Can Hollywood take on cancer?

Story highlights

  • "50/50" is one of Hollywood's many cancer-themed films moviegoers did not rush to see
  • Critics praised the movie yet shunned similar ones that failed to give a sense of realness
  • Some cancer patients believe these movies do not accurately portray real-life cancer cases
Hollywood's release of "50/50" in September received praise from top critics, but didn't do as well at the box office.
The movie, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen, is screenwriter Will Reiser's humorous take on his own experiences as a cancer patient.
"Everything that we put in the movie, we wanted it to feel like it was real and honest," says Reiser in an interview with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Critics give credit to movies, such as "50/50," that they believe deliver a sense of authenticity and evoke an emotional response.
To patients like Pamela Cromwell, cancer-themed movies do not accurately portray the truth behind real-life cancer diagnoses.
"'50/50' was a great start, but the majority of movies reinforce the stigma that to be a 'certified' cancer patient you must appear weak, decrepit and on your death bed," says Cromwell, a breast cancer patient of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia.
Many patients also feel that some of these movies fail to show the daily physical and mental effects of cancer.
For Thomas Brokaw, a colon cancer patient in Alaska, "Movies tend to miss the realism of the day-to-day negative impact from having this disease or the impact the treatments have on the total body."
Seth Rogen and Will Reiser on '50/50'
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Seth Rogen's new film: 'cancer comedy'?
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Although movies such as "My Sister's Keeper," "The Bucket List" and "A Walk to Remember" tried to focus on the effects of the disease, they still received lukewarm reviews.
The New York Times' A.O. Scott said "My Sister's Keeper" was "... too soft, too easy and it dissolves like a tear-soaked tissue." Meanwhile, USA Today critiqued "The Bucket List" as "...superficial, manipulative and schmaltzy."
The star power leading some of the plots may encourage viewers to watch, yet audience response overall is similar to the critics. "A Walk to Remember" grossed a modest box office total of $41,281,092 while the Chicago Tribune said it "...scrapes the bottom of the melodramatic barrel."
On the other hand, some cancer patients and survivors can relate to these movies and find them comforting in their own way.
"I think they drive the reality for those that were impacted," says Sandra J. Wing, founder and president of the Healing Therapies Foundation, a volunteer organization that provides financial assistance for cancer patients. "It reminds you of the importance of life -- the importance of every moment and not to waste it on things that aren't of value."
Some films help to deliver a greater appreciation of life. To many viewers, these movies provide a platform that brings a sense of comfort.
Reiser agrees saying, "Everyone's affected by cancer...but after screening the movie, people are much more open about sharing their own stories, and talking about the different ordeals they've gone through to one another."