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The Best Pandemic Movies to Binge in Quarantine

The coronavirus has officially forced much of the world into voluntary or involuntary quarantine. Confined to the relative comforts of our own homes, isolated individuals are turning to their streaming services for some iota of connection in a socially distanced world. While some viewers are coping by watching escapist fantasies and absurdist reality TV, others are turning to a more dystopian alternative: movies about pandemics.

caironl has assembled a list of contagion movies you can watch to either ease your worries or willfully exacerbate them, broken down by category for ease of use:

The Cassandra Crossing

Sophia Loren, Martin Sheen, Ava Gardner, and Burt Lancaster are among the stars in this film about a European train that is attacked by Swedish terrorists (which you don’t hear about every day!) and infected with a deadly pathogen. The train is also speeding toward an unstable bridge, but no one on board is being allowed off. (Available on Tubi, YouTube or Google Play.)

Infection

When a doctor’s mistake leads to dire consequences for a patient, a strange illness starts afflicting the medical staff who helped cover it up. This Japanese movie is a little bit more outlandish with its deaths, with the infected liquifying into a green goop, but it’s important to have a global perspective on outbreaks. (Available on Tubi and Vudu.)

Virus (2019)

This Indian film is based on the true events surrounding the 2018 Nipah virus outbreak in Kerala and the local community’s mobilization effort to stop the spread. (Available on Amazon Prime.)

The Bay

If you’re a sucker for found footage, try this movie about a quaint little town that turns into a breeding ground for a waterborne organism that takes control of the minds and bodies of its hosts. While not the best film ever created, there’s something especially convincing about the “recovered” footage that will truly trick you into believing you’ve just watched a town burn itself down with madness. (Available on Hulu.)

Deranged

The parasite in this South Korean film drives the infected to drown themselves, and when one man’s family is infected, he has to do what he can to try and find a cure as the condition spreads across the nation and the government sends the afflicted into quarantine. (Available on iTunes and YouTube.)

Carriers

Chris Pine, Piper Perabo, and Emily VanCamp star in this movie about a group of friends trying to outrun a pandemic who realize on their journey that the evils of man are just as threatening as any virus. (Available on Netflix.)

The Last Days

Here’s another novel contagion take: An affliction called The Panic has swept across humanity, causing people to become so severely agoraphobic that they actually die if they are forced outside. Our hero, Marc, has been trapped in an office building, but sets out to find his girlfriend, and has to do so without ever actually setting foot beyond shelter. (Available on Hulu.)

Pontypool

The strength of Pontypool is its limited scope. While humanity is being brought to its knees by a rapidly spreading infection, we only experience the crisis through the perspective of an Ontario radio disc jockey who is receiving sporadic reports of the mayhem outside. (Available on iTunes and Shudder.)

Panic in the Streets

Newly arrived in New Orleans, heroic doctor Richard Widmark finds himself trying to deal with a deadly outbreak of “pneumonic plague,” which has begun to spread through the city’s immigrant underclass. It’s a noirish thriller, but it’s also all about human behavior: Widmark’s character struggles to deal with the citizenry, and a Greek immigrant couple who get the disease early on view the authorities with suspicion, and thus refuse to cooperate. Director Elia Kazan, himself the child of Greek immigrants, films the drama with compassion and complexity. (Available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.)

The Killer That Stalked New York

It’s a film noir about efforts to contain a smallpox epidemic in New York City, so of course the disease arrives in the city carried by an unwitting femme fatale; the opening, hard-boiled narration assures us that the “killer” of the title “was something to whistle at — it wore lipstick, nylons, and a beautifully tailored coat … a pretty face with a frame to match, worth following.” The carrier is actually a jewel thief (the great Evelyn Keyes) who is betrayed by her crooked husband and her sister and then wanders the city spreading disease while a heroic doctor tries to track her down. This one hits home: The apocalyptic image of New York becoming infected and the streets becoming deserted is presented as a doomsday scenario. And watching the city’s officials and medical professionals work together, doing all they can to vaccinate 8 million people … it all feels like a sick joke in today’s reality. (Available on YouTube.)

