A version of this post written by my colleague Amy O'Connor originally appeared on LillyPad US.
On Sunday evening, millions of people will tune in to watch the 88th annual Academy Awards. Though the Oscars celebrate the year’s most acclaimed films, for the cast and crew who make these movies, it’s a celebration of many years of hard work. In a lot of ways, this process isn’t all that dissimilar to the one that goes into developing a new medicine.
With a few notable exceptions most movies (unlike medicines) don’t take between 10-15 years to make. But the silver screen’s relationship to the discovery process doesn’t end there. Over the past few decades, many films, including some Best Picture nominees, have put a spotlight on innovation, discovery and other themes reminiscent of the biopharmaceutical industry.
As you prepare to pick out your popcorn flavors and settle in to watch the red carpet, here is a look back at a few feature films that show just what I’m talking about:
In the past few years, movies that prominently feature science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have become more frequent. Starting with 2001’s Best Picture winner, A Beautiful Mind, we’ve seen a number of biopics featuring people with careers in STEM. Last year, films like The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, showed the world the valuable role that people in these fields play in changing the world.
As I’ve noted in the past, the future of developing life-saving treatments relies in part on the next generation’s commitment to science. By putting the stories of real life people with STEM skills front and center, Hollywood helps to inspire big ideas that can make an impact.
In addition to featuring real science heroes, many films have pushed the boundaries of reality through a scientific framework. In this year’s planetary thriller The Martian, a botanist must “science” his way off the red planet. And in 1982’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a young boy made magic happen when he partnered with an unexpected visitor.
Although these sci-fi flicks may not feel founded in reality, their reliance on collaboration resonates. If we want to tackle the health challenges of today and tomorrow, we need to partner with people around, and potentially out of, this world.
Holding Onto Hope
Of course, movies also inspire us to take on big challenges. As 1989’s Field of Dream’s famously taught us, “If you build it, they will come.” Although developing a new medicine can often involve True Grit, for the scientists and researchers who dedicate their lives to a single molecule, hope for the future remains paramount. The odds can be stacked against a Million Dollar Baby molecule, but like Frodo forging ahead with his Ring, these researchers keep pushing forward.