Outbreak (film)

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Outbreak movie.JPG
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen
Produced by Gail Katz
Arnold Kopelson
Anne Kopelson
Wolfgang Petersen
Written by Laurence Dworet
Robert Roy Pool
Starring Dustin Hoffman
Rene Russo
Morgan Freeman
Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Patrick Dempsey
Donald Sutherland
Kevin Spacey
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Neil Travis
Punch Productions, inc.
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
March 10, 1995
Running time
128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $50 million
Box office $189.8 million

Outbreak is a 1995 American medical disaster film directed by Wolfgang Petersen and very loosely based on Richard Preston's non-fiction book The Hot Zone.[1] The film stars Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo and Morgan Freeman, and co-stars Cuba Gooding, Jr., Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland and Patrick Dempsey.

The film focuses on an outbreak of a fictional Ebola-like virus called Motaba in Zaire and later in a small town in the United States. Its primary settings are government disease control centers USAMRIID and the CDC, and the fictional town of Cedar Creek, California. Outbreak's plot speculates how far military and civilian agencies might go to contain the spread of a deadly contagion.

The film was released on March 10, 1995 and proved a box office success. It was nominated for various awards but failed to garner any major award nominations. It also raised various "what-if" scenarios: media outlets began to question what the government would really do in a similar situation and if the CDC has plans in case an outbreak ever does occur.[citation needed] A real-life outbreak of the Ebola virus was occurring in Zaire during the time of the film's release.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

Motaba, a fictional virus which causes a deadly fever, is discovered in the African jungle in 1967. To keep the virus a secret, U.S. Army officers Donald McClintock (Donald Sutherland) and William Ford (Morgan Freeman) destroy the army camp where it was found to be infecting soldiers.

In 1995 the virus resurfaces in Zaire. Colonel Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman), a USAMRIID virologist, is sent to investigate. He and his crew—Lieutenant Colonel Casey Schuler (Kevin Spacey) and new recruit Major Salt (Cuba Gooding, Jr.)—gather information and return to the United States. Daniels asks his superior, now-Brigadier General William Ford, to issue an alert. Despite his prior knowledge, Ford tells Daniels the virus is unlikely to appear.

Meanwhile, a white-headed capuchin monkey named Betsy—a host animal to the virus—is smuggled into the United States. James "Jimbo" Scott (Patrick Dempsey)—an employee at the Biotest animal holding facility—steals Betsy and takes her to Cedar Creek, California, to sell on the black market and is infected on the trip. Jimbo unsuccessfully tries to sell Betsy to Rudy Alvarez (Daniel Chodos)—a pet store owner who is also infected—before releasing the monkey into the woods. Jimbo's symptoms manifest while flying to Boston, where he gets off the plane and infects his girlfriend Alice (Kellie Overbey). Both are hospitalized and Dr. Roberta Keough (Rene Russo)—a CDC scientist and Daniels's ex-wife—investigates the infections. Jimbo, Alice, and Rudy die but Keough establishes that no one else in Boston was infected.

The technicians at a Cedar Creek hospital, including Henry (Leland Hayward III), run tests on Rudy's blood. Henry is infected when a vial is broken and he soon dies. The virus mutates into a new strain, capable of spreading like flu, and numerous Cedar Creek citizens are exposed. Daniels learns of the infection and flies to Cedar Creek against Ford's orders, joining Keough's team along with Schuler and Salt. As they begin a search for the host animal, the U.S. Army quarantines the town, declaring martial law. Schuler is infected when his suit tears and Keough accidentally stabs herself with a contaminated needle. Ford provides an experimental serum to treat the infected, and Daniel realizes that Ford knew about the virus before the outbreak. However, the serum does not work in Cedar Creek due to the mutation. Daniels confronts Ford, who admits that he withheld information due to Motaba's potential to be turned into a biological weapon.

Daniels learns of Operation Clean Sweep—a plan by the military to bomb the town of Cedar Creek—which has approval from the President of the United States. Now-Major General Donald McClintock plans to use the bombing to cover up the virus's existence. To prevent Daniels from finding a cure, McClintock has him arrested by implicating Daniels as a viral carrier. After escaping custody, Daniels and Salt fly a helicopter to the ship that carried the host animal. Daniels obtains a picture of Betsy and broadcasts it on the news; Mrs. Jeffries (Gina Menza) realizes that this is the animal her daughter Kate (Kara Keough) plays with in their yard and calls the news station. Daniels and Salt arrive at the Jeffries' house and Salt tranquilizes Betsy after Kate coaxes her out of hiding. Upon learning from Daniels of Betsy's capture, Ford delays the bombing.

Flying back, Daniels and Salt are confronted by McClintock, who chases them in another helicopter. Salt fires two rockets into the trees to trick McClintock into thinking they crashed. Returning to Cedar Creek, Salt mixes Betsy's antibodies with the serum Ford provided to create an anti-serum; Schuler has already succumbed to the virus but they are in time to save Keough.

Daniels discovers that McClintock did not call off Operation Clean Sweep. He and Salt take a helicopter and fly in the way of the bomber, which is commanded by a pilot with the call sign of Sandman One (Maury Sterling). With support from Ford, Daniels is able to convince Sandman One and his co-pilot (Michael Emanuel) to stop and the bomb detonates over water instead of the town. Ford relieves McClintock of command and places him under arrest for withholding information from the President. Daniels and Keough reconcile and the remaining residents of the town are successfully cured.



Scenes in "Cedar Creek" were filmed in Ferndale, California where tanks and helicopters became a common feature of daily life during the nearly two months of filming.[3] Other locations used were Dugway Proving Ground and Kauai.[4]


Box office[edit]

The film opened at #1 upon its opening weekend with $13,420,387[5] and spent three weeks on top of the US box office, before being capsized by Tommy Boy's release.[6] The film would go on to gross a $67,659,560 domestic total, and with an international $122,200,000, totaled $189,859,560 worldwide.[7] Measuring box office against its $50 million budget, the film is considered a commercial success.[8]


Outbreak received mostly mixed reviews. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 59% of 44 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.6 out of 10.[9]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and a half out of four stars, calling the premise "one of the great scare stories of our time, the notion that deep in the uncharted rain forests, deadly diseases are lurking, and if they ever escape their jungle homes and enter the human bloodstream, there will be a new plague the likes of which we have never seen."[10] Rita Kempley of the Washington Post also praised the film's story, saying, "Outbreak is an absolute hoot thanks primarily to director Wolfgang Petersen's rabid pacing and the great care he brings to setting up the story and its probability."[11]

David Denby said in New York magazine that the opening scenes were well-done, but "somewhere in the middle ... Outbreak falls off a cliff" and becomes "lamely conventional".[12] Janet Maslin of the New York Times also found the subject matter compelling but the treatment ineffective, observing, "The film's shallowness also contributes to the impression that no problem is too thorny to be solved by movie heroics."[13]



  1. ^ Walton, Priscilla L. (2004). Our Cannibals, Ourselves. University of Illinois Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-252-02925-7. 
  2. ^ "Update: Outbreak of Ebola Viral Hemorrhagic Fever – Zaire, 1995". Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (Centers for Disease Control) 44 (20): 399. May 26, 1995. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  3. ^ Haeseler, Rob (April 17, 1995). "Hollywood Invades Humboldt County". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-01-14. 
  4. ^ D'Arc, James (2010). When Hollywood Came to Town: A History of Movie Making in Utah. Gibbs Smith. p. 297. ISBN 978-1-4236-1984-0. 
  5. ^ Natale, Richard (March 13, 1995). "'Outbreak's' Success Only Goes So Far". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-04. 
  6. ^ Natale, Richard (April 4, 1995). "Weekend Box Office: 'Tommy Boy' Tops a Weak Field". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-04. 
  7. ^ Outbreak at Box Office Mojo
  8. ^ Haase, Christine (2007). When Heimat Meets Hollywood: German Filmmakers and America, 1985–2005. Camden House. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-57113-279-6. 
  9. ^ "Outbreak (1995)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-02-20. 
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 10, 1995). "Outbreak". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2013-02-20. 
  11. ^ Kempley, Rita (March 10, 1995). "'Outbreak' (R)". Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-02-20. 
  12. ^ Denby, David (March 20, 1995). "The Lukewarm Zone". New York Magazine 28 (12): 60. ISSN 0028-7369. 
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (March 10, 1995). "Film Review: The Hero is Hoffman, The Villain a Virus". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  14. ^ "Awards 1995". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved 2012-07-18. 
  15. ^ Levy, Abraham (December 30, 1995). "Texas film critics give 'Suspects' top honors". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved 2010-12-17. (subscription required (help)). 
  16. ^ "The Society of Texas Film Critics 1995 Awards". Austin Chronicle 15 (18). January 5, 1996. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 

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