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 Article of Interest - Entertainment

Movies featuring characters with disabilities

iCan News Service <>
For more articles visit


The following article is forwarded to you by the Great Lakes ADA Center for your information:

Disability is a minority that has been featured in some way throughout Hollywood's history -- from major star turns like Sean Penn's in "I am Sam" to smaller parts such as John Leguizamo playing Toulouse-Lautrec in "Moulin Rouge!"

Disability roles can be the focus of a movie (think "A Beautiful Mind" or "Rain Man") or it can be mainstreamed as a character who happens to use a wheelchair or is deaf. Filmmakers frequently use disability to make a character seem more evil, as in the villain in "Wild, Wild West," who is a double amputee.

Is the celluloid image of disability getting better or worse? Check out iCan's list of movies featuring disabilities. From blockbusters such as "Forrest Gump" to lesser-known films like "Frankie Starlight" and classics such as "It's a Wonderful Life," see what Hollywood does with characters with disabilities.

Movies A-Z

An Affair to Remember
Year: 1957
Disability: paralysis
Summary: A remake of 1939's "Love Affair." Terry (Deborah Kerr) is on her way
to meet the love of her life (Cary Grant) at the top of the Empire State
Building when she is hit by a car and paralyzed.
Oscar nominations: Best cinematography, costume design, score, song ("An
Affair to Remember")

As Good As It Gets
Year: 1997
Disability: obsessive compulsive disorder
Summary: Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) is a cantankerous writer with obsessive
compulsive disorder who softens when he meets a single mom waitress (Helen
Oscar awards: Best actor (Nicholson), actress (Hunt)
Oscar nominations: Best picture, supporting actor (Greg Kinnear), film
editing, score, screenplay

At First Sight
Year: 1999
Disability: blind
Summary: Masseur Virgil (Val Kilmer) has been blind since age 3. He meets New
York architect Amy (Mira Sorvino) who convinces him to have radical eye
surgery done to restore his sight. Virgil regains his sight and must adjust to
being able to see.

A Beautiful Mind
Year: 2001
Disability: schizophrenia
Summary: Russell Crowe plays Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes
Nash, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia. The movie is based on the Nash
biography of the same title.
Oscar awards: Best picture, director (Ron Howard), supporting actress
(Jennifer Connelly), adapted screenplay.
Oscar nominations: Best actor (Crowe), film editing, makeup, score.

Benny & Joon
Year: 1993
Disability: mental illness
Summary: Benny (Aidan Quinn) cares for his sister Joon (Mary Stuart
Masterson), who has a mental illness. He also inherits the care of Sam (Johnny
Depp), who has a personality disorder. Sam and Joon fall in love while Benny
struggles to decide if he should send Joon to a group home.

The Best Years of Our Lives
Year: 1946
Disability: amputee
Summary: Three veterans must adjust to civilian life after returning home from
World War II. Homer Parrish (Harold Russell) lost both hands during the war
and has trouble opening himself up to his family and girlfriend.
Oscar awards: Best picture, director (William Wyler), actor (Fredric March),
supporting actor (Russell), film editing, music score, screenplay
Oscar nominations: Best sound recording

Blue Sky
Year: 1994
Disability: mental illness
Summary: Carly Marshall (Jessica Lange) is a free-spirited wife of an Army
engineer whose mental illness interferes with her husband's career.
Oscar awards: Best actress (Lange)

The Bone Collector
Year: 1999
Disability: quadriplegia
Summary: Former homicide detective Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington), who is
paralyzed from the neck down, is preparing for assisted suicide when his
former colleagues call on him for help with one more case. Lincoln must help
rookie Amelia (Angelina Jolie) overcome her fears and work the crime scenes to
find the killer.

Born on the Fourth of July
Year: 1989
Disability: spinal cord injury
Summary: Tom Cruise portrays Ron Kovic, who had a spinal cord injury from his
tour in Vietnam and later became a political activist.
Oscar awards: Best director (Oliver Stone), film editing
Oscar nominations: Best picture, actor (Cruise), cinematography, score, sound,
adapted screenplay

Bubble Boy
Year: 2001
Disability: immune deficiency
Summary: A man who was born without an immune system has lived his life in a
plastic bubble. When he finds out the woman he loves is about to be married,
he builds a portable bubble suit and takes off after her.

Butterflies Are Free
Year: 1972
Disability: blind
Summary: Edward Albert plays Don Baker, an adult who has been blind since
birth. Goldie Hawn stars as his neighbor Jill, helping Don live independently
of his clinging mother.
Oscar awards: Best actress (Eileen Heckart)
Oscar nominations: Best cinematography, sound

The Caveman's Valentine
Year: 2001
Disability: schizophrenia
Summary: Romulus Ledbetter (Samuel L. Jackson) is a homeless man with
schizophrenia who is also a classically trained pianist. When he finds a boy
frozen to death near the cave where he lives, Romulus works through the
hallucinations of his fantasy world to try to find the boy's killer.

Year: 1968
Disability: mental retardation
Summary: Scientists inject Charly (Cliff Robertson) with a drug that takes him
from someone with mental retardation to a genius.
Oscar awards: Best actor (Robertson)

Children of a Lesser God
Year: 1986
Disability: Deaf
Summary: Sarah Norman (Marlee Matlin) is a former student at a school for the
deaf who resists a new teacher's (William Hurt) efforts to teach her to read
lips and use her deaf voice.
Oscar awards: Best actress (Matlin)
Oscar nominations: Best picture, actor (Hurt), supporting actress (Piper
Laurie), adapted screenplay

Coming Home
Year: 1978
Disability: spinal cord injury
Summary: A Vietnam veteran (John Voight) who is paralyzed from the war, falls
in love with a hospital volunteer (Jane Fonda) whose husband is still in
Vietnam fighting.
Oscar awards: Best actor (Voight), actress (Fonda), screenplay
Oscar nominations: Best picture, director (Hal Ashby), supporting actor (Bruce
Dern), supporting actress (Penelope Milford), film editing

The Doctor
Year: 1991
Disability: cancer
Summary: Jack McKee (William Hurt) is a successful doctor who discovers he has
throat cancer. After undergoing treatment, he realizes the importance of
doctors treating patients with respect and dignity.

The Elephant Man
Year: 1980
Disability: proteus syndrome
Summary: Based on the true story of Victorian Englishman John Merrick, who had
proteus syndrome, a disfiguring condition. With the help of his doctor
Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), Merrick attempts to regain his self-worth.
Oscar nominations: Best actor, art direction-set decoration, costume design,
director, film editing, score, picture, adapted screenplay

Forrest Gump
Year: 1994
Disability: developmental disability, spinal cord injury
Summary: Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks), a man with a developmental disability, is
on his way to see his lost love and tells his life story to others as he sits
at a bus stop. Forrest's commander in Vietnam, Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise), has a
spinal cord injury from the war.
Oscar awards: Best picture, director (Robert Zemeckis), actor (Hanks), visual
effects, film editing, adapted screenplay
Oscar nominations: Best supporting actor (Sinise), art direction,
cinematography, sound effects editing, makeup, score, sound

Four Weddings and a Funeral
Year: 1994
Disability: deaf
Summary: Charles (Hugh Grant) falls in love with Carrie (Andie MacDowell), who
he meets up with as he and his friends attend four weddings and one funeral.
Charles' brother, David, is deaf.
Oscar nominations: Best picture, screenplay

Year: 1982
Disability: mental illness
Summary: Jessica Lange portrays Frances Farmer, an actress from the 1930s, who
was institutionalized.
Oscar nominations: Best actress (Lange), supporting actress (Kim Stanley)

Frankie Starlight
Year: 1995
Disability: dwarfism
Summary: Author Frank Bois (Corban Walker), who has dwarfism, looks back on
his life, including his mother's attempts to get to America during World War
II, her affairs, their eventual trip to America and their return to Ireland.

Year: 2002
Disability: polio, mobility
Summary: Salma Hayek plays Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, who had polio as a
child and sustained a back injury during a bus accident. Kahlo's physical
disabilities seem to have influenced her art.

