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7 Classic Medical Movies Ranked in Order of Feels


Medical movies are known for being emotional, but these seven will reliably bring the tears.

If you become a nurse or other healthcare professional, you’ll have plenty to nitpick about medical movies. You’ll notice when the actors are incorrectly administering a treatment or using the wrong terminology. You won’t be able to avoid thinking about how movies and TV misrepresent the roles of doctors and nurses constantly.

However, there’s one thing you can’t really quibble with: all the feels medical movies bring.

Even when they get the healthcare details wrong, medical movies still get human feelings right. Injuries, hospital stays, coping with chronic conditions can all be harrowing. Dealing with any of those can help us better come to terms with our frailty, mortality, and humanity. These are the top seven medical movies ranked not in order of accuracy, but by how hard they hit our emotions.

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7. “My Left Foot” (1989)

Loosely adapted from the real life of Christy Brown (played by Daniel Day-Lewis), this movie tells the story of a man paralyzed by palsy except for his left foot. Growing up in working-class Ireland, most people dismiss Brown as a lost cause, but he ultimately learns to write and paint with his foot, showing medical conditions do not define us.

6. “The English Patient” (1996)

Not all patients are going to be adventurous, amnesiac cartographers who discover secret caves, but “The English Patient” is a good example of how every patient has a story. There is a rich, human narrative that brought them from their life into a healthcare professional’s care. Most of those stories might not involve plane crashes, illicit love affairs, and WWII, but “The English Patient” is a good reminder that sometimes it can be worthwhile to listen to what people in your care have to say.

5. “The Doctor” (1991)

Doctors and other healthcare workers can sometimes erroneously view what they do as just workday grind or a series of problems to be solved. And it risks making the patients they treat feel ostracized and dehumanized. That’s certainly the case for the main character of “The Doctor” (played by William Hurt). However, when he finds himself diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, what once were a series of tasks arrogantly solved quickly become all too real.

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4. “Girl, Interrupted” (1999)

A young woman (played by Winona Ryder) is committed to a mental institution, and it’s a harrowing experience. She bonds with her fellow patients, attempts to escape, and experiences painful, yet ultimately cathartic, revelations about herself. The film deals with heavy, hard subject matter, but also manages to be uplifting and life-affirming.

3. “Something the Lord Made” (2004)

This docudrama depicts the lives of Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman) and Vivien Thomas (Mos Def), who made major breakthroughs in cardiology. Blalock and Thomas’ partnership intersects with racial politics in 1930s America as they attempt to make inroads on equality while saving the lives of children affected by blue baby syndrome.

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2. “Wit” (2001)

A woman learns that she has cancer. It’s terminal, and there’s nothing to be done except to reckon with what that means. She reflects on her life, poetry, and how to cope with a condition that can’t be cured. It’s impossible to negotiate with mortality, but it is possible to come to terms with it.

1. “Awakenings” (1990)

Sometimes the hardest thing to do isn’t surviving an accident or disease; it’s what happens after. Awakenings shows the difficulty and beauty of living on after a medical tragedy has taken years of your life, and how you come to terms with what it means to survive.

Now, bust out the popcorn and spend some time having a nice, cathartic cry. While these movies are largely dramatizations of cases you might see every day, they can help all of us in healthcare remember that every patient we treat has a story. They are individuals making meaningful contributions to the lives of others, and it’s up to you to keep them safe.

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