Cinema is at once a powerful medium, art, entertainment, an industry and an instrument of social change; psychiatrists should neither ignore nor censor it. Representations of psychiatrists are mixed but psychiatric treatments are rarely portrayed positively. In this article, five rules of movie psychiatry are proposed, supported by over 370 films. Commercial and artistic pressures reduce verisimilitude in fictional and factual films, although many are useful to advance understanding of phenomenology, shared history and social contexts in psychiatry. Acknowledging some negative representations, three areas are explored where cinema gets it mostly right: addictions, bereavement and personality disorder. Although there are excellent representations of psychosis on film, film-makers have more often portrayed it violently – ultimately demonising people as psychokillers in more than 100 films cited. When people with mental illness are stigmatised through stereotypes, examining unwelcome depictions can uncover important truths. Psychiatrists' engagement with film will ensure professional and artistic gains.