25 Best Medical Films Ever Made

Medical films tend to lean toward thrillers, comedies, dark humor or based upon true stories — such as documentaries. This list of the 25 best medical films ever made include all those genres, and includes health issues such as AIDS, cancer, mental illnesses and pregnancy. Some films feature nurses, other movies feature physicians, and they all include patients (who actually may be the medical personnel).

  1. MASHM*A*S*H* (1970): A satire based upon the novel MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors by Richard Hooker, this film depicts a unit of medical personnel stationed at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War.
  2. The Hospital (1971): This satire, written by Paddy Chayefsky, is about 24 hours in the life of Dr. Bock (George C. Scott), the Chief of Medicine at a hospital in Manhattan. Bock has suicidal thoughts caused by a mid-life crisis, and wishes to make his death look like an accident for insurance purposes.
  3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975): Jack Nicholson plays a character who has been sentenced to a term of confinement to a psychiatric ward or prison. Choosing the former option, Milos Forman’s 1975 film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel becomes a comically sharp indictment of the “Establishment” urge to conform within an “insane” environment.
  4. Bad Medicine (1985): A couple of med-school applicants (Steve Guttenburg and Julie Hagerty) can’t get admitted to any medical schools in America, so they end up in a small Central American school run by Alan Arkin.
  5. Florence Nightingale (1985): This made-for-television movie starred Jaclyn Smith as the nursing pioneer who came to be known as the saintly “Lady of the Lamp.” This Emmy-winning feature makes good on its classic television pedigree.
  6. Gross Anatomy (1989): This is not a deep or complicated film, but it is a popular one with premed students, perhaps because of its partially realistic treatment of medical school.
  7. Awakenings (1990): Robin Williams plays Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a shy research physician who uses an experimental drug to ‘awaken’ the catatonic victims of a rare disease. Robert De Niro (in an Oscar-nominated performance) co-stars as Leonard, the first patient to receive the controversial treatment.
  8. Flatliners (1990): Featuring powerful early performances by Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon, this film about a group of medical students who attempt to find out what happens after death, has become a cult classic.
  9. Jacob’s Ladder (1990): This film is about experimental treatments performed on former veterans of the Vietnam War, and features one of the best twist endings in film. The inspiration for Jacob’s Ladder is a 1891 short story by Ambrose Bierce called “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.”
  10. Article 99Article 99 (1991): A group of doctors in a veteran’s hospital must contend with too many patients, not enough beds and bureaucratic belt-tightening by hospital administrators. The doctors are determined to give the best service they can, even if that means defying management’s orders and performing unauthorized operations.
  11. The Doctor (1991): William Hurt stars as Jack, a once-impervious doctor who is made to face his own frailty. The movie takes a clinical view of medical procedures to which Jack is subjected, reflecting his own lack of caring at the beginning of the film.
  12. Medicine Man (1992): This film features Sean Connery as Dr. Robert Campbell, a scientist in the Amazon Rainforest racing against the clock to find a cure for cancer before a logging company destroys the village he has sworn to save.
  13. And the Band Played On (1993): American epidemiologist Don Francis arrives in a village on the banks of the Ebola River in DR Congo and discovers many of the residents and the doctor working with them have died from a mysterious illness later identified as Ebola hemorrhagic fever. The images of the dead haunt him when he later becomes involved with HIV and AIDS research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  14. Philadelphia (1993): Tom Hanks plays a lawyer (Andrew Beckett) at a conservative law firm who is fired because he has AIDS. He hires a homophobic small-time lawyer (Denzel Washington) as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit.
  15. Extreme Measures (1996): A medical thriller about a doctor who experiments on the homeless in an effort to find a cure for paralysis. View excellent performances by actors Hugh Grant and screen veteran Gene Hackman, highlighted by the powerful cameo performances of David Morse and J. K. Simmons.
  16. Patch Adams (1998): Patch Adams (Robin Williams) plays the real Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams, who is voluntarily committed to a mental institution, where he finds that he can help other patients through humor and fun. In film in in real life, Patch forms the Gesundeit Institute.
  17. Erin Brockovich (2000): According to the “real” Erin Brockovich, this film (starring Julia Roberts) is “rue and probably 98% accurate.” The film dramatizes the story of Brockovich’s legal fight for clients who became sick from water pollution created by US West Coast energy corporation Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).
  18. A Beautiful Mind (2001): This film is based on the life of John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in economics. The story begins in the early years of a young schizophrenic prodigy named John Nash. Early in the film, Nash begins developing paranoid schizophrenia and endures delusional episodes while painfully watching the loss and burden his condition brings on his wife and friends.
  19. Wit (2001): Diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Vivian Bearing (Emma Thompson) reaches the end of her life and regrets her insensitivity. In her time of greatest need, she learns that human compassion is of more profound importance than intellectual wit.
  20. Something the Lord MadeSomething the Lord Made (2004): This HBO movie is based upon a true story of two men who defied social rules to launch a medical revolution, set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South.
  21. The Painted Veil (2006): A story about adultery amidst the cholera epidemic in China. The screenplay by Ron Nyswaner is based on the 1925 novel of the same title by W. Somerset Maugham.
  22. Sicko (2007): This Michael Moore documentary showcases health care in the United States, focusing on its health insurance and the pharmaceutical industry. The movie compares the for-profit, non-universal U.S. system with the non-profit universal health care systems of Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Cuba.
  23. The Business of Being Born (2008): This documentary film by executive actress Ricki Lake and filmmaker Abby Epstein reveals that there is much to distrust behind hospital doors and follows several couples who decide to give birth on their own terms.
  24. Extraordinary Measures (2010): Inspired by a true story, this drama centered on the efforts of John and Aileen Crowley (Brendan Fraser and Keri Russell) to find a researcher (Harrison Ford) who might have a cure for their children’s rare genetic disorder. This film is credited for bringing Pompe’s disease to the public’s attention.
  25. Shutter Island (2010): Considered one of the ten best medical thrillers in recent years, this film by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese is about two U.S. Marshals investigating a psychiatric facility features mind-bending plot twists.