Hollywood Does Viruses

An internet search I did a few days back using the term ‘Hollywood virus movies’ brought up a list of no less than 91 films. Dating back to 1957’s THE SEVENTH SEAL (directed by Ingmar Bergman), the index included such notable titles as THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971), I AM LEGEND (2007), RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011) and the entire RESIDENT EVIL (2000 – 2017) series comprising six live action and four animated releases.

A catalog as voluminous and spread out (pardon the expression) as that amounts to nothing less than a whole film sub-genre. It tells me the ready-made drama inherent in plague outbreak / plague containment / search for a vaccine scenarios is a formula long attractive to movie audiences; audiences up for experiencing safe, vicarious thrills from the comfort of a cuptray-equipped leather lounge chair. Living through the real thing, as we can all currently attest, is quite another thing altogether.

This post, maybe SWS‘s best chance ever of finally going viral, will spotlight two ‘deadly pathogen’ movies from that long list – 1995’s OUTBREAK and 2011’s CONTAGION.

OUTBREAK (1995) was based on the 1994 non-fiction book THE HOT ZONE about the Ebola virus. Produced on a budget of $50 million, the film made $190 million at the box office and featured an ensemble all-star cast, including Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Rene Russo, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Director Wolfgang Petersen’s (THE NEVER ENDING STORYAIR FORCE ONE – THE PERFECT STORM) thriller follows the ‘career’ of a microscopic bug – the film’s super-villain if you will – that kills humans within 24 hours of exposure by liquefying the internal organs.

OUTBREAK opens 28 years ago, in Africa, as American doctors descend on a small village that has been wiped out by a deadly new plague. They promise relief but send instead a single airplane that incinerates the village with a firebomb. The implication is that the microbe is too deadly to deal with any other way.

However, nearly three decades later, fresh hosts for the deadly super-bug are found when Betsy, a white-headed Capuchin monkey infected with the virus, is smuggled from Africa into the United States. The scene included below, featuring first-rate monkey acting, shows an attempt to kill the primate after it has been confirmed as a carrier.

OUTBREAK received solid, bordering on mixed reviews at the time of it’s original release. In a case of real life mirroring (pre-digital) reel life, the African nation of Zaire was in the grip of an actual Ebola outbreak when the film debuted in theatres.

Among the movie’s more famous scenes is the ‘airborne droplets’ sequence set in a cinema. Cheesy acting it may be but surely this is just the kind of entertainment needed right now to keep our minds off the current issue worrying us all…

Contagion (2011)

CONTAGION (2011) cost $60 million to make and earned back $137 million at the box office. As part of script development for the film, writer Scott Burns consulted with American epidemiologist Larry Brilliant (name not made up!) – renown for his work in eradicating smallpox – to help develop an accurate perception of a pandemic event.

CONTAGION featured an all-star ensemble cast of actors including Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet and one of my favourite actors from the 1970’s, Elliot Gould.

The plot concerns the spread of a virus that makes it’s way into the human population when a bulldozer knocks down a banana tree in a rainforest in China, disturbing some bats. One bat finds shelter in a pig farm and drops a piece of banana, which is eaten by a pig. The pig is slaughtered and prepared by a chef in a Macau casino, who shakes hands with Gwyneth Paltrow‘s character, transmitting the virus to her.

The film was well received by parts of the scientific community who lauded the movie for its accuracy. Interestingly, Jude Law’s character is a popular blogger with conspiracy theories about the government’s ties with drug companies. OUTBREAK (1995) similarly featured glimpses of a deep conspiracy, theirs involving a sinister army general played by Donald Sutherland and the army’s reluctance to widely distribute a vaccine. 

Unsurprisingly, it comes as no surprise (you like that?) someone has made a video comparing director Steven Sodenbergh’s movie to our current agent of chaos COVID-19

Our present – what used to go by the name of comfort zones – may indeed be flooded with pepper spray and bad ju ju, but if it’s brightsiding you crave then you’ve come to the right place.

