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

Outbreak movie.JPG
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWolfgang Petersen
Produced byGail Katz
Arnold Kopelson
Anne Kopelson
Wolfgang Petersen
Written byLaurence Dworet
Robert Roy Pool
Based onThe Hot Zone
by Richard Preston
Music byJames Newton Howard
CinematographyMichael Ballhaus
Edited byNeil Travis
Punch Productions, inc.
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
March 10, 1995
Running time
128 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$50 million
Box office$189.8 million

The film focuses on an outbreak of a fictional Ebola-like virus, Motaba, in Zaire and later in a small town in the United States. 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 March 10, 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.[2]


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, U.S. Army officers Donald McClintock and William 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.

Betsy, 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 Betsy to sell on the black market. Jimbo fails to sell Betsy to Rudy Alvarez, 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 theater. 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 he was 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 virus's existence so it 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, and he and Salt fly a helicopter to the ship at sea which carried Betsy. Daniels obtains a picture of Betsy and releases it to the media; a Palisades resident, Mrs. Jeffries, realizes that her daughter Kate has been playing with Betsy in their yard and calls the CDC. Daniels and Salt arrive at the Jeffries' house, and 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, and Salt fires two missiles 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,[citation needed] 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, and Cedar Creek's residents are cured.



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.[3] Other locations used were Dugway Proving Ground and Kauai.[4]

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.[5]


Box officeEdit

Outbreak topped the U.S. box-office list its opening weekend with earnings of $13,420,387,[6] and spent three weeks at number one before Tommy Boy's release.[7] The film, which grossed $67,659,560 domestically and $122,200,000 internationally,[8] was a commercial success.[9]

Critical receptionEdit

Outbreak received mixed reviews. According to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 57% of 44 critics gave the film a positive review for a rating average of 5.6 out of 10. The consensus states: "A frustratingly uneven all-star disaster drama, Outbreak ultimately proves only mildly contagious and leaves few lasting side effects."[10] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.[11]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it three-and-a-half out of four stars, calling Outbreak's 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."[12] Rita Kempley of The Washington Post also enjoyed the film's plot: "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."[13]

David Denby wrote for New York magazine that although the opening scenes were well-done, "somewhere in the middle ... Outbreak falls off a cliff" and becomes "lamely conventional".[14] Janet Maslin of The New York Times also found the film's subject compelling but its treatment ineffective: "The film's shallowness also contributes to the impression that no problem is too thorny to be solved by movie heroics."[15]



  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. 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. ^ Sandberg, Bryn Elise (April 2, 2019). "Lynda Obst Talks 'The Hot Zone's 25-Year Journey to the Screen". The Hollywood Reporter. Valence Media. Retrieved April 4, 2019.
  6. ^ Natale, Richard (March 13, 1995). "'Outbreak's' Success Only Goes So Far". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-04.
  7. ^ Natale, Richard (April 4, 1995). "Weekend Box Office: 'Tommy Boy' Tops a Weak Field". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-04.
  8. ^ Outbreak at Box Office Mojo
  9. ^ Haase, Christine (2007). When Heimat Meets Hollywood: German Filmmakers and America, 1985–2005. Camden House. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-57113-279-6.
  10. ^ "Outbreak (1995)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-02-20.
  11. ^ "CinemaScore".
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 10, 1995). "Outbreak". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2013-02-20.
  13. ^ Kempley, Rita (March 10, 1995). "'Outbreak' (R)". Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-02-20.
  14. ^ Denby, David (March 20, 1995). "The Lukewarm Zone". New York Magazine. 28 (12): 60. ISSN 0028-7369.
  15. ^ Maslin, Janet (March 10, 1995). "Film Review: The Hero is Hoffman, The Villain a Virus". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-01-29.
  16. ^ "Awards 1995". New York Film Critics Circle. Retrieved 2012-07-18.
  17. ^ Levy, Abraham (December 30, 1995). "Texas film critics give 'Suspects' top honors". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved 2010-12-17.
  18. ^ "The Society of Texas Film Critics 1995 Awards". Austin Chronicle. 15 (18). January 5, 1996. Retrieved 2015-01-29.

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