10 Movies About the End-of-Life Experience
From short documentaries to feature-length films, cinema has been used to examine difficult subjects and ignite conversations about our mortality.
With the Oscars around the corner, we were inspired to track down movies that have realistically and compassionately explored themes related to the end-of-life experience. With the help of our community, we’ve pulled together a list of films that have resonated with audiences based on their depiction of a variety of challenging subjects including serious illness, grief, and death.
1. End Game
This Academy Award-nominated short documentary explores the difficult choices patients and their loved ones face at the end of life and how their care teams help them navigate this experience.
“End Game” is currently streaming on Netflix.
It’s been two years since Disney Pixar’s “Coco” was released, and this animated film continues to resonate with audiences for its playful and death-positive portrayal of family, grief, and the afterlife.
“Coco” is currently streaming on Netflix.
3. My Sister’s Keeper
Released in 2009, “My Sister’s Keeper” follows the fictional story of a family whose lives are ripped apart after their youngest daughter — who was conceived in order to be a marrow donor for her ill older sister — seeks legal action against her parents. A compelling look at how illness affects the lives of both the patient and their loved ones.
“My Sister’s Keeper” is available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, and iTunes.
Where “End Game” shows the end-of-life experience through the lens of patients and their loved ones, Academy Award-nominated “Extremis” focuses on the physicians’ point of view. This short documentary examines how medical teams communicate with one other and families about end-of-life decisions and the crucial choices they must make.
“Extremis” is currently streaming on Netflix.
Released in 2017, “Defining Hope” shows the current state of the end-of-life experience. The film serves as a powerful reminder that ending well looks different for everyone and that we are empowered to make choices that align with our wishes.
“Defining Hope” is available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, and Amazon Prime.
Winning “Best Picture” at the 1984 Oscars, “Terms of Endearment” is a timeless film about the relationship between a mother, daughter, and the men in their lives. The film also explores how terminal illness impacts the bond these women share. Starring Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, and Debra Winger.
“Terms of Endearment” is available to rent on YouTube, Google Play, iTunes, and Amazon Prime.
“Griefwalker” is a documentary the chronicles the death-bed experiences of palliative care Stephen Jenkinson. Following Jenkinson as he interacts with care teams and counsels families, this film makes important observations about pain, death talk, and the dying experience
“Griefwalker” can be viewed on the National Film Board of Canada’s website.
An unconventional friendship between “Friday the 13th” director Sean Cunningham and hospice nurse Michelle Lasota led to the creation of this documentary that showcases and honors the hospice work.
“The Nurse With the Purple Hair” can be purchased on Amazon.
9. One Day
In this Korean film, an insurance agent is assigned to the case of a woman who becomes comatose after a car accident. What unfolds is a bittersweet story about love and grief.
“One Day” is currently streaming on Viki.
Mitch Albom’s beloved non-fiction book was adapted into a TV movie staring Hank Azaria and Jack Lemmon. This film shows the friendship that forms between Albom and his former professor, Morrie Schwartz, and the lessons Albom learns from Schwartz — who is dying from ALS.
“Tuesdays With Morrie” is currently streaming on YouTube.
The Oscars air Sunday, February 24th at 5 p.m. PST. Best of luck to “End Game” which has been nominated in the short documentary category.