The current death toll from CORONAVIRUS has now surpassed 100 000 people but a little under 700 years ago a pandemic – known by various names including Bubonic Plague and Black Death and spread by fleas carried by rodents – resulted in an estimated 200 MILLION deaths across Europe and the Middle East.

Feeling comparatively a teensy better now? No? Then howz about trying something new… like… oh, I don’t know… maybe a new word for instance? I picked this one up just the other day and took an immediate shine to it. ‘Zoonotic’ isn’t the strangest word that’s rolled off anyone’s tongue but any batch of joined letters with a ‘z’ sound comes with a built-in weirdness quotient so let’s accept that. This word’s a classic case in point.

The term zoonotic is used to refer to diseases and viruses able to be transmitted between animals and people. The source of COVID 19 is thought to have originated from one of the usual animal suspects, bats, but been transferred to the human population via an intermediary animal such as a snake, turtle or pangolin.

The smart money for a chief go-between faciltator is apparently currently on turtles – referred to as “virus reservoirs” capable of carrying dozens of diseases simultaneously – since these were more commonly traded in the live animal market in Wuhan, China where the virus has been pinpointed as originating.

Did someone say infographic?

Check this out – the animal origins of major viruses dating back the last 50 or so years –

And now I’m done beating up on the animals who’ve been beating up on us, to the question – “What’s been my experience like of this whole bucknutty, cocoa-bananas self isolation saga?”

I’ll respond using just two words; two words that happen to be the title of a well-known deadly virus film series –

Ps. You really do owe yourself at least one virus-flavoured bonus read, agreed? Try THIS ONE. It’s funny.

Pss. Why settle for just one bonus when you can have two? Take a leaf out of William Shakespeare’s book and find out how he coped with lockdown during the Bubonic plague HERE.

Psss. You like writing, right? All types of writing, right? The sky’s the limit, right? If you answered ‘Yes’ to any or all of those barely-disguised baiting questions, GO HERE.

Pssss. Naming your new-born baby after a virus? Who’d do that? Only THESE PEOPLE!

19 thoughts on “Hollywood Does Viruses

  1. “safe, vicarious thrills from the comfort of a cuptray-equipped leather lounge chair” is a nice snappy summary of the appeal of just about all of horror, not just the contagion subgenre

    Aside from the mentioned cabin fever, are you otherwise hanging in?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a school teacher by trade so my current ‘holidays’ right now is being spent preparing and stockpiling lessons to be taught remotely to my class of Brisbane (Australia) based eleven-year-olds from April 20th onwards.


  3. Holy crap! I. Totally. Remember. The. Airborne. Droplets. Scene. From. Outbreak ! ! !
    It’s like it was yesterday! Only it wasn’t! Why did that scene stick out so much and now it’s become famous?! Because we followed the droplets as they left someone’s mouth on a journey across a room and up into a vent and then….wherever the hell they ended up–probably in someone else’s face. I don’t remember much after that. WOW.

    Hey, can you imagine a deadly virus breaking out in Australia or the U.S. and some healthcare experts come and examine the scene, shake hands with us (or elbows) then leave and the next thing you know we’re being bombed out of existence? Ha. Of course not. Only in Africa. We hated Outbreak. It was ridiculous! Contagion hit a lot closer to home.

    Zoonotic. Favorite word of the day.
    Interesting that camels once were in on the “epidemic” scenario. Never would have thought that.

    As for people who name their kids after viruses: I bet the majority of them live in L.A.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Speaking of shaking hands, one of the most off-kilter things I’ve borne witness to during this whole ding-bat (bats being the originators of Coronavirus) saga occured three weeks ago in Australia when the National Rugby League (football) teams played their last match before the whole competition got cancelled.

