Contagion recently shot to the top of the iTunes movie charts—the 2011 medical disaster flick currently sits at number nine on the list. It's become abundantly clear that virus outbreak movies are the coping method of choice in the wake of the coronavirus panic. Why not? Many of these kinds of movies inject a certain goofy levity to the morbid situation, while others dive deep into the drama of worst-case scenarios. Whether you’re looking to escape the gloom of our current pandemic or hoping to find some catharsis, the genre is there for you.
In Contagion, a deadly virus finds its way to Chicago and quickly spreads. Public health officials scramble to contain the disease as medical researchers race to find a cure. Meanwhile, panic sweeps across the globe, eroding worldwide social order.
Fun times! The movie, which boasts a star-studded cast (Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law) and a particularly shocking scene with Gwenyth Paltrow, is certainly worth a re-watch. But where's a viewer to turn next? If you’re looking to expand your pandemic horizons, here are twelve more terrifying virus outbreak movies like Contagion you can watch tonight. From the dark humor of Cabin Fever to the spine-chilling terrors of 28 Days Later, there’s something to scratch every itch in this list. Plus, it's not like you're going outside any time soon.
This 1995 medical disaster thriller is based on the bestselling nonfiction book The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. After Motaba—an Ebola-like virus—originates in Central Africa, the deadly illness is brought over to the small American town of Cedar Creek, California. While people begin to fall victim to Motaba, the military considers what extreme measures they’re willing to take to keep the virus from going global. The film stars heavy hitters Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, and Rene Russo in leading roles, with a hefty supporting cast of Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey, Patrick Dempsey, and Donald Sutherland.
If you’re a viewer who prefers to lean into gore and gallows humor—two of Eli Roth's specialties—then check out Roth's 2002 directorial debut, Cabin Fever. A group of college graduates—Paul (Rider Strong), Karen (Jordan Ladd), Bert (James DeBello), Marcy (Cerina Vincent), and Jeff (Joey Kern)—rent a cabin in the woods, but soon find their fun disrupted by the spread of a deadly flesh-eating virus. As the number of infected rises, efforts to escape quickly get out of hand.
In this post-apocalyptic film, a viral pandemic has wiped out most of the world’s population. Brothers Brian (Chris Pine) and Danny (Lou Taylor Pucci), alongside Brian’s girlfriend, Bobby (Piper Perabo), and Danny’s friend, Kate (Emily VanCamp), try to navigate the desolate world while avoiding infection. But as the group encounters Frank (Christopher Meloni) and his daughter Jodie (Kiernan Shipka), they find that mankind’s desperation for survival might be far more dangerous than any disease.
This found-footage horror movie is actually a remake of the Spanish film REC. News reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) and her cameraman, Scott Percival (Steve Harris), shadow firemen on a call at an apartment block—only to discover that the residents are afflicted with a rabies-like disease. After the CDC orders a quarantine, those left in the building are forced to fight not only the threat of infection but the threat of those who have already been infected.
World War Z
Based on the novel of the same name by Max Brooks, this virus outbreak movie stars Brad Pitt as ex-United Nations investigator Gerry Lane. As a lethal zombie virus sweeps over the globe, Gerry fights to keep his family safe and races to stop the spread of the plague. Governments and armies collapse under the crush of the pandemic, and Lane’s desperation takes him all over the world in search of a solution.
The Andromeda Strain
This 1971 science fiction thriller is based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name. After a U.S. military satellite crashes in Piedmont, New Mexico, most of the town’s residents fall sick and die. An elite scientific team—Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill), Dr. Mark Hall (James Olson), Dr. Charles Dutton (David Wayne), and Dr. Ruth Leavitt (Kate Reid)—gather to find a way to stop the deadly space contagion from spreading.
In the future of 2035, the world's human population is devastated by an infectious disease, leaving the survivors to carry out their lives below ground. Convict James Cole (Bruce Willis) is sent on a time-traveling mission to 1996 in order to gain information on ways to stop the spread of the man-made virus. However, with the imprecise nature of time travel, Cole’s mission brings forward new complications for both him and the human race.
I Am Legend
Based on Richard Matheson's acclaimed 1954 post-apocalyptic horror novel of the same name, this film stars Will Smith as U.S. Army virologist Robert Neville. After a virus intended to cure cancer devastates the world’s population, Neville is one of the only men left alive. However, as he works to create a cure for the terrible virus, the vampiristic mutated victims of the pandemic stalk him through the night.
Dawn of the Dead
While George Romero’s classic 1978 Dawn of the Dead isn’t available for streaming at the moment, Zack Snyder's thoroughly enjoyable 2004 remake is available for rental or purchase now. In the wake of a zombie outbreak, a group of survivors breaks into a Wisconsin shopping mall for safety. Nurse Ana (Sarah Polley), police sergeant Kenneth Hall (Ving Rhames), salesman Michael (Jake Weber), and criminal Andre (Mekhi Phifer) and his pregnant wife, Luda (Inna Korobkina), struggle to beat back the growing swarm of flesh-hungry zombies outside their door.
Another remake of a Romero film, The Crazies follows Iowa sheriff David (Timothy Olyphant), his wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), his deputy, Russell (Joe Anderson), and Judy’s assistant, Becca (Danielle Panabaker). After a military virus wreaks havoc over the town of Ogden Marsh by turning those infected into violent, compassionless killers, the four survivors join forces to escape the horrors of their once cozy hometown.
28 Days Later
Danny Boyle reset the zombie virus outbreak template with this frenetic 2002 flick. A highly-contagious virus strikes Great Britain, turning those infected into fast-moving, rage-filled zombies. When bike courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma in the hospital, he’s thrust into this new and frightening world. Running from the threat of the virus and the threat of ruthless survivors who have adapted to a harsh new world, the future looks bleak.
Once you're done with 28 Days Later, be sure to check out its stellar sequel, 28 Weeks Later.
Related: 15 Best Horror Movies of the 2010s
This 2013 South Korean virus outbreak movie follows the spread of a lethal strain of influenza. The airborne illness has struck the district of Bundang, which houses roughly half a million citizens. As the virus kills its victims within a day and a half, the district is thrown into a state of panic and chaos.
Featured photo of "Contagion" via Warner Bros.