Favorite Movies with a Disability Focus/Storyline

  • 1) The Waterdance, with Eric Stoltz, Helen Hunt and Wesley Snipes. Snipes is wonderful, Stoltz is quite convincing and Hunt is amazingly versatile and really, really cute. :)
  • 2) Benny & Joon with Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson with Aidan Quinn. This is a wonderful date movie. Not the most realistic, but really well done.
  • 3) Born on the Fourth of July with Tom Cruise. I watched his mannerisms, body language and presence. I was genuinely impressed.
  • 4) Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. Another impressive turn for Cruise as the brother of an autistic. Hoffman was simply amazing in this role.
  • 5) Gaby, unsure who starred, however, the performance was wonderful and handling of sexuality was honest, tender and real.
  • 6) Hell Roller is really a horrid film, but was so incredibly funny I had to include it. A low-budget film with a disabled serial killer, oh my! It probably included every stereotype and bad joke, but I simply find it irresistable. I highly recommend renting it if you can find it!
  • 7) Children of a Lesser God with Marlee Matlin. What a powerful performance, and a true reminder of the gifted "disabled" performers!
  • 8) Mask, with Eric Stoltz and Cher...This was a great breakthrough performance for Cher, and an early impressive performance for Stoltz. Funny, I like Stoltz more in these kinds of roles. Traditional roles just don't seem to work for him as well.
  • 9) Elephant Man, I still can't believe I forgot this one...though, I confess I prefer the stage version.
  • 10) Whose Life Is it Anyway? Richard Dreyfuss was powerful in this role, but I seemed to like it more than critics did. Once again, I thought the stage version was more powerful.
  • 11) My Left Foot, not my favorite but definitely a must see.
  • 12) What's eating Gilbert Grape? Truly a wonderful performance by Leonardo Dicaprio, and who can forget the powerful performance by the mother? (Geez, I can't remember her name).
  • 13) Butterflies Are Free: There are those who don't like this one, but I find it a nice afternoon viewing.
  • 14) Forrest Gump: Definitely don't know how I missed this one on the original list. Love this one.
  • 15) Passion Fish: Okay, I confess I don't remember if the title is one word or two, but I do remember loving this film dealing with chronic illness. (thanks jen)
  • 16) The Other Sister: Okay, I confess I found her voice a bit irritating...but, honestly, it was pretty darn accurate :0
  • 17) Deuce Bigalow (added 8/6): Okay, it wasn't the biggest role...still, I must confess I found the dealings with the amputee actually had some insight and were pretty darn funny. :)
  • 18) NEW as of 8/27: Pumpkin, a brand new movie with Christina Ricci. She actually was a producer on this film. This movie has a lot of dark humor involving disability, but I found it ringing very true to my own experiences. Boldly addresses issues such as socialization among disabled/non disabled...Doesn't provide many answers, but I HIGHLY recommend this film.
  • 19) If you could see what I hear, a wonderful film based on the life of Tom Sullivan and starring Marc Singer.
  • 20) Miracle in Lane 2, a Disney film starring Frankie Muniz as Justin Yoder. It's a true story about a boy with spina bifida who wins the National Soap Box Derby Championship.
  • 21) Lorenzo's Oil: Powerful film with Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon. Very intense at times.
  • 22) Amelie: Heartwarming foreign film with multiple disabled characters throughout the film. The central character is not, but disability is shown throughout the film. This is a fave film of mine.
  • 23) Outside Providence: I'm not a really big fan of this film, but with the younger brother in the wheelchair it has a nice, non-stereotypical disability theme in it.
Author Comments: 

I'm sure there are many others I'm forgetting right now, and would love to hear about even more!

Great idea for a list! Might I suggest, for a deaf theme, Children of a Lesser God. Marlee Matlin is simply amazing. She actually is deaf, though, so you can't really judge her performance on how convincingly she played the disability. Another is Mask, with Eric Stoltz (again) and Cher, both of whom nail their respective roles. This movie also has Laura Dern playing a blind girl, quite convincingly I thought. Of your list, I've only seen half (2,3,4). However, I will try to check out the others - am particularly looking forward to Hell Roller.

Awesome! How could I forget Children of a Lesser God? Consider it and "Mask" added. I thought Eric Stoltz was great in that one, too...and Cher as the mother, what a powerful and breakthrough performance!