Year: 1997
Disability: congenital heart defect, mobility injury
Summary: This science fiction movie stars Ethan Hawke who plays Vincent
Freeman, a character with a congenital heart defect, who wants to experience
space travel. Jude Law, playing Jerome Eugene Morrow, an athlete with a
paralyzing injury, enables Vincent to progress on his mission.
Oscar nominations: Best art direction-set decoration

Girl, Interrupted
Year: 1999
Disability: mental illness
Summary: Susanna Kaysen (Winona Ryder) recalls her experiences as a young
woman who was admitted to a mental hospital in the 1960s.
Oscar awards: Best supporting actress (Angelina Jolie)

The Horse Whisperer
Year: 1998
Disability: amputee
Summary: A young girl (Scarlett Johannson) and her horse are injured in a
riding accident and the girl's leg is amputated. The girl's mother (Kristin
Scott Thomas) takes her and the horse to a man known for rehabilitating
Oscar nominations: Best song ("A Soft Place To Fall")

How to Kill Your Neighbor's Dog
Year: 2002
Disability: cerebral palsy
Summary: When 8-year-old Amy (Suzi Hofrichter) moves next door to playwright
Peter McGowan (Kenneth Branaugh), her yapping dog drives him to insomniac
rage. Amy, who has mild cerebral palsy, is ostracized by her peers and
eventually befriends Peter.

I am Sam
Year: 2001
Disability: developmental
Summary: Sam (Sean Penn) must fight for the right to maintain custody of his
7-year-old daughter (Dakota Fanning).
Oscar nominations: Best actor (Penn)

If You Could See What I Hear
Year: 1982
Disability: blind
Summary: Based on a true story. Marc Singer plays Tom Sullivan, a successful,
determined singer/piano player experiencing situations in his early adulthood
without sight.

Year: 2001
Disability: Alzheimer's disease
Summary: British author Iris Murdoch (Judi Dench) battles Alzheimer's disease
as her husband, John Bayley, (Jim Broadbent) struggles to care for her.
Intermittent scenes show the beginning of the couple's long relationship.
Oscar awards: Best supporting actor (Broadbent)
Oscar nominations: Best actress (Dench), supporting actress (Kate Winslet),

It's a Wonderful Life
Year: 1946
Disability: deaf, mobility
Summary: George Bailey (James Stewart) sees finds out how much he means to his
friends and family when he gets a glimpse of what the world would have been
like had he never been born. George is deaf in one ear and Mr. Potter uses a
Oscar nominations: Best picture, director (Frank Capra), actor (Stewart), film
editing, sound

Johnny Belinda
Year: 1948
Disability: deaf
Summary: Johnny Belinda (Jane Wyman), who cannot hear or speak, is raped and
tried for murder in her rural fishing town.
Oscar awards: Best actress (Wyman)
Oscar nominations: Best picture, director (Jean Negulesco), actor (Lew Ayres),
supporting actor (Charles Bickford), supporting actress (Agnes Moorehead), art
direction, cinematography, film editing, score, sound, screenplay

Love Affair
Year: 1939
Disability: paralysis
Summary: Terry (Irene Dunne) is on her way to meet the love of her life
(Charles Boyer) at the top of the Empire State Building when she is hit by a
car and paralyzed. Remade in 1994 with Annette Bening and Warren Beatty.
Oscar nominations: Best picture, actress (Dunne), supporting actress (Maria
Ouspenskaya), art direction, song ("Wishing"), original story

Love Story
Year: 1970
Disability: cancer
Summary: Oliver (Ryan O'Neal) and Jennifer (Ali MacGraw) fall in love and
marry. They struggle with family issues until she is diagnosed with cancer.
Oscar awards: Best score
Oscar nominations Best picture, director (Arthur Hiller), actor (O'Neal),
actress (MacGraw), supporting actor (John Marley), screenplay

Magnificent Obsession
Year: 1954
Disability: blind
Summary: Helen Phillips (Jane Wyman) loses her sight after being hit by a car.
The man driving (Rock Hudson) works his way into her life and they fall in
Oscar nomination: Best actress (Wyman)

Me, Myself and Irene
Year: 2000
Disability: multiple personality
Summary: A state trooper (Jim Carrey) is usually mild mannered and
non-confrontational until he's pushed to far and an alter-ego comes out. Both
personalities fall in love with and fight over a fugitive he's charged with
escorting from Rhode Island to New York.

