In this article, we explore the role that fictional media (film and television) play in evoking and managing collective and individual anxieties towards biomedical research. We draw on two data sets: fictional media depictions of human research subjects and interviews with Phase I clinical trial participants conducted in the USA in 2013. We show how fictional media provide an outlet for collective uncertainties surrounding biomedical research through depictions that mock and dehumanise research participants, using such emotions of shock, disgust, pity, amusement and humour. We analyse how themes from fictional media are also used to manage actual clinical trial participants’ own anxiety concerning the unknown risks of research participation. By contrasting the reality of their research experience with fantasy derived from entertainment media, clinical trial participants minimise the seriousness of the side effects they have or may experience in actual Phase I clinical trials. We conclude that fictional media serve an important role in the collective and individual management of risk emotion.