The Zombies Are Coming

28 Days Later

Writer and director Danny Boyle changed the zombie genre forever with 28 Days Later, in which a handful of survivors come together a month after a mysterious virus has decimated the U.K. and try to survive long enough to be rescued. (Available on Hulu.)

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

You could watch a lot of “of the Dead” movies, but we recommend Romero’s sequel to his formative zombie classic. The contagion has gone beyond the farmhouse of the first film, and it’s taking over the entire U.S. The story focuses on a group of survivors who make their way to a mall together, and it’s one of the best movies ever made about the deleterious effects of an unstoppable pandemic in its early stages.

It Stains The Sands Red

This intimate contagion movie focuses almost entirely on one woman who is stranded in the Nevada desert right when a zombie infection starts to take hold. She has to wander into nothingness in the hopes of reaching safety, and along the way she is followed by one single shuffling zombie who becomes a sort of companion/reminder of her fragile mortality and the mistakes she has made in her life. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

Rabid

David Cronenberg is the master of body horror, and in this 1977 film, he focuses on a woman who develops a strange growth under her arm after a surgery that she uses to feed on human blood. When she pierces people with her stinger, they become blood-hungry, zombie-like monsters, and the medical facility where she’s being cared for soon becomes a hunting ground. (Available on Tubi, Amazon Prime, and iTunes.)

Train to Busan

Train to Busan is one of the best of a lot of things: one of the best zombie movies ever, one of the best outbreak movies ever, one of the best action movies of the 21st century, and one of the best movies that’s mostly set on a train. A businessman and his daughter board a train to Busan as an epidemic begins ripping through South Korea, and while the moving train is semi-safe from the crumbling world outside, everything goes to hell when the infection reaches the passengers. It’s thrilling. It’s moving. It’s terrifying. It’s tragic. (Available on Netflix.)

World War Z

Brad Pitt and Mireille Enos star in this epic contagion movie that features maybe the largest mass of sprinting zombies ever put on screen. Pitt plays a former United Nations investigator who agrees to make his way through the infected landscape to find the source of the outbreak and hopefully a cure before everyone falls to the pandemic. (Available on Hulu.)

Mayhem

In Mayhem, Steven Yeun plays a corporate drone who gets canned the same day an epidemic called the “Red Eye virus” starts ruining society by turning the people who contract it into violent, hungry savages. (They’re not zombies exactly; they’re just really pissed off.) At the same time, he meets a woman (Samara Weaving) who was just screwed over by his company, and together they agree to kill their way to the top. (Available on Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, and Google Play.)

Little Monsters

If you want a zombie-outbreak movie that features Lupita Nyong’o as the world’s best kindergarten teacher who sings Taylor Swift songs in between bouts of slaying the rabid undead and keeping alcoholic sociopath Josh Gad in check so he doesn’t scare her students, then say yes to Little Monsters. (Available on Hulu.)

Wyrmwood

If you want a contagion movie that has that wild spirit of Mad Max, look to Kiah Roache-Turner’s Wyrmwood. When a man loses his family to infection, he suits up in homemade armor, armed to the teeth, upgrades his car, and sets out to save his sister in the middle of an exploding epidemic. It’s a roaring, rock-and-roll zombie movie that gets even weirder when the sister falls into the hands of a twisted scientist who loves dancing to disco music. (Available on YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Prime, and Google Play.)

Postapocalypse (and More Zombies)

I Am Legend

Virologist Will Smith lives in a hollowed-out Manhattan and fights vampiric monsters called Darkseekers after a modified measles virus, that was meant to cure cancer, kills 90 percent of humanity. When he meets a pair of immune humans, he is given renewed hope that he can make a cure. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

Cargo

You could watch any old zombie outbreak movie during your contagion binge, but there was a small wave of movies during the mid-2010s that focused on the ennui of the end of the world more than the panicky horror of the outbreaks themselves. Cargo is one of them, and it stars Martin Freeman as a man in the Australian outback who ends up caring for a child that he must guide to survival. It’s for your sad dad feelings. (Available on Netflix.)