You've forgotten one of the greats: THE ELEPHANT MAN. If MASK qualifies, surely T.E.M. does.

Geez! I was even in the stage version...Excellent addition, which also brings up "Whose Life is it Anyway?", which I thought was an underrated performance by Richard Dreyfuss.

How 'bout My Left Foot?

My thoughts exactly, Jim.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Boy, you're good...I forgot about that one!

and let's not forget What's Eating Gilbert Grape? it was the best role leo dicaprio ever played!

Oh..I so agree...I knew I was forgetting one I really liked. Leo truly was wonderful in this film. Yep, I do believe I'll add it to my list. :0

I would also add Coming Home with Fonda and Voight, The Men with Brando, and Best Years of our Lives although the handicapped character is a subplot.

I will definitely add "Coming Home." I think I had a mental block with that one, as I'm not the biggest Fonda fan around. I have not seen "The Men"...thanks for the suggestion.

does the disability have to be the quirk to make it to your list? how about the disability being the message? i vote "cat on a hot tin roof"

The disability merely has to have a central role in the film here...be it "quirk", "message", etc...interesting, I'll have to revisit "cat" again.

How do you mean that disability is the message of "Cat"?

don't you think the whole crutch metaphor is what the movie is about?

I guess I never thought about it. I always thought that "mendacity" is what the movie is about-- no one telling or facing up to the truth. But I can see, certainly, how the crutch is a metaphor for the whole family's dysfunctionality. I slo think that the movie/play (because the play is really what I am familiar with) has more to it than a crutch1? :)

the way i saw it, the crutch as well as the grandfather's illness lead to all sorts of instances of the members lying to themselves (or not facing the truth) as their crutch to deal with their situation. because it made life easier.

i guess it's more of a metaphor than a disability, but i still think it sortof qualifies...

I'm really going to have to watch this one again...

Forrest Gump had two -- Forrest himself and his lieutenant from Vietnam. Also, on a lighter note, Hear no evil, See no evil, with Gene Wilder as a blind man and Richard Pryor and a deaf man who together "witness" a murder.

btw, this is definitely my wife's cup of tea. Mask, My Left Foot, and others are exactly what she likes. 8^)

Gee Whiz....Of course, Forrest Gump is definitely going on my list. Thanks. :0 I'll have to ponder the other...definitely a central part, "favorite" might be stretching it. :0

I have a hard time accepting Forrest Gump as handicapped. Damn, he makes me feel handicapped, and I'm not. Forrest's achievements: ran around the country, All-American football player, world ping pong champ, war hero, multi-millionaire, and twice went to the White House. Those accomplishments seem unattainable by anyone who is truly handicapped in some aspect. I know the movie is fictitious, but the filmmakers definitely disregarded any potentially existing handicap of Forrest. Therefore, if the filmmaker is not going to present a physical handicap as an obstacle, then neither should the viewers.

I hope that I haven't offended anyone with this assertion. I merely wanted to point out that all of the other movies have realistic elements while Forrest Gump is 100% pure fiction.

For me, that was part of the power of watching "Forrest Gump." It tremendously reinforced the idea to me that disability is an illusion that we create that inhibits our greatness. When I let go of the illusion of disability, I am free to achieve anything my heart desires. I loved how it was presented, and while it was obviously fictional, and certainly not an accurate portrayal of physical challenges in many ways...I feel it created a wonderfully enlightened view of us as human beings.

I agree with richardp in that this movie challenges what are commonly thought of as limitations, and is tremendously uplifting in its message. However, I should point out that unless you are talking about Lt. Dan, there is no physical disability to overcome. Forrest merely has a low IQ, and none of his accomplishments had anything to do with his intelligence. They were more to do with his determination and a simple desire to do the right thing by people.

actually, Forrest as a child did wear braces on his legs. :)

Totally forgot, sorry. It was so short-lived it completely slipped my mind.

Rachel suggested As good as it gets for Nicholson's compulsive disorder.

hmmmmm...interesting...not sure I can qualify "ocd" as disability. (we paraplegics are soooooo picky). I'll have to ponder it some more.

