6 Films Portraying Characters with Disabilities to Watch This Holiday Season


The holiday season provides rare opportunities for lazy afternoons and evenings at home with family and friends. Watching movies together—holiday themed or otherwise—is a favorite pastime for many. But until recently, finding films inclusive of characters with disabilities was nearly impossible. Fortunately, that’s slowly changing.

Here’s a brief list of films including characters who represent the 20% of Americans who live with disabilities. Happy viewing and happy holidays!

1. “Luca”
Set in an idyllic Italian fishing village, this animated film from Pixar does a wonderful job of exploring themes of otherness and disability.  Luca, the film’s young protagonist, has a secret identity: He’s a sea monster! When he meets Alberto, also a sea monster, the two youngsters leave the water to discover the human world and befriend a little girl named Giulia. Giulia’s father, Massimo, has one arm. According to the New York Times, the film “takes the rare step of portraying a character with a limb difference—without making it a defining characteristic.”

“Luca” is bound to be a crowd-pleaser for family members and friends of all ages.

2. “Rising Phoenix”
If you had the opportunity to see any of the Paralympic games several months back, you were no doubt amazed by the athletes and spellbound by the festivities. “Rising Phoenix” takes viewers behind the scenes at the Paralympics, sharing the fascinating history of the games and introducing you to nine of the games’ Paralympic athletes.

The documentary’s soundtrack is also remarkable. According to Variety, “most of it was created, post-pandemic shutdown, in [composer Daniel] Pemberton’s studio, augmented by three musicians with disabilities, all performing in their home studios and sending in their parts for mixing into the final score.” The film’s concluding song was performed by three disabled American rappers—George Doman aka George TraGiC, Toni Hickman and Keith Jones. You can watch rising Phoenix on Netflix.

3. The Fundamentals of Caring”
Paul Rudd, PEOPLE’S sexiest man alive, stars in this 2016 Netflix film about the relationship between a caregiver (Rudd) and his charge (Craig Roberts), a teenager with muscular dystrophy. It’s worth noting that the film, which also stars Selena Gomez, was criticized for casting Roberts, a nondisabled person, in the role of the teen. Nevertheless, it was a favorite at the Sundance Film Festival, so you may want to check it out anyway.

4. “Sound of Metal”
Award-winning actor Riz Ahmed stars as professional drummer who is losing his hearing in this 2019 film. Though Ahmed is not disabled, he spent a great deal of time preparing for the role in learning about deafness and deaf culture. The film also deals with themes related to addiction. “Sound of Metal” was nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Ahmed) and Best Supporting Actor (Raci) at the 93rd Academy Awards where it won for Best Sound and Best Film Editing.

5. “The Best Years of Our Lives”
Released in 1946, just one year after World War II ended, this epic drama, tells the story of veteran Homer Parish, who returns home from the war after losing both of his hands in combat. Played by Harold Russell, an actor who himself lost his hands during explosive training in WWII, Parish struggles to integrate back into his family and community.

Groundbreaking on so many levels, “The Best Years of Our Lives” is one of the first Hollywood movies to depict the pain and sacrifice of war and the arduous process of returning to civilian life after witnessing and experiencing unfathomable tragedy.

6. “Keep the Change”
Refreshingly, both stars of “Keep the Change,” a 2018 love story about two young adults with autism, really have autism spectrum disorder. David (Brandon Polansky) and Sarah (Samantha Elisofon) meet at the JCC in Manhattan where both are part of a social club for people with autism. Heartwarming and delightfully entertaining, “Keep the Change” received a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film also won Best U.S. Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Elisofen also received a Best Actress nomination.