Here Alone

Here Alone is another emo-zombie movie that’s more about melancholy than it is the terrors of the blood thirsty undead. A woman lives in isolation after losing her daughter and husband and is buried under the guilt of surviving without them, but her life changes when she meets a teen girl and her stepdad. But can anyone ever really trust happiness in the postapocalypse? (Available on Netflix.)

It Comes at Night

If you want a slow-burn, haunting drama about just how bad and sad things would be after a sickness of some kind brought down society, It Comes at Night, which focuses on two families who come together in the wilderness, will definitely fill that need. (Available on Netflix.)

The Last Man on Earth

This is the original film adapted from Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend, except, because it’s from 1964, it stars Vincent Price as the surviving scientist instead of Will Smith. Sort of similar energies between them. (Available on Amazon Prime.)

The Night Eats the World

This is a zombie movie, yes, but more than that it is about the monotony of survival and the crushing weight of loneliness when you’re the only person in a dead world, which is exactly what one man in this movie experiences after he goes to a house party and wakes up to the apocalypse in an apartment building. (Available on Amazon Prime.)

The Omega Man

An army colonel played by Charlton Heston is the only known survivor of a biowarfare catalyzed plague, and he spends his nights hunting plague-infected mutants throughout desolate Los Angeles. He’s being hunted by the infected too, who blame science and technology for the downfall of man and see him as its embodiment. But since he saved himself with an experimental vaccine treatment, he might be able to cure others if he finds more healthy survivors. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

Resident Evil Franchise

The Resident movies will provide hours of quarantine entertainment on their own, beginning with the humble first film in which we meet our heroine, Alice, and get acquainted with the T-virus that has obliterated humanity thanks to a break in containment at the evil Umbrella corporation. From there, the world gets bigger and wilder over the course of six movies, in which Milla Jovovich wipes out a lot of monsters and bad guys and mutant crows. (Available on Amazon Prime.)

Ravenous

This French-Canadian zombie movie is another artful zom-drama entry that really emphasizes the emotional toll of survival, and even includes a large, mysterious tower made of chairs that draws the zombies to it. For your thinkier art-house undead fans. (Available on Netflix.)

Endzeit

Two years after a zombiepocalypse has all but wiped out civilization, only two outposts of humanity remain. The one in Weimar has a zero-tolerance, shoot-on-site policy against the infected, and two women who have hit their limit with the brutality set out to reach the other safe haven in Jena, where the undead are captured and those inside are working toward a cure. But the two of them will have to travel through a dangerous no-man’s-land to get there, and that means dealing with all the threats along the way. (Available on YouTube, Google Play, and Amazon Prime.)

Life After Infection (and, Still, Some More Zombies)

12 Monkeys

Terry Gilliam directed this sci-fi film about a man who is sent back in time from the year 2035 to stop a pandemic that will wipe out most of the world’s population and force the survivors to live underground, a disaster that will begin in 1996. (Available on Hulu.)

The Girl With All the Gifts

While the world is still largely overrun with zombies, called hungries, who were turned by a fungal infection, limited pockets of humanity still exist, and on a military base in England, scientists are studying children born of infected mothers — human-hungry hybrids that may contain the key to unlocking a cure in their blood. When the base is overrun, though, a group of survivors are flung out into the landscape and their survival will dictate who inherits the Earth. (Available on Hulu.)

Children of Men

A mysterious illness prompted every woman in the world to miscarry in the early 2000s, and for nearly 20 years since that event — which happened around the same time as a highly deadly flu pandemic — no new children have been born. The world has descended into chaos, but if there’s a hope for humanity, it might come in the form of a depressed Clive Owen, his activist ex-wife, Julianne Moore, and a young refugee woman. (Available on Hulu.)

