7 Movies with Epic Disabled Protagonist Roles

Dwayne Johnson recently starred in Skyscraper, an action epic where he played a man with one leg and a very strong artificial leg. Even though we knew Johnson could scale a building and beat up bad guys with one leg and a hand tied behind his back, it’s great to see a central character leading with a disability.

Here are some other films where the protagonist, an individual that wasn’t exactly physically or mentally stable, ended up making a big difference.

How to Train Your Dragon

This animated fantasy epic from Dreamworks is remarkable for featuring a duo of a human and dragon, both with disabilities. The dragon Toothless has a damaged tail, making it impossible for him to fly without a particular apparatus. The inventor of that apparatus and the dragon’s friendly rider is the human Viking Hiccup, missing a leg. They work together as a team to prove that one-legged men can still fight and disabled dragons can still zoom through the skies.

The Theory of Everything

The biopic of Stephen Hawking proved that a man could accomplish scientific feats even when his health takes a turn for the worse. Succumbing to a motor disease doesn’t prevent him from pursuing his studies of black holes and the creation of the universe, delivered in a stellar performance by Eddie Redmayne.

Born on the Fourth of July

Tom Cruise plays a soldier badly injured during the Vietnam war and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Directed by Oliver Stone, Cruise gives an unforgettable presence to a character who is damaged physically and mentally, struggling to deliver a speech at a post-war rally when all he can hear are the nightmares of the battlefield.

My Left Foot

Daniel Day-Lewis stars in this semi-biographical picture as Christy Brown, an Irishman with cerebral palsy. Though he had little control of his body, he still used his spared left foot to become a painter and a writer. For Day-Lewis’ portrayal, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.


Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, an executive hiding from his firm the fact that he is gay and has AIDS. But when the truth comes out, he ends up fired and struggles to sue with a reluctant lawyer played by Denzel Washington. At a time of the AIDS epidemic and scare, Philadelphia is a compelling drama for shining a spotlight on the controversial topic.

The Piano

Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) is a mute woman, but capable of great music on the piano. When she is sold into marriage to a man she doesn’t love (Sam Neill), she’ll do anything to keep and play her piano, including giving lessons to a local Maori man (Harvey Keitel). Hunter’s performance, devoid of most dialogue, won her an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Forrest Gump

While Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) may not be smart, he does know what love is. Though primarily a fantasy for the events that transpire, it’s still astounding to watch a boy who could barely walk and wasn’t too bright so to the world that he was capable of great things, from fighting in wars to managing a shrimp business to fathering a child. Maybe Forrest is too godlike with his luck, but it’s still a cheerful dream that those of different abilities can make a massive difference in the world.

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