“The Bucket List”, or Why I Hate Cancer Movies

In another life, I would have been a film maker.  Not an actor, or a set designer or even a cinematographer.  I would have been The Director.  It’s obvious isn’t it?  It’s all about being The Person In Charge.  So even though I hate cancer movies, I have to confess to a little bit of morbid curiosity.  Besides, it always feels wonderful to have a really GOOD cry, especially when no one is watching.

Tonight, (even though I hate cancer movies)  I decided to check out the Top Ten Lists of Cancer Movies.  I found a good one on  www.screenjunkie.com  .  The author is Lisa Gove.  I must say, she fell short of the mark, but I will recap here for you.  My editorial comments are in parentheses.

1. “Wit”, starring Emma Thompson. (I don’t know HOW this made the list.  This is the cancer movie that gives chemotherapy a bad name. And Emma is mean and nasty.  Skip it, please!)

2. “Step Mom”, starring Susan Sarandon.  (Step mother selflessly gives over children to new mom when she realizes she’s dying.  Really?  Like this could ever happen? I SWORE I wouldn’t cry, but I did. I should tell you that I am a step mother.)

3. “Crazy Sexy Cancer” , a documentary featuring actress Kris Carr.  (do we ACTUALLY need to document this?  I haven’t seen it but I have to say, I fell hard for the name!)

4. “The Bucket List”.  Lisa says you just cannot go wrong with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. (I think you can indeed go wrong.  But yes, it still made me cry.  But only a little tiny bit!)

5. “Love Story”, with Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. (WHY is this not at the top of the List?  Cancer should mean never having to say you’re sorry, WAY more than love!)

6. “Brian’s Song”.  The story of Chicago Bears players Brian Piccolo and his best friend Gale Sayers. (the tear jerker to end all tear jerkers.  Watching this one is self inflicted torture, without a doubt. Even the music makes me weep.)

7. “Dying Young” with Campbell Scott and Julia Roberts. (was that the one with the cute puppy in a box?  Oh, no—that was “Sweet November”. Now  I am getting my cancer movies confused.)

8. “Life as a House” with Kevin Klein.  ( Okay, I admit it—I purposely missed this one.  I couldn’t deal with Kevin Klein dying.  I can explain it—he was already dead when he played Cole Porter.)

9. “Letters to God”.  The true story of an 8 year old boy with brain cancer who writes to God.  (Have I mentioned yet that I don’t do pediatric oncology?  Nor do I do pediatric cancer movies.  Read my lips—NEVER!).

10. “One More Kiss”.  A woman with cancer goes back to her former lover in Scotland for a last wild passionate fling.  (HOW DID I MISS THIS?  It starred Gerard Butler, my all time favorite Scotsman, after of course, Sean Connery, who had the good sense NOT to star in cancer movies.  Gerard obviously has no such qualms—he also starred as a DEAD person in “P.S. I Love You”.   Hot and dead.  Is that a bad combination?)

Lisa, you disappointed me.  How could you leave out my biggest personal weeper of all time, the never to be equaled “Terms of Endearment”?  Larry McMurtry tells a better story, and Debra Winger does a better job of demonstrating a life, a real and joyful life cut far too short than any of those poseur cancer movies. “Terms of Endearment” was made for a pittance–$8 million , and grossed over $100 million at the box office, winning the 1983 Oscar for Best Picture,  not bad for a little movie about real ordinary people who find themselves in really unfortunate extraordinary circumstances.  Kind of like my patients.  Okay, damn it, now I’m crying again.



  1. I hate cancer (medical tear jerker, actually) movies too. And I- knew- a-dog- who- died movies even MORE.

    Take it from your writer friend: you do have a book here. You just write it one tale at a time…

  2. I agree with you about ‘Terms’ … that was a great movie. So great. Ditto Brian’s Song and Love Story. I would say I don’t actively search out Cancer movies … for the obvious reasons.

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