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The Editors blog

An inside look at what’s happening within the pharma industry and across the PMGroup from the PMLiVE editorial team

Pharma depictions in cinema

With Steven Soderbergh's latest film Side Effects featuring a fictional anxiety pill, we take a look at some of pharma's most famous movie moments
Side Effects film

Steven Soderbergh's latest film Side Effects, released in Europe this March (listen to our PMLiVE podcast), once again puts the pharma industry in the Hollywood spotlight.

Soderbergh's effort tells the story of Emily (Rooney Mara) who takes a new anxiety pill called Ablixa (see their novel '' style website, including your own one-on-one psychiatrist session) to cope with the release of her husband from prison.

Perhaps as expected for a film billed as a psychological thriller, things take a dark turn, and questions are soon raised about the drug and the relationship between Emily and her psychiatrist, played by Jude Law.

Although its various twists make a firm conclusion on the villain of the piece unlikely, it's a premise that arguably doesn't put pharma in the best light.

The industry's relationship with movies has never been a great one, however, with corruption and deceit tending to make a better narrative than the real picture.

With that in mind, here are a few big screen efforts involving the pharma industry, some perhaps with considerable more embellishment than others.

Love and Other Drugs

Based on Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by former Pfizer rep Jamie Reidy, this 2010 film attempted to tell the real story of one man's efforts to sell one of pharma's most famous brands. Unethical marketing techniques abound, but despite its true source material, you can't help but feel Hollywood's had more than a passing influence on some of the incidents. In any case, the pharma side of things soon takes a backseat when the lead, played by Jake Gyleenhaal, falls in love, and the story takes another path.

The Fugitive

With such dramatic elements as Harrison Ford jumping from a dam and the infamous “one-armed man”, it's often forgotten that it's a cover-up of a drug trial that's the reason for this thrilling story in the first place. Ford is a doctor who discovered that a drug he was investigating caused liver damage, causing the unscrupulous pharma firm behind the trial to hire someone to kill him to make sure the information doesn't get out. While it's definitely at the more fantasist end of the scale of films involving pharma, it's also one of the most exciting.

Fire in the Blood

This documentary is one of the most hard-hitting films to feature the industry, telling the struggle of gaining access to AIDS treatments for some of the world's poorest people. Although one-sided in its interviewees - and always intended as a polemic, its message on the importance of affordable drugs for all, and not just the privileged few, is a hard one to shake.

Constant Gardener

Probably the most famous depiction of the pharma industry in recent film history, this critically acclaimed picture featured a pharma company covering up illegal drug trials in Kenya that led to the deaths of several poor African test subjects. A harrowing tale with great performances by Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, the film is based on John Le Carré's novel, which in turn is thought to have been inspired by true incidents, such as Pfizer's trials investigating trovafloxacin in Nigeria.


Another documentary, and one directed by Michael Moore of Bowling For Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 fame. Although not strictly about the pharma industry, this Academy Award nominated look at the US healthcare system asks questions about the industry's influence on government policy and why the US has among the highest prices for medicines in the world.

By Tom Meek, web editor - PMGroup

Article by
Tom Meek

is web editor of PMLiVE

15th March 2013

From: Marketing, Healthcare



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