Pandemic films: Epidemics, viruses and contagions

The Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) defines the term Pandemic as an epidemic disease that spreads to many countries or that attacks almost all individuals in a locality or region. Throughout its existence, humanity has been threatened by great pandemics, new diseases that appeared to attack the population in a short time, crossing borders and changing the destiny of places and people. In El Antequirófano, we review films about pandemics that have ravaged people throughout history.

5 Films about the Black Death: one of the worst pandemics in history

1The Plague (1993).

Directed by Luis Puenzo and starring William Hurt, Sandrine Bonnaire, Robert Duvall and Raúl Juliá among others, it is based on the novel of the same name, The Plague (1948) written by Albert Camus.

Película panico en las calles

2 – Panic in the Stre ets (1950).

Directed by Elia Kazan, it shows how to combat the spread of a highly contagious disease.

Black Death dirigida por Christopher Smith

3Black Death (2010).

Directed by Christopher Smith, the film takes us back to 14th century England, devastated by the Black Death. Although the film was not released in Spanish cinemas, it was present at the Sitges Film Festival

Serie la peste de Movistar

4 – The Plague ( Movistar +) (2014).

Series directed by Alberto Rodriguez. It consists of 6 chapters of 50 minutes long. Filmed in 130 locations, the series has 230 sets and more than 200 characters.

el septimo sello Ingmar Bergman

5 – The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957).

Considered an absolute masterpiece of world cinema, the film’s undisputed protagonist is Death. Also the chess game to which Death is challenged by one of the main characters, Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow), a tormented knight who, together with his squire, returns from one of the Crusades to find his home under the scourge of plague and religious fanaticism. An excellent work full of philosophy, theology and reflections on the dilemma of the end of life.

BLACK PLAGUE (1346 – 1353): the most devastating pandemic in human history

It is believed to have arrived in Europe aboard ships from Asia on trade routes carrying infected animals and people. The disease wiped out almost a third of the European population, making it one of the worst pandemics in history.

Plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It occurs most commonly in Asia, Africa and North and South America. There are cases in the USA, especially in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and California. Hosts are wild rodents and rats. Flea bites or direct contact with infected tissues or airborne droplets are capable of causing human infections.

Bubonic plague is the most common cause. Following the bite of an infected flea there is an incubation period of 2-6 days after which the patient develops fever, headache, chills, myalgia and arthralgia. Approximately 24 hours later, an enlarging lymph node or bubo develops near the site of inoculation. The primary inoculation site may have a papule, pustule, ulcer or eschar. The disease progresses to convulsions, shock, organ failure and death.

3 Films on Smallpox: considered the second pandemic in history

variola vera sobre la Viruela

1- Variola vera (1982).

Yugoslavian film directed by Goran Markovic. The film recreates the last outbreak of smallpox that hit the European continent in 1972.

Película 22 ángeles sobre la viruela

2- “22 angels” (2016).

Film for TVE . It tells the story of these 22 orphaned children who brought the smallpox vaccine to the overseas territories and their caregiver, Isabel Zendal. We will also meet the director of the expedition, the doctor Francisco Xavier Balmis and his assistant José Salvany y Lleopart. I also recommend reading the novel A flor de la piel by Javier Moro, which gives a very good account of the Royal Philanthropic Vaccine Expedition.

películas de pandemias: un asunto real (Nikolaj Arcel)

2- A Royal Affair (2012).

Directed by Nikolaj Arcel, it tells, among other things, the story of the smallpox epidemic in Copenhagen in 1769. The film won two Silver Bears in Berlin and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.


It is believed to have originated in India or Egypt 3000 years ago. It later spread to trade routes in Asia, Africa and Europe, then reached the Americas in the 16th century.

In the 20th century alone, an estimated 300 million people died from smallpox. It is considered the second largest pandemic in history. Some estimates indicate that it killed up to 90% of the Native American population (some historians claim that it was instrumental in the fall of the Aztec empire).

Smallpox was eradicated worldwide in 1980 through a global vaccination programme. The disease is caused by one of two closely related DNA viruses: V.major and V.minor.

V. major infection usually follows contact with an infected person from the time of skin lesion appearance to the encostration of pustular lesions. Infection is thought to occur by inhalation of virus-containing saliva droplets from oropharyngeal lesions. After exposure the patient develops high fever, vomiting, headache, back pain and the characteristic maculopapular rash that starts on the face and extremities and then spreads to the trunk. The lesions evolve into vesicles ending in crusted pustules.

3 Films about the Spanish Flu: it was caused by an outbreak of the A virus

Película los últimos días del Edén enfermedad gripe española

1- The Last Days of Eden (1992) by John McTiernan.