You MUST see "Passion Fish", the movie that immediately jumped to mind when I read your list title. It is a sad, funny, realistic story about a soap star rendered paraplegic by a taxi-cab, who retires to her Louisianna birthplace and ends up under the care of a series of nurses who can't handle her, and finally one tormented nurse who can. Directed and written by John Sayles it is one of my favorite movies ever. Very rewatchable. And contains the line: "I didn't ask for the anal probe." Stars Mary McDonnell (Dances with Wolves) Alfre Woodard (Eve's Bayou) and David Strathairn (Limbo).

I love Alfre Woodward in just about anything, but yes, as I recall I did enjoy this one...I'll go rent it again. thanks.


Have you ever seen Wildflower? I saw it a few years ago...now that I'm typing I'm not sure if the girl had a mental disability or was just the victim of severe abuse--possibly both. Regardless, I think it was a good movie--I want to say Patricia Arquette was in it, but again I'm just not sure. I'll have to look at it again.

I have a vague recollection of this film...will have to find it and watch it again. Thanks, Richard

Another movie that challenges notions of what are usually thought to be disabilities, is Gattaca. The main two characters in this movie are thought to be disabled, though they clearly aren't. Like Forrest Gump, this one subverts the idea that a disability is a limitation.

I haven't seen this film, but will have to rent it. Thanks for the tip!

I haven't actually seen it, but it seems that The Other Sister would fit into this list.

I recently rented it...definitely fits in with subject matter...still deciding if i can list it as a fave. :0 hmmmm, probably will. thanks for the reminder.

It just occured to me - Four Weddings and a Funeral! For the deaf brother - I can't believe no one has mentioned it before.

wonderful....hadn't even thought of it.

Here are a couple more to ponder:
Awakenings with Robin Williams
Lorenzo's Oil with Susan Sarandon
The Fisher King (if you're counting mental illness)
a "thriller" where Uma Thurman plays a blind woman and Andy Garcia is a cop
Silent Fall (really bad)(autism)
Mercury Rising (autism)

That terrible Uma Thurman movie was called Jennifer 8, which was worth watching only to drool over Andy Garcia.

buddy, what didn't you like about Jennifer 8? i thought it was immensely watchable but I probably haven't seen it in 5 or so years and my filmic tastes have matured since then. maybe i wouldn't like it now. what didn't you care for?

Honestly, I don't know what I was thinking when I called it a "terrible" movie. Just forgettable. I do remember being impressed with Thurman's performance as the blind woman. I've just sort of lumped that movie in together with all the other mediocre (even bad) movies I watched and liked back then. I, too, saw it quite a few years ago. I'd give it a rewatch if there weren't so many other great movies I have to catch up on.

On the flip side, you could do a list of films about prodigies or exeptional people that overcome adversity, because there are an awful lot of those.
Examples being: Hillary and Jackie, Shine, Good Will Hunting, etc etc

I can't believe I have thought of some that you guys haven't gotten to yet.

Best Years of Our Lives (young soldier missing hands)
Glass Menagerie (crippled)
Of Mice and Men (mental)

and a movie I justed watched recently

Pride of the Marines (blind)

Okay...new addition, and highly recommended...Miracle in Lane 2...a Disney movie about Justin Yoder, a young man with spina bifida who won the National Soap Box Derby...excellent film!

Might these qualify ? :

A Beuatiful mind
Girl Interupted

Perhaps they are more about (mental) illness than disbility.

I'd personally consider them more about mental illness than disability, though obviously there's some overlap there. I've tried to stick with physical/developmental disabilities.

Any thoughts on "Molly" or "Lost In Yonkers"?

It has been a long time since I saw "Lost in Yonkers" and I honestly don't remember the disability piece...what is it? I'm not familiar with "Molly."

Sorry, I was back reposting a old list and didn't see your response to the "Professor". Both movies I mentioned reference mental impairments.

How can you forget one of the greatest "disability " movies of all time--"The Diary of Ann Frank". Also, "Lorenzo's Oil" is a great movie about a child with a rare and untreatable illness, whose parents discover a treatment/cure.

Geez. I actually thought I had "Lorenzo's Oil" on my list...thanks for the reminder. I don't remember the disability part of Anne Frank...maybe I was too focused on the other aspects of the story.