We always like to joke about art imitating life, but for all the money, life is currently imitating art. It’s impossible not to know that we have the coronavirus pandemic essentially shutting down the United States, as well as much of the world. Of course, new movies have all but ceased, while a renewed interest in Steven Soderbergh‘s “Contagion” has popped up. So, we’ve opted to lean into that, and instead of just discussing that flick, do a top ten list centered on films involving various pandemics. Not the sunniest of topics, but a fruitful one, especially at this given moment.
Honorable Mentions go to “Blindness,” “Cabin Fever,” “Carriers,” and a whole list of zombie films that would have otherwise clogged up the list. When it comes to cinematic pandemic depictions, there are all sorts of flavors, so we tried to pick from a wide assortment.
dir: James Gunn
Why not start things off a bit on the silly side? James Gunn‘s comedic look at a parasitic invasion revels in gore, grossing its audience out, and just having fun. Silly is the name of the game throughout, so don’t even pretend this is based in reality, but that’s part of the enjoyment factor. There will be more realistic pandemic tales to come here, so kick it off with B-movie fun in “Slither!”
9“The Bay” (2012)
dir: Barry Levinson
A tremendously under-seen found footage horror flick from an unlikely source in Best Director winner Barry Levinson. Here, the virus comes from the seas, infecting the residents of a small Maryland town. Seeing how the medical professionals are quickly overrun as the scale of the pandemic becomes known is played for scares, but it also rings quite true as well. “The Bay” never got its due in 2012, so now it may very well get a second bite at the apple.
8“Planet Terror” (2007)
dir: Robert Rodriguez
Another “lighter” option, this was part of “Grindhouse,” paired with “Death Proof” as a classic double feature. Robert Rodriguez takes the stance that, when the world goes to hell, sometimes a small band of folks can fend off the pandemic themselves. It’s wholly ridiculous, but for a welcome infusion of girl power on to this list (as well as fun), it’s impossible to ignore.
dir: Wolfgang Petersen
For years, this was looked at as the modern pandemic film to beat. In fact, “Outbreak” has currently experienced a resurgence in recent days, as one might imagine, becoming a popular streaming choice on Netflix. Watching Morgan Freeman, Dustin Hoffman, and Rene Russo, among others, attempt to prevent a deadly virus from spreading was always uncomfortable and tense. Now, it’s downright anxiety inducing.
6“World War Z” (2013)
dir: Marc Forster
Though it doesn’t have the realism of Max Brooks‘ book (or especially his first one “The Zombie Survival Guide”), this blockbuster is surprisingly smart. Brad Pitt tries to save the day, but quickly it becomes more about figuring out the zombie virus, as opposed to just blowing away the undead. Sure, it gets into action movie territory at times, but more often than not, it’s an intellectual tentpole. To say those are few and far between is an understatement, and part of the reason why a “World War Z” sequel remains an intriguing proposition.
5“12 Monkeys” (1995)
dir: Terry Gilliam
The same year as “Outbreak” the concept of a global pandemic got a science fiction twist from Terry Gilliam. Mixing time travel with a killer plague, the science is limited here, but mixing in broader sci-fi elements gives “12 Monkeys” a real unique flavor. Plus, it’s another pandemic film that features Brad Pitt. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. Regardless, among movies that feature deadly viruses, this is among the best when purely looking at the entertainment factor.
4“The Andromeda Strain” (1971)
dir: Robert Wise
The OG pandemic movie was this adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel. Looked upon as a seminal cinematic moment for its use (by Douglas Trumbull) of advanced computerized photographic visual effects, that’s less impressive today. However, more successful is seeing how it effectively mixed drama and science. It made for a tense experience then, as well as a tremendously tense experience now. If you’re looking up the classics, you need to make sure you include “The Andromeda Strain.”
3“28 Days Later” (2002)
dir: Danny Boyle
The “rage virus” in “28 Days Later” ultimately functions much more like a pandemic plague would, as opposed to your traditional zombie flick. London is deserted, which Cillian Murphy discovers when he awakens from a coma. Then it’s not, as those infected by the rage virus begin crashing the party. Danny Boyle and Alex Garland revel in the bleakness. Sure, they gave us fast zombies, but also the scope of a pandemic decimating a major European city, which we can see on the news literally right now.
2“Children of Men” (2006)
dir: Alfonso Cuaron
The pandemic at the center of “Children of Men” is perhaps the most insidious of all. A world without children being born is a death sentence for humanity, rendering society a shell of its former self. We’re not there yet, but with the way some have reacted to not being able to live their normal lives, there’s a parallel to be made. Who knows, in a few months we could all resemble Clive Owen, just going through the motions. Hopefully not, but Alfonso Cuaron weaves such a beautifully haunting vision that one can’t help but wonder.
dir: Steven Soderbergh
Did you expect anything else here? Scott Z. Burns and Steven Soderbergh crafted a brilliant depiction of how a global pandemic in modern times would go. In 2011, it was horrifying enough. Now, in the midst of 2020, it’s downright prophetic. You hear about “social distancing” in the film, for example. The only thing missing is the actual term coronavirus. Now, our current pandemic is far less deadly, but that takes nothing away from how disturbing it is to watch Soderbergh make an A-list ensemble disaster movie centered on disease. When it comes to films of this ilk, “Contagion” stands apart (and more than six feet apart, at that). At the same time, don’t give up hope. After all, remember that this movie ends with Matt Damon‘s daughter getting to dance with her boyfriend. We’ll get there again one day, so keep the faith!
Which of these pandemic films are your favorite? Comment below and share!