As the world watches the coronavirus crisis unravel, many people are much more interested in watching something less depressing, such as depictions of pandemics that can be overcome within the timespan of two hours. That’s why I’ve rounded up these fantastic pandemic-themed movies to distract yourself with!
Enjoy these films while you and your loved ones quarantine and wait for lockdowns to lift and stay-at-home orders to ease up. Grab whatever popcorn you already have in the house and prepare to be entertained by fictional tales about the demise of humanity while you wait for scientists to save us all in real life.
Train to Busan
Train to Busan is a wild South Korean zombie movie that does an outstanding job giving viewers an unnervingly authentic look at how a pandemic unfolds and how it affects people trapped in inopportune places—such as long-distance trains headed for Busan.
The creepily realistic way the pandemic gobbles up South Korea and closes in on the people trapped in the movie’s titular train is easily the scariest part of the film. Though the real-world coronavirus is nowhere near as immediately devastating or as dramatically gruesome as Train to Busan’s fictional pandemic, the two parallel each other just enough for this film to be a comfortably uncomfortable and surreal thrill ride.
For more South Korean zombie horror, check out Kingdom on Netflix. Even though it’s a show and is much more of a slow burn, it shares a lot of key selling points with Train to Busan, especially in the style department.
The Planet of the Apes trilogy (2011-17)
Though there are older Planet of the Apes films featuring goofy latex masks and Marky Mark, this list would like to recognize the Oscar-worthy trilogy of Apes films that came out between 2011 and 2017. These movies pair fantastic writing and acting with visual effects technology good enough to potentially remain believable for decades to come.
The trilogy’s plot is straightforward and as pandemic-y as it gets. Scientists work on a drug to cure Alzheimer’s disease and to test its effects, they use it on chimpanzees and other simians. Naturally, the drug ends up being a catastrophic failure and quickly spells doom for the human race on two counts: not only is it lethal to humans, but it also boosts the cognitive functions of apes to a point where they’re able to challenge humanity for dominance. This means that over the course of three excellent films, humans fail to fight a rapidly spreading disease and stupidly choose to make apes their enemies out of fear of being replaced as the rulers of Earth.
To examine why these films are held in such high esteem, it’s important to view them not just as sci-fi action thrillers, but also as deep looks at the shortcomings of the human race. Apropos of how plenty of politicians, scientific experts, and governing bodies right now are mishandling the coronavirus situation and failing to save the day (though, of course, there are many leaders and experts doing amazing work to outweigh these bad apples), the Planet of the Apes trilogy points out how greed, bureaucracy, and cowardice will be our species’ undoing rather than a dangerous pathogen or army of apes.
Resident Evil (2002-16)
I’ve never seen any of the Resident Evil movies, of which there are six. This is partially out of respect to the source material games (which these movies have minimal relation to, outside of the title), but mainly because I just don’t like goofy action-horror b-movies. However, if you like films of that particular genre, good news: Resident Evil films are readily accessible for rental or purchase from just about everywhere.
To briefly summarize the series’ premise, all of the movies are about actress Milla Jovovich throwing down against biological weapons and dangerous viruses. Topical, eh? Mix in some spooky monsters and ridiculous action and these films are a far more relaxing brand of a pandemic than the real-world thing.
Though it’s not strictly about “pandemics,” Prometheus definitely features a violent biological weapon wreaking havoc upon a ton of humans, and it also sports a harrowing moment where one woman catches a particularly nasty virus that has to, uh, be “removed” from her person. So with those components in mind, I think the movie earns a spot on this list.
Prometheus is a distant prequel to the Alien series—so distant, in fact, that it can easily be viewed as its own entity. It has science fiction and horror in spades and is all about humans tampering with things they have no business investigating. It’s a movie that illustrates the early stages of a potential pandemic and revolves around the central theme of how big things have small beginnings.
It’s not a hopeful or happy movie by any stretch of the imagination, but its bleak outlook on humanity’s eventual fate might be a humorous thing to witness in light of current real-world events, given how outlandish the film’s portrayal of our species’ demise is.
World War Z
No pandemic movie list is complete without World War Z on it, also known as the outstanding adaptation of an equally outstanding novel by author Max Brooks. It’s worth noting that the novel and movie have virtually no relation to each other, so it’s definitely worth experiencing both in order to get two unique tastes of the franchise’s unique zombie-themed storytelling. The movie is all about Brad Pitt, whereas the novel stars a bunch of different protagonists from all over the planet. So if you’d prefer a slightly more global take, go for the book, and play the official World War Z game afterward for even more international action. Otherwise, just set aside two hours to watch Brad Pitt be Brad Pitt.
Besides the Hollywood A-lister leading the film adaptation of World War Z, the movie’s other main draw is the zombies themselves. Unlike a lot of movies that depict zombies as slow, shambling creatures, World War Z makes them the fastest, scariest killing machines out there. The buggers run like lightning, jump ridiculous lengths, and will go so far as to climb up each other to scale walls and tall structures. They’re intense and make for one heck of an entertaining global pandemic that only lasts as long as a bit of downtime on a lazy Sunday afternoon.