Medical filmmaking frequently has focused on education and instruction: a cartoon teaching soldiers proper hygiene in a tropical, vector-rich part of the world; a filmed classroom lecture; a how-to surgical procedure; or a public health warning about tuberculosis or drug abuse.

All of the above are examples of the use of motion pictures in the service of disseminating medical knowledge. Documenting research or clinical findings is another prominent use of medical filmmaking, as is the promotion of specific types of health care by different branches of the medical profession (e.g. American Dental Association films about dental care).

An anatomical diagram of a man's digestive tract is superimposed on his body to show where the fluid he drinks will go.
Diagram of “The passage of food through the digestive tract,” Jacob Sarnoff, The Human Body in Pictures (ca. 1927), 15 (taken from the artwork for the film).
National Library of Medicine #06311000R

Most of the films in the NLM collection were made by public-sector entities, but they vary widely in content and style. The military wanted healthy soldiers, for example, while local health authorities wanted rural residents to correctly construct their sanitary facilities. Advocacy organizations such as the National Tuberculosis Association and the American Cancer Society also are well-represented in medical filmmaking, targeting a range of audiences with information about symptoms, treatment, and prevention.

Many of the films mentioned in the following sections are featured in Medicine on Screen, and others can be viewed through NLM’s Digital Collections. Thousands more are cataloged and available either onsite or through a screener-upload service.

Public Sector
Federal, state, and local government organizations used moving images as an effective training and public health awareness and education tool. Learn more…

Medical and Advocacy Organizations
Organizations dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and eradication of diseases were also active in medical filmmaking. Learn more…

Corporate Entities
Corporations involved in medical filmmaking include pharmaceutical manufacturers, makers of medical devices, insurance companies such as Metropolitan Life, publishing companies such as McGraw-Hill, and others. Learn more…

Doctors and Scientists
Some medical practitioners embraced the art of moving images as a modern means of communicating their work, educating other doctors, or documenting procedures. Learn more…

A Parallel Movie Industry
Though we tend to think of Hollywood when we imagine the movie industry, there was a thriving trade in producing films for purposes other than entertainment, typically instruction or education. Learn more…