The way that people are portrayed in popular media can have a real impact on not only how they are viewed by society, but also how people view themselves. Films are one way that many people with disabilities will start to see how society views them, and also experience how other disabled people see the world.
We’ve brought together 10 of the best films (in no particular order) featuring disabilities, from Alzheimer’s to ALS, to show the diversity of disabilities that are represented in film.
1. The Theory of Everything
The first film on our list is the biographical dramatization of the life of the well-known theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Based on the novel Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, by his ex-wife Jane Hawking, this film was critically acclaimed across the globe and deals with Jane’s relationship with Stephen, from its inception, through his diagnosis with ALS, right up until their divorce. This bittersweet love story is both moving and inspirational, absolutely a must see. 7.3/10
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2. The Way He Looks
This award winning Brazilian coming-of-age romantic drama tells the story of Leonardo, a blind high school student who wants more independence. As Leonardo attempts to navigate high school, romantic interests and his overbearing parents, we see that the film centers not so much on Leonardo’s blindness, but rather how he is no different from other teenagers. 7.2/10
3. Inside I’m Dancing (Rory O’Shea Was Here)
Also released under the title Rory O’Shea Was Here, this film stars a young James McAvoy, long before he became Professor Xavier. Inside I’m Dancing is the story of two young men with disabilities who live in a residential home for the disabled. The two men reject the ‘protective’ care that they are placed under, and rebel against society’s attitudes towards them – especially pity – and long for independence. 5.8/10
4. Still Alice
Still Alice stars Julienne Moore as the titular Alice, a linguistic professor who gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s shortly after her 50th birthday. The film follows Alice as her illness progresses, and was widely praised by critics. Julienne Moore won an Oscar, among other awards, for her gripping performance as Alice. Still Alice is one of the few films that treats Alzheimer’s with a delicate sensitivity, but also bravery. Astonishingly delicate and sad, a definite must watch. 7.4/10
5. I Am Sam
Sean Penn was nominated for an Oscar for his role as the titular Sam in this 2001 drama. Penn portrays a father with developmental disabilities and Dakota Fanning appears as his young daughter who he must care for. They encounter many challenges, including Sam’s daughter becoming more intellectually advanced than her father, whether Sam is declared a fit parent, and whether or not she can continue to live with him. An emotionally uplifting story, if a little obvious. 4.6/10
6. The Fundamentals of Caring
Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez and Craig Roberts star in this low-key heartwarmer about a boy who suffers with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and his newfound carer as they take a road trip to see the world’s deepest pit. The formula is a bit formulaic, but enjoyable nonetheless – and Craig Robert’s sardonic Trevor manages to avoid Hollywood’s tendency to present disabled people as helpless victims or valiant martyrs. 6.2/10
X+Y is a British film that is based on the life of teenage mathematics prodigy Daniel Lightwing. Asa Butterfield plays Nathan, a young boy who is autistic and finds comfort in numbers. Nathan gets chosen to represent the United Kingdom in the International Mathematical Olympiad, and he faces problems that can’t be explained with maths. This film manages to be lighthearted and tender whilst revisiting a well-known narrative plot. 6.6/10
8. My Left Foot
The highest rated film on our list, My Left Foot stars Daniel Day-Lewis in one of the best performances of his life – so much so that he won the Oscar for his work. The true story of Irish cerebral palsy victim Christy Brown, who grew up to be a well-known painter, author and fundraiser. My Left Foot is notable for avoiding the Hollywood stereotype of a disabled person, as Brown was not a loveable character, and a notorious alcoholic. My Left Foot does not sugarcoat disability, and presents it in a real and resonating way. 8.1/10
9. Love & Other Drugs
Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal star in this dramatic rom-com about a pharmaceutical rep that falls in love with a woman who has Parkinson’s. While the film struggles to find balance between the plot elements, it is refreshing to see a romantic story that is for adults, rather than for teenagers. 5.8/10
10. Forrest Gump
The next film on our list is an oldie but a goody. Forrest Gump follows the life of the titular character over several decades. While Forrest’s disability is never explicitly stated, it is assumed that he has a form of autism – long before the disease was really classified the way it is today. Tom Hanks shines in this role, and watching Forrest Gump is sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face. 7.2/10
11. The Peanut Butter Falcon
This heart-warming movie follows Zak, a boy with Down’s Syndrome runs away from the nursing homes he lives at to pursue his dream of becoming a wrestler. On the road he encounters a wayward fisherman played by Shia LaBeouf, who takes him under his wing to help him on his quest. As the pair become friends, the movie highlights the importance of friendships and meaningful connections. Most importantly this movie is the debut of actor Zack Gottsagen, “a disarming performer who creates a sweet and funny character” as Zak. Glenn Kenny wrote in his review in The New York Times. 7.6/10
12. The Father
Based on and co-written by the author of the award-winning play Le Père, this moving film sheds light on the reality of taking care of a loved one with dementia. Anthony, played by Anthony Hopkins, is an 80-year-old man desperately clinging to his independence as his mental state regresses. His daughter, played by Olivia Colman, struggles keeping up with her own life as well as taking care of his father, we get a glimpse into both sides of the story. 8.4/10
Did you watch any of these films? Or did we leave off a much beloved classic? Chat to us on Twitter and let us know.