Movies are a shared cultural experience. Films likely reflect societal fears, and may provide insight into how the public perceives infectious disease outbreaks.
A search of IMDb.com was conducted in February/March 2020 (updating a 2017 search) using 163 infection-related search terms to identify films with an emphasis on infectious diseases (as assessed by review of plot synopses on IMDb, the American Film Institute database, or Wikipedia) through December 31, 2019. Films featuring an outbreak or pandemic (as defined by the CDC, with the outbreak/pandemic required to be an important component of the story) were then selected. Cultural relevance was defined as 1.) Box office earnings ≥$10 million (adjusted to 2019 dollars) OR 2.) Winner of an Academy Award OR 3.) ≥1 long-gap connections on IMDB (cultural reference to a film ≥25 years after release, e.g. on television). All culturally relevant films were viewed and thematically analyzed.
The search yielded 373 infectious disease films, with 142 (38.1%) featuring a human infectious disease outbreak or pandemic. Eighty films were culturally relevant.
Outbreak/pandemic films feature recurring themes. The influence such films may have on public compliance with medical recommendations (e.g. social quarantining) should be the subject of future research.
Dehority, Walter. "Cinematic Portrayal of Infectious Disease Outbreaks." (2020). https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/hsc_2020_pediatric_research/6