Doctor Robert Campbell (Sean Connery) believes he has found the cure for cancer in a plant that grows in the Amazon jungle where he is doing research.

Películas de pandemias: 1918 enfermedad Gripe española

2- 1918 (1985) by Kenneth Harrison.

In 1918, America’s involvement in the First World War is complete. Some families discuss the need to enlist or not while the flu epidemic is devastating the cities.

Película qué bello es vivir Gripe española

3- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) by Frank Capra.

The film of eternal optimism, immortal work of art and Christmas classic par excellence. George Bailey (James Stewart) is a family man who runs a company that suddenly finds itself on the verge of bankruptcy. Depressed, he decides to commit suicide. A second-rate angel, Clarence (Henry Travers), is then sent to Earth to remind him, precisely, How beautiful it is to live!


It claimed the lives of more than 50 million people worldwide and was erroneously christened “the Spanish flu” even though it did not originate in Spain. But with half the world fighting in the Great War, there was no information about the pandemic. Spain, by remaining neutral in the war, was responsible for reporting what was happening. The epidemic was devastating. The health system was overwhelmed. It lasted three years and most of its victims were young adults between the ages of 20 and 40 with no previous pathologies. It also affected animals such as dogs and cats.

We now know that it was caused by an outbreak of the A virus, subtype H1N1. The usual symptoms were high fever, earache, body fatigue, diarrhoea and vomiting. Most patients died of secondary bacterial pneumonia. They often died within 5 days.

4 Films about the Asian Flu: it was one of the pandemics that affected mainly children, adolescents and young adults

Contagio sobre la Gripe asiática

1- Contagion (2011) Steven Soderbergh.

The film shows the world’s response to a pandemic. How a health system can collapse, how the global economy suffers and what repercussions these events have on the world’s population. The film portrays very well situations that, unfortunately, we are currently facing, such as confinement to homes, social distancing measures, food hoarding or the race for the vaccine.

Películas sobre pandemias: Virus enfermedad Gripe asiática

2- Virus (2013) Kim Sung-su.

Another example of how human beings can react to a health crisis.

película El hubiera sí existe Gripe asiática

3- El hubiera sí existe ( Mexico, 2016).

Directed by Luis Eduardo Reyes, in this film one of the main characters “predicts” that the world will end in 2020 due to a strange cold-like illness for which there will be no cure.

película Infectados Gripe asiática

4- Infected ( 2009) Álex and David Pastor.

Another apocalyptic scenario in which a virus has spread across the Earth and killed most of the population.

ASIAN FLU (1957)

This was caused by an outbreak of the influenza A (H2,N2) virus from Asia. It subsequently spread to India and Australia. Coastal cities in the United States were also affected. In Spain it entered through the north of the country.

The pandemic affected mainly children, adolescents and young adults.

It is estimated that 1.1 million people died during this epidemic. However, at that time, the WHO was already designing a vaccine each year with antigens from its latest variations and, thus, in December 1957 millions of vaccines were distributed, so that, in global figures, the lethality of this flu was not as high as that of other epidemics.

HIV films: AIDS has had a major impact on society, both as a disease and as a source of discrimination

Mejores películas sobre VIH
  1. 120 beats per minute (2017) Robin Campillo.
  2. Philadelphia (1993) Jonathan Demme.
  3. Peter’s Friends (1992) Kenneth Branagh.
  4. Dallas Buyers Club (2013) Jean-Marc Vallée.
  5. Live to the End (1992) Gregg Araki.
  6. On the Edge of Doubt (1993) Roger Spottiswoode.
  7. The Normal Heart (2014) Ryan Murphy.
  8. Angels in America (2003) Mike Nichols.
  9. Asmaa (2011) Amr Salama.
  10. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) Bryan singer.
  11. It’s my party (1996) Randal Kleiser
  12. Precious (2009) Lee Daniels.
  13. Test (2014) Alexander Kott.
  14. Yesterday (2004) Darrell Roodt.


AIDS is caused by the human retroviruses HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is the most widespread cause worldwide. Transmission occurs sexually or through contact with blood, blood products or other body fluids. It is also transmitted vertically from mother to child intrapartum or in the perinatal period or through breast milk. At the end of the disease, severe immunosuppression occurred, making patients susceptible to infection by opportunistic pathogens. This was the cause of death. Today, thanks to antiretroviral treatment, HIV infection is considered a treatable chronic disease with a life expectancy similar to that of an uninfected person.

The infection was first recognised on 5 June 1981. HIV has had a major impact on society, both as a disease and as a source of discrimination.

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