Mental illness in film

The above infographic looks at mental illness in film between the years 2000-2013, inclusive. The list of included movies was compiled by using the IMDB user ratings and including the top 10 movies for each year. Of 130 movies, only 9 of these portrayed mental illness as either a main theme of the movie, or as a main character trait of a main character in a movie. The list is below of those that made the cut:


Requiem for a Dream – Substance abuse – it’s a movie about drug abuse, no need for further analysis.

American Psycho – Anti social personality disorder (ASPD) – this is a line ball (as is any PD) but there is definitely something not OK happening with Mr Bateman. He kills people for fun and without any remorse, essentially, and works in an industry where his anti-social traits are somewhat allowed in a professional sense.


A Beautiful Mind – Psychosis/Schizophrenia – The story of John Forbes Nash, a mathematician, very little analysis needed here due to it being a true story about Nash’s struggles with schizophrenia.

Hannibal – ASPD – again as with American Psycho above and with Red Dragon below, there is an emphasis on the anti-social aspects of the character of Hannibal Lector. Hollywood has a fascination with these characters who are deeply flawed, murder (somewhat) indiscriminately and have a strong character (ie they are not socially inept or avoidant). Characters like Lector and Bateman really play into the idea of the archetypal ‘Boogeyman’ seen throughout popular literature and entertainment.

Donnie Darko – Psychosis – A kid with a giant bunny as a friend that noone else can see…


Red Dragon – ASPD – see above for ‘Hannibal’


The Notebook – Dementia – What appears to be a linear love story actually turns out to be an elderly man re-telling the story of his love for his wife who is in a nursing home suffering from apparent dementia.


The Hangover – Substance – yes, I know, it’s a comedy, but the lengths that these guys go to and the problems that their substance use causes them, it is obvious that at least one of them would qualify for a diagnosis of Substance Abuse disorder. Given that most of the Wolfpack were drugged without their knowledge, I am saying that Alan is the one who would most closely meet a diagnosis.


Black Swan – Psychosis – again, an imagined relationship, and many instances of psychotic behaviour, this one is a no-brainer.


As you can see the years 2003, 2005-2008, 2011-2013 did not have any mental health themes in the Top 10 rated movies of the year and this could be for good reason, especially post 206 global financial crisis. There is a theory that when economic times are tough, that people are more likely to seek out entertainment that is comedy driven or ‘light’ entertainment – hence the proliferation of superhero movies during that period of time. During these economic downturns it is expected that people wish to seek an escape from their current feelings and therefore production companies will focus their efforts on what is perceived that the audience wants.

Is there anything that you think that I missed? Any other standout performances in cinema of the past 14 years that you feel would fulfill the criteria? Especially, what movies outside of the Top 10, do you know of that accurately portrays mental illness in film?

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