The Cured

This Irish horror-drama takes place in the aftermath of the infection period when a disease called the Maze Virus, that basically turned people into rage zombies, has largely been cured. However, reintegration of the formerly infected — many of whom are still in captivity and heavily stigmatized by restrictionists — is a hard process, and society must reconcile welcoming the survivors back when they may have murdered friends and loved ones while sick. The government is considering killing them all anyway to stave off a new wave of the disease, but infected rights advocates are pushing back. There’s … a lot of metaphor, and also Ellen Page. (Available on Amazon Prime.)

Daybreakers

The contagion in Daybreakers has turned most of the world’s population into vampires, and when the human population plummets, that means the new dominant race is short on food. Some of the undead are driven psychotic by hunger, and scientists are working tirelessly on developing synthetic blood to address the shortages. The movie centers on a hematologist (and vampire) played by Ethan Hawke, who makes a pair of human allies in the fight against vampirism. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

Doomsday

Scotland has been designated a quarantine area after an outbreak of the deadly Reaper virus prompted the government to force all the infected into containment and locked the gates behind them. Twenty-five years after the crisis, major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), who had to leave her mother in the hot zone as a child, is being sent back home to find a counteragent to the virus after infections start popping up in London. Survivors, however, have turned into maniacs and marauders, and Sinclair is going to have to kill her way through. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

Maggie

In Maggie, a pandemic known as Necroambulism is just barely under government control, and society is limping its way back to life as the infected are put into quarantine. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a man whose daughter (Abigail Breslin) is bit, and he decides to care for her at home over the weeks it will take her to turn full undead cannibal. It’s a zombie movie, but it’s also a family movie. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

The Maze Runner Franchise

A virus called The Flare has devastated humanity and forced survivors into small enclaves of civilization. Over the course of the the three Maze Runner films, you’ll meet your cast of young heroes trying to change the world, a massive shady conglomerate known as WCKD that seems to be at the center of everything bad that is happening, and you’ll go into the global wasteland known as The Scorch. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

Virus (1980)

Virus is a Japanese movie that goes where more contagion movies should: Antarctica. After an outbreak dubbed the “Italian Flu” wipes out most of the world, a group of survivors in the Antarctic are protected by the continent’s deeply cold climate where the disease cannot take hold. However, a looming Soviet incursion of the base and the threat of a nuclear missile launch make survival even more tricky than it already is while living at the frozen bottom of the world. (Available on Tubi and Amazon Prime.)

Perfect Sense

In this most melancholy and romantic of pandemic movies, a disease is slowly robbing humanity of its senses, one by one, with each loss being accompanied by an out-of-control emotion: When you lose your sense of smell, for example, you overload on grief. Ewan McGregor plays a philandering chef and Eva Green the beautiful epidemiologist who lives next door to his restaurant. As they fall for each other, they go through these surges of emotion. It’s a romantic tragedy, and the weirdly understated quality of the pandemic certainly resonates today. (Available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.)

Period Plagues

Black Death

This impressively atmospheric medieval actioner has novice monk Eddie Redmayne leading grizzled mercenary knight Sean Bean and a group of others to a village untouched by the Plague, presumably because of the presence of a witch, played by Carice van Houten. The setup is a familiar one, but the portent, the violence, the sense of a world abandoned by God’s mercy would give Paul Verhoeven a run for his money. (Available on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Google Play.)

Death in Venice

In Luchino Visconti’s elegant adaptation of Thomas Mann’s beloved novella, Dirk Bogarde plays a composer who visits the Italian city and promptly becomes infatuated with a teenage boy, all the while a cholera epidemic hits town. As fear and illness slowly grip Venice, the protagonist’s obsession pulls him closer and closer toward death. (Available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.)

