shiny and entertaining, and much more self-contained than anything like Contagion–making it less a pandemic film than a battle to contain the virus mixed with some high-octane conspiracy theory.
Panic in the Streets (1950)
Most great directors have at least once approached the pandemic theme and this time out it’s Elia Kazan. Unlike Sturges ‘ The Satan Beetle, his noirish 1950 thriller is more about avoiding a epidemic than living through one, when a public health official and a New Orleans cop must track down three criminals— who mistakenly murdered a man carrying pneumonic plague and may now become sick themselves. The two leads— played by Richard Widmark and Paul Douglas — demonstrate the sort of resolve and courage we can use more than ever.
The clever Canadian thriller from Bruce McDonald has Stephen McHattie as a radio DJ narrating an ongoing epidemic of something happening outside his house, kind of a zombie movie, kind of an illness movie, and kind of a quarantine movie. McHattie carries the film, which is a clever way of simulating a pandemic and creating a sense of fear at a very low budget, in a film that takes place almost entirely in one location.
This American remake of [REC] starring Dexter’s Jennifer Carpenter is fine but eliminates some of the original’s weirdness and confusion. Here the source and effects of the virus are mentioned clearly, rather than left in the context. It’s still fairly successful and with [REC], some of the best scares are’ shock for a shock.’
Less involved in global infrastructure and more in terrifying the living shit out of viewers, this snappy Spanish horror from Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza sees a reporter and her cameraman go for a ride-along with an emergency services team called in during a disturbance to an apartment building. When they are in, they discover that some kind of virus is spreading rapidly and they are immediately quarantined inside. And things are getting weirder. A very successful found footage film with an ending nerve-jangling, [REC] inspired three useful sequels but none are as strong as the original.
The Satan Bug (1965)
Produced and directed by John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven), The Satan Bug outlines the government agents ‘ quest for a lost vial containing the title pathogen, a biological weapon that in a matter of months could wipe out all human life. The film (like the novel based on it) is more of a tense chase thriller than a pandemic tale, but it points out the consequences of what could happen if a little death-filled glass tube escapes into the world… whether it’s made by accident or not.
The debut movie by David Cronenberg was also an infection film-but one that’s very special. Set in a rather luxurious apartment building of the 70s, Shivers begins murdering a doctor and cutting up what looks like a schoolgirl before taking his own life. It’s a weird opener to an even stranger movie, a satirical body horror that sees block residents being infected with a parasite that transforms them into psychotic sex fiends. It is a descent into hell movie with an orgiastic climax that places Cronenberg on the map, truly.
This excellent Korean zombie movie is an appalling portrayal of how easily a virus can spread. An absent father, Seok-woo, is boarding his daughter on a train from Seoul to Busan while one infected woman is boarding a separate carriage. Each passenger in that carriage will soon get infected and Seok-woo will have to work with other commuters to keep the safe cars apart from the infected ones. Breakneck pacing is intense and exciting. A sequel, named Peninsula, was due to landing this summer but is likely to meet the same fate as many other releases coming up.
Produced by Toho Studios in Japan, Virus was directed by Kinji Fukasaku — who 20 years later went on to make the legendary Battle Royale — and was the most expensive Japanese film in history at its time. It uses an international cast, featuring stars including Sonny Chiba, George Kennedy, Robert Vaughn, Chuck Connors, Olivia Hussey, Edward James Olmos and Glenn Ford, to detail a small group of scientists ‘ attempts to find cure for a virus that has wiped out almost all of humanity. Given its overall grim plot, the length of the film (156 minutes) and the global scale give it an epic feel.
We have saved essentially the very maximum. Not only is it a shockingly fine artifact of computer geeks battling an evil corporate techie in the 1990s. Soundtrack of marijuana. And a cast filled with virtual unknowns, like (no, really) Wendell Pierce, Lorraine Bracco, Matthew Lillard, Jonny Lee Miller, and Angelina Jolie. (Apart from the criminally underrated Laurence Mason and Fisher Stevens ‘ villain.) It’s also a virus outbreak tale. Well, Well, a virus on the machine. Yet “Hackers” is a refreshing and much-needed good time after all the deaths you saw in those other movies
World War Z (2013)
If you liked the fictional oral history of how mankind barely escaped a zombie apocalypse (written by Max Brooks), you’ll kind of like this in-name-only adaptation directed by Marc Forster! Brad Pitt plays against time with a UN worker to uncover the roots of a sudden global zombie pandemic— which also needs time to make itself damn sure
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
The revival of the “Planet of the Apes” show from the 1960s-70s is anchored by Andy Serkis’s absolutely outstanding mo-cap success as the super-intelligent chimp Caesar. It’s in this category because Caesar gets his brain strength from the care of an experimental viral Alzheimer, which sadly mutates into a lethal pathogen that destroys billions of people. Whoops… Whoops.
The Last Man on Earth (1964) – The Omega Man (1971) – I Am Legend (2007)
The 1954 novel “I Am Myth” by Richard Matheson inspired three very distinct adaptations. What they have in common is that a plague wiped out much of mankind and the survivors were turned into (essentially) vampires, saving the main character. Will Smith’s 2007 film retained the title but omitted almost anything relevant to the big twist of the novel. Charming 1964 film by Vincent Price retains the best story but has the lowest budget. Yet we are most loyal to the ultra-hammy film from 1971 by Charlton Heston.
The Last Man on Earth (1964) – The Omega Man (1971) – I Am Legend (2007)
The Seventh Seal (1957)
If you haven’t seen the masterpiece of Ingmar Bergman, drop it all and do it now— if only this way you can actually grasp the meaning of half the jokes in “Bill and Ted’s Fake Journey.” Set during the Black Death plague of the 1300s, the movie focuses on a knight who encounters the angel of death, and the chess game they play for his sou.