    During that final round of matches players were banned from shaking hands with each other at the conclusion of games. This, despite the previous 80 minutes having consisted of tackling, bodyslamming and driving each other into the ground then rolling over the top of each other as they wrestled with each other in what is a full body contact sport.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad someone can confirm my sense-o-meter was rightly pinging.
      Btw, your quip about betting a good portion of the moon-bat nutters who are naming their newborn babies after the corona virus (Pandemia, Corona, Sanitizier and plain ‘ol Cora to name but a few variants) come from L.A. was a mirth-evoking moment up there with some of your past finest.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hahaha. Thanks. LA. Home to the nuts and flakes.

        BTW…I couldn’t believe how long the Cabin Fever movies have been going on. Since the early 2000s???!!!!

        Speaking of which…..how ARE your assignment plans going for the kids? Any unforeseen inspiration arising, or is it all inspired?

        Liked by 1 person

      • The school I’m a Year 6 teacher at has decided we will be using the app SEESAW as the delivery platform for home schooling lessons.

        School is due to recommence on April 20th but an announcement from our Education Department is still two days away as to what that will look like. It will either be everyone will return on April 20 to classrooms, no one will return to classrooms and remote learning and teaching will commence from that date or some type of hybrid combination of those two very different scenarios will be the order of the day.

        It’s all wait and see at present.
        In the meantime, electronic lessons have to be prepared and recorded by teachers on holiday, ready to go, in case we go down that track.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for the read, Glen.

    I do remember watching the movie ‘Outbreak’ only because I was a big fan of Dustin Hoffman and his performance in ‘Rain Man.’ I’ve put this performance at the same level as Al Pacino in ‘Scent of a Woman’ and Heath Ledger in ‘The Dark Knight.’ It’s when an actor is ‘on’ the same as when a rugby league player or musician has a golden night (everything they touch turns to gold – lyrics from a song).

    It doesn’t happen often but when it does its special.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pacino has been ‘on’ in so many movies – don’t get me started.
    Actually, too late – I’m activated.
    Three of my favorite performances from Pacino have been – DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975) – ANY GIVEN SUNDAY (1999) – and INSOMNIA (2002).

    As to Al in HEAT (1997) – have you got a few spare hours to hear me explain how sublimely magnificent he was in that?
    Then just take my word for it.


  7. I forget to mention Russell Crowe in ‘Gladiator’ and Joaquin Phoenix in ‘Walk the Line.’ I call these ‘timeless performances’ because it doesn’t matter when you watch them, they will knock your socks off. It’s like the album ‘Nevermind’ by Nirvava – timeless. They raise the bar in their respected industries!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh of course the plague! At first I couldn’t remember a virus in the The Seventh Seal. Superb film. Need to see that again. Haha how brilliant to use it in Bill and Ted. Genius levels. Anyhow…..

    The Andromeda Strain is probably my favorite. You should of got this post out beginning of March. Apparently everyone went Contagion crazy trying to find it to watch. Yeah and like you say! We now living it. Luckily in the safeness of our own homes…. for now!!!

    I did really like Outbreak when I first saw it. Haven’t seen it since. Also haven’t watched Contagion yet but I see Netflix in UK snapped it up this week.
    Like all the box office figures you have added. They both did really well!
    I kind of think I should go watch Contagion! I guess if I wear the gloves, mask and face shield and keep a 2 meters distance from the screen I might be alright. But first I’ll just lick this chocolate sauce I just dropped off the mouse before I use it! DOH?!!!

    Great article buddy. Fun read with added death!

    ps the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu infected rates could of been nearer a billion not a million. Scary!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve been thinking of updating SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK’s slogan to make it a little more in keeping with COVID -19 times and in “Fun read with added death” you’ve offered up a strong contender. Thank you Mikey!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Scenic Writer’s Covid Bunker?
    I think, given time, that could just grow on me.
    Oooops! Wait a minute.
    Covid? Growing on me? Covid-19?
    Er… better rephrase that… I could start to like the sound of that!


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