- Disabilities & the Disabled
List of Movies About People with Mental Disabilities
I enjoy watching movies about people with mental disabilities. The more I watch, the more I discover exist. So, I have put together a list of movies about people with mental disabilities. Some are kids with learning disabilities, but most are adults. Let me know if you have watched one that is not on this list.
Sometimes it says in the movie what particular condition the person has, but sometimes they just don't tell you and you have to guess. Often there's an overlap, someone who is said to be schizophrenic has autistic-like symptoms or vica versa.
Among the list is a number of classics. Do you remember when Rain Man was released? That has now become a baseline for most people's knowledge about autistic people, although, as I'm sure you are aware, most autistic people in real life fail to earn so much by gambling.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The young autistic boy in this movie lost his dad on 9/11. He believes, however, that before his dad died he left him a message that he must discover.
The movie story is that of a romantic relationship, but in the movie is an elderly autistic man with an interest in collecting coins, and also a child who is autistic.
I read her book, Thinking in Pictures, years ago and loved it. Temple Grandin was diagnosed with high-functioning autism in the 1950s. She worked in animal husbandry for many years, designing processes to make the handling of livestock more humane. In more recent years she talks at conferences about autism. The movie is the story of her life and the people who influenced her and it won a number of awards. Definitely an inspiration for anyone working with people with autism.
My Left Foot
This is the true story of Christy, a man born with cerebral palsy, who teaches himself to paint with his left foot. Born in Ireland into a large family his childhood was not easy and the movie depicts that very well. In those days he would have been institutionalized, but the family refused to do so.
First Do No Harm
Similar to “Lorenzo’s Oil” in that it is the parent who knows the child’s symptoms best. The mom noticed that the treatments the doctors were giving her son for epilepsy were making his symptoms worse. Eventually she fights for a doctor’s appointment and successfully gets him put on the ketogenic diet.
This is the true story of a family whose son who had a rare disease. It is so rare no one will give any money to research a cure. Lorenzo’s father researches himself and comes up with a cure, but it is too late to save Lorenzo. The father was awarded a PhD for his work.
Mask is a true story of Rocky who is disfigured by elephantiasis. Rocky conquers pain, prejudice and loneliness. Eventually his classmates see his personality and not his face.
Based on the book “Freak the Mighty” it is the story of Maxwell, who is physically large and also Learning Disabled, and Kevin, a genius who is physically disabled and of the friendship between them.
This movie is based on the book “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving. Simon Birch is born ugly and is rejected by his parents. He forms a friendship with Joe who is also an outcast, being illegitimate. The movie is very moving.
Door to Door
This is the true story of a door-to-door salesman, Bill Porter, who has Cerebral Palsy. He works through the 1950 to the 1990s and builds relationships with his clients as he sells them cleaning products.
A Beautiful Mind
This is a true story, although changed a little for the screen. The screen version has John Nash’s wife loyally helping him through his schizophrenia. The point is that there is a fine line between brilliance and mental illness and John Nash straddled it.
Similar to “A Beautiful Mind” in that it deals with a schizophrenic pianist who can’t cope with normal life. There is some wonderful piano playing in this movie. This is the true story of classical pianist David Helfgott.
The Eighth Day
A totally charming movie with Georges, who has Down’s Syndrome. This movie is in French with English subtitles, but don’t let that put you off. George teaches his friend Harry about the things in life that are really important. The movie is funny and sad at the same time.
The Other Sister
This is one of my favorite movies. Carla has been away at school because there’s something wrong with her that is not disclosed in the movie. Her mother, excellently played by Diane Keaton, doesn’t seem to know how to cope with Carla’s return home or her developing relationship with Daniel, who also has a low IQ.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
This is the story of a mental ward and its inhabitants in the 1960s and especially Randle Patrick McMurphy who pretends to be mad, or does he pretend?
I am Sam
Sam is a single father with a mental age of 7. He wants to raise his own daughter and some people consider him unable, so he has a legal fight. It helps the situation that he befriends a lawyer.
Of Mice and Men
This is John Steinbeck’s classic story of two brothers, one of whom is simple, physically large and very strong, much to his demise.
Nell is a surviving twin who was raised alone in the woods by her speech-impaired mother. Although she was able to speak properly herself, she never learned because she only had her mother to talk to. Jodie Foster is Nell.
This is the true story of Susanna, a girl who voluntarily committed herself to 18 months in a mental institution. Eventually diagnosed with “Borderline Personality Disorder” the movie raises the question of who is mad, those inside the mental home, or those outside, fighting the war.
My Sister’s Keeper
This is the true story of two sisters, the younger, Christine, has a mental illness and the older, Judy, is left to look after her when their mother dies. The movie is about how Judy balances her sister’s needs with her own and Christine’s ambition to be independent.
This movie shows the good that can happen when someone gives a helping hand to another person who is mentally challenged. Radio is mentally challenged and the local football coach gives him special attention. This is a true story and the real Radio appears at the end of the movie.
Forrest seems a little simple and life happens to him by accident. He’s made fun of in school and has to wear braces on his legs when he is a child. He makes friends with Jenny, a friendship that lasts a lifetime.
First there was a documentary made in 1975 and then this movie, with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange, was made in 2009. It tells the story of a mother and daughter, relatives of Jackie O, who live in poverty and filth co-dependent on each other.
Benny and Joon
Benny and Joon are brother and sister. They don’t say what is wrong with Joon, but I think she may be autistic. When Sam comes on the scene and befriends Joon, Benny doesn’t like it.
Was this the first movie to be made about an autistic person? It’s certainly a classic, with excellent acting from Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. Raymond (Rain Man) certainly has some usual abilities, including memorizing a phone directory, but he’s not very easy to live with.
The Boy Who Could fly
Eric is autistic and thinks he can fly. No one seems to understand him except for his neighbor, Millie. They form an unusual bond.
Miko is autistic and has accidentally solved a top secret government code. This puts his life in danger and the movie becomes a thriller as he escapes with an FBI agent played by Bruce Willis.
The Black Balloon
One brother is autistic with ADHD and the other brother has to look after him because mom is pregnant and dad is away a lot.
What’s eating Gilbert Grape?
Gilbert has to take care of his mentally disabled brother Arnie while earning money for the rest of the family and keeping a relationship with his girlfriend, who is very nice to Arnie.
As Good as it Gets
Melvyn has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He likes everything to be exactly the same every day. The movie starts with him going out for breakfast only to find someone else is sitting at “his” table. There is a mixture in this movie of Melvyn who is an author and comfortably well off with the waitress who travels a long way to work, can’t afford health insurance and has a sick son.
Roy is a professional con artist with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or maybe it’s a guilty conscience. This has incredible acting and a wonderful plot.
Digging to China
Not my favorite movie. It was a little slow and the actor playing Ricky (an adult who "came out blue") looked like he was acting. However, it was a cute story with a feel good factor. My favorite bit was when they hooked helium balloons up to a lawn chair.
Not a movie but there are eight seasons of the detective Monk who is obsessive compulsive yet manages to solve crimes of murder just by thinking.