THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI (1920)
The first important film set in a mental asylum, though it is used as a twist at the end to explain the preceding dream-like narrative.
Romantic thriller by Hitchcock that presents mental institutions and psychiatric care in a positive and largely nurturing way. It is not a serious film.
THE SNAKE PIT (1948)
Historically this was hugely important in that it presented mental health care in a pretty terrifying way – this was promoted as a film dealing with a social message. Based on the 1946 autobiographical novel of the same name. In the UK the British Board of Censors banned the depiction of insanity so big cuts were made before it was belatedly released. It is said that nursing organisations asked fo fit to be banned because young girls seeing the film might be deterred from entering the nursing profession. Olivia De Havilland won an Oscar for playing the patient.
A big hit in its day, this comedy about a man with mental health issues (his best friend is an invisible 8 foot rabbit) presents the hero as basically sane and everybody else as crazy or driven by malicious motives.
THE COBWEB (1955)
Big Budget star-studded Hollywood melodrama about patients at a private mental clinic. The depiction of the medical profession is positive.
THE SHRIKE (1955)
About there mental collapse of a husband who is frightened of his wife. In the asylum the inmates are shown as being specially scared of being sent to Ward 7 where only violent patients are sent.
3 further films by Alfred Hitchcock: THE WRONG MAN (1956), VERTIGO (1958) and PSYCHO (1960).
In all three main characters suffer a nervous breakdown or psychotic break. The medical professionals are all presented very votively, as in SPELLBOUND (1945).
SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER (1959)
This depicts psychiatric institutions are very frightening in one major sequence, though the protagonist is a sympathetic psychiatrist. The heroine who has had a breakdown is throughout being threatened by the possibility having to undergo a lobotomy.
SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963)
A journalist pretends to be crazy to write a story about an asylum. He ultimately becomes genuinely ill and falls into a state of catatonia. The asylum is often presented in frightening and nightmarish ways.
Horror portmanteau in which various patients tell the stories of how they got there. The staff prove as unhinged as the inmates.
A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1974)
A serious and tough film about a character having a breakdown, being institutionalised and then being sent home and the negative impact of the stress on all the family.
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUKOOS NEST (1975)
Hospitals dont come out well in this one
I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN (1977)
A basically positive if intense depiction of asylums.
Well, the psychiatrist is the hero and the psychiatric patenting unredeemable evil
ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980)
Oscar-winning story of a family torn apart by the death of one son and a controlling mother and how a psychiatrist helps make things better again.
Biopic of the Hollywood actress Frances Farmer, who was probably schizophrenic and who spent years in in stations. Controversially it presents as fact her getting lobotomised, something that has now been largely debunked. On the whole she is presented as a victim throughout. Jessica Lange won an Oscar for her portrayal.
Barbra Streisand as a prostituie hospitalised for killing one of her clients – the medical profession is not presented very sympathetically. She is found not guilty and not crazy at the end.
WHAT ABOUT BOB? (1991)
Bill Murray comedy about an annoying patient who is more fun than his stuffy psychiatrist.
MR JONES (1993)
Richard Gert is the patient, Lena Olin the shrink. They fall in love eventually
GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997)
Great movie that reinforces that great movie fiction – the psychiatrist that only has one patient
GIRL, INTERRUPTED (2000)
Based on a true story though somewhat sanitised on screen. The inmates run away.
A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2002)
Oscar-winning film loosely based on a true story – the depiction of psychiatric help is not very prevalent.
JOHN CARPENTERS THE WARD (2010)
Horror film in which the hospital is terrifying but the psychiatrist is a very nice guy.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)
A huge box office hit that presents mental illness in sympathetic but not especially thorough detail.
SPLIT (2016) / GLASS (2018)
The psychiatrist in the first film is very sympathetic but utterly misguided. And (spoiler alert) a villain in the second