11 Classic Hollywood Doctor Roles
Classic medical roles in film
Sure, we love our TV doctors: Gregory House, Meredith Grey, Doogie Howser. But they're just so… two-dimensional. Movie doctors are deeper, more complex, and more compelling. Just as talented as their small-screen colleagues, they're often arrogant, troubled, and unethical, too.
Here are 11 of the most memorable Hollywood portrayals, from Rock Hudson's too-good-to-be-true saint to Julia Roberts' death-defying intern to Alec Baldwin's egomaniacal surgeon. Whether you're aching for some campy operating room thrills or heart-warming tales of true-life healing, a trip to the DVD store may be just the cure you need.
The disaster doctor
Virologist Robert Neville (Will Smith)
I Am Legend (2007)
When the end is nigh in movies, doctors and research scientists are always ready to help the hero, aid the afflicted, and seek a cure for whatever ails the world. Will Smith handles all those chores in this third feature film adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel. In fact, Smith is the hero: having survived a viral cataclysm, he battles the plague's zombie-like victims in the streets of Manhattan, retreating to his lab only to search for the antidote.
The mad doctor
Dr. Jed Hill (Alec Baldwin)
There are plenty of horror movie doctors out there—Jekyll, Phibes, Lecter—but the surgeon in this Aaron Sorkin-scripted thriller is the stuff of real-patient nightmares. A party-hard lothario, he operates drunk and without test results. And when accused of arrogance in a malpractice suit brought by Nicole Kidman (right) he has this to say: “You ask me if I have a God complex? Let me tell you something. I am God.”
The eccentric doctor
Dr. Malcolm Sayer (Robin Williams)
No Patch Adams clown noses here: just a touching, throttled-down portrayal of a naive, clumsy, and caring neurologist dumped into a ward full of catatonics. When an experimental drug brings Robert DeNiro (right) briefly back to consciousness, the two outsiders—doctor and patient—connect.
Doctor on the run
Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford)
The Fugitive (1993)
He survives a bus (and train) wreck and a hundred-foot leap off a dam. He stays one step ahead of U.S. Marshal Tommy Lee Jones, solves his wife’s murder, and exposes an evil pharmaceutical company. It’s Harrison Ford—who has also played doctors in Frantic and What Lies Beneath—on the trail of the one-armed man and at the top of his game.
The good doctor
Dr. Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson)
Magnificent Obsession (1954)
A playboy responsible for the death of a respected doctor falls in love with his newly blinded widow, becomes a physician himself, and restores her sight. Rock Hudson plays the cad who channels guilt into a selfless, startling career change; Jane Wyman (left), the woman involved with two doctors. And yes, she falls for the reformed Rock before the bandages come off.
The bad doctor
Dr. Henry Gordon (Charles Coburn)
Kings Row (1941)
Dislike your daughter’s former boyfriend? Amputate both his legs. That’s Ronald Reagan’s fate at the hands of domineering dad and doctor Charles Coburn. Here Reagan wakes up post-surgery in Ann Sheridan’s arms and asks, “Where’s the rest of me?” It’s a line the future president would use as the title of his 1965 autobiography, and a chilling moment in what critics consider his finest film.
The young doctor
Dr. Rachel Mannus (Julia Roberts)
Those crazy med students! Trained to keep patients from death’s door, they open it themselves in their off hours with a series of self-inflicted near-death experiments that turn into real-life nightmares from their childhoods. On the table is Kiefer Sutherland, who earlier in the film proclaimed, “Today is a good day to die.” Kevin Bacon has the defib paddles. Oliver Platt and Roberts look on.
The antihero doctors
Capts. "Hawkeye" Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and "Trapper John" McIntyre (Elliott Gould)
Unlike their TV counterparts, these Korean War military surgeons are frequently cruel, usually drunk, and always self-satisfied. They steal jeeps, chase skirts, cheat at sports, and mock their colleagues. Their secret to success? They care. And if you took a bullet, they’re the guys you’d want wielding the scalpel.
The small town doctor
Dr. Ben Stone (Michael J. Fox)
Doc Hollywood (1991)
Back in the day, small-town doctors stayed put. Now they arrive by accident, can’t wait to leave, and stick around only after embracing the community and falling in love. Which is exactly what happens to hotshot Fox, who ditches his plan to become a cosmetic surgeon in Beverly Hills for a family practice in Grady, S.C., and nabs local ambulance driver Julie Warner along the way.
The doctor as patient
Dr. Jack MacKee (William Hurt)
The Doctor (1991)
Small towns and war zones aren’t the only attitude adjusters in medicine. For arrogant surgeon William Hurt, it is the tumor in his throat, the long waiting room lines, longer hospital forms, and uncaring physicians he encounters on the road to recovery. Eyes opened, he reexamines his relationships with patients, family, and a sleazy fellow surgeon. Were it always so.
The big city doctor
Dr. Herbert Bock (George C. Scott)
The Hospital (1971)
A suicidal chief of medicine struggles to solve a string of suspicious deaths at a Manhattan teaching hospital and never finds the time to kill himself. The script is by Paddy Chayefsky, who views the medical institution as zoo, prison—and in this scene with patient Barnard Hughes interrupting George C. Scott’s rounds—insane asylum.