Outbreak is a 1995 American medical disaster film directed by Wolfgang Petersen and based on Richard Preston’s 1994 nonfiction book The Hot Zone. The film stars Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland, and co-stars Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey and Patrick Dempsey.
The film focuses on an outbreak of a fictional ebolavirus and orthomyxoviridae-like Motaba virus, in Zaire and later in a small town in California. It is primarily set in the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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, contagious disease.
The film, released on 10 March 1995, was a box-office success and Spacey won two awards for his performance. A real-life outbreak of the Ebola virus was occurring in Zaire when the film was released.
The single biggest threat to man’s continued dominance on the planet is the virus. (Joshua Lederberg, Ph.D., Nobel laureate, Film introduction: Outbreak (1995)).
In 1967, during the Kisangani Mutinies, a virus called Motaba, which causes a deadly fever, is discovered in the African jungle. To keep the virus a secret, US Army officers Donald McClintock and Billy Ford destroy the camp where soldiers were infected.
Twenty-eight years later, Colonel Sam Daniels, a USAMRIID virologist, is sent to investigate an outbreak in Zaire. He and his crew – Lieutenant Colonel Casey Schuler and new recruit Major Salt – gather information and return to the United States. Ford, now a brigadier general and Daniels’ superior officer, dismisses the latter’s fears that the virus will spread.
A white-headed capuchin monkey that is host to the virus, is smuggled into the country. James “Jimbo” Scott, a worker at an animal testing laboratory, is infected when he steals the monkey to sell on the black market. Jimbo fails to sell the monkey to Rudy Alvarez (who also becomes infected), a pet-store owner in the coastal-California village of Cedar Creek. After releasing the monkey in the woods outside of the nearby community of Palisades, he develops symptoms on a flight to Boston and infects his girlfriend, Alice. Their illness is investigated by Dr. Roberta Keough, a CDC scientist and Daniels’ ex-wife. Jimbo, Alice, and Rudy die, but Keough determines that no one else in Boston was infected.
A hospital technician in Cedar Creek is infected when he accidentally breaks the vial of Rudy’s blood. The virus quickly mutates into a strain capable of spreading like influenza, becoming airborne and causing a number of people to be infected in a movie theatre. Daniels flies to Cedar Creek against Ford’s orders, joining Keough’s team with Schuler and Salt. As they begin a search for the monkey, the Army quarantines the town and imposes martial law. Schuler is infected when his suit tears and Keough accidentally sticks herself with a contaminated needle while treating him.
When Ford provides an experimental serum which cures the original strain, Daniels realizes that his superiors were aware of the virus before the outbreak. Daniels learns about Operation Clean Sweep, a plan for the military to contain the virus by bombing Cedar Creek, incinerating the town and its residents, ostensibly to prevent Motaba’s expansion to pandemic proportions. However, McClintock, now a major general, plans to use the operation to conceal the mutated virus’ existence so the original strain can be preserved for use as a biological weapon.
To prevent Daniels from finding a cure, McClintock orders him arrested for carrying the virus. Daniels escapes before he and Salt fly a helicopter to the ship at sea which carried the monkey. Daniels obtains a picture of the monkey and releases it to the media; a Palisades resident, Mrs. Jeffries, realises that her daughter Kate has been playing with the monkey (which she named Betsy) and calls the CDC. Daniels and Salt arrive at the Jeffries’ house where Salt tranquilizes Betsy after Kate coaxes her out of hiding in the woods nearby. When he learns from Daniels about Betsy’s capture, Ford delays the bombing.
On their return flight, Daniels and Salt are chased by McClintock in another helicopter. Salt fires two rockets into the trees to deceive him into thinking that they crashed. Once back in Cedar Creek, Salt mixes Betsy’s antibodies with Ford’s serum to create an antiserum; although Schuler has died, they save Keough. McClintock returns to base and resumes Operation Clean Sweep, refusing to listen to Ford. Daniels and Salt fly their helicopter directly into the path of the bomber’s approach to its target.
With Ford’s help, Daniels persuades the bomber’s flight crew to detonate the bomb over water and spare the town. Before McClintock can order another bombing, Ford relieves him of command and orders his arrest. Daniels and Keough reconcile as Cedar Creek’s residents are cured.
- Dustin Hoffman as Colonel Sam Daniels, MD.
- Rene Russo as Dr. Roberta “Robby” Keough, MD.
- Morgan Freeman as Brigadier General Billy Ford, MD.
