The Top 5 Pharmacist Movies of All Time


Our list of the best pharmacists ever to appear on the silver screen.

We’re in the full swing of movie awards season, and it’s time for Drug Topics to have a say in what does or doesn’t make a good movie. Since we’ve been around for over 160 years, we like to think we know a thing or two about pharmacy-which naturally means we know a thing or two about pharmacists in movies.

Pharmacists are not the most popular role for movie characters. Dentists and physicians seem to get all the grisly and great roles, where pharmacists are often left in the background-just like in real life. But a few filmmakers have known what you’ve known all along, that pharmacists have the best stories to tell, and are some of the most interesting characters besides.

When pharmacists do get their time in the spotlight, it’s not always pretty. From the creepy to the downright dull, pharmacists aren’t necessarily always the heroes. The best portrayals show just the kind of power pharmacists possess-for better or worse.

So here are the movies that are, unquestionably, the greatest portrayals of pharmacists in cinema history. And if we got it wrong, feel free to tell us what we messed up in the comments below!

Up next: A bored pharmacist



5. Doug Varney, Better Living Through Chemistry

Doug Varney is a bored pharmacist. He lives in a small town, working under the thumb of his overbearing father-in-law, stuck in a loveless marriage with a rebellious kid, working in a thankless job. That all changes when he has to make a delivery to another women caught in a loveless marriage. She convinces Doug to “get high on [his] own supply,” taking him through a whirlwind of accidental death, running from the authorities, and a host of other problems.

What pharmacists can learn:

Some days, working pharmacy can seem tedious. Long shift hours, overbearing bosses, thin margins, all of those add up to a difficult job. But as this movie proves, abandoning all of that isn’t quite the answer. What you do matters!



4. Miracle Max and Valerie, ThePrincess Bride

This would be number one, but we are, admittedly, fudging a little here. Max is technically a miracle worker, but we think that fits the description of pharmacists rather nicely. After all, who but a pharmacist could put together a miracle pill, knowing that chocolate makes it go down easier? That’s the kind of thing they don’t teach in medical school.

Max is only onscreen for one scene, but he leaves a lasting impression. He successfully takes the hero Wesley from “mostly dead” to alive, allowing Wesley and crew to successfully rescue his true love from the evil prince Humperdinck. Which begs the question, who’s the real hero of the story: the one who rescues the princess or the one who gave him the drugs that allowed him to do it? It did take a major nudge from his wife Valerie to get him going, and she came up with the chocolate part, but he is arguably the one who allowed Wesley, Inigo, and Fezzick to have fun storming the castle.

What pharmacists can learn:

Miracle Max is the embodiment of every good pharmacist: knowledgeable, wise, able to see through lies, able to give sage advice, can compound seemingly miraculous cures. But it is his demeanor with patients that pharmacists can really learn from. Next time a patient comes up to your counter demanding you fill their prescription (the one the doctor literally just sent over) in the next five minutes, simply recall Max’s famous words: “Don’t rush me. You rush a miracle, you get rotten miracles.”


3. Murphy Jones, Murphy’s Romance

In this sweet rom com, Emma, a divorced 33-year-old (Sally Field) moves to a small Arizona town with her son and becomes friends with Murphy Jones, the town’s pharmacist (James Garner). A romance starts to bud, but there are two complications: the pharmacist is about 20 years older than she is and her ex-husband comes back around.  

What pharmacists can learn:

Sometimes it pays to help someone who is new in town. Murphy helps Emma get her horse training and boarding business off the ground and gives her son fatherly advice, all of which helps him succeed in a new romance.


2. Friar Laurence and the apothecary, Romeo and Juliet

The real tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is not that high school sophomores are forced to read the tale of a torrid 3-day love affair between two teenagers, but the complete breakdown in the medical systems of old. This is true for every stage version and for all the filmed ones, too.

If you somehow made it through high school without ever making it through the play, or if you blotted out the memory entirely, the plot of Romeo and Juliet is basically this: Two people from rival families fall in love. Some fights happen, there’s a balcony scene, and a plan is hatched to allow the young lovers to escape. A friar decides that Juliet should fake her death using a potion that he concocts, and he promises to tell Romeo that she’s not actually dead. Juliet “dies,” and everyone is very sad. Romeo never gets the message, and is very sad, so he goes to an apothecary for some poison, which he drinks in Juliet’s crypt. She wakes up, finds him dead on the floor, and decides she too cannot live without him.

What pharmacists can learn:

If you haven’t thought about your pharmacy school lately, consider sending them a thank you letter. Maybe the FDA too. If this story is right, pharmacists used to be able to hand out poison to young twenty-somethings without going through any sort of paperwork, and nonmedical professionals could hand out fake death potions to young teenage girls on a whim.

For all the problems facing the world of pharmacy today, hopefully the ability to recreate a Romeo and Juliet isn’t one of them.

And it goes without saying, but dispensing vials of poison is always a bad idea.


1. Mr. Gower, It’s a Wonderful Life

This is by no means the most flattering pharmacist character in cinema history, but it might be one of the most honest.

Mr. Gower is a small-time druggist who employs the protagonist George at his soda fountain. Gower receives a telegram informing him of his son’s death and he consequently spends the day in a drunken stupor. Instead of going home, he continues to work, filling some capsules for an ill child. George notices that Mr. Gower had mixed up the pills, nearly mixing in a compound that would have killed the boy. When George doesn’t deliver the pills, Gower is initially upset, but slowly realizes that George saved the boy.

This movie is one of the few that shows just how human pharmacists really are: they are people who sometimes make mistakes, and those mistakes can be fatal.

What pharmacists can learn:

Mr. Gower is, above all, a lesson in humility. He’s sympathetic because he has lost his son, and that grief nearly costs another child his life. Pharmacists have many of the answers, but even the smartest person can sometimes make a huge mistake. Don’t be afraid to lean on others for support-from a soda jerk to a pharmacy technician, the other people in your pharmacy could just help save a life!


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