Pandemic

Viral Horrors: Seven Unsettling Pandemic Films and TV Shows

Waylon JordanLists, NewsLeave a Comment

Contagion. Pandemic. Virus. As Covid-19 aka the coronavirus makes its way around the globe, people have understandably become uncomfortable and worried about the far-reaching repercussions of the virus despite reassurances from the medical and scientific communities that basic precautions such as washing your hands and not touching your face will help slow its progress.

The fear of disease and contagion is an old one. The memory of the Black Plague, Spanish Influenza, and Smallpox encoded in our DNA lies dormant until news of a new contagion hits the airwaves and we watch as people flood stores, buying supplies just in case.

Naturally, during such times, films and television shows that deal with the subject become more popular.

For some, it is undoubtedly a morbid fascination with the subject matter, but there is certainly a case to be made that watching films that deal with seemingly real-life events have an ameliorating effect on the viewer. It allows us to tap into those fears, feel them, deal with them, and approach the paranoia with a certain amount of emotional detachment.

This is why so many of these films are made.

With that in mind, we decided to create a list of TV shows and films that have dealt with the subject. While some are highly unlikely, the effects are no less the same and unsurprisingly, many can be found on streaming platforms right now.

Take a look at the list of films and where to stream them below.

**Note: This list is in no way meant to make light of Covid-19 or those affected by it. Instead, it is a glimpse at how film has sought to deal with these themes over the last several decades. For more information on Covid-19, we urge you to visit the World Health Organization’s official website for more information.

Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak (Netflix with Subscription)

There was something eerily prescient about the timing of the release of Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak on Netflix. So much so that some conspiracy theorists have gone so far as to accuse the streaming giant of creating Covid-19 to promote the series.

Pandemic focuses on the doctors and scientists who constantly work to prevent these global outbreaks from occurring, and also shows their efforts to control, treat, and extinguish the spread of a contagion once it is on the move.

While there is certainly some “Hollywood” involved in the production, it is informative and can give viewers some insight into what might be going on right now behind the scenes.

Outbreak (Netflix with Subscription; Rent on Amazon, Fandango, Google Play, Redbox, AppleTV, and Vudu)

Outbreak hit theaters back in 1995 and left audiences stunned in its wake.

The film follows the outbreak of a deadly virus that finds its way into a town in California when a small spider monkey is released into the wild.

The film boasts an impressive cast including Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate), Rene Russo (Thor), Morgan Freeman (Seven), Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Jerry Maguire), Patrick Dempsey (Scream 3), and Donald Sutherland (Don’t Look Now), and is a heart-pounding thrill ride as the team races to stop the spread of infection before the government decides to end it using the most drastic of measures.

Contagion (Available to rent on Amazon, Redbox, Fandango Now, Vudu, Google Play, and Apple TV)

When Contagion was first released in 2011, it was hailed by scientists and doctors for doing its very best to present a fact-checked film that showed the devastating effects of a global pandemic and how such a disease would spread.

It all begins when a woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a business trip to Hong Kong only to fall ill with a deadly flu-like disease. She dies quickly and her young son follows her in death later the same day. Her husband (Matt Damon) is both baffled and heartbroken at the loss of his family and the discovery that he is somehow immune to the disease.

Soon more people have contracted the virus and as it spreads like wildfire, scientist, doctors, and the world government begins looking for a cure. What was most fascinating about the film is that it tracked the virus from its initial discovery all the way through to finding a treatment and even went so far as to show some of the aftermath.

Contagion is an emotional roller coaster of a movie and has seen a spike in popularity since Covid-19 surfaced earlier this year.

12 Monkeys (Showtime Anytime with subscription; Rent on Redbox, Sling, Fandango Now, Vudu, AppleTV, Google Play, and Amazon)

Bruce Willis plays James Cole, a convict from 2035 sent back in time to prevent a deadly man-made virus from wiping out over five billion people and turning Earth into an almost uninhabitable planet whose very atmosphere has become toxic.

Along the way, he finds himself institutionalized in the past and under the care of Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe). He also meets the extremely disturbed Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) who happens to the be the son of a world-renowned virologist (Christopher Plummer).

Soon, Cole finds himself searching out the mystery of an anarchic, animal rights group who call themselves the Army of the 12 Monkeys and only then does he begin to scratch the surface of the real conspiracy at play.

The Stand (Available on DVD & Blu Ray)

Of course any discussion of films and TV series that cover pandemics would be remiss without bringing up Stephen King’s The Stand.

Adapted into a miniseries in 1994 directed by Mick Garris, the series was bursting with talent including Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump), Ruby Dee (Do the Right Thing), Molly Ringwald (The Breakfast Club), Rob Lowe (The West Wing), and Matt Frewer (Watchmen) to name just a few.

The story unfolds as a manufactured virus escapes a military lab and soon spreads across the country and the world infecting and killing over 90 percent of the population. Those who remain so find themselves split into two camps in a showdown between good and evil to determine the fate of the world.

What has always been most fascinating to me about The Stand is that, for all its fantastic elements, it is a story about humanity and coming together to ultimately rebuild and try to do better in the wake of a terrifying event.

A new version of The Stand is currently filming as a limited series for CBS All Access.

Children of Men (STARZ with subscription; Available for rent on Redbox, Fandango Now, Sling, Vudu, AppleTV, and Amazon)

Although it’s never clearly stated in Children of Men why the human population suddenly lost its ability to reproduce, it isn’t hard to imagine the loss coming on the heels of some virus and its nasty side effects.

What is interesting in the case of this film, however, is that we are treated solely to the after effects of that catastrophe. We see the UK, one of the last standing governments, turned into a gritty, dirty police state where refugees fleeing war and plague are placed in camps and treated like vermin.

As society crumbles, a young woman emerges who is pregnant and she must be ushered to safety at all costs. The violence in this film is overwhelming at times with its almost newsreel style filming that adds a layer of realism to the plot.

The Andromeda Strain (Available to rent or buy on Sling, Vudu, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, and Amazon)

The pathogen in The Andromeda Strain comes, not from humans, but from outer space when a satellite lands near a town in New Mexico unleashing a deadly virus that could wipe out all of human existence if it isn’t stopped.

The film was nominated for two Oscars and hailed by scientists upon its release in 1971 for its factual portrayal of how pathogens are identified, contained, and eradicated.

Though it has been remade since, the 1971 version–adapted from the novel by Michael Crichton–is still the superior version of this film.

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Waylon Jordan is a lifelong fan of genre fiction and film especially those with a supernatural element. He firmly believes that horror reflects collective fears of society and can be used as a tool for social change.