5 important lessons the movies have taught us about dealing with an outbreak

Every now and then, a movie comes along with an unexpectedly educational slant. In light of what's currently gripping the world, here are five films that taught us important things about dealing with outbreaks of every kind.

1. Work together

Learned from Night of the Living Dead (1968)

George A. Romero's landmark zombie movie is the gold standard for the genre. With its crisp black and white photography and potent social commentary, this is no marauding gorefest, but a chilling look at humanity on the edge of the abyss.

More than anything, Night of the Living Dead stresses the importance of teamwork and solidarity. In the movie, this manifests when a group of survivors board themselves up in a house in order to fend off an outbreak of undead flesh-eaters. One can take many important lessons from the successes, and, more importantly, the failings, experienced by the characters in this classic horror.

2. Be creative when in isolation

Learned from 28 Days Later (2002)

Danny Boyle's blood-curdling viral epidemic horror centres on an outbreak of the 'rage' virus. Essentially, it turns the most decent of people into fleet-footed, bloodthirsty, red-eyed maniacs, although before we even meet the infected, we're greeted with the eerily deserted streets of London in the wake of the disaster. It remains one of the best opening scenes in any movie.

Later on, survivors Jim (Cillian Murphy) and Selena (Naomie Harris) are forced to take shelter in a high rise flat owned by the amiable Frank (Brendan Gleeson). He later takes them onto the roof to show how he's attempted to trap rainwater, in light of the fact that the taps have ran dry. Clever idea, were it not for the fact that, at the time, the British climate is atypically dry and refusing to play ball.

3. Locate the source of the crisis

Learned from Outbreak (1995)

Director Wolfgang Petersen's overwrought disaster thriller looks at how a disease stemming from an innocent capuchin monkey spreads all across America. What begins as a sobering medical story soon devolves into a ridiculous Army conspiracy actioner, with Dustin Hoffman forced to confront the nefarious Donald Sutherland, who wants to harness the virus as a weapon.

So, not too plausible then. Even so, at one point, Hoffman's character Colonel Sam Daniels releases a photo of the monkey to the media – a reminder of the importance of locating the source. "Have you seen this monkey?" Hoffman asks the cameras with an admirably straight face.

4. Wash your hands

Learned from Contagion (2011)

In retrospect, director Steven Soderbergh's clammy and clinical outbreak movie has become one of the great cautionary horror stories of our time. Gwyneth Paltrow is point zero for a devastating outbreak that spreads all across America, and beyond. Tragically, on-screen husband Matt Damon is asymptomatic, and therefore little more than a passive observer in the chaos that follows.

An all-star cast including Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle and Bryan Cranston bring calm, believable authority to the drama. And it's a pointed reminder of the importance of hygiene, namely washing one's hands, not to mention a warning to stay away from those bowls of shared peanuts.

5. Don't talk to potted plants

Learned from The Happening (2008)

Was The Happening supposed to be funny? Well, that's how it turned out. M. Night Shyamalan's ridiculous B-movie thriller shows us what happens when plants and trees get fed up (we think) and emit a toxin that forces everyone to commit suicide. This is signalled initially by people walking a few steps backwards, before enacting a grisly demise.

The film's terrible dialogue and wooden acting (which the director insists was intentional) have established the movie as a "so bad, it's good" cult classic. The moment where survivor Mark Wahlberg, a science teacher, realises the plants are doing it is a moment of jaw-dropping, rib-tickling joy. To that end, he begins a one-sided discussion with a potted plant – not recommended to anyone currently practising social distancing or self-isolation in their own home.

What important lessons have we left off our list? Let us know @Cineworld.