Flesh + Blood

In Paul Verhoeven’s ridiculously sleazy and disturbing 1985 medieval epic, Rutger Hauer leads a group of mercenaries and captives (among them Jennifer Jason Leigh) into a castle infected with bubonic plague. This grotesquely violent and gruesome adventure was supposed to be Dutch wunderkind Verhoeven’s big splash into English-language filmmaking; audiences ran screaming, but it has since become a big cult item. (Available on Amazon Prime and YouTube.)

The Navigator

In Kiwi director Vincent Ward’s spellbinding fantasy, an English village during the Black Death prepares itself for the coming plague, and the horrors associated with it, by following the visions of a psychic 9-year-old and digging a hole into the Earth, in an attempt to come out on the other side. They emerge into the 20th century, but director Ward shoots our modern world from the eyes of medieval strangers. The results are mind-alteringly great. (Available on YouTube, GooglePlay, and Amazon Prime.)

The Painted Veil

In this handsome adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, Edward Norton plays a bacteriologist in turbulent 1920s China, and Naomi Watts his bored socialite wife. She has an affair with Liev Schreiber, which prompts her husband to demand that she accompany him to the heart of a rural cholera outbreak. It’s a disturbing, complicated look at passion, loyalty, and deception in the heart of a horrific epidemic. (Available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.)

Season of the Witch

Shut up, it’s good. Nicolas Cage (in full-on Nicolas Cage mode) and Ron Perlman return disillusioned from the Crusades (much like Max von Sydow in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, but different) only to find themselves in a village devastated by the Black Death. The solution? Transport the witch responsible (Claire Foy) to stand trial. Things don’t go as planned. (Available on Netflix and Hulu.)

The Seventh Seal

Let’s not forget that Ingmar Bergman’s iconic masterpiece, in which Max von Sydow plays a knight returning from the Crusades who engages in a game of chess with Death himself, is in fact also a movie about the black plague. The story may be symbolic, but the tension throughout the film is still immensely powerful. (Available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.)

1918

The legendary American dramatist and screenwriter Horton Foote adapted his own play (part of The Orphans’ Home Cycle) for this understated drama about a small Texas town caught up in the final year of World War I when the influenza epidemic starts claiming lives. It’s not so much a plague movie as it is a family drama, centering on a dry goods’ shop owner and his extended family, including his wife’s teenage fuck-up brother, played by a young Matthew Broderick. The flu becomes a metaphor for the loss of innocence and the indifference of fate. (Available on YouTube.)

The Masque of the Red Death

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story — about a prince and other nobles holing themselves away in an abbey to avoid the Black Plague and then holding a masquerade ball into which the figure of Death slips — gets the loose, over-the-top Roger Corman treatment. Vincent Price plays the central prince-slash-Satanist in all his regal, sadistic menace, and Corman’s garish stylization adds a veneer of sickly decadence to the proceedings. The moral rot of the aristocratic milieu inevitably gives way to apocalyptic grotesquerie. (Available on Vudu and Amazon Prime.)

Jezebel

It’s sometimes easy to forget that this classic melodrama, starring a tremendous Bette Davis as a headstrong woman in antebellum New Orleans and a brooding Henry Fonda as her straight-arrow paramour, actually becomes a story about a yellow-fever epidemic. Indeed, the way that the stubborn and independent Davis is shunned by polite society in the first half is echoed by the way that Fonda is rejected when he becomes ill. Disease becomes the great leveler, affecting the wealthy and the poor and transforming the characters and their attitudes. (Available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube.)

