Movies

15 'end of the world' movies to binge: 'Contagion', 'Outbreak' and more

05 April 2020 - 00:00 By
Matt Damon stars in Steven Soderbergh's dramatic thriller 'Contagion'.
Matt Damon stars in Steven Soderbergh's dramatic thriller 'Contagion'.
Image: Supplied

Things are getting stranger by the minute as we enter the second week of lockdown but it's all going to be OK, right? If it's not, the movies have you covered — the end of the world as we know it and what it might look like and how we will navigate it are questions filmmakers across genres have pondered for decades. 

We've made a list of classic, offbeat and provocative titles to watch your way through the pandemic:

THRILLERS

1. CONTAGION

What's it about: Steven Soderbergh's dramatic thriller kills off Gwyneth Paltrow early on before moving rapidly across the globe to examine the pressures and hard choices that the rest of its cast have to make in a swiftly upturned world beset by a deadly virus. It's a disaster movie that smartly places its focus on the struggles of ordinary people under the extraordinary circumstances brought about by a deadly airborne virus sweeping the planet. That's something we can relate to and the reason the film has enjoyed a huge swell in popularity.

Where to stream it: Available for rent on iTunes

WATCH | Trailer for 'Contagion'.

2. OUTBREAK

What's it about: Twenty-five years later and Wolfgang Petersen's thriller seems to have garnered a prescient relevance beyond the initial, thinly disguised Aids panic B-movie action pleasures it delivered back in 1995. It's still a classic in the genre in spite of some ill-advised soap-opera drama involving Dustin Hoffman's virologist and his estranged wife Rene Russo. It also inspired a generation of impressionable young science geeks to become epidemiologists — the action Jacksons of the medical profession who travel the world in hazmat suits chasing down deadly diseases before they can kill us all in more terrible ways than we could imagine.

Where to stream it: Available for rent on iTunes

WATCH | Trailer for 'Outbreak'.

3 THE CASSANDRA CROSSING 

What's it about: It's a ludicrous mishmash of biological terror and train action thriller but this 1976 disaster film about the dangers of biological research boasts a star-studded cast that includes Burt Lancaster, Sophia Loren, Richard Harris, Martin Sheen and method acting master teacher Lee Strasberg. Once again it's the pneumonic plague that's on the loose after a botched raid on the headquarters of the International Health Organisation in Geneva by Swedish — yes, Swedish — bioterrorists results in one of them landing up on an intercontinental train that's populated by a wild array of characters who must all get over themselves if their future and that of the human race is to be saved.

Where to stream it: YouTube

WATCH | Trailer for 'The Cassandra Crossing'.

4. PANIC IN THE STREETS

What's it about: Elia Kazan's 1950 film noir is a moody mystery true to the genre that manages to add a different layer to proceedings thanks to the smart idea of setting the story against the backdrop of the spread of a very nasty case of pneumonic plague threatening the city of New Orleans. Starring Richard Widmark and Jack Palance, it's a classy classic that also focuses on issues of xenophobia and class struggle, which the panic caused by the threat brings to the surface of the sweltering streets of the Paris of the South.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime

WATCH | Trailer for 'Panic in the Streets'.

HORROR/SCI-FI

5. THE SHINING 

What's it about: Stanley Kubrick's 1980 masterpiece is still one of the creepiest films ever made and a genius class in how to create fear through manipulation and tension. The narrative is ratcheted up to unbearable levels of anxiety by using techniques that imply rather than show. It's also, of course, a film about what happens when a nice, nuclear, American family decide to self-isolate for a couple of months in the middle of winter with no-one but each other for company.

Where to stream it: Netflix

WATCH | Clip from the 1980's 'The Shining'.

6. LAST MAN ON EARTH 

What's it about: The original 1964 adaptation of Richard Matthieson's novel I am Legend stars camp horror legend Vincent Price as the scientist survivor of a plague that's turned the world into vampires. It's still a classic and better than the Will Smith version, because of Price and its use of far lower-tech tricks to create the same but significantly creepier atmosphere of a world without anyone left.

Where to stream it: YouTube

WATCH | Trailer for 'Last Man on Earth'.

