Ranking Pandemic Horror Movies From Least to Most Realistic

With the whole world in a state of quarantine-induced anxiety, many are turning to watching movies about pandemics as a source of catharsis.

Horror films in particular have always done a great job of taking that which we fear, and running with it to its most extreme point. Because of this, there is no shortage of films dealing with viral outbreaks and pandemics that people can’t stop consuming now.

So in the interest of making us all feel better by confronting our fears directly, we’re going to look at 11 pandemic movies (mostly horror), ranked from least likely to most likely to come true.

Disclaimer: This is a just a fun thought experiment from a horror fan with way too much free time (especially during this quarantine). For actual, legitimate information about the Coronavirus Pandemic, please visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO).

Not At All Likely

11. George A. Romero’s Dead Franchise
Whether it’s the original Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, or Survival of the Dead, George A. Romero’s beloved franchise didn’t deal with a viral pandemic at all.

Rather, these were merely corpses rising from their graves, and thus they were truly undead rather than infected people. And the same goes for any other “zombie” movie in which the zombies are reanimated corpses.

10. Andromeda Strain
In Michael Crichton’s first novel and first movie adaptation, we see a virus from space with a nearly 100% mortality rate as it arrives in a small isolated town in the desert. It has very little in common with what’s happening now, especially when it comes to government response.

Many have been quick to criticize how different governments handled our current pandemic, and it’s a far cry from the state of the art, containment facility The Andromeda Strain shows us.

9. 28 Days/Weeks Later
While it’s debatable whether or not this duo of British post-apocalyptic horror movies qualify for the “zombie” genre, they were definitely pioneers in the “infected” subgenre.

In addition, they were the first in which the afflicted were able to run at full speed, something that Zack Snyder would borrow in his 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake. All that said, the rage virus is very much unlike what we’re facing now for several key reasons.

Firstly, that was strictly a blood borne pathogen, only transmittable via bodily fluids, and its incubation period was only a matter of seconds.

This made it very easy for the rest of the world to quarantine Great Britain. Unfortunately, we’ve had no such luck containing COVID-19, but fortunately it’s nowhere near as deadly as rage, which can only be described as rabies on steroids!

8. I Am Legend
Similar to 28 Days Later, I Am Legend shows us the bleak world that awaits very few survivors if the virus spreads too much.

Obviously COVID-19 isn’t turning anyone into photosensitive, monstrous creatures (at least not yet), but one aspect this film demonstrates perfectly is how a virus can easily mutate and change the game entirely.

What was hailed as a miracle treatment for cancer wound up dooming the world. Just like in real life a novel coronavirus that had existed in animals for years, randomly mutated and made the leap to humans. The unpredictability of nature can be truly terrifying!

7. Outbreak
Having recently celebrate its 25th anniversary, Outbreak has been a go to film in terms of portraying a viral pandemic would look like. However, it has some notable differences from our current predicament.

The film’s virus, Motaba is much more similar to Ebola in terms of symptoms and how it is spread. Its incubation period was relatively short, and therefore it was easier to contain to one small town in northern California.

That, along with all the awesome 90’s cheesiness, makes this film an enjoyable watch, but not a very realistic portrait.

6. World War Z

Again, these are technically “zombies”, but it’s fascinating to watch Brad Pitt go around the world trying to find answers to the pandemic. One thing it accurately predicted was the extreme measures North Korea would go to prevent the disease.

In the film, we learn that Kim Jong Il ordered every citizen’s teeth to be removed so no one could bite each other. And not to be outmatched in real life Kim Jong Un allegedly ordered the one North Korean with Coronavirus to be shot and cremated immediately.

The story’s final resolution of using mildly sick people to be invisible to the zombies is also a very interesting metaphor for how vaccines work.

5. The Crazies
George A. Romero’s other iconic national disaster film is a bit more plausible than his zombie ones. The symptoms of this virus were certainly more behavioral than COVID-19, but this film strikes a particular nerve when we see how fear and anxiety can cause society to break down.

While we aren’t quite at that point yet (as of the date of publishing), The Crazies shows us what happens when rioting occurs and the need for military involvement is warranted. It’s a frightening and foreboding reminder of just how bad things could get.

Somewhat Likely

4. The Stand
Stephen King’s “Lord of the Rings” epic begins with an eerily similar situation to our own. “Captain Tribbs”, a flulike virus ravages the world and wipes out the vast majority of people.

Now of course, this is all just a setup for the conflict between Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg. But we remove the supernatural element, the first part of this miniseries hits a little too close to home right now.

It seems like either cruel irony or grim prophecy that the CBS All Access remake is scheduled for release this year!

3. Rise of the Planet of the ApesNot the first movie people think of on this topic, Rise of the Planet of the Apes shows us a novel virus that starts with an animal.

The end credits shows us a montage of the virus spreading all over the world in a manner very similar to what happened in real life. Then in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, we see people surviving in a colony, without electricity or any modern day conveniences.

Frighteningly Plausible

2. It Comes At Night
For anyone currently living in isolation at home, which is the majority of people, It Comes At Night doesn’t even feel like a work of fiction. We see a family practicing self-quarantine, and an immense fear of any other people coming near them or their house.

1. Contagion
This may not be a horror movie, but it’s absolutely the most terrifying film on this list. Whereas Outbreak is the fun, but cheesy 90’s version of a pandemic movie, Contagion is the bleak, gritty movie that almost feels like a documentary today.

A flulike virus starts in China, and makes its way throughout the world, while people are forced to self-quarantine for months and many die. This is both a summary for this film, and a tragic reality that we’re living in.

We also see the sad reality of healthcare workers near the virus getting it with Kate Winslet’s character.

Essentially the only different between this film and real life is that the MEV-1 virus of Contagion had a 25% mortality rate, and right now the COVID-19 is closer to 1-3%. To be honest, it feels like this movie is already happening.

These are certainly scary and uncertain times, but horror films provide a great distraction, and can be a great way to pass the time when quarantined for weeks or months. What movies are you watching to keep busy? Let us know in the comments below.

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