The Men
Year: 1950
Disability: spinal cord injury
Summary: Ken (Marlon Brando) is a veteran adjusting to life with a spinal cord
injury. His fianc‚e (Teresa Wright) still wants to marry him but hopes for
Oscar nominations: Best screenplay

Men of Honor
Year: 2000
Disability: amputee
Summary: Cuba Gooding Jr. portrays Carl Brashear, the Navy's first African
American diver who is also an amputee.

The Miracle Woman
Year: 1931
Disability: blind
Summary: A man (John Carson) who lost his sight in World War I is inspired by
the speeches of evangelist Florence Fallon (Barbara Stanwyck), who preaches
salvation and performs phony miracles. The two meet and fall in love.

The Miracle Worker
Year: 1962
Disability: blind, deaf
Summary: Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft), who has a vision impairment, tries to
teach young Helen Keller (Patty Duke), who is deaf and blind.
Oscar awards: Best actress (Bancroft), supporting actress (Duke)
Oscar nominations: Best director (Arthur Penn), costume design, adapted

Year: 1999
Disability: autism
Summary: Molly McKay (Elisabeth Shue) is released from an institution and
undergoes an experimental medical treatment that turns her into a genius.

Year: 1987
Disability: amputee
Summary: Johnny (Danny Aiello) asks fiancee Loretta (Cher) to make amends with
his estranged brother, Ronny (Nicholas Cage), while he goes to Italy to tend
to his dying mother. Loretta and Ronny fall in love over opera. Ronny lost his
hand in an accident and uses an artificial hand.
Oscar awards: Best actress (Cher), supporting actress (Olympia Dukakis),
Oscar nominations: Best picture, director (Norman Jewison), supporting actor
(Vincent Gardenia)

Moulin Rouge!
Year: 2001
Disability: dwarfism, tuberculosis
Summary: The beautiful courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman), who is dying of
tuberculosis, falls in love with struggling writer Christian (Ewan McGregor)
as they work to produce a play in bohemian Paris. Artist Henri de Toulouse
Lautrec (John Leguizamo), who has dwarfism, is among the bohemian artists
involved in the play.
Oscar awards: Art direction, costume design.
Oscar nominations: Best picture, actress (Kidman), cinematography, film
editing, makeup, sound.

My Left Foot
Year: 1989
Disability: cerebral palsy
Summary: Christy Brown (Daniel Day Lewis) has control of only one limb, his
left foot. He learns to express himself using his left foot and becomes a
painter and writer.
Oscar awards: Best actor (Day-Lewis), supporting actress (Brenda Fricker)
Oscar nominations: Best picture, director (Jim Sheridan), adapted screenplay

My Life
Year: 1993
Disability: cancer
Summary: Bob (Michael Keaton) is diagnosed with cancer and told he has only
months to live. His wife, Gail (Nicole Kidman), is pregnant with their first
child. Bob begins videotaping his life so that his child will know him after
he dies.

'Night Mother
Year: 1986
Disability: epilepsy
Summary: Jessie Cates (Sissy Spacek) tells her mother (Anne Bancroft) one
night that she is going to commit suicide by morning. Jessie, who has epilepsy
and whose son is a drug addict, says she is "sick and tired of being sick and

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Year: 1975
Disability: mental illness
Summary: McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is a swaggering, boastful man who is locked
up in a mental institution, where his refusal to docilely play by the rules
ends up getting him killed.
Oscar awards: Best picture, director (Milos Forman), actor (Nicholson),
actress (Louise Fletcher), adapted screenplay
Oscar nominations: Best supporting actor (Brad Dourif), cinematography, film
editing, score

