Movies about widespread disease provide parallels to COVID-19 pandemic

‘Outbreak,’ ‘Contagion’ reflect elements of our current situation

Ruthie Posada

With the current COVID-19 pandemic underway, several movies characterized by widespread infection have resurfaced as viewers compare and contrast the movies with our current situation. Two movies I’ve recently had the privilege to see are “Contagion” and “Outbreak,” both following doctors and scientists trying to find a cure and prevent the spread of an infectious disease.

‘Contagion’ (2011)

Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) talks on the phone with someone amidst her research to understand the source of the flu-like disease spreading throughout the world. The movie “Contagion” is available on Amazon Prime and Hulu.

“Contagion” begins when Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns to Minnesota from a business trip in Hong Kong, only to realize she had contracted an unknown illness similar to the flu that she’d also spread to her son and several others around the globe. The story then branches off to follow several different characters, all combating the disease differently and addressing worldwide paranoia. This includes Beth’s husband, Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) and his daughter Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron), Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet) and blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law), as well as several other different doctors and scientists. As the disease continues to spread, people struggle to remain calm and crime rates continue to increase. I found the portrayal of the symptoms of the illness to be believable. However, it became confusing to follow the story with several different scenes occurring in different states across America and throughout the world, especially because some of the stories didn’t connect in any way. This movie almost captures our current pandemic situation, with scientists rushing to find a vaccine and understand the cause of the disease, as well as the announcement of schools being cancelled and emphasizing the need for social distancing. However, the crazy panic and widespread crime rates in the movie don’t quite mirror our current situation.

You can find this movie on both Amazon Prime and Hulu.

“Contagion”: ★★★☆☆


‘Outbreak’ (1995) 

Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) wears a hazmat suit to avoid catching the deadly airborne disease spreading around the world. The movie “Outbreak” is available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu.

“Outbreak” follows the rise of a dangerous airborne hemorrhagic fever virus with a 100% mortality rate, where those infected usually die in a day or two. The disease begins to spread when Betsy, a white-headed capuchin monkey, and the host of the disease, is smuggled into the United States from Africa. Jimbo Scott (Patrick Dempsey), attempts to sell Betsy on the black market and when he fails, he sets Betsy free in California. However, the disease had already spread and was in the process of infecting a small town called Cedar Creek. The story then follows the lives of a divorced couple, Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) and Robby Keough (Rene Russo) as they attempt to treat patients and find both Betsy and a vaccine before the military can contain the virus by bombing the town. The movie did carry some gore, as the makeup and special effects truly encompassed the severity of those demonstrating the effects of hemorrhagic fever. Although the plot could’ve left any viewer on the edge of their seat with the anticipation of finding a cure and constant fear of the town being bombed, the storyline wasn’t very believable and didn’t quite relate to our current society. With the disease being far more fatal than COVID-19, not actually being labeled as a pandemic and the idea of bombing a town as a way of containment, we can’t fully relate. However, the fear seen worldwide due to the potential for a pandemic can reflect some of the feelings expressed by our society toward the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak.

You can find this movie on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu.

“Outbreak”: ★★★★☆