7. DAYBREAKERS 

What's it about: Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe star in this vampire action thriller full of gushing corpses and exploding kills. It's lowbrow but thoughtful enough end-of-the-world entertainment. It explores the race by the last surviving humans to overcome their vampire overlords who are looking for new sources of blood as the number of warm bodies available diminishes.

Where to stream it: Showmax

WATCH | Trailer for 'Daybreakers'.

8. TWELVE MONKEYS 

What's it about: Terry Gilliam's 1995 film takes its inspiration from Chris Marker's seminal 1962 short La Jetée in which a time traveller witnesses his own death. But Gilliam's film goes off on its own delirious and spiralling tangent to deal with global anxieties of disease, chaos and ecological destruction. It's also the story of a time traveller sent from 2035 back to 1996 to prevent the release by eco-terrorists of a virus that wipes out 5-billion people.

Where to stream it: Netflix

WATCH | Trailer for 'Twelve Monkeys'.

9. THE BAD BATCH 

What's it about: Ana Lily Amirpour's follow-up to her feminist Farsi vampire breakout, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is a different film on many levels but still displays the British director's unique ability to create strange, surreal and singular onscreen alternative universes. It's a film that warns those of us jonesing to ignore the directives of government-enforced behaviour to stay inside and obey the rules for our own good. The story centres on a young woman exiled from civilised society for unknown reasons who finds herself in the post-apocalyptic community of Comfort in which humanity's reprobates band together to protect themselves from a wild roving group of hungry cannibals. The only thing worse than the people in here are the ones out there.

Where to stream it: Netflix

WATCH | Trailer for 'The Bad Batch".

10. VIRUS

What's it about: So far Antarctica has been the only continent to escape Covid-19 infection but in director Kinji Fukasaku's 1980 madcap double dose of apocalyptic science fiction, even the South Pole is not exempt from destruction. After a virus created accidentally by a US geneticist kills off most of the world's population in a pandemic known as "the Italian flu", only the few hundred residents of Antarctica are spared and tasked with rebuilding humanity. Everything seems to be going well until they learn that a massive and imminent earthquake will set off the US's now unmanned nuclear arsenal and destroy the planet forever. Hats off to Fukasaku for having the balls to destroy the world twice.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime

DRAMAS

11. THE SACRIFICE

What's it about: Nobody has examined the existential dread and angst of the constant apocalyptic fear that pervaded the world in the era of the threat of nuclear annihilation with as much intelligence and philosophical depth as Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky. In this, his final film, the spectre of the end of the world is made explicit as a dysfunctional family on the coast of Sweden must deal first with their own petty tensions and then confront the deeper spiritual questions that arise from the news that the world is about to end.

Where to stream it: YouTube

WATCH | Trailer for 'The Sacrifice'.

12. DEATH IN VENICE 

What's it about: Adapted from the novella by Thomas Mann, Luchino Visconti's queer cinema classic stars Dirk Bogarde as a sickly German composer whose tragic trip to the plague-ridden Italian city seems never to end after he becomes madly and torturously obsessed with a teenage boy.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime

WATCH | Trailer for 'Death in Venice'.

COMEDY

13. WARM BODIES 

What's it about: Sure, zombies are humans who just happened to have had the life sucked out of them, but what if they still retained some of their inner humanity and could become our best friends or even lovers? Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer star in this bright romantic comedy that just happens to be set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Where to stream it: Showmax

WATCH | Trailer for 'Warm Bodies'.

14. SHAUN OF THE DEAD

What's it about: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star as a pair of slackers who find their purpose in life after their years of sitting around watching horror films perfectly prepares them for an unexpected zombie attack. It's a hilarious spoof of all the zombie films you've ever watched that also offers a heartfelt story of two loveable losers finding their reason for existence when everything in existence seems to be going to hell.

Where to stream it: Netflix

WATCH | Trailer for 'Shaun of the Dead'.

15. ZOMBIELAND

What's it about: Dorky neurotic college student teams up with redneck urban hustler and confidence-trickster sisters to survive the zombie apocalypse. It's silly but funny entertainment that reminds us that we have to work with the least likely of associates to overcome the seemingly most insurmountable obstacles. with hilarious result. 

Where to stream it: Netflix

WATCH | Trailer for 'Zombieland'.