A Little Bit Alien

The Andromeda Strain

Based on the book by Michael Crichton, Strain focuses on a group of research scientists who are brought into the town of Piedmont, New Mexico, after a government satellite crashes there and kills almost all of the residents, thanks to a microscopic alien organism that the downed equipment brought to Earth. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

The Faculty

The 1990s was the peak of teen horror, and The Faculty assembled a buzzy cast — Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Salma Hayek, Clea DuVall, Jon Stewart, and more — for this story of a standard American high school overrun by an alien invasion that turns humans into host drones. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

There have been multiple very good film versions of Body Snatchers, but we will most highly recommend the version starring Donald Sutherland as a San Francisco man who starts to suspect that people around him are acting strangely because of some sinister force, instead of just a benign illness. And oh, boy, is he right! Welcome your pod overlords. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

The Puppet Masters (1994)

Did you like watching Donald Sutherland in the middle of an Earth takeover by alien parasites that can control people’s minds in Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Well, you can watch something similar happen in The Puppet Masters. Based on the book of the same name by Robert A. Heinlein, this time there is a government intervention to try and squash the infections, but will they be able to stop the extra terrestrials in time? (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

Pandemic Comedies!

Slither

The first feature film from director James Gunn, Slither is set in a small town where everyone knows each other that is overrun by an alien plague. It’s gross-out horror. It’s a love story. It’s Nathan Fillion and Elizabeth Banks and Michael Rooker having a great time with friends. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

Warm Bodies

Zombie movies are always so bleak (which is fair), but Bodies imagines, “What if they could still feel?” Nicholas Hoult plays an undead guy named R who is tired of his tedious life of shambling around, but everything changes when he thinks he’s fallen for a living girl (Teresa Palmer). R could be the key to saving the world, but they’re going to have to address that zombies versus humans civil war going on to figure it out. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

Shaun of the Dead

If you just can’t watch another depressing zombie wasteland movie, switch over to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s Shaun of the Dead, where a couple of slobs find themselves in the middle of the end of the world. (Available on Hulu.)

Anna and the Apocalypse

Anna is sweet little zom-comedy musical about a high school girl who just wants to get out of her small town, but has her plans railroaded by a zombie epidemic. It is also, however, a heartbreaking story of friendship and love and loss. So get ready to sing, but also to cry. (Available on Hulu.)

Planet Terror

The Robert Rodriguez half of Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse double bill is a B-movie brawl for all about a small Texas town that goes to hell when a biochemical weapon is accidentally let loose into the air and turns people into savage gooey monsters terrorizing the landscape. This is an exploitation movie, so of course a scrappy band of survivors has to hightail it out of town amidst explosions, bloody deaths, and an abundance of pulp dialogue. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

Night of the Comet

The comet that killed the dinosaurs passes by Earth again and this time incinerates most of the human race, leaving those partly exposed to roam as extremely New Wave zombies. Two hip sisters who survived both those calamities roam through a postapocalyptic Los Angeles in this delightfully stylized time capsule that’s more John Hughes than George Romero. (Available on Amazon Prime.)

Outbreak Potpourri

Cabin Fever

Eli Roth’s first big foray into extreme gore follows a group of 20-somethings on a cabin-in-the-woods trip where everyone’s plans for sexy time are interrupted by a flesh-eating disease. Lots of blood and Roth’s signature coarse humor. (Available on Netflix.)

Blindness

We’ve seen a lot of movies about pathogens turning all of humanity into blood-thirsty zombie creatures, but what if there was a disease that just made everyone go blind in one city? That’s what happens in the appropriately titled Blindness. Of course, some people react in abominable ways when they lose one of their senses, but it’s also kind of comforting to watch a movie where the infected aren’t bleeding from their eyes and ears and tearing through the world like maniacs. (Available on iTunes.)

I Drink Your Blood

Here’s something different for you. In this 1970 film, a group of satanic hippies become cannibals after being fed meat pies with rabid dog blood in them. The people they feed on then become infected. Goddamn hippies! (Available on YouTube and Google Play.)

Shivers

The original shooting title of this movie was The Orgy of The Blood Parasites, and it’s a shame they didn’t keep that. After a scientist murders a teen girl and then himself, it is discovered that he’s been doing experiments with deadly parasites that are now matriculating among the general population. Those who are infected become violent and sex-crazed, passing along the parasite like an STD. (Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime.)

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