Earlier this week, the World Health Organization finally labeled the current coronavirus outbreak as a global pandemic. As a result, more and more people are staying at home. Some are sick with this virus, while others are just minimizing their contact with the outside world in an attempt to keep healthy. That may last for weeks or even months. As a result, many of them are turning to streaming services to pass the time. Ironically, pandemic movies and TV shows are becoming more popular on those services.
So, if you are at home, and want to see some entertaining fictional depictions of a massive virus outbreak, which ones should you watch? Here are our picks for the best pandemic movies and TV shows plus a few honorable mentions. All of them are available via Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime Video (some of them you might have to rent or buy)
Best pandemic movies and TV shows
1. The Andromeda Strain (Rent or buy via Amazon Video)
The 1971 movie, based on the novel by Michael Crichton, was one of the first modern-day pandemic movies. True, the virus at the center of the story comes from outer space. A satellite, which gets contaminated by an alien organism, crash lands in a small desert town in Nevada. It kills off almost everyone in the town. The rest of the movie is a race to contain and destroy the virus by a team of researchers. It’s a bit old fashioned but some of the scenes seem very timely right now.
2. Night of the Living Dead (Free with Amazon Prime Video)
Director George A. Romero’s 1968 horror movie became the cornerstone for all other zombie films that followed. No longer were zombies supernatural creatures, but human beings who were raised from the dead, either by radiation from a satellite or via a bite from another zombie. It pretty much transformed the entire horror genre, and is yet another example of an early example of pandemic movies.
3. 28 Days Later (Free with Hulu)
When is a zombie movie not a zombie movie? The answer is this 2002 film, written by Alex Garland and directed by Danny Boyle. A virus created in a lab spreads into the UK population. It causes massive rage in a person seconds after they get hit with one drop of infected blood. 28 days after the outbreak, the entire country is nearly wiped out, and a small group of survivors have to navigate through the chaos.
4. Resident Evil movie series (Rent or Buy via Amazon Video)
The same year as 28 Days Later, we got this more over-the-top entry in our pandemic movies list. Based (a bit loosely) on the Capcom game series, the movie depicts how the T-virus infects a secret lab of the sinister Umbrella Corporation. A military team is sent in to find out what happened, with some predictable results. The first movie is available to rent or buy via Amazon Video. Netflix has the next three movies in this series, Apocalypse, Extinction, and Afterlife. The final two films, Retribution, and The Final Chapter are available to rent or buy on Amazon Video.
5. Outbreak (Free via Netflix)
This 1995 film is currently the 6th most popular movie to stream on Netflix. It’s easy to see why. In Africa, someone picks up the wrong monkey and brings it to the US. That monkey happens to have a highly lethal virus that could wipe out the entire country, and maybe the world. Dustin Hoffman leads an all-star cast as a scientist who leads the team to combat this possible pandemic.
6. Contagion (Rent or Buy via Amazon Video)
Over a decade after Outbreak hit theaters, director Steven Soderberg brought us perhaps the most realistic look at what a massive pandemic might look like. Another all-star cast, including Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Winslet, play characters who have to deal with this outbreak of an airborne virus that is both highly contagious and very lethal. It’s by far the best of the more realistic pandemic movies.
7. Containment (Free via Netflix)
This short one-season series, originally broadcast on the CW Network, now seems very timely. A virus with a 100 percent death rate gets out in Atlanta, and the government decides to completely contain and cut off a large section of the city to avoid a massive outbreak.
8. The Hot Zone (Rent or Buy via Amazon Video)
This National Geographic six-part limited series is a somewhat fictionalized look at the very real 1989 outbreak of the Ebola virus. Julianna Margulies is the lead in this series, which shows how close we got to having this deadly virus get out into the major population.
9, The Strain
This FX series combines a pandemic TV show with vampire legends. Co-created by Guillermo del Toro, it begins with a airline flight that arrives on the tarmac at JFKA Airport with nearly everyone on board dead. Things get worse, much worse, from there. The series lasted four seasons and definitely has a more gothic look and feel compared to regular pandemic movies and TV shows, while still being highly entertaining.
10. Carriers (Free via Netflix)
Before he was James T. Kirk, Chris Pine made this 2009 film that mostly takes place after an avian flu-like pandemic that has wiped out most of humanity. Pine and a small number of survivors travel across the US and try to avoid being infected by other carriers.
11. The Last Ship (Free via Hulu)
Want some action in your pandemic TV shows? The TNT series The Last Ship is one you should watch. A US Navy destroyer and its crew is at the center of this five-season series. They discover that the rest of the world has been hit with a virus that has killed off the majority of the population. The crew has to stay alive so they can help scientists find a cure to save the rest of the human race.
12. The Omega Man (Rent or buy via Amazon Video)
We are back to the classics with this 1971 thriller. A plague caused by biological warfare wipes out most of the human, Charlton Heston’s character plays a scientist who decided to inject himself with an untried vaccine. The good news is it works. The bad news is that now he lives in a world that is nearly empty, except for mutated plague victims that come out at night to attack him. This movie is based on the 1954 novel I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Will Smith later starred in another movie adaptation in 2007 that retained the novel’s title.
Here’s a look at some of the other pandemic movies and TV shows you can stream that didn’t make the big list:
- Dawn of the Dead – This 2004 remake of the George Romero zombie epic is notable for being one of the first movies with the “fast zombies” theme.
- World War Z – A big-budget zombie action epic, this 2013 film starring Brad Pitt gets more serious in the final third as he tries to develop a treatment for the undead pandemic.
- The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead – If you are stuck at home, perhaps its time to watch (or in many cases rewatch) the zombie pandemic TV franchise that hit the mainstream.
- Z Nation and Black Summer – Two more zombie series are available on Netflix. Z Nation is a bit more humorous and satiric, while its prequel Black Summer is much more series.
- Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak – This Netflix documentary series on the real efforts by scientists to fight pandemics dropped in early 2020. Watching this series now seems almost quaint but it still has a lot of great info.
- Shawn of the Dead – Want some laughs with your zombie pandemic? Direct Edger Wright brought us the best zombie comedy, and perhaps the best horror comedy ever, in 2004.