As the world continues to battle a global epidemic, the domestic spread of COVID-19 is affecting our daily lives in ways most of us have never experienced before. Monroe County officially declared a state of emergency over the weekend, and medical experts are urging everyone to practice social distancing by remaining at home as much as possible.
Most local art institutions have closed down at this point, and for the sake of precaution, we'll all be consuming entertainment from the comfort of our own homes for the foreseeable future. We'll need to find ways to entertain ourselves, which means many of us are going to be getting our movie fix through streaming services.
Where once the endless viewing options available through a variety of streaming platforms felt like an overwhelming deluge of content, it now seems more like a safety blanket promising hours upon hours of entertainment exactly when we need it. There are any number of places where one could begin, so why not start with a roundup of the type of stories I've noticed more and more people turning to on social media: movies about fictional pandemics.
Whether the movies are the more far-fetched kind with zombies, or the variety slightly more grounded in reality, it's no surprise that people are drawn to them. They're ultimately stories about people finding ways to carry on in the face of catastrophe. They allow us to observe how others respond to a similar crisis, and seeing our natural fears formed into a clear-cut narrative arc can be oddly comforting.
We've compiled a few film recommendations (plus one non-fiction mini-series) to choose from. And hey, even if such stories only serve to exacerbate your fears, a little paranoia could be good: just the thing to inspire you to stay home, self-isolate and not put others at risk any more than necessary. If things continue on this current path, I promise to return with some more uplifting recommendations soon enough.
"12 Monkeys": If you're looking for something with a sci-fi bent, you can't go wrong with Terry Gilliam's eccentric genre classic, starring Bruce Willis as a convict sent back in time from the year 2035 to prevent a pandemic that will be responsible for wiping out most of the world's human population.
"28 Days Later": Danny Boyle's influential horror film picks up after a mysterious, deadly virus known as Rage has ravaged the UK, as a handful of survivors band together to find sanctuary. Since its release viewers have debated whether the film technically qualifies as a zombie movie, but as with many in its genre, the biggest threat to survival turns out to be other humans.
"Contagion": It's the pandemic movie that's been burning up the rental and streaming charts the past few weeks, and with good reason. Steven Soderbergh directs an all-star cast (Gwenyth Paltrow! Matt Damon! Kate Winslet! Jude Law! Laurence Fishburne!) in this terrifying procedural focusing on the various healthcare professionals, government officials, and average citizens who find themselves in the grip of a worldwide epidemic while the CDC works to find a cure.
"Osmosis Jones": Probably the strangest film here, this comedy blends animation and live-action (Bobby and Peter Farrelly direct the live-action segments, while the animated sequences are directed by Tom Sito and Piet Kroon) as it follows a white blood cell (voiced by Chris Rock) and a cold pill (David Hyde Pierce) as they team up to stop a deadly virus from destroying the human (Bill Murray) they live inside.
"Outbreak": Wolfgang Peterson's action-thriller centers in a small California town that's quarantined after becoming ground zero for deadly Ebola-like virus brought to America by an African monkey. I still remember watching this one in theaters as a kid and shrinking down in my seat during the scene that tracks the path of an airborne virus around a movie theater auditorium, trying desperately to stifle my need to cough. It's an existential terror that's never quite left me.
"Pontypool": A radio station disk jockey is stuck broadcasting as a deadly virus spreads through his Ontario town. This Canadian horror flick is a zombie infection film with a fascinating twist: what if a virus was spread not through physical contact but through language?
"Right at Your Door": This claustrophobic thriller follows a man isolated in his home after a dirty bomb detonates in downtown Los Angeles while his wife is at work. When authorities place the city under quarantine and advise people to seal up their homes, he's faced with a difficult choice when his wife returns home.
"Train to Busan": A businessman and his daughter board a train from Seoul to Busan as an epidemic begins tearing through South Korea in this excellent horror-action film. Only time will tell what kind of effect the current coronavirus pandemic will have on the movie industry, but there's a sequel due out at some point later this year. So, fingers crossed.
"Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak": Check this one out if you're hankering for something more fact-based. More reassuring than you might think, this timely six-part documentary mini-series from Netflix follows the capable professionals on the front lines of the battle against influenza and their ongoing efforts to protect the world from the next global outbreak.
Adam Lubitow is a freelance writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.