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Some of the best films about strange diseases and viruses

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While we all self isolate due to the COVID-19 coronavirus that is sweeping the globe, I am struck by the strange desire one gets to watch films inspired by terrible real-world events. It is also the case when there is snow outside that I have the need to watch John Carpenter’s The Thing. There must be an official term for that kind of thing, but I have no idea what that is.

However, I have been going through my film collection and streaming services watching various films that deal with contagious diseases and thought I would list some of my favourites. Some may be just outside the scope of the post title, but there should be enough of a link for it to fit. What the hell, it’s my list and it makes sense in my head (although feel free to share some of your favourites in the comments section).

It seems I am not alone in this as the Guardian has the news that many of us are watching virus themed movies as a way of “exposure therapy.” Exposure rather than escapism.

Obviously, this could have just been a list full of zombie movies (I may do that list another time), but I thought I would try and keep them to a minimum. Many of these themes are classed as horror movies, while others are thrillers but most look at the effect a virus or disease can have on society.

So buckle up and, make sure you follow the various guidelines being sent our way or take a gamble (if you are stuck in you could always have a little bet or two at an online casino and possibly come out of self-isolation with more money than when you went in) on watching some of these films. They may not put your mind at ease, but they may entertain you for a couple of hours. So in no particular order, here we go.

Contagion

Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film is one of the more realistic films on the list and follows a large group of people after the US Centers for Disease Control discovers a new virus after Gwyneth Paltrow’s character dies. A worldwide panic ensues. The film is full of characters from many walks of life dealing with what would happen the real world if a deadly virus swept the world. They went for scary realism with this one and while it is not comfortable viewing it may offer some tips of what not to do or at least show how things could be worse.

The Andromeda Strain

Another Michael Crichton story where scientists mess with something dangerous and then it gets out. The 1971 film is an adaptation of Crichton’s novel and features special effects designed by Douglas Trumbull. A satellite crashes near a tiny Arizona town. After everyone in the community dies within days, a few scientists are called upon to study and defeat the alien virus that accompanied the satellite. Once again there is a hefty dose of realism with this one, despite it dealing with an alien virus. There is lots of technical jargon which makes the various discoveries seem both mundane and terrifying at the same time.

Outbreak

Wolfgang Petersen’s 1995 medical disaster movie follows Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland trying to track down a monkey that is spreading an Ebola type virus. Okay, it’s not that much of an Ace Ventura kind of adventure. Instead we get scientists in Hazmat suits and a look at how far military and civilian agencies might go to contain the spread of a deadly, contagious disease.

Blindness

This 2008 film is a little different from what has gone before in that it deals with an epidemic of blindness. It shows how society could react when we lose one of our main senses and also has a few eerie scenes. Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael García Bernal, Danny Glover and more star in the film. Well worth tracking down if you have not yet seen it.

12 Monkeys

Terry Gilliam, Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt, Madeleine Stowe, time travel and a deadly virus. What’s not to love. inspired by Chris Marker’s 1962 short film La Jetée, Gillam’s 1995 film is just wonderful. Fantastic performances from everyone including one of Bruce Willis’ best, back when he used to give a damn about the films he was in. It takes us on a twisty voyage into the past and future and shows how you may not be able to change the past, but you can give hope to the future.

Cabin Fever

Eli Roth’s 2002 body horror was lots of fun and featured so much flesh falling from people’s bodies! It follows a group of college kids on holiday in a cabin who succumb to a flesh-eating virus. It was inspired by a trip Roth took to Iceland when he developed a skin infection. A simple story told in a claustrophobic location.

The Crazies

Hold on to your tin-foil helmets! Both the 1973 and 2010 versions of this film deal with a man-made virus that is released into the water supply by accident (or was it an experiment?) This virus causes people to act oddly and many to become violent. what follows is a small group of survivors who must avoid the infected and the military who are trying to cover up their involvement. Plus Timothy Olyphant is in the 2010 film and he is always awesome.

Splinter

No, not a solo spin-off for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s father figure, this 2008 sci-fi indie horror features Shea Whigham, Paulo Costanzo, and Jill Wagner encountering a strange virus that reanimates dead animals and humans. Not only that it also reanimates severed pieces of the infected so you end up having animated hands and legs crawling around all with a strange black splinter like substance sticking out of them. A very creepy little horror that features some great effects.

28 Days Later

Danny Boyle’s 2002 horror film brought us the never-ending debate of is it a zombie movie or not? We shall leave that for another day, but it does deal with the effects of the man-made Rage virus and the devastating effect it had on Britain. Those opening scenes of Cillian Murphy walking through a deserted London while Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s “East Hastings” plays are still incredibly powerful scenes. It lulls you into a strange sense of unease before the mayhem kicks in.

The Omega Man

The 1954 novel I Am Legend by the American writer Richard Matheson has been adapted into many different films. One of my favourites is 1971’s The Omega Man that sees Charlton Heston as U.S. Army Col. Robert Neville, M.D., a survivor of a global pandemic. He must battle loneliness during the day and the attack of “The Family” by night. It touches on global panic, vampirism, cults, medicine, and so much more.

Pontypool

A virus film and a zombie film that is different from many others that have gone before. Firstly, the virus is transmitted by the spoken word and the whole thing takes place in a radio station with most of the world falling apart being heard from news reporters we never see. A totally different experience to most other films on the list as it is more akin to a stage play while making you wonder at the meanings of words when said in different ways. It really needs to be seen by more people and features a powerhouse central performance by Stephen McHattie.

There you have just a small selection, but what are your favourite virus themed films?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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