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The 5 Best and 5 Worst Movies About Contagious Viruses

While some notable improvements in global health have been achieved in the past year, communicable diseases remain a deadly killer throughout the world. HIV continues to afflict large portions of the developing world, and the rate of infection has actually increased in 74 countries. Other diseases, such as malaria, ebola, and dengue, are responsible for millions of deaths each year.

In an effort to relieve you from some the world's dire realities, we bring to you one of modernity’s most pressing new film categories: the viral outbreak movie.

These directors have taken on the unknown, producing movies that imagine all the ways the human race will bring about its own extinction. We’ve broken down the genre by best and worst, ranking the must-sees alongside the fails that, forgive the pun, are simply unsurvivable events.


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1. 'I Am Legend'

Will Smith tops our list with an eye-catching performance in "I Am Legend." His character, Robert Neville, is alone in a deserted New York City, the only survivor of a cancer-cure-turned virus. Smith puts in an unforgettable partnership alongside his only companion: Sam, a labrador given to him by his daughter. Let’s hope NYC will never look like this, but for a couple hours on the screen, it is 100% worth the watch.

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2. 'Shaun of the Dead'

Humor and terror brew the perfect storm when a zombie virus takes suburban London. While Shaun’s life is falling apart, so, too, is the world around him. Simon Pegg’s 2004 debut film is perfect if you want to be transported to a bleak, apocalyptic future but still have a laugh throughout.

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3. '28 Days Later'

14 years later, we’re still talking about this movie. After a group of animal rights activists free a monkey infected with the “Rage” virus, Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes from a coma and begins a journey running from the zombie-like victims of the Rage. It’s smart, tough, and scary enough to make you shriek.            

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4. 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes'

In this 2014 addition to the Planet of the Apes franchise, the world is recovering from the catastrophic Simian Flu, which has almost entirely wiped out civilization. It’s few remaining inhabitants — a small colony in Northern California — are the last survivors. That is, if you don’t count the colony of genetically enhanced apes that live directly on top of San Francisco’s only hydro-electric supply. This remake deeply explores what it would be like if society really, really, couldn’t handle the outbreak of a massive epidemic. But since we’re informed Global Citizens who know how to properly wash our hands, that won’t ever be a problem, right?

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5. '12 Monkeys'

No list of viral contagion movies would be complete without the iconic "12 Monkeys." Seriously. We’re not kidding. "12 Monkeys" combines time-travel, crazy dream sequences, and an occult, underground army to take an apocalyptic reality to the very edge of believability. Think "Inception" meets "Shutter Island," and let your imagination run wild.


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1. 'World War Z'

Besides the somewhat creative title, Brad Pitt is the only good thing about this flick. His character, United Nations employee Gerry Lane, attempts to stop the zombie pandemic that threatens to destroy humanity. Two hours and several zombie piles later, unfortunately, the only thing that ends up getting destroyed is your night after you sitting through this film.

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2. 'The Happening'

The film opens in New York City’s Central Park with people committing mass suicide in what is at first explained as a bio-terrorist attack. Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg), his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and his colleague Julian (John Leguizamo) run around for two hours trying to make sense of the “invisible killer,” which ostensibly serves as an allegory for environmental damage. Unfortunately, most of the message is lost on confused audiences.

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3. 'Pandemic' 

"Pandemic" is a three-hour TV movie that appeared on the Hallmark Channel in 2007. Case closed. Everything is bad about this movie. It follows an epidemiologist and an FBI agent attempting to stop the spread of avian bird flu in a suddenly apocalyptic Los Angeles. The characters are flat clichés, the acting is overdone, and the plot is at once convoluted and uncomplicated. Hallmark Channel should probably avoid the horror/drama genre and stick with what it does best: Christmas movies.

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4. 'Cabin Fever'

Cabin Fever is the first film of the horror trilogy nobody asked for. Five recent college grads, a cabin in the woods, a flesh-eating virus, and unhappy locals. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, apparently. The movie is not scary enough to be a horror flick and not funny enough to be a comedy, so it languishes somewhere in between. Needless to say, we weren’t ecstatic to hear about the 2016 remake.

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5. 'Shivers'

NSFW. To put it bluntly, this is a movie about a sexually transmitted virus. An STD designed by a creepy, lonely scientist plagues a suburban apartment complex. The Canadian directors of this film eventually decided on “Shivers” as a title, but not before originally naming it “Orgy of the Blood Parasites,” which is admittedly a more apt title for this viral thriller. Replete with 1970s innuendo that will probably make your parents more uncomfortable than you, this film follows a jarringly chaotic structure and is far more likely to depress than to scare.