"A-choo!" Uh, oh, did you just sneeze? Get away from me, you might have a sci-fi virus! In Breck Eisner's remake The Crazies, due out tomorrow, a mysterious toxin poisons the water supply of a small town, leading to insanity and death. In George A. Romero's thrilling original, released in 1973, the culprit was a virus code-named "Trixie." Developed by the government, "Trixie" was unleashed upon an unsuspecting populace and wreaked bloodshed, panic, and havoc.
Governments often get the blame for world-threatening diseases, usually concocted by military scientists with no cure in sight. It's a favorite theme in science fiction movies, creating a natural framework for near-future extrapolation, authority mocking, righteous rebellion, and murderous mayhem. And, what do you know, those are all necessary ingredients for some of our favorite flicks! Here are the top ten sci-fi movies that feature viruses. Please add your own picks in the comments sections -- let us know what we missed, and why your selection belongs in the top ten.
1. Twelve Monkeys
Brilliant, maddening, and fascinating, Terry Gilliam's film follows Bruce Willis as he is sent back in time to try and uncover clues about a virus that has killed 99% of the Earth's population. He discovers, among other things, a very excitable Brad Pitt. We get to see both pre- and post-apocalyptic visions of a world devastated by disease, and it's difficult to say which is more frightening.
2. 28 Days Later
We get a quick glimpse of animal activists unwittingly loosing the terrible contagion known as Rage upon a nation. Four weeks later, we see the results. The causes and culprits here are not the important thing; all anyone wants to do is survive to live another day.
3. The Andromeda Strain
The virus comes from space, in a neat twist on War of the Worlds. Perhaps the virus caused no problems in its native environment, but, brought to earth, it grows and mutates at an astounding rate. It wiped out an entire small town in barely the blink of an eye, yet two unlikely survivors remain: an old alcoholic and a crying baby. Director Robert Wise's clinical approach downplays the imminent threat, while the ticking clock on finding a cure builds anxiety.
4. I Am Legend
Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the scientist who cured cancer ... until the cure came back and bit him on the butt. Oh, and killed three million New Yorkers, and turned the survivors into zombies, and (possibly) destroyed mankind. More so than its predecessors (The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man), Francis Lawrence's version of Richard Matheson's novel paints a picture of Neville as an angry scientist waging war against a deadly virus. Eventually, he must face the consequences for his actions.
Neil Marshall's gleefully mad action flick begins with the premise that the "Reaper Virus" has returned to Britain. Thirty years previously, it devastated the country, prompting the construction of a wall to contain the disease. Now it's returned, and Rhona Mitra is sent in to kick some virus butt. Really, it's all just an excuse for Marshall to pay homage to every post-apocalyptic picture ever made.
6. Resident Evil
Instead of an evil government, an evil corporation is the one experimenting with Things It Ought Not. The mutating T-virus has killed all the employees of The Umbrella Corporation that work in The Hive, a secret underground facility, and transformed them into zombies. Talk about your bad health plans! At least we get to watch Milla Jovovich striding around the facility killing zombies.
Infected with a virus that grants superpowers (instead of zombie-fication) this time, Milla Jovovich again gets to look good as she strides around killing people. As released, the picture makes little sense, and I'm not sure the original director's cut would have fixed all the problems, but this one claims a place in my 'deliriously bad, yet almost entertaining in spite of itself' corner.
This is a really bad movie that most people have, mercifully, forgotten, but it deserves to be on the list for one reason: aliens consider humans to be a virus that must be exterminated. I love that premise. Too bad the movie doesn't do much with the possibilities inherent in such an idea.
I'm sneaking Guillermo del Toro's 1997 thriller onto the list, even though it's not strictly about a virus, but it's a similar idea. Scientists try to eradicate a disease carried by cockroaches by concocting more powerful insects which, predictably, they can't really contain. A crackling pace and moody atmosphere makes scientists like Mira Sorvino heroes for a new age.
10. War of the Worlds (1953)
An honorable mention to Byron Haskin's adaptation of the H.G. Wells' novel, which places the salvation of mankind upon humble germs. Germs and viruses: whether they're friends or foes of mankind depends upon the future you want to see.