Movies About Terminal Illness

Posted on 17 Oct 00:00


Hollywood has always been active in creating awareness and showcasing the suffering from illnesses as it is important to assure that the lives of victims are portrayed in such a way that it builds empathy among the audience. The following classic movies have beautifully presented the perspective of victims of a terminal illness. 

 1)  Love Story (1970)

Romance and love bring out the best in a person, similarly, this movie is a romantic-drama which is based on a best-selling novel by Erich Segal. It is directed by Arthur Hiller and it is considered to be one of the most romantic movies by the American Film Institute and also it is one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. It stars, Ali MacGraw (Jennifer), Ryan O’Neal (Oliver Barrett IV), John Marley (Phil Cavilleri), and Ray Miland (Oliver Barett III). The story line of the movie is about the romance between Oliver and Jenny, a couple who belong to two different social classes, Oliver, upper-class with a strong financial background and Jenny, working-class. They fall in love in the college and want to marry, but Oliver’s father disapproves of the marriage and writes Oliver off financially. Despite their struggles Oliver and Jenny live their lives together and are about to start a family when Oliver learns that Jenny is terminally ill. The news melts Oliver’s father’s heart and he wants to help them but it is too late and Jenny dies in Oliver’s arms. 

2)  Brian’s Song (1971)

A true story about a friendship between two football players with different temperaments and racial backgrounds. Friendship is an indefinite bond that exceeds the boundaries of love, and with Brian’s Song, it did the same. It is directed by Buzz Kulik, and initially, it was made for televison and  premiered on ABC television and then at the cinema. The life of Brian Piccolo was portrayed by James Caan and his friend, Gale Sayers, role was played by Billy Dee Williams. Other casting included Jack Warden as Coach George Halas and Shelley Fabares as Joy Piccolo. It was also the first time in the history of the National Football League that people of two different races were roommates. The story is rooted in the friendship between Picollo and Sayers, on and off the field. They played together on the field and garnered numerous victories for the team until Picollo begins to lose weight and his performance starts to decline. He is checked by the doctors and discovers that he has been diagnosed with cancer, and had to have one of his lungs removed. Sayers dedicated his “Most courageous award” to Picollo and asked all the fans and teammates to remember him in the prayers as Picollo with his wife at his side at the age of 26. 

3)  My Life (1993)

A family-drama. This movie is directed by Bruce Joel Rubin, starring Micheal Keaton as Bob Jones and Nicole Kidman as Gail Jones. Bob has a dream life, a pregnant wife, a dream job, and a nice house. He has everything until he is diagnosed with kidney cancer and might not live to see his first child. Then he decides to record videos to make himself immortal so that his child can know him after his death. As his condition worsens, he is advised to make peace with his family, and spend his last moments with them. He dies peacefully, leaving memories to cherish by his son. 

 4)  Still Alice (2014)

An independent drama movie based on a best-selling novel. It is directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. It is a heart wrenching story about Alzheimer's disease. Julianne Moore won numerous awards for her role. and an Academy Award for the Best Actress. The cast includes; Julianne Moore as Alice Daly Howland, Alec Baldwin as John Howland, Kristen Stewart as Lydia Howland, Kate Bosworth as Anna Howland-Jones, and Hunter Parrish as Tom Howland. Alice is a linguistic professor in a college who is diagnosed with Alzheimer's on her 50th birthday. She discovers difficulties in remembering things and names. But daydreams about her early life. She records a video instructing her future self to commit suicide by taking the pills. She loses her job, gets lost in her house, and her family is struggling to keep it together. As she was about to take her suicide pills, her caregiver stops her and throws the pills, and she quickly forgets what she was doing. In this movie, Julianne Moore takes us on a heartbreaking journey.

 5)  Bucket List (2007)

The movie centers upon two elderly men, a blue-collar mechanic Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) and a billionaire health care mogul Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson). The two meet for the first time in a hospital that Cole has just bought after they are both diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Cole wants a private room, but all the rooms are double-occupancy for cost-efficiency.

Carter is a family man, a gifted amateur historian who during his youth wanted to become a history professor but ended up being a mechanic. Cole has been divorced four times and is a cultured loner who enjoys drinking kopi luwak (one of the most expensive coffees in the world), in addition, he enjoys tormenting his personal servant, Thomas (Sean Hayes). Thomas later reveals he is actually called Matthew.

Both Cole and Carter find common ground while in the ward. Carter begins writing a “bucket list” (a list of activities to do before he dies, “kicks the bucket”, since the doctors relayed that he has less than a year to live, but he later discards his list. Cole finds the list and urges Carter to do everything on the list and he will finance the travel expenses for both of them. Carter agrees although his wife Virginia (Beverly Todd) disagrees. Despite that, Cole and Carter begin their globetrotting last vacation.

On one of their trips, atop the Great Pyramid, Carter and Cole confide in each other about their faith and family. Carter says that he has been feeling less in love with his wife, while Cole discloses that he is deeply hurt by his only daughter’s (Jennifer DeFrancisco) disaffection. His daughter disowned him after he drove away her abusive husband. Later, in Hong Kong, Cole hires a prostitute to approach Carter, but, Carter declines. Carter has never been with any woman besides his wife. After realizing Cole was behind the attempted set up, Carter insists they stop the bucket project and return home.

At home, Carter tries to reunite Cole with his estranged daughter but Cole angrily storms off. Carter returns to his family for a festive holiday dinner while Cole, despite being in the company of attractive escorts, feels lonely and breaks down weeping. Carter`s family reunion is short-lived, he collapses and is rushed to the hospital as cancer has spread to his brain. Cole visits him and they share a few moments, later, Carter dies on the operating table while undergoing a surgery.

Carter`s wife and family receive the news of his death, Cole reconciles with his only daughter and she introduces him to his granddaughter (Taylor Ann Thompson) he had never met. Cole greets his granddaughter with a kiss on the cheek and Edward crosses the “kiss the most beautiful girl in the world” from the bucket list. Cole delivers a speech during Carter’s funeral where he said that the last three months of his life were the best.

Cole later dies at the age of 81 and his ashes taken to the Himalayas by Matthew. Matthew places a coffee can alongside another can that contains Cole and Carter`s ashes and crosses out the last item on the bucket list “witness something truly majestic”.

6)  Beginners (2010)

It is a true story about the director’s father and showcases the last 5 years of their relationship before he dies of cancer. It is a family-drama comedy  directed by Mike Mills. The main cast;  Ewan McGregor as Oliver Fields, Christopher Plummer as Hal Fields (Oliver's father), and Mélanie Laurent as Anna Wallace. Oliver’s father suffers from cancer.  After the death of Oliver’s mother, father and son become closer. Oliver's father opens up about being gay and, eventually takes an active role in the gay community. Witnessing his father's joy, it inspires Oliver to pursue a relationship with Anna who has a contrasting relationship with her father.

7)  Wit (2001)

This film depicts the last moments of a professor suffering from ovarian cancer. It is directed by Mike Nichols and stars, Emma Thompson as Vivian Bearing, Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Harvey Kelekian, and Eileen Atkins as Evelyn Ashford. As her disease progresses, she reflects her life and career and wishes she had been more generous and kind to the people as she realizes that all of her treatmentson are just for the sake of experimentation, and will not cure her. 


The movies that can entertain, but also tug at hour heart strings usually  contains life lessons and pushes us to reflect on life. 

Movie Buffs Forever stocks classic movies on DVD from the 1940's to the early 2000's. Browse our vast collection of old, rare and out of print classic movies on DVD.

Why We Still Love DVDs