Best Movies About Viruses and Pandemics

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

It’s not quite life imitating art, but given the impact of COVID-19 on the world, the spate of movies depicting the often apocalyptic outcomes of a viral outbreak on humanity has a certain prescience to it.

To determine the best movies about viruses and pandemics, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of March 2023, weighting all ratings equally. Only movies whose themes concern virus outbreaks or the aftermath of a pandemic were considered. Documentaries were excluded. Directorial  and cast credits are from IMDb.

Pandemic-themed motion pictures became box-office staples in the 21st century, with 15 movies making our list, all of them released before the pandemic. But viral outbreaks have been a part of Hollywood plotlines for decades. Our list includes two films from the 1930s that feature bubonic plague and yellow fever as part of the overall story, as well as one from 1950 in which the villain is pneumonic plague. (These are the worst epidemics and pandemics in history.)

Viruses that turn humans into flesh-chomping zombies as a plot device have been a box-office winner since at least 1968, when George A. Romero unleashed his canny social commentary “Night of the Living Dead.” (These are the best zombie movies of all time, according to data.)

Pandemic-themed motion pictures became box-office staples in the 21st century, with 15 movies made after 2000 making our list – all of them released before the advent of the pandemic. Though there have been countless movies dealing in whole or in part with COVID-19, thus far none have scored highly enough to be included here.

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