10 worst doctors in TV and film

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published October 25, 2018

Key Takeaways

You think Yelp reviews can be scary? Imagine what it's like to be one of the "worst doctors" in TV and film. Your online ratings would be in the toilet. Then again, if you're one of these guys, your Yelp reviews might be the least of your problems.

What does it take to be one of the worst doctors on TV or in the movies? A general disregard for patients is the norm, but putting people in outright peril is just as common—no "primum non nocere" here. The worst doctors also tend to have grandiose schemes that often fail to work, which eventually come back to haunt them.

Perhaps it's a positive sign that there are no women doctors on the worst list—they haven't yet broken through this glass ceiling. (Come on, ladies! Get into your underground lair and start hatching those overelaborate plans for world domination. Toil in your grungy laboratory to create those unnatural creatures that will inevitably attempt to kill you and the ones you love. Let's go!)

You've seen the 10 best doctors in TV and film, so now, without further ado, here are the worst ones.

10. Dr. Evil—Austin Powers movies

(Photo: New Line Pictures)

Dr. Evil (played by Mike Myers in the Austin Powers series) is not just a bad doctor, he's downright evil—and he's got the credentials to prove it. "It's Dr. Evil," he says in the first movie, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. "I didn't spend 6 years in Evil Medical School to be called 'mister,' thank you very much." Dr. Evil suggests that his son, Scott Evil, become not just a veterinarian but an evil veterinarian. As with many of the worst doctors, Dr. Evil is a megalomaniac. He's so full of himself, he eventually has himself cloned (whom he calls Mini-Me). He's also obsessed with taking over the world. How? By stealing nuclear warheads and holding the world hostage for the hefty ransom of…ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

9. Dr. Rumack—Airplane!

(Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Who is Dr. Rumack? He's a physician passenger on board the flight in the 1980 disaster-comedy movie Airplane! Played with deadpan obliviousness by actor Leslie Nielsen, Dr. Rumack is known for his literal—and not very bright—answers to such questions as, "Surely you can't be serious?" "I am serious," Dr. Rumack replies, "and don't call me Shirley." On another occasion Dr. Rumack insists, "This woman has to be gotten to a hospital." "A hospital?" the woman asks worriedly, "what is it?" "It's a big building with patients," Dr. Rumack replies, "but that's not important right now." But what is important is that Dr. Rumack reinvigorated the career of Leslie Nielsen, who had played serious roles for years in dramatic films and TV shows. Nielsen's part in Airplane! led to many more comedies, notably The Naked Gun series as a police detective named Lt. Frank Drebin. Just don't call him Shirley.

8. Dr. Bob Kelso—Scrubs

(Photo: Chris Haston/NBC)

On the 2001-2010 TV series Scrubs, chief of medicine Dr. Bob Kelso (played by Ken Jenkins) took special pleasure in insulting, demeaning, and even undermining the hospital's physicians and staff. In a character-defining moment in the first episode, Dr. Kelso told intern J.D. (played by Zach Braff), "Do you not realize that you're nothing but a large pair of scrubs to me?" His method of introduction? "What has two thumbs and doesn't give a crap? Bob Kelso! How ya doin'?" Although Kelso's attitude softened a bit in later seasons, he usually appeared as a cynical, heartless administrator whose main focus was the hospital's bottom line, with little compassion for patients or staff. Good thing such people exist only on TV, right?

7. Dr. Moreau—The Island of Dr. Moreau

(Photo: New Line Cinema)

If you had your own private tropical island, what would you do there? Would you spend long sunny days swimming and relaxing on the beach? Or would you be busy in your laboratory, transforming animals into human-like hybrids for the purpose of… Wait, what was the purpose, again? Whatever it was, that's what Dr. Moreau did on his island. The 1896 novel by H.G. Wells has been adapted several times for film, but none so famously (or infamously) as the 1996 version starring a late-career Marlon Brando as the titular mad doctor (with his own small-statured companion—the inspiration for Dr. Evil's Mini-Me). As you might guess, creating human-animal hybrids is not a very good idea—and it's not even covered by insurance or Medicare. The movie was a box office bomb. Of Brando's performance, movie critic Roger Ebert called it, "perhaps his worst film."

