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‘Contagion’ Hits Theaters. Stock Up on Hand Sanitizer.

Forbes.com By Dorothy Pomerantz Movies, television shows and books about the human race being practically destroyed by viruses are all the rage at the moment. Just look at the success of The Walking Dead, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. (Maybe I should have said “spoiler alert” for that last one.) But few of these pieces of entertainment actually take the time to show us how the virus spread and how we humans dealt with it. Contagion fills that gap. The new film from Steven Soderbergh features a star-studded cast (including Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon) alternately fight and succumbing to a deadly illness that quickly spreads across the globe. Don’t expect germaphobes to pack the theaters this weekend. According to Time Magazine reviewer Richard Corliss: “One of Contagion‘s creepiest scenes comes early in the film, when a distinguished research scientist (Elliott Gould) glances around a diner and instantly spots a dozen places where the virus could contaminate and swiftly kill a customer: the rim of a glass, the hands of a hash slinger, an unsterilized fork, a mouth that coughs. Yikes. Despite the scare factor (or maybe because of it) Contagion is expected to top the box office this weekend with $20 million, according to Exhibitor Relations. That could set the movie up to be the second hit in a row for Jeff Skoll‘s Participant Media. The former EBay president founded Participant to make movies with strong social messages but his efforts so far, like The Informant and The Crazies, have failed to impress at the box office. Participant’s first hit was The Help, a film about a young author exposing the truth about the lives of maids in Jackson, Mississippi, in the ’60s. The film cost an estimated $25 million to make and in just one month it has already brought in $130 million. Exhibitor Relations expects the film will rank third this weekend bringing in an additional $10 million. Contagion is getting good reviews (it earns a 75 out of 100 on Rotten Tomatoes) and there isn’t much competition at the box office this weekend. Warrior, the other major release this weekend, is expected to rank second with $12 million.