Table 1

 Annotated “top-ten” lists: doctor movies the author considers the best, most humorous, and most useful in medical education

BestMost humorous (intentionally and unintentionally)Most useful in medical education
1. Red Beard (1965)1. M*A*S*H (1970)1. The Doctor (1991)
Arrogant young man in 19th century Japan destined to be Shogun’s doctor learns true meaning of being a doctor from senior mentor who cares for poor (Toshiro Mifune). Directed by Akira Kurosawa.Three surgeons in Korean war save lives, goof around and engage in sexual antics. Directed by Robert Altman, film won numerous awards and spawned TV series.A hotshot surgeon with a detached demeanour learns about empathy and compassion when he contracts cancer. Based on autobiographical book by Ed Rosenbaum.
2. The Hospital (1971)2. Body Parts (1991)2. Arrowsmith (1932)
Searing examination of chaotic urban hospital and doctor (played by George C Scott) pushed to the edge. Won American and British Academy Awards for Best Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky).Unethical surgeon-researcher transplants various body parts, with (unintentionally) amusing consequences. Don’t miss classic line, “Can’t you see this arm is killing me!”From the Sinclair Lewis novel, film deftly explores a doctor’s motivations and struggles with clinical versus research career, and thus inspirational and enlightening for medical students. Nominated for four Academy Awards and Directed by John Ford.
3. Article 99 (1991)3. High Anxiety (1977).3. The Citadel (1938)
Doctors in Veterans Hospital try to care for patients despite bureaucracy and stingy administrator.Dr Richard Thorndyke (Mel Brooks), new Director of Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, VERY Nervous, is framed for murder in this parody of Hitchcock movies.Young, idealistic doctor (Robert Donat) becomes disillusioned after practicing in Welsh mining town, is corrupted by lucrative practice for London hypochondriacs, and needs major shock to appreciate true meaning of being a good doctor. From AJ Cronin novel; nominated for four Academy Awards.
4. State of Emergency (1993)4. The Patriot (1999)4. Not As a Stranger (1955)
Jaded emergency room doctor (Joe Mantegna) struggles to care for patients as he battles budget cutbacks, overcrowding, and takeover by an HMO.Steven Seagal plays an MD-PhD family practitioner/holistic healer who is also a single father, Native American cowboy, and martial arts expert. He single handedly conquers extremist paramilitaries and the most lethal viral outbreak ever.Follows lives of several medical students, examining such issues as career choices, greed, and racism. Star studded cast includes Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, and Lee Marvin as doctors.
5. Miss Evers’ Boys (1997)5. What About Bob (1977)5. Pressure Point (1962)
Compelling drama about infamous Tuskeegee Study of untreated syphilis in African-Americans. Made-for-TV movie won five Emmys and nominated for another seven.Multi-phobic patient (Bill Murray) follows nationally renowned psychiatrist (Richard Dreyfus) on vacation, turning his life upside-down.Excellent examination of racial issues in which Sidney Poitier plays a prison psychiatrist forced to treat a racist Nazi prisoner (Bobby Darin).
6. The Elephant Man (1980)6. Carry on Doctor (1968)6. Whose Life Is It Anyway (1981)
Biography of John Merrick (John Hurt) and his compassionate physician (Anthony Hopkins). Directed by David Lynch, Hurt won British Academy Award for Best Actor.Among the most famous in the “Carry On” series, filled with many gags (but not much of a plot).Superb vehicle for exploring medical ethics issues in this film about an artist (Richard Dreyfus) paralysed in an auto accident who wants hospital to let him die.
7. Panic in the Streets (1950)7. Doctor at Sea (1956).7. Miss Evers’ Boys (1997).
Dr Clint Reed (Richard Widmark), a Public Health Service doctor, determines an immigrant killed by hoodlums had pneumonic plague, and to prevent a catastrophic epidemic, must track down killers aided by reluctant police chief. Won Academy Award for Best Story.To escape romantic entanglement, Dr Sparrow (Dirk Bogarde) becomes ship’s doctor, getting involved with passenger (Brigitte Bardot) and madcap shore adventures. British Academy Award Nominee: Best British Screenplay.Film about infamous Tuskeegee Study is outstanding means for exploring informed consent, research ethics, and racism.
8. Spellbound (1945)8. What’s New, Pussycat (1965)8. The Interns (1962).
Hitchcock classic about psychiatrist (Ingrid Bergman) who helps amnesiac accused of murder (Gregory Peck) uncover his past.Engaged philanderer (Peter O’Toole) seeks aid of psychiatrist (Peter Sellers) who has problems of his own. Woody Allen’s first film as both actor and director; features Oscar nominated song of same name.Nice exploration of residency, sexism, racism, ethics, and greed. Look for Telly Savalas and Buddy Ebsen as doctors.
9. Death and the Maiden (1994)9. Torture Ship (1939)9. Critical Care (1997)
Torture/rape victim (Sigourney Weaver) confronts her doctor torturer (Ben Kingsley) in this adaptation of a play directed by Roman Polanski.Research doctor who believes he has isolated “endocrine glands for criminality” recruits six homicidal criminals to be research subjects on board ship in exchange for passage to new country. Based on a Jack London short story, most humorous moments feature horribly coercive “informed consent” for research.Great mechanism for considering key end-of-life issues, this film portrays travails of resident (James Spader) entangled in siblings’ dispute over their terminally-ill, comatose father.
10. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)10. Malice (1993)10. And the Band Played On (1997)
African-American tropical medicine specialist (Poitier) brought home by fiancée (Katharine Houghton) to meet her parents (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) shock and test parents with their interracial romance. Academy Awards for Best Actress and Screenplay and British Academy Awards for Best Actor and Actress.Otherwise predictable thriller with nice plot twist, noteworthy for amusing soliloquy by surgeon Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin) featuring, “You ask me if I have a God complex? Let me tell you something: I am God.”Provocative examination of history of HIV/AIDS in USA that also considers intersection of politics and science.