Ordinary People
Year: 1980
Disability: depression
Summary: A family tries to come to terms with its grief after the death of a
son. Their younger son (Timothy Hutton) experiences major depression
Oscar awards: Best picture, director (Robert Redford), supporting actor
(Hutton), adapted screenplay
Oscar nominations: Best actress (Mary Tyler Moore), supporting actor (Judd

The Other Sister
Year: 1999
Disability: developmental
Summary: When Carla Tate (Juliette Lewis) finishes her training school, she
seeks independence. Her wealthy family overlooks her abilities and
underestimates her relationship with Danny (Giovanni Ribisi), who also has a
developmental disability.

Year: 1993
Disability: AIDS
Summary: A high-profile lawyer with AIDS (Tom Hanks) hires a personal injury
lawyer (Denzel Washington) to help sue his employer for firing him.
Oscar awards: Best actor (Hanks), song ("Streets of Philadelphia")
Oscar nominations: Best makeup, song ("Philadelphia"), screenplay

The Piano
Year: 1993
Disability: speech impairment
Summary: Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter), who is mute, and her daughter are sent to
New Zealand for an arranged marriage. Ada's new husband sells her prized
piano, which she uses to express herself.
Oscar awards: Best actress (Hunter), supporting actress (Anna Paquin),
Oscar nominations: Best picture, director (Jane Campion), cinematography,
costume design, film editing

Pride of the Yankees
Year: 1942
Disability: ALS
Summary: Gary Cooper portrays baseball great Lou Gehrig.
Oscar awards: Best film editing
Oscar nominations: Best picture, actor (Cooper), actress (Teresa Wright), art
direction, cinematography, special effects, score, sound, original story,

Year: 2002
Disability: developmental
Summary: Carolyn (Christina Ricci) is a snobbish college sorority girl who
mentors a member of a "challenged athletes" team for a sorority service
project. At first she's afraid of Pumpkin (Hank Harris), but soon she finds
herself falling in love with him, shocking her friends and the family.

Rain Man
Year: 1988
Disability: autism
Summary: Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) finds out after his father dies that he
has a brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), who has been institutionalized
throughout his life because he has autism.
Oscar awards: Best picture, director (Barry Levinson), actor (Hoffman),
Oscar nominations: Best art direction, cinematography, film editing, score

Rear Window
Year: 1954
Disability: mobility
Summary: When Scotty (James Stewart) is laid up with a broken leg he amuses
himself by spying on his neighbors through binoculars. Then he and his
girlfriend (Grace Kelly) begin to suspect one of those neighbors of murder.
Oscar nominations: Best director (Alfred Hitchcock), cinematography, sound
recording, screenplay

Regarding Henry
Year: 1991
Disability: closed head injury
Summary: Lawyer Henry Turner (Harrison Ford) gets caught in the middle of a
convenience store robbery and is shot, leaving him with a closed head injury.
Henry does not remember former colleagues and must relearn even simple tasks
such as tying his shoes.

The Replacements
Year: 2000
Disability: deaf
Summary: When the professional football players go on strike, the league
brings in substitute players, a rag-tag team who must learn to work together.
One of the players is deaf.

Return to Me
Year: 2000
Disability: heart transplant
Summary: Grace (Minnie Driver) receives a heart transplant that saves her
life. She later discovers the donor was the wife of her new boyfriend, Bob
(David Duchovny).

Scent of a Woman
Year: 1992
Disability: blind
Summary: A retired Army lieutenant who is blind (Al Pacino) decides to spend
Thanksgiving in New York City with the young man (Chris O'Donnell) who is
hired as his care attendant.
Oscar awards: Best actor (Pacino)
Oscar nominations: Best picture, director (Martin Brest), adapted screenplay

Year: 1996
Disability: mental illness
Summary: David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush) is an Australian pianist who is
mentally abused by his father and later institutionalized.
Oscar awards: Best actor (Rush)
Oscar nominations: Best picture, director (Scott Hicks), supporting actor
(Armin Mueller-Stahl), film editing, score, screenplay

Steel Magnolias
Year: 1989
Disability: diabetes
Summary: A young woman (Julia Roberts) gets married and has a child while her
mother (Sally Field) and friends offer each other emotional support.
Oscar nominations: Best supporting actress (Roberts)

Year: 1987
Disability: deaf
Summary: Carl Wayne Anderson (Liam Neeson) is a homeless man who is deaf and
does not speak. When he's arrested for the murder of a judge's secretary,
public defender Kathleen Riley (Cher) sets out to find the real killer and
finds corruption at high levels.