6. Dr. Leo Spaceman—30 Rock

(Photo: Jessica Miglio/NBC)

On the comedy series 30 Rock, Dr. Leo Spaceman (pronounced spah-CHEM-in) is a quack Manhattan doctor who, for some reason, has an excellent reputation as a physician "and a respectable reputation as a dentist," according to TV executive Jack Donaghy (portrayed by Alec Baldwin). Played by Saturday Night Live alum Chris Parnell, Dr. Spaceman frequently offers questionable medical advice and prescribes random medications far too easily. "But what can you do?" he says. "Medicine's not a science." Other words of wisdom: "I've always said humans need more animal blood. It keeps the spine straight." And then there's this diagnosis: "Must be psychosomatic. Now don't worry—that's just a fancy doctor word for 'your brain is broken.' Unfortunately, there's no field of medicine that deals with the brain, but I can give you a pamphlet for a cult." Dr. Spacemen is now the Surgeon General of the United States (on 30 Rock, at least).

5. Dr. Frankenstein—Frankenstein

(Photo: Universal Pictures)

If your research project is to create a living being assembled from the body parts of exhumed corpses and brought to life by electricity, then you definitely want to make sure that your hunchbacked assistant does not bring you the abnormal brain of a murderer. That's pretty much rule number one. Rule number two is to secure enough funding so that you don't have to carry out your bizarre experiments in your ancestral family's creepy old castle. Rule number three is to make a creation as indelible and timeless as Boris Karloff's Monster, as portrayed in the 1931 classic horror movie. This seminal film set the bar for all other mad-doctor movies. Who can forget Baron Heinrich ("Henry") von Frankenstein, played by actor Colin Clive, screaming "It's alive!" when the Monster first showed signs of life? Like the Monster itself, none of the film's sequels and remakes can ever match the original.

4. Dr. Nick Riviera—The Simpsons

(Photo: Fox Broadcasting Co.)

"Hi, everybody!" says Dr. Nick whenever he enters a room. Despite his good attitude, his patients usually end up in a bad way. Even if you're a cartoon character, do you really want to be treated by someone who got his MD from Hollywood Upstairs Medical College? (The certificate on his office wall reads, "I went to medical school for 4 years and all I got was this lousy diploma.") But if you can't afford a reputable physician like the chuckling Dr. Hibbert, you can always call Dr. Nick at 1-600-DOCTORB ("The B is for bargain!" he proudly says). On his TV commercial, Dr. Nick swings a scalpel and asks, "Are you looking for a way to slice the cost of your medical expenses? I will perform any operation for $129.95!" His slogan: "You've tried the best, now try the rest!"

3. Dr. Gregory House—House

(Photo: Scott Humbert/Fox Broadcasting Co.)

We weren't sure whether to include Dr. House on our 10 best doctors list or on our 10 worst doctors list. On one hand, Dr. House (played by British actor Hugh Laurie) is a medical diagnostic genius, finding "zebras" where other physicians see "horses." On the other hand, he's misanthropic, cynical, narcissistic, bad-tempered, bad-mannered, and sometimes just plain bad. "I recognize self-confidence is not my short suit," he once observed. Another phrase that Dr. House utters repeatedly: "Everybody lies." (The term curmudgeon was named a top television buzzword of 2005 in reference to him.) Despite saving patients' lives on a weekly basis, he's not very good with them. But he's even tougher on his team of underlings (and on himself). "Idiopathic, from the Latin meaning we're idiots because we can't figure out what's causing it," he said of one case.

2. Dr. Christian Szell—Marathon Man

(Photo: Paramount Pictures)

What's worse than a Nazi? An evil Nazi dentist, of course. In the 1976 movie Marathon Man (adapted from the 1974 novel), Dr. Christian Szell had been the dentist at the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. He tortured prisoners in his dentist's chair and robbed them of their gold fillings. At the end of the war, he evaded capture and went on to become an international diamond dealer. Eventually arriving in present day New York City, Szell crosses paths with a marathon runner (played by Dustin Hoffman), whom the evil dentist believes to be a government agent. As Szell drills into the innocent man's tooth, he repeatedly asks, "Is it safe?" If you're in the company of a criminally psychopathic Nazi dentist, it is most definitely not safe. On the upside, Laurence Olivier won a Golden Globe award and received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of the sadistic character.

1. Dr. Hannibal Lecter—The Silence of the Lambs

(Photo: Orion Pictures)

No list of worst doctors would be complete without Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, who likes his patients extremely well—extremely well done, that is. (Just kidding. He likes his victims medium-rare.) The character of Hannibal Lecter has appeared in several books and movies but is most memorable in the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs, for which actor Anthony Hopkins won an Academy Award for Best Actor as well as the infamous title greatest movie villain of all time by the American Film Institute. Dr. Lecter is highly intelligent, polite, and cultivated, with sophisticated tastes in art, music, and food. For example, he turns his victims into gourmet meals—like that time he ate a census taker's liver "with some fava beans and a nice Chianti." He's also insightful and helpful with advice, but you don't want to go to his house for dinner—you might wind up as the main course.

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