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How to Survive a Plague (2012)


Average Rating: 8.6/10
Reviews Counted: 70
Fresh: 69
Rotten: 1

Critics Consensus: Angry, powerful, and stirring, How to Survive a Plague is a brilliantly constructed documentary about the activists who pushed for action to combat the AIDS epidemic.

Average Rating: 8.5/10
Reviews Counted: 30
Fresh: 30
Rotten: 0

Critics Consensus: Angry, powerful, and stirring, How to Survive a Plague is a brilliantly constructed documentary about the activists who pushed for action to combat the AIDS epidemic.


Average Rating: 4/5
User Ratings: 5,395




Movie Info

How to Survive a Plague is the story of two coalitions-ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group)-whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition. Despite having no scientific training, these self-made activists infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time. With unfettered access to a treasure trove of never-before-seen archival footage from the 1980s and … More

Documentary , Special Interest
Directed By:
In Theaters:
Feb 25, 2013
Box Office:
Sundance Selects - Official Site

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Critic Reviews for How to Survive a Plague

All Critics (70) | Top Critics (30) | Fresh (69) | Rotten (1)

It can't be long before we see the Hollywood version.

Full Review… | November 5, 2013
Time Out
Top Critic

David France has made an absorbing film to document that moment of immense implosion, called How to Survive a Plague.

Full Review… | June 17, 2013
The New Republic
Top Critic

As this stirring, scrupulous doc reveals, the members of ACT UP fused the fervor of revolutionaries, the tenacity of trial lawyers, and the rage of the dispossessed to change the very shape of the epidemic.

Full Review… | January 7, 2013
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic

From a terrible epidemic comes a beautiful documentary.

Full Review… | January 7, 2013
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic

A raw history, often cluttered and sometimes repetitive but, when strategies fail along with immune systems, deeply affecting.

Full Review… | November 2, 2012
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

Presents a valuable template for how grassroots activism can temper societal prejudice and challenge governmental indifference in the face of a mysterious and remorseless killer.

Full Review… | November 1, 2012
Toronto Star
Top Critic

It all adds up to not just a document of the time but a blueprint for today's activists.

Full Review… | February 7, 2014
Daily Record [UK]

A compellingly watchable portrait of a battle fought under that most memorable rallying cry: "Silence = Death". Bravo.

Full Review… | November 11, 2013
Observer [UK]

I don't doubt that anyone who has had a brush with AIDS, lost a friend or even a hero like Queen's Freddie Mercury, will find what is already a socially curious, medically fascinating and politically charged film an unmissably emotional experience.

Full Review… | November 8, 2013
Birmingham Mail

This inspirational, unexpectedly hilarious film is a patchwork of archival footage that takes us up to the present day.

Full Review… | November 8, 2013
This is London

Nominated for the Oscar, this documentary is one of the most involving and moving films you'll see all year. At its core this is a movie about how a decent society should behave, even to the point of helping people who hurt themselves.

Full Review… | November 8, 2013

This documentary by David France persuasively argues that one of the greatest grassroots activist campaigns of modern times was the Act Up movement ...

Full Review… | November 7, 2013

David France's documentary about the 1980s/90s American gay community and its leading role in discovering "combination therapy" - the anti-HIV magic bullet - will be inspiring among audiences from the G20.

Full Review… | November 7, 2013
Financial Times

Well-made and featuring an astonishing amount of on-the-scene archive footage, this is a powerfully emotional and hugely inspirational documentary that demands to be seen.

Full Review… | November 7, 2013

This raw and passionate AIDS treatment doc suffers from a simple lack of focus.

Full Review… | November 7, 2013
Little White Lies

It's no whitewash: important activists from the era admit how much time was lost through internecine squabbling, as well as the struggles they faced against the pitiless anti-gay rhetoric of their political opponents.

Full Review… | November 7, 2013
Daily Telegraph

A moving treatment of a deeply personal subject (France's own partner died of an AIDS-related illness in 1992), and an enthralling depiction of a seriously fired-up popular movement.

Full Review… | November 4, 2013
Empire Magazine

An important, moving doc about how LGBT activism taught a community to shun silence.

Full Review… | November 1, 2013
Total Film

An indispensable and moving piece of filmmaking.

Full Review… | February 22, 2013
The List

[A] glorious ode to the supposition that a small group of committed people can change the world...

Full Review… | February 21, 2013
Flick Filosopher

Plague offers an instructive lesson for Occupy-era rabble-rousers: Only when coupled with a knowledge base will your sound and fury signify anything.

Full Review… | January 7, 2013
Time Out Chicago

The film is a tribute to political activism and the power of people to change the world.

Full Review… | January 1, 2013
Laramie Movie Scope

Audience Reviews for How to Survive a Plague

An excellent documentary that effectively conveyed the desperation, fear and power of the gay community during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Really well done.

Christian C

Super Reviewer

An extremely enlightening panorama of that which was the most devastating plague to hit the world in the last century, and an essential historical document that shows how activism played the most important role during the acme of the epidemic.

Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer


A topic that should have been more interesting to me... but it was quite hard for my interest to survive this dull documentary - and I usually like documentaries.

Thomas Johnston

Super Reviewer


"How to Survive a Plague" is a sad, yet uplifting look at the coalitions ACT UP and TAG in the battle against AIDS. This documentary uses archival footage from the 80s and 90s to show the devastating effects of AIDS, and the constant struggle to get better medication to victims. Some of the footage is heartbreaking, some will enrage you, and some will show you that with enough support and enough people pushing for a cause, that anything can happen. AIDS is still prevalent in the world today, but it isn't nearly as destructive as it was, and it's because of the people showcased in this movie. It deserved it's nominated for "Best Documentary" at the Oscars, just as much so as the other 4 nominees. The movie drags a little in the middle, but I think it's because it doesn't have much of a narrative, and relies mostly on old footage to tell the story. Fascinating movie, that shines a light on taboo subject in our world. Definitely worth a watch.

Everett Johnson
Everett Johnson

Super Reviewer

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