10 Best Movies About Rare Illnesses | TheReviewGeek Recommends

What if you had a condition that made you age faster, grow uncontrollably, or lose your memory? What if you were one of the few people in the world who had it? How would you cope, and how would others treat you?

These are some of the questions that films about rare illnesses tackle. They take us into the lives of people who face extraordinary challenges and show us their struggles, their joys, and their humanity.

Here are 10 of the best films about rare illnesses that’ll spur both tears and hearty laughs.

Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)

The first film on our list, Lorenzo’s Oil, tells the real-life story of Augusto and Michaela Odone, whose life goes on a downward spiral when their son, Lorenzo, catches Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare and no-cure genetic disease that attacks the nervous system.

Augusto and Michaela refuse to sit around and use whatever knowledge they’ve to create a special oil mix called Lorenzo’s Oil. The potion works, and it seems to slow down the disease.

The Elephant Man (1980)

The Elephant Man by David Lynch zooms in on John Merrick, who suffers from some severe physical disabilities. In the Victorian era, he is treated horribly and ends up being a spectacle in a freak show.

Tides shift when Dr. Frederick Treves discovers Merrick and decides to do him a favor. Frederick brings Merrick to the London Hospital, wherein he strikes up a friendship with actress Mrs. Kendal Bancroft and gets a taste of acceptance now and then


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

If you’re ever feeling down, saying life’s too tough for you to conquer, just tune into this film, and you’ll be singing a different song. Julian Schnabel’s best film to date, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly revolves around Jean-Dominique Bauby, the big shot editor at French Elle magazine.

Life throws Jean a curveball, and he suffers a massive stroke and ends up with locked-in syndrome – paralyzed head to toe. The only way he can communicate is by blinking his left eye. With the help of a dedicated therapist and support from his friends, Bauby slowly but surely writes an entire book.

Miracles from Heaven (2016)

Miracles from Heaven is a Christian drama movie hailing from the brilliant mind of Patricia Riggen, the filmmaker behind the successful film The 33. The film draws from Christy Beam’s memoir and zooms in on the Beam family, especially Anna Beam.

Anna is dealing with a highly rare stomach disorder that doctors can’t fix, nor can they ease the pain. Despite being on medications 24/7, things only get worse. Suddenly, a near-death experience comes into play, and Anna is cured.

Brain on Fire (2016)

Gerard Barrett’s Brain on Fire is a biographical drama based on Susannah Cahalan’s memoir. The plot centers around Susannah Cahalan, a young journalist at the New York Post.

Out of the blue, she starts displaying strange symptoms, episodes, and hallucinations. Initially diagnosed with various mental illnesses, Susannah, with the help of a committed doctor, her family, and her own will to never give up, makes it her mission to find the true cause behind her perplexing symptoms and spread awareness about it.

Awakenings (1990)

When Penny Marshall read Oliver Sacks’ memoir, she knew she needed to make a film on it. Awakenings takes us back to the late 1960s, where we meet Malcolm Sayer, who figures out that a bunch of patients at a Bronx hospital have been stuck in a catatonic state for ages because of some rare illness.

Sayer brings in an experimental drug called L-Dopa, and to everyone’s shock, some patients start to wake up. Thanks to Malcolm Sayer, the patients get a new chance at life and now have to figure out how to adapt to a world that’s changed ever since they became comatose.

Gleason (2016)

Gleason is a documentary directed by Clay Tweel, telling the life story of Steve Gleason, an ex-football player. The film explores how Gleason deals with the challenges caused by Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

It’s a raw journey, captured through personal video journals and footage, where Gleason shares how and what helped him pull through. The best thing about this documentary is that we also get to know about Gleason’s personal life, his relationship with Michel Varisco (wife), and his son, Rivers.

The Theory of Everything (2014)

Jane Hawking’s autobiography Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen served as the inspiration for the movie. It traces the trajectory of Eddie Redmayne’s character,  Stephen Hawking, from his time as an undergraduate at Cambridge University through his revolutionary contributions to theoretical physics.

Stephan’s first spouse, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), was a rock for him while he battled Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and excelled academically.

Mask (1985)

Mask is a real-life drama directed by Peter Bogdanovich about Rocky Dennis, who’s a teenager marred by craniodiaphyseal dysplasia. If you don’t know, craniodiaphyseal dysplasia is a very rare illness that causes serious facial and skull deformities.

But despite all that, Rocky has an unbreakable spirit and a real love for life. As we go on, we learn about his relationships, especially with his supportive mom and rock, Rusty (Cher). The film is emotional and will make us think if appearance is really all that matters. 

Five Feet Apart (2019)

Justin Baldoni’s Five Feet Apart introduces us to Stella Grant (Haley Lu Richardson) and Will Newman (Cole Sprouse). They’re both teenagers transferring life with cystic fibrosis, and because of their illness, they need to keep a minimum distance of six feet to avoid any severe reaction or seizure.

But you know how it goes in romantic films – Stella and Will’s connection gets stronger, and they have to figure out how to fall in love while keeping the mandatory distance of six feet.

So, these were our top 10 picks for movies about rare illnesses. Did your favourite make the cut? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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