Don’t fear the reaper
Coronavirus panic is sweeping the world, and as you stock your hermetically sealed survival bunker, don’t forget to save room for your TV. You’ll need entertainment while you ride out the coming biological holocaust, and these movies are the perfect accompaniment.
The Omega Man (1971)
Let’s start with the obvious choice.
If The Omega Man looks a bit familiar, it should. The second big screen version of Richard Matheson’s novella I Am Legend (trivia buffs know that Vincent Price starred in the first), The Omega Man is pretty much the same movie as the Will Smith version: a plague caused by biological warfare between the U.S and Russia wipes out most of humanity, leaving a bunch of vampire-like mutants and one lone scientist looking for a cure. Chuck Heston did two things, and did them well: playing bombastic Biblical heroes, and playing bombastic survivors of human extinction-level events. “THERE IS NO PHONE RINGING, DAMMIT!!!” is right up there with “SOYLENT GREEN IS MADE OUT OF PEOPLE!!! IT’S PEEEEEEEEEEOPLE!!!”
28 Days Later (2002)
Only slightly less ridiculous is 28 Days Later. I side with the Zombie Purists: 28 Days Later is NOT a Zombie Movie, because zombies are dead people who rise from the grave and eat the living. The plague that ravages humanity in this flick takes living people and turns them into very angry joggers.
As it turns out, there’s a whole Plague That Turns Regular Folk Into Homicidal Maniacs subgenre. 28 Weeks Later is the sequel to 28 Days Later, only memorable because it starred Jeremy Renner and Idris Elba. George Romero’s 1973 The Crazies has basically the same plot as the 28 movies; it was remade in 2010.
The Happening (2008)
Angry plants are the cause of humanity’s downfall in M. Night Shyamalan’s Mystery Science Theater classic-to-be The Happening. Pissed off at the way people are treating the world’s bees, the world’s plants release a viral pollen that causes people to kill themselves, sometimes in very creative ways.
Shyamalan has never adequately explained how the plants know that people are wiping out the bees or why he cast Mark Wahlberg as a science teacher.
An ebola-like virus is the culprit in Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak. Not content to just be about efforts to contain an outbreak of a new and deadly virus–which, you know, is scary enough–the movie goes exactly where you think it’s going to go when Donald Sutherland shows up as an Army general.
Outbreak becomes deeply silly, very quickly. On the flip side, fans of watching Kevin Spacey get what’s coming to him might enjoy it. (Spoiler Alert: he dies horribly.)
Fans of watching Gwyneth Paltrow suffer will enjoy Contagion. Praised by pandemic experts as a realistic take on how a global pandemic might unfold, the movie tracks the efforts of CDC and global health specialists as they desperately try to contain a really nasty supervirus. (Pours one out for Gwyneth.) Unlike the other films listed here, Contagion is grim to the point of being unwatchable. Millions of people die, there’s mass graves, the situation seems hopeless. It’s all pretty much this:
The Stand (1994)
Of all of the plague-centric movies out there, none has a place in America’s collective heart quite like The Stand. Adapted from Stephen King’s beloved first magnum opus, the first screen version of The Stand kicks off with a doozy of an opening scene.
The guy who died while playing Ping-Pong is my favorite. Before they die, hipsters name the government-grown disease Captain Trips. An escaping staffer carries it out of the lab, it quickly spreads around the world, and it kills just about everybody. That’s the first half of the story. The rest of it is some stuff about the Devil incarnate walking the earth and the few survivors who God chooses to battle him. Fans of the book tend to obsess over it, and generally hated the screen version. With one exception, Miguel Ferrer as the Devil’s pathetic evil sidekick Lloyd Henreid, the casting is truly weird. Mr. Hand from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High!” Lieutenant Dan! Molly Ringwald! And the guy who played Max Headroom, whose work here inspired at least one tribute.
CBS All Access is redoing The Stand. But apparently no one at CBS read my 28-page letter explaining in precise detail why Kyle Chandler IS Stu Redman.