Ten Films About Pandemics, Contagions and Outbreaks You Can Stream Right Now
Watching films like 'Contagion' and 'Outbreak' right now can be weirdly comforting, but do remember it is still fiction.
As New Zealand continues to respond to the COVID-19 situation, getting cosy on your couch is becoming the norm. And, while you could take a break from the latest news of non-essential service closures and total lockdowns by indulging in pure escapism, it's completely natural and thoroughly understandable to swing your viewing choices in the other direction.
No one alive has experienced a pandemic quite like this one before, but, thanks to decades of movies, we've watched similar events on-screen for years. And, based on how much everyone has been talking Steven Soderbergh's Contagion of late, movies about outbreaks and, yes, contagions are in high demand at the moment.
We know you're seeking them out anyway, so we're here to help. Here are ten movies about pandemics, contagions and outbreaks that you can watch via New Zealand streaming platforms right now.
Steven Soderbergh is one of America's most prolific filmmakers, with everything from Cannes Palme d'Or winner Sex, Lies and Videotape to amusing heist flick Logan Lucky on his resume — and drug drama Traffic, which nabbed him the Best Director Oscar, too. But thanks to current events, Contagion will be the movie he'll be remembered for, with the 2011 thriller feeling eerily prophetic when revisited today. It all starts with a lawyer (Gwyneth Paltrow) returning from Hong Kong, then falling ill. In methodical style, Soderbergh then tracks the progression and the response. He enlists an enormous all-star cast to help, spanning Matt Damon, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston — and his aim to make as realistic a movie as possible about a pandemic certainly strikes a chord in current circumstances.
Over the next few years, once the cinema industry — and existence in general, of course — gets back to normal, a new big-screen genre is certain to emerge. Drawing upon real-life events is such a staple of filmmaking that a plethora of COVID-19 movies is inevitable. Using Ebola as its model, Outbreak did the same thing in the mid-90s. When a virus called Motaba starts wreaking havoc, staff from the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are forced to react. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Donald Sutherland, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr and Patrick Dempsey, this disaster drama spends plenty of time within the two aforementioned organisations, if watching procedural action is what you're craving at present
Available to stream on iTunes.
I AM LEGEND
When it came to updating Richard Matheson's 1954 book I Am Legend for the 21st century, enlisting Will Smith to play humanity's sole survivor was a logical choice. He wasn't the first to roam around the big screen in such desolate circumstances, with 1964's The Last Man on Earth putting horror icon Vincent Price in the same situation and 1971's The Omega Man tasking Charlton Heston with navigating isolation; however Smith was the thoroughly 2007 choice. And, playing a US Army virologist who sees the whole world turned into vampiric creatures after a genetically engineered measles virus turned lethal, he's one of the best things about I Am Legend.
28 DAYS LATER
These days, Danny Boyle is making 'what if?' rom-coms that ponder what life would be like without the Beatles, and Alex Garland is writing and directing moody sci-fi TV thrillers — but back in 2002, they joined forces to tackle a pandemic. And, marking their first proper collaboration after Boyle adapted Garland's best-selling novel The Beach for the big screen two years earlier, 28 Days Later still ranks among the best work on either's resume. Set in the aftermath of the accidental release of a highly contagious virus, the film's images of a desolated London instantly became iconic; however, this is a top-notch movie on every level. That includes its performances, with then-unknowns Cillian Murphy (A Quiet Place Part II) and Naomie Harris (the Bond franchise's current Moneypenny) finding the balance between demonstrating their characters' fierce survival instincts and their inherent vulnerability.
Australian cinema isn't immune to virus-driven movies — and 2017 post-apocalyptic horror flick Cargo is among the best of them. In this full-length adaptation of Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke's Tropfest finalist short of the same name, the infection turns people into zombies within 48 hours, a situation that the Andy (Martin Freeman) and Kay (Susie Porter) want to avoid. Complicating matters: the fact that they have an infant daughter they'll do anything to protect. Already experienced at trekking across the landscape Down Under after starring in the New Zealand-shot Hobbit films, Freeman wanders across Australia determined to save his family, in a movie that also ponders both environmental factors and Indigenous culture as well.
Available to stream on Netflix.
THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN
Michael Crichton's influence on popular culture is vast. The Jurassic Park franchise is still going almost three decades later, and Westworld (which is based on his 1972 movie) is enjoying quite the small-screen adaptation. Back in 1969, the author also contemplated what might happen if a deadly alien organism started infecting people on earth — and in 1971, The Andromeda Strain hit cinemas. The premise: after a satellite crashes near a small New Mexico town, almost all of its inhabitants die, with a team of scientists tasked with getting to the bottom of it. It's an unmistakably 70s affair, and a slick and solid film too. You might've come across the 2008 TV mini-series remake starring Benjamin Bratt, Viola Davis and Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Andre Braugher; however we recommend sticking with the original.
Pandemic movies and zombie movies often go hand-in-hand, as a number of entries on this list have already demonstrated. And, more often than not, they're grim, bleak and tense affairs — as is to be expected when the whole fate of the human race is at stake. Enter Warm Bodies, which isn't the first zombie comedy by any means, but both earns and owns the term 'zom-rom-com'. Here, R (Nicholas Hoult) is a member of the shuffling undead. Julie (Australian actress Teresa Palmer) is still alive. When they cross paths, he doesn't just bite into her flesh and she doesn't just kill him. This sweet and funny flick is based on the Isaac Marion-penned novel of the same name, and its characters' monikers should give an important detail away, with the influence of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet keenly felt.
Before Brad Pitt won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for sauntering through Quentin Tarantino's vision of 1969-era Tinseltown in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he was nominated in the same category back in 1996 for Twelve Monkeys. Deservedly so, too, with the star playing a mental patient in a post-apocalyptic version of 2035 — where a virus wiped out most of humanity four decades earlier. As offbeat as it is entertaining and eye-catching, this sci-fi thriller serves up exactly what anyone could hope for with Monty Python member and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote's Terry Gilliam behind the lens. For fans of cinema history, it's also an engaging update of Chris Marker's legendary 1962 short film La Jetée. And while Pitt steals the show, he has fine company, with 90s Bruce Willis in his element as well.
THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD
When The Night Eats the World first hit screens in 2018, it was just a horror film about a man who goes to a party in Paris, then wakes up the next day to find zombies everywhere. It was a nice addition of the genre, too, proving both atmospheric, evocative, and firmly settling on its own tone. Now, this French movie hits close to home — not due to the undead, of course, but because the bulk of the feature focuses on Sam's (Anders Danielsen Lie) experiences stuck inside a flat, including his efforts to stock up on supplies in such circumstances. Cue thrills, twists, company in the form of a zombified neighbour (Denis Lavant) and a desperate need for resourcefulness. Oh, and ample existential dread as well.
BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR
What if humanity wasn't under threat from a virus, but from birds? Not just in one town, either, as seen in Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller The Birds — but everywhere. That's the idea behind Birdemic: Shock and Terror. A word of warning: this is the silliest entry on this list, and the schlockiest as well. We honestly can't stress that enough. Indeed, Birdemic: Shock and Terror definitely isn't the world's best movie. In fact, it's the disaster and pandemic equivalent of The Room and a film that makes the Sharknado franchise's production values look positively gleaming. But, sometimes, that's just what you need. It also spawned a sequel, Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, because of course it did.
Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.
Head to the New Zealand Government's Ministry of Health website for the latest COVID-19 advice.
Top images: Contagion, 28 Days Later, Cargo, Twelve Monkeys and The Night Eats the World.
Published on March 25, 2020 by Sarah Ward