“Trust me, it could be worse.”
I’ve said those words a fair bit these last few weeks. I’m sure many of us have, and if we haven’t said them, we’ve certainly thought them. But the time that I uttered that sentiment that sticks out in my mind the most wasn’t about the current state of our lives in a global pandemic. At least not directly. No, on that occasion I was talking about movies. More specifically I was talking about how much more difficult it would have been to get through this mess if it had happened ten years ago, before Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Netflix ever dreamed of streaming into your living room. If a pandemic had struck back then your friendly neighbourhood video store would have been deemed as essential to stay open as the grocery store is. At a place like Allan’s Video, $7 used to get you 7 movies for 7 days. Now $7 and change gets you thousands of movies a month, all at your fingertips, the press of a button.
And that got me to thinking: if I only had that video store, if I only had $7 in my pocket and 7+ days of pandemic-induced isolation ahead of me, what movies would I pick? I don’t know about you, but I often gravitate toward subject matter that reflects the current state of things. Yes, there’s the obvious – Christmas movies during the silly season, scary movies at Halloween, romance during Valentines, etc. But I also watch an embarrassing amount of shark movies during the summer, and all the Harry Potter’s in November. What? It’s a season. It’s its own thing, okay. I don’t have to explain it. You all know it’s true.
So here goes – in order of release – the seven best pandemic movies to watch during a pandemic, if for no other reason than to remind you that things could always be worse. In fact, I’ve rated them all in terms of just how much worse things are in the movies compared to real life. Trust me.
So, this movie. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about the monkey from Friends who brings a deadly virus to America – an event that, in record time, brings the US to the brink of annihilating the infected with extreme prejudice before the tag team of Oscar winners Dustin Hoffman and Cuba Gooding Jr. convince them otherwise in a helicopter standoff finale. Reading that sentence makes me wonder if I dreamt this movie in a fever state. Nope, it’s pretty accurate. Go watch it. Everything is cranked all the way up – especially the acting – in the way only 90’s action movies can. Could Be Worse rating: a lot of people get sick and many die, but humanity lives on to learn from their mistakes…right? – 6/10
12 Monkeys (1995)
This mind-bending time-traveling thriller is as manic and fascinating as its two main characters, played by Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. Willis is a prisoner sent back through time to stop a viral pandemic from happening and Pitt is an institutionalized something-or-other who may have been behind it all. You know, I really need to watch this again. And so should you. It’s as good as it is hard to describe. Could Be Worse rating: Oh, honey, it don’t get worse than this. The only reason you should be resorting to sending Bruce Willis back in time is so he can make good movies again. Bleak. – 9/10
28 Days Later (2003)
Shot on video, it looks so low budget your HDTV will want to slap you. It’s also really, really British, but this pandemic movie gave us terrifyingly fast zombies that would inspire a sub-genre all their own, grim social commentary and most importantly: the ever-watchable Cillian Murphy. Enough said. Could Be Worse rating: Billions die, most of the survivors are horrible and the rest live in fear. I’d say we’re doing okay so far. 8/10
I Am Legend (2007)
A virus wipes out everyone on earth except Will Smith. Or has it? He spends his nights fighting off memories of his dead family, cabin fever and the living dead. But by day, all is forgiven as he focuses his energy into finding a cure for them. You know, come to think of it, I feel like that’s exactly what Will Smith WOULD do. However, be warned: it’s surprisingly grim for a Will Smith movie, but well made and entertaining. Could Be Worse rating: An earlier adaptation of this story was called The Last Man On Earth. You worry about a toilet paper shortage? The only thing worse Will Smith ever faced was Wild Wild West. – 9/10
World War Z (2013)
A rabies-like virus spreads from Asia to the rest of the world in record time, sending Brad Pitt running from an army of impossibly fast zombies while searching for a cure. Like, running everywhere. Up a building, over a wall, in an airplane, on a bicycle. This movie is relentless. So much so that they re-shot the ending to slow the story down. It’s also a helluva lot of fun. Could Be Worse rating: the rampaging zombies are equal part scary and silly, falling somewhere between the goblin horde of The Fellowship of the Ring and the shopper stampedes of Jingle all the Way. Either way, you’re doomed. 7/10
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Like several movies on this list, the virus here is created in a laboratory through animal testing. While most of humanity is killed off, primates flourish, gaining human intelligence and the viewer’s sympathy. It’s the start of one of the best trilogies in film, with a motion-capture performance by Andy Serkis that should have gotten an Oscar nomination, and John Lithgow continuing to chew as much scenery as his limited screen time will allow. Could Be Worse rating: You really need to see the other two films to see the full impact on humanity, but this one gets the ball rolling. Many die, apes take over, James Franco is to blame. See, things can always be worse. 7/10
A bat virus spreads across the world from a meat market in China, infectious disease experts race to find a cure, families self-isolate to flatten the curve and a narcissistic conspiracy-peddling moron spreads fear and falsehoods through social media. It reads like 2020’s personal Facebook status, but it’s actually the plot of this ultra-realistic thriller. It can be uncomfortable viewing at times, but you’ll come out of it with a clearer understanding of how this all happened and where it could lead if we aren’t careful. Could Be Worse rating: Don’t get too attached to the many stars in this flick as the virus is far more deadly than what we are facing now. 5/10
So, there you have it. There are plenty more movies that could be on this list, but these are a good start. I guarantee by the end you’ll agree: things could be a lot worse. Maybe then you’ll be ready to move on to movies about quarantine. But that’s a whole other list for another time.
Enjoy. And the best part is: no late charges and no rewind fees. Talk about a plague on humanity…