Oscar Season: 5 Favorite Doctor Movies

Greg Kelly

With the Oscars just around the corner, columnist Greg Kelly remembered some of his favorite physician-focused films.

“The cinema has the power to make you not feel lonely, even when you are.”

—Tom Hanks

The 88th annual Academy Awards program is set to be staged this weekend. This year’s ceremony comes with some controversy. For the second straight year there are no African-Americans present among the 20 nominees for the four top acting categories—Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress.

If this in any way diminishes the annual Academy Awards, then it troubles me greatly. For I believe that the “Oscar” award is one of few actual honors left to revere. Perhaps change is the price of survival.

The Academy might perhaps have saved itself some anguish had it the good sense to nominate Will Smith for an Oscar for his recent work in Concussion. His performance does filmmaking and the medical profession proud.

His turn as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who fought the NFL on suppressing his CTE findings, is every bit as good or better compared to all those nominated for acting in 2015 (I saw a lot of movies last year).

For more medicine and Hollywood, have a look at some of my favorite doctor movies (love to hear others via comments):

The Hospital (1972). Legendary actor George C. Scott plays the brilliant but troubled Dr. Arthur Bach, chief of service at a major New York City medical center. Murder and mayhem are the bill of fare in the black-humor movie. I recall my physician-dad being very taken by the Bach character’s drunken, screaming indictment of modern medicine: “We cure nothing! We heal nothing!” The brilliant film dramatist, Paddy Chayefsky, was awarded the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work here.

The Fugitive (1993). I remember well this summer blockbuster when it hit the theaters—and loving every minute of it. The film is a spinoff the very popular 1963-67 TV show. Another terrific actor, Harrison Ford, plays the part of Dr. Richard Kimble—an innocent man wrongly accused of killing his wife (a one-armed man did)—with vulnerably and conviction. The very fine Tommy Lee Jones won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his on-the-button portrayal of the relentless lawman, Samuel Gerard, in this action-packed movie.

Frankenstein (1931). It’s the granddaddy of all sci-fi horror films and the one that “scared the pants off” of my 13-year-old future doctor-father. English actor Colin Clive plays Dr. Henry Frankenstein and another Brit, Boris Karloff, is the "Monster." Piecing together stolen body parts and employing a jolt of electricity, the young doctor-scientist creates a murdering machine (its first appearance is harrowing). The film was drawn from Mary Shelley’s 1818 gothic novel. (And for some laughs, try the 1974 Mel Brooks comedy, Young Frankenstein).

I Am Legend (2007). It’s the saga of a fatefully brilliant young doctor, Robert Neville. A top US Army scientist just as a worldwide viral plague destroys civilization, he survives in New York City, immune, fighting ghouls and seeking virological answers. There have been a few renditions of this post-Apocalyptic tale but the skilled work of Will Smith (he’s been twice nominated Best Actor) is most impressive here. Like all true healers, Neville gives his life to help others. The doctor saves humanity.

The Verdict (1982). This one can be called an anti-doctor movie, but it scores with me because I know of a similar case. The film tells of down-and-out attorney Frank Galvin who gets a shot at redemption when he catches a medical malpractice case that reeks to the heavens. This was the performance for which Paul Newman should have won an Oscar (he was nominated). In this absorbing courtroom story, the powerful doctors are nailed for altering official medical reports. My father-in-law, once a fierce medical malpractice lawyer, told me of all the drama behind a comparable case involving a respected area doctor. Doctors are human.

Photo (cropped): Smith at the 2011 Walmart Shareholders Meeting, courtesy Walmart/Creative Commons