Top 5 Movie Guide: Mental and Physical Disabilities

For this week's edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, we look to the release of "The Sessions" for inspiration and try to compile some other notable films which have featured characters with various types of mental and physical disabilities. Based on a true story, "The Sessions" stars John Hawkes as a character confined to an iron lung for the majority of his life. At age 38, with the help of his priest and therapist, he decides that he no longer wants to be a virgin and contacts a professional sex surrogate (Helen Hunt). A fascinating and heartfelt relationship develops between the two as they embark on this spiritual journey.

Outside of the sex surrogate stuff, the premise for this week's list is a very touchy subject to tackle, and one we don't touch upon lightly. We understand that in many cases, the disabilities presented in these films are real issues that many of us have witnessed or dealt with in our own lives, in some fashion or another. We mean no disrespect, and we hope that no one finds the following insensitive or tasteless, as that is not the intention. As it is though, there are hundreds of films based around various diseases and disabilities, and as a new one is releasing this week, we simply want to shed light on some of the stronger examples that this category has had to offer over the years.

That all being said, we don't want this to be a sad and depressing Top 5 Move Guide, either, so let's perk up our spirits and have some fun! We all know no disrespect is meant here, so let's not be afraid to talk about these films or the characters in them. There are dozens of high-quality, powerful films based on characters with debilitating illnesses that overcome great lengths to become stronger people. Most films below recognize that courage and determination.

Hit the jump for all of our picks!

Alex Schopp -
I don't take this subject lightly, but there are still plenty of quality and inspiring films out there about people who have overcome or had to deal with a variety of debilitating diseases.

     1. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
I love that John Nash was so smart that he was able to eventually recognize his own disease (schizophrenia), step away from it and say well, I can't be cured of this, so I'll just have to deal with it and fight it off myself. It's a great story, and even the power that this man shows to overcome such a thing aside, this is one of my favorite films of all-time.
     2. Gattaca (1997)
There are a few different elements to this one, and ultimately the film itself is about mind over body, and what "society" deems a "defect". Hawke's character has heart and immune system defects preventing him from realizing his dreams, while the man helping him cheat the system is paralyzed from the waste down. Both are strong, determined men though, ignoring social standards to help a man achieve his goals.
     3. Forrest Gump (1994)
As Derek states below, there are a variety of disabilities featured in this film, and Gump himself continually pushes aside negativity surrounding him to live an extraordinary life. This one's a pretty great tale showing just how strong the human spirit can be. Lots of great heart here.
     4. Unbreakable (2000)
Samuel L. Jackson's character has a debilitating disease known as osteogenesis imperfecta, which makes all of the bones in his body extremely fragile. There are many moments that are very sad for this character, and unfortunately his story isn't quite as uplifting and inspiring as some of the previous characters on this list.
     5. Ray (2004)
To date, this is about the only role I've enjoyed Jamie Foxx in. I thought he nailed this role though, and many times even made me forget that it was him I was watching on screen. It's obvious the accomplishments that Ray Charles achieved all while being blind since a very young child.

Ben Foutch -
For this list, the main or supporting characters had to show symptoms of a mental illness or disability. This is a very difficult subject, as being mentally afflicted affects a lot of people, and you may even know someone that is struggling with some sort of disorder.

     1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

     2. Sling Blade (1996)

     3. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

     4. Forrest Gump (1994)

     5. What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

Derek Clem -
I chose movie where the story revolves around the disability in a strong way, Hence no "Hook" (Captain Hook) or X-Men movies (Professor Xavier).

     1. Forrest Gump (1994)
Here you get a few disabilities for the price of one! From Gump to Bubba to Lieutenant Dan.
     2. Leap of Faith (1992)
Steve Martin plays a great Con Man claiming Jesus has given him the power to heal the disabled. I know this is going to sound weird but, if you like "Twister", I think you'll like this movie. In a strange way they have a similar feel.
     3. What's eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
It wasn't until "Titanic" that my mother realized Leo wasn't actually mentally retarded.
     4. King Gimp (1999)
This is a solid documentary on painter Dan Keplinger who has cerebral palsy and paints with a brush attached to a helmet he wears on his head.
     5. My Left Foot (1989)
One of the many reasons why Daniel Day-Lewis is one of the kings of acting.

Nathan Hinds -
I think it would have been offensive for us to not do this list at some point.

     1. What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
This is such a convincing role that I like to think that Leonardo DiCaprio is just a disabled person who's since been playing abled characters.
     2. Forrest Gump (1994)
"They said it was a million dollar wound.....but the Army must keep that money, cause I still ain't seen a nickle outta that million dollars."
     3. I Am Sam (2001)
This one will get those tear ducts welling up.
     4. Radio (2003)
This one hits home because we had a guy similar to Radio who helped out with our high school program.
     5. Tropic Thunder (2008)

Andy Schopp -
No entry this week.

So there we have it, folks. Even though we only had four lists this week, there was still quite the array of titles presented. There's no doubt that films depicting various types of mental and physical disabilities have long been made with quality. As far as the duplicates go, this might be the least we've ever seen on one of these lists. Only three films hit on more than one list this week, and it was "Forrest Gump" that fared the best, appearing on all four lists. It grabbed one number-one vote (though, all top picks were different this week), and is easily one of the most esteemed pictures in this group. It won six Academy Awards in 1994, and it was the personality of Tom Hanks as the learning impaired main character that won over critics and audiences alike. It seems safe to assume that most all have seen this film, but if it case you haven't, it's a very loving and entertaining picture.

Other than that though, "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" showed up on three lists, and "A Beautiful Mind" showed up on two. Gilbert Grape introduced Leonardo DiCaprio to the world, while "A Beautiful Mind" was another Oscar favorite, this time in 2001, nabbing four Academy Awards. Both great films, featuring strong and loving characters.

That's it though. Everything else was a unique selection. There's a lot here to go through, and while the three previously listed might be some of the best that this category has had to offer over the years, there's definitely plenty of great titles showcased on all of the lists this week.

So as always, we hope that each of these selections helps you to expand your knowledge and appreciation of some of the best films that this category has to offer, and guides you to better and more enjoyable all-around viewing experiences.

Happy watching!