Cancer Featured in Films – our top picks
It is the diagnosis that none of us want to hear and yet it effects all of us in some way. The makers of movies and films have incorporated cancer into movies for several decades now and they can be helpful in different ways. Although none of us wants to have cancer nor do we want a loved one to have one of its many forms, it happens and it happens too often. Watching a movie with a character who has a form of cancer can sometimes help us cope. The character may survive and that gives hope. The cancer patient may lose the battle but even in a story line with that type of ending we can start to deal with our own grief.
Some of the cancer films are pretty realistic showing some real instances in the battle a patient goes through. Most choose not to show us the hair loss and the sickness that may come with chemo therapy but touch on remarkable things cancer patients do that touch the lives of people before the disease wins. Most will touch us deeply and we should have some tissue ready for when the water starts to flow from our eyes.
Many of these movies play with the freedom from conventionalities that the end of life can bring. What are your priorities when you know death is near? That is the implicit question many of these movies ask. In a culture that hides death from the living, the inevitably of our bodies giving out at some point is a theme that movie makers can use to good effect to get our attention.
These movies help you rethink what’s important in life and deal with some crucial ethical & emotional issues.
Cancer is the ultimate illness to symbolize the fickleness of life. Depending on the kind of cancer, it will spell almost certain death, or with treatment a good chance of survival. And anything in betweeen. But whatever happens, it will face you with the uncertainty of what comes next, and the certainty of a time of pain and suffering. Chemo therapy, after all, is rarely gone through pleasantly.
Cancer makes us face the fact that life cannot be controlled and that some things just have to be taken one step at a time.
Because of the uncertain outcome and the life and death stakes of the disease, cancer in a movie will usually bring out existential questions.
I just saw Listen to your Heart, a movie in which two kids meet. Both have lost a parent at an early age. The girl has lost most of her hearing. The boy is living off a job waiting tables and makes music in his spare time. This movie is about the girl getting out of the clutches of her over protective mother, love and ultimately – dealing with death.
I won’t give the entire plot away, except to say that this is a celebration of life and love and all the risks that come with both.
Winner of several awards, including ‘best picture’ at the Action On Film International Film Festival.
The cast is mostly unknowns, except that you’ll recognize the mother as Cybill Shepherd.
Autumn in New York is a feel good movie. We meet Winona Ryder who plays Charlotte Fielding a fragile young artist. WIll Keane, played by Richard Gere is an attractive older man who knew her mother. He never had a serious relationship in his life. Charlotte of course changes his life as he learns about commitment and real love.
These great actors turn a soppy story into a real great movie.
Which is a complete contrast with A Walk to Remember. This is really a movie about teen love. Minister’s daughter Jamie meets bad boy Landon. Together they discover love and he turns into someone who can take responsibility.
Heart wrenching and the kind of movie that makes you believe in the best in everybody.
There are few movies that actually deal with the ethical issues around modern medical procedures. My Sister’s Keeper is one of the rare exceptions. We meet a family that has lived their lives around the disease of the oldest daughter: Kate. Her younger sister Anna was in fact conceived to provide organs so that Kate could survive Leukemia.
We meet the family at a time when this sad situation is coming to a head: Anna brings her parents to trial, because she doesn’t want to continue being an organ delivery system for her sister.
This ethical dilemma is clearly portrayed and the ending is a surprise twist. The Bucket list
This movie suddenly made the term ‘bucket list’ current. A bucket list is a list of things you want to have done before you ‘kick the bucket’, aka die. Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play two mortally ill cancer patients who decide to check off as many things as possible from their list.
This movie too is not really about romance, but it is certainly a celebration of life.
Stepmom with Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Ed Harris, Jena Malone and Liam Aiken
As the title hints, this movie is about divorce but it goes so much further than that! We see the conflict between the birth mom and the new stepmom over the kids. Scenes that happen in real life every day. In it all the kids suffer the most and are the most victimized in the whole affair. Enter into the story that the birth mom has terminal cancer and it gets even more touching.
Stepmom with Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon two of the greatest female actors alive. Susan Sarandon plays Jackie a divorced mom who has taken on almost full responsibility of the raising of her two kids. Isabel starts dating her ex Luke (played by Ed Harris). Jackie doesn’t take it well when Isabel starts playing a more important role in the kids’ lives. However, she is forced to take on a different attitude when cancer is not only discovered, but also doesn’t respond to treatment.
All the characters in this movie face up to the challenges this puts them to and grow from it.
One of the most psychologically realistic of the movies on this list. No saints here.
My Life: A Life taken too soon, with Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman
A young man who seems to have it all, a great job and beautiful wife who has just found out that she is carrying their first child. Then the proverbial bomb gets dropped…he is not going to live long. He may not be here long enough to hold that baby. What would you do? How angry would you be at the circumstance? A good movie that deals with the feelings that we have when we get the news that life will be shorter than we expected it to be.
Sweet November (Keepcase): One woman’s way to deal with cancer with Keano Reeves and Charlize Theron
The idea is a romantic one, I guess. A woman finds out that she has cancer so she spends her months finding men to “help” for a month while giving them some romance. They can’t stay around for longer because she doesn’t want to get attached nor does she want them to. Until Mr. November arrives in her life, he won’t be so easily pushed away. Having watched loved ones battle cancer, this story isn’t very realistic. Those last months do not have much physical beauty in them.
Terms of Endearment with Shirley MacLaine, Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Jeff Daniels
Almost a classic – when it comes to cancer movies
Many women can relate to the mother and daughter relationship that is more combative than loving on most days. We find fault with each other, lay blame whether it is deserved or not and leave little guilt trips for the other to embark on. Sound familiar? Now, give one of them a terminal cancer condition. Does that change the lives?
An older movie but still very much worth watching and reminding ourselves that sometimes we take the battles too far and should learn to love each other because time may be running out.
My Life Without Me with Sarah Polley, Amanda Plummer, Scott Speedman, Leonor Watling, Deborah Harry
She has lived for others all her life, what does she do now that she knows she only has a few months to live? To what extent can we/ should we sacrifice just give up on social conventions when the end of our life approaches?
One of the most popular movies of 2014 and listed as one of the top 10 (no. 9) top grossing romantic movies ever!
I haven’t seen this movie, but the basic story-line is original: two teenagers with a history of cancer fall in love. One of them dies. A realistic scenario (which is good), and yet, the movie is romantic (which is also good).
The message is clear: death may be unavoidable, but it does not stop us from living – as long as we’ve got.
Erin Brockovich featuring Julia Roberts
A woman’s fight against big corporate business who are needlessly exposing people to cancer causing agents.
An architect decides to build his dream house and to rebuild his relationships after being given the diagnosis of terminal cancer.
A physician who has lacked a good bedside manner, soon discovers how that feels when he is diagnosed with cancer.
How do we deal with the big “C”?
The news that it is in fact cancer is a nightmare that many of us face in our lives. The news might have been our own and if you are reading this, you must have survived. Good for you! Often times, it isn’t that we have a form of cancer but that one of our parents, siblings or other relatives have it. It might be our very best friend who is about to be taken away from us. We do not want to lose them! We do not want to watch the indignities that they must endure to battle it. We do not want it in our lives. Period.
And yet, death is a reality and we have to deal with it. We feel anger, fear, helpless and sometimes hopeless. It is scary! With researchers gaining so much ground, there are better results in beating some forms of cancer than there used to be and that is a good thing. Sometimes, watching a movie that will bring you to tears will help. Those emotions that you have held in, trying to put on a brave face, need to come out. A movie can be the catalyst. It won’t solve your grief, fears or anger but it will help you acknowledge the feelings and possibly help lessen them in degrees.
All of you should watch Letters to God! It’s about a little boy who is diagnosed with brain cancer and it really exposes some of the pains of what the courageous kiddos with cancer have to go through on a daily basis. All of these movies are fantastic, though. Cancer is horrible, but our God is bigger. <3
There’s also “Dying Young” with Julia Roberts.
I did just finish watching the first season of The Big C and if you need encouragement, inspiration, or whatever that is related to cancer, this is a must watch. The last episode is a major tear jerker though.
50/50 is also a must see. It has actual men with cancer!
One thought on “Best Cancer Movies Ever”
Interesting list, Katinka. I agree that watching a movie about cancer won’t “solve your grief, fears or anger” but might prove helpful in other ways.
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