Swing Kids
Year: 1993
Disability: mobility
Summary: A group of teens in Nazi Germany are part of a counter culture that
listens to swing music. When two of the boys are enlisted in Hitler's youth
army, one begins fall under the spell of the brainwashing. Another of the boys
walks using a crutch.

There's Something About Mary
Year: 1998
Disability: developmental disability
Summary: A former geek (Ben Stiller) realizes he's still in love with his high
school crush, Mary (Cameron Diaz). He hires a private detective (Matt Dillon)
to track her down, and both men compete for Mary's affections. Mary's brother,
Warren, has a developmental disability.

The Three Faces of Eve
Year: 1958
Disability: multiple personalities
Summary: A timid housewife (Joanne Woodward) discovers she is leading the
lives of two people -- timid wife and mother Eve White and brash partier Eve
Black. Later, a third personality emerges.
Oscar awards: Best actress (Woodward)

The Tic Code
Year: 1998
Disability: Tourette syndrome
Summary: A 10-year-old who wants to be a jazz pianist gets a job in a
nightclub, where he meets a saxophone player, Tyrone (Gregory Hines). Both the
boy, Miles, and Tyrone have Tourette syndrome. While the Tyrone has worked to
cover his disability, Miles and his mother are accepting of.

Training Day
Year: 2001
Disability: spinal cord injury
Summary: A corrupt cop (Denzel Washington) takes a rookie (Ethan Hawke) under
his wing. In one scene, they solicit information from a drug dealer (Snoop
Dogg) who is paralyzed.
Oscar awards: Best actor (Washington)
Oscar nominations: Best supporting actor (Hawke)

Year: 2000
Disability: osteogenesis imperfecta
Summary: When David Dunn (Bruce Willis) survives a major train wreck without a
scratch, Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) takes notice. Elijah, who has
osteogenesis imperfecta, thinks he has found a person who is at the opposite
end of his condition -- someone who is never sick or injured.

The Violent Men
Year: 1955
Disability: paralysis
Summary: Lew Wilkison (Edward G. Robinson) owns the Anchor Ranch, the biggest
cattle ranch in his Western town. He wants neighbor John Parrish (Glenn Ford)
to sell but Parrish is suspicious of Wilkison's devious tactics. Wilkison is
paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair.

Wait Until Dark
Year: 1967
Disability: blind
Summary: A doll containing smuggled drugs ends up in Suzy Hendrix's home. When
the men who want the drugs back begin to terrorize her, Suzy, who is blind,
must figure out who to trust.
Oscar nominations: Best actress (Hepburn)

The Waterdance
Year: 1992
Disability: spinal cord injury
Summary: Author Joel Garcia (Eric Stoltz) breaks his neck while mountain
climbing. In rehab, he meets two other men who are also coming to terms with
their new disability.

What's Eating Gilbert Grape
Year: 1993
Disability: autism
Summary: Gilbert (Johnny Depp) must care for his brother (Leonardo DiCaprio),
who has autism, and his mother who is obese.
Oscar nominations: Best supporting actor (DiCaprio)

Wild, Wild West
Year: 1999
Disability: amputee
Summary: In the Old West days, gunslinger Jim West (Will Smith) must team up
with inventor Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) to thwart the plans of villain
Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), who wants to assassinate President Grant.
Loveless is a double amputee and uses a wheelchair.

Year: 2000
Disability: spinal cord injury
Summary: Professor X runs an academy for "mutants" -- people with superhero
powers. The X-Men team must defend themselves against anti-mutant legislation
and the villainous mutants. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) uses a wheelchair.

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