- Donald Sutherland as Major General Donald “Donnie” McClintock.
- Kevin Spacey as Lieutenant Colonel Casey Schuler, MD.
- Cuba Gooding Jr. as Major Salt, MD.
- Patrick Dempsey as James “Jimbo” Scott.
- Zakes Mokae as Dr. Benjamin Iwabi.
- Malick Bowens as Dr. Raswani.
- Susan Lee Hoffman as Dr. Lisa Aronson.
- Benito Martinez as Dr. Julio Ruiz.
- Bruce Jarchow as Dr. Mascelli.
- Leland Hayward III as Henry Seward.
- Daniel Chodos as Rudy Alvarez.
- Dale Dye as Lieutenant Colonel Briggs.
- Diana Bellamy as Mrs. Pananides.
- J. T. Walsh as White House Chief of Staff.
Scenes in “Cedar Creek” were filmed in Ferndale, California, where tanks and helicopters were a common feature of daily life during nearly two months of filming. Other locations used were Dugway Proving Ground and Kauai.
Producer Lynda Obst has stated that it was due to the production of Outbreak that her film adaptation of The Hot Zone was dropped by 20th Century Fox, despite having, in her words, “the better package and… the better script”. She also claimed that director Wolfgang Petersen tried to entice Robert Redford, who was already cast for her film, to be a part of Outbreak, based on Redford’s call to her. Obst would eventually have her adaptation of the book, but greenlit as a miniseries by National Geographic, which premiered in May 2019.
Outbreak topped the US box-office list its opening weekend with earnings of $13,420,387, and spent three weeks at number one before Tommy Boy’s release, ahead of Major Payne. The film, which grossed $67,659,560 domestically and $122,200,000 internationally, was a commercial success.
Outbreak received mixed reviews from critics.
The film’s popularity resurged during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example ranking as the fourth most popular film on Netflix in the US on 13 March 2020.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Wolfgang Petersen.
- Stephen Joel Brown … co-producer (as Stephen Brown).
- Nana Greenwald … co-producer.
- Duncan Henderson … executive producer.
- Gail Katz … producer.
- Anne Kopelson … executive producer.
- Arnold Kopelson … producer.
- Sanford Panitch … co-producer.
- Wolfgang Petersen … producer.
- Writer(s): Laurence Dworet and Robert Roy Pool.
- Music: James Newton Howard.
- Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus.
- Editor(s): William Hoy, Lynzee Klingman, Stephen E. Rivkin, and Neil Travis.
- Warner Bros. (presents).
- Arnold Kopelson Productions.
- Punch Productions (in association with) (as Punch Productions, Inc.).
- Kopelson Entertainment.
- Warner Bros. (1995) (USA) (theatrical).
- Elliniki Kinimatografiki Enosi (ELKE) (1995) (Greece) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1995) (Argentina) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1995) (France) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1995) (Germany) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1995) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1995) (Spain) (theatrical).
- Argentina Video Home (1995) (Argentina) (VHS).
- Warner Home Video (1995) (Netherlands) (VHS).
- Warner Home Video (1995) (USA) (VHS).
- Warner Home Video (1995) (USA) (VHS) (pan and scan).
- Warner Home Video (1995) (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
- Audio Visual Enterprises (1996) (Greece) (VHS).
- National Broadcasting Company (NBC) (1997) (USA) (TV).
- Warner Home Video (2010) (Canada) (DVD) (4 film collection).
- Warner Home Video (2010) (USA) (DVD) (4 film collection).
- Warner Bros Pictures (1995) (India) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1995) (Canada) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1995) (Italy) (theatrical).
- Warner Bros. (1995) (Japan) (theatrical).
- HBO Max (2020) (USA) (video) (VOD).
- Varus Video (1995) (Russia) (VHS).
- Warner Home Video (1998) (Germany) (DVD).
- Warner Home Video (2008) (Germany) (DVD) (Wolfgang Petersen Film Collection).
- Warner Home Video (2013) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
- Warner Home Video (1995) (Norway) (VHS).
- Warner Home Video (1998) (Norway) (DVD).
- Warner Home Video (USA) (DVD).
- Warner Home Vídeo (Brazil) (DVD).
- Warner Home Vídeo (Brazil) (VHS).
- Release Date: 06 March 1995 (Westwood, California) and 28 April 1995 (UK).
- Running Time: 127 minutes.
- Rating: 15.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.