In the new film The Sessions, John Hawkes plays a 38-year-old man in an iron lung who, with the help of his priest and therapist hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt) to lose his virginity. The Sessions itself is a funny, and unique approach to how disabled characters are portrayed in the movies. Here’s a look back at some of the most memorable film characters who overcame disabilities.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) in Avatar, 2009
A clever back-story on the part of writer/director James Cameron, Jake Sully in Avatar is a wheelchair bound soldier who suffered a spinal injury while on tour of duty. Jake couldn’t afford the costly operation to fix his legs, but is given redemption in the form of his dead twin brother’s Avatar. On a mission to make contact with the native species of the Na’vi on the planet Pandora, Sully escapes to a world where he is no longer disabled and finds a renewed sense of freedom in the solace of his Avatar body.

Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 2007
This is the true-life story of French Elle editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered from a stroke and had to live in a nearly totally paralyzed body, with only his left eye working. While in this lock-in syndrome he dictated his memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, with the help a beautiful speech therapist – all while only moving his left eye. The beautiful film by Julian Schnabel isn’t nearly as depressing as one would think, but is oddly life affirming.

Christy Brown (Daniel Day Lewis) My Left Foot, 1989
This inspiring story of painter Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy, took the United States by storm when it came out in 1989. It went on to win two Oscars for its stars, Daniel Day Lewis and Brenda Fricker.

Jerome Eugene Morrow (Jude Law) Gattaca, 1997
Jude Law turns in a great performance in Gattaca as Jerome, a fallen athlete confined to living out his existence in wheelchair after being hit by a car. Jerome lends his identity to an inspiring space traveler named Vincent (Ethan Hawke) who is discriminated against due to his genetics. Law gives a funny, and moving performance with bitter undertones as a man who selflessly helps another fulfill his dreams.

Helen Keller (Patty Duke) in The Miracle Worker, 1962
Patty Duke won an Oscar in 1962 for playing the blind and deaf Helen Keller opposite Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker. The performance was nothing short of iconic.

Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway) in Love and Others Drugs, 2010
Anne Hathaway gives an inspired performance as Maggie in the Edward Zwick romantic comedy Love and Other Drugs. Most went to this movie expecting to merely see two beautiful movie stars roll in the hay, but it’s really the film’s second half depicting Maggie’s battle with Parkinson’s disease that most probably take away from the film.

Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) in Wait Until Dark, 1967
Not nearly as well known as Audrey Hepburn’s more iconic roles, Wait Until Dark is an underrated classic about a blind woman terrorized by a trio of thugs while they search her apartment for heroin, which happens to be in a stuffed doll. There’s a thrilling climax where Hepburn kills the lights so she can have the upper hand in the situation to overtake the home invaders.

Arnie Grape (Leonardo DiCaprio) in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, 1993
Leonardo DiCaprio’s breakthrough performance as the mentally handicapped Arnie Grape is tricky territory that would have taken a really talented actor – no matter the age – to pull off. DiCaprio’s moving performance deserves a special place in movie history. It also earned DiCaprio his first Oscar nomination.

Forrest Gump and LT Dan (Tom Hanks, and Gary Sinise) in Forrest Gump, 1994
As one of the most memorable duos in cinema history Forrest Gump and LT Dan have hefty shortcomings to battle through the length of the film. For Forrest it’s being developmentally disabled; for LT Dan it’s losing his legs in Vietnam. Despite both characters having been lampooned many times in popular culture, how could one not see the inspiration behind both of these men?

Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart in X-Men, X2, X-Men: The Last Stand, and James MacAvoy in X-Men: First Class)
As inspirational as any other film character, Professor X of Stan Lee’s X-Men is pop culture’s most recognizable wheelchair bound mutant. Professor Xavier founded a school and sanctuary for teenage mutants, and swore to nurture an alliance with the outside world. Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters teaches child mutants how to use their powers for good instead of evil.

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