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
127 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]


Motaba, a fictional virus which causes a deadly fever, is discovered in the African jungle in 1967. To maintain the virus as a viable biological weapon, two U.S. Army officers, Donald McClintock (Donald Sutherland) and William Ford (Morgan Freeman), destroy the camp where it was found after taking blood samples from the dying victims.

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.) gain information about the virus and return to the United States, where Daniels asks his superior, now-Brigadier General William Ford, to put out an alert. Ford knows that the virus is not new, but he tells Daniels it is unlikely to show up. Daniels' ex-wife and former crew-member Roberta Keough (Rene Russo), has left USAMRIID to take the lead role of a similar team at the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia and is convinced by Daniels to recommend an alert from the CDC, but her superior balks as well.

Meanwhile, we learn that the virus arrived via a host animal, a white-headed capuchin monkey, that was smuggled into the United States. James "Jimbo" Scott (Patrick Dempsey), an employee at the Bio-Test animal holding facility, bribed a security guard and took the monkey to Cedar Creek, California, to sell on the black market. During the drive, Jimbo is infected with the virus through facial contact with the monkey's saliva.

Jimbo unsuccessfully tries to sell the monkey to a crooked pet store owner, Rudy Alvarez (Daniel Chodos). Before parting ways, however, the monkey scratches Alvarez and infects him, and shares a banana with another monkey already in the store, infecting that monkey as well. Not able to care for the monkey, Jimbo releases it into the woods. Jimbo starts to show signs of infection while flying to Boston, where he gets off the plane and kisses his girlfriend Alice (Kellie Overbey), infecting her as well just before collapsing. They are both hospitalized. Keough investigates the infections but finds that no one other than Jimbo, his girlfriend or Rudy – all three of whom die of hemorrhagic fever – in the Boston area was infected.

Meanwhile, the technicians at a Cedar Creek hospital run tests on Rudy's blood. But Henry (Leland Hayward III), one of the technicians, accidentally breaks a vial, splattering the contents, infecting and killing him. The virus mutates into a new strain, capable of spreading like flu, and numerous Cedar Creek citizens are exposed to Motaba. Daniels learns of the infection and flies to Cedar Creek alongside Schuler and Salt, against Ford's orders, joining Keough's team.

As Daniels and his team begin a search for the host animal, a state of martial law is declared in Cedar Creek, and the U.S. Army has quarantined the town to contain the outbreak. During their research, Schuler is infected when his suit tears. Keough follows after she accidentally stabs herself with a contaminated needle while collecting samples due to Schuler suddenly convulsing. A mystery serum, E-1101, is introduced to those suffering from Motaba. Daniels soon realizes that the serum is not experimental, but was designed to cure Motaba, and that Ford knew about the virus beforehand. However, the serum does not help the residents of Cedar Creek, who are infected by a mutated strain. Daniels confronts Ford, who admits that he withheld information on the virus due to national security and Motaba's potential to be turned into a biological weapon.

Daniels learns from Ford of Operation Clean Sweep, a plan by the military to bomb the town of Cedar Creek, with approval from the President of the United States. Now-Major General Donald McClintock, Ford's partner at the African camp in 1967, who was responsible for its destruction and the cover-up, 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 carrier of the virus. This leads Daniels and Salt to search for the host animal to save the town. Flying 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) is playing with in their backyard. She calls the station, and the two men arrive at the family's house. Kate coaxes out Betsy, whom Salt tranquilizes. Learning from Daniels that the host animal is captured, Ford delays the bombing.

Flying back, Daniels and Salt are confronted by McClintock, who also came by helicopter. While McClintock's helicopter chases theirs, Daniels has Salt fire two rockets into the trees to trick McClintock into thinking they crashed. Returning to Cedar Creek, Salt mixes Betsy's antibodies with the E-1101 to create an anti-serum in time to save Keough, but not Schuler, who has already succumbed to the virus. Daniels discovers that Operation Clean Sweep is in progress and becomes aware that McClintock will not call off the bombing. He and Salt take it upon themselves to fly in the way of the bomber, commanded by a pilot with the call sign of Sandman One (Maury Sterling), to stop it. With support from Ford, Daniels is able to stay in the way of the plane long enough to convince Sandman One and his co-pilot (Michael Emanuel) that information was withheld from them. Sandman One deliberately detonates the bomb over water instead of the town. Ford, having had enough of McClintock's single-minded obsession, 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 00287369. 
  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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