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The Last Man On Earth poster Children of Men poster 12 Monkeys poster

Written by Matthew Pejkovic


Films that deal with disease and epidemic have been a fixture in mainstream cinema.

Whether it is supernatural, environmental or manmade, the horrors of contagious and even fatal diseases ploughing through the human populace have sickened, thrilled, and even taught us a thing or two about the world we live in.

Here is a closer look at the best disease and epidemic movies released thus far.




Elia Kazan’s classic film-noir centred on a U.S. public health officer (Richard Widmark) and a police captain (Paul Douglas) who have to prevent a pneumonic plague in New Orleans. The catch is those carrying around the disease are criminals not willing to hand themselves over to the authorities.

Kazan’s tight direction and casting of lesser known stars (including Jack Palace in his first film) made Panic in the Streets a gritty, race against time thriller.






The first adaptation of Robert Matheson’s influential sci-fi novel “I Am Legend” starred Vincent Price as Dr. Robert Morgan, the last man in a world succumbed to a plague which has turned humans into vampires.

Matheson’s novel would be adapted twice more into The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend starring Will Smith, but it was The Last Man on Earth that many critics adore and paved the way for films such as Night of the Living Dead.




Monkeys can be so damn cute, right? Not the disease carrying chimp is Outbreak, whose run in with American poachers engulfs a small town with an epidemic of biblical proportions.

Known as much for its all star cast (Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Renee Russo) as it is for its race against time thrills, Outbreak was a commercial success that did the most with its farfetched plotline.




12 MONKEYS (1995)

The other epidemic film of 1995, 12 Monkeys didn’t boast the same box office receipts as Outbreak, but it did prove to be the better movie.

Based on the short film La jelee, this Terry Gilliam directed classic starred Bruce Willis as James Cole, a prisoner in a post-apocalyptic future who agrees to travel back in time to stop the release of a deadly virus by a radical group named the Army of the Twelve Monkeys.

It was a gritty sci-fi which saw Bruce Willis at his dramatic best, an Oscar nominated Brad Pitt at his most unhinged, an Terry Gilliam at his commercial peak.




28 DAYS LATER... (2002)

The epidemic film sub-genre was given a swift kick in the ass with 28 Days Later..., a quasi zombie film, mixed with political allegory and one hell of an opening sequence!  

Based in modern day London, the film begins with animal activists releasing a monkey (again with those damn apes!) infected with a virus called “Rage”.

A bike messenger (Cillian Murphy) awakens from his coma 28 days later, to find society has collapsed upon itself. Cue the now infamous shot of a chillingly empty London.




Imagine if the human race could no longer reproduce? That is the scenario given to us in Children of Men, an engrossing sci-fi thriller that envisions a world gone mad when faced with the reality of extinction.

Based on the book by P.D. James, this Alfonso Cuaron adaptation stars Clive Owen as Theo, an apolitical man in a world of terrorism and political persecution, who is thrown into the deep end when given the task of escorting pregnant African refugee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) to safe haven.

Unapologetically political and filled with religious undertones, Children of Men marked Cuaron as an intelligent and innovative filmmaker to look out for.




Soon to be released is the sci-fi thriller Contagion, the latest film from Steven Soderbergh which features an all star cast (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwenyth Paltrow) and a plot where a contagious disease quickly spreads through the human populace.

Critics have praised the film, citing the scaringly realistic plot which portrays civilization unravelling as death spreads through it.



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