We Ranked These 6 Award-Winning Actors who Played Disabled Characters from ‘Mild Cringe’ to ‘OMG How Did Nobody Stop This from Happening’

As the 94th Academy Awards ceremony approaches, we look back at the plethora of nondisabled actors who have been praised for taking roles from qualified disabled actors.

#1. A Bit Cringeworthy

James McAvoy in “Rory O’Shea Was Here” (2004)
This one makes the list simply because James McAvoy has played too many wheelchair users. Even before his tenure as Professor X in the “X-Men” films, he was already exploring his disability acting chops in the 2004 comedy-drama “Rory O’Shea Was Here.” Given the film’s 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s apparent that McAvoy wanted to try something different with Professor X, playing a character who alternates between being disabled and not depending on what the plot requires.

#2. Just Not Believable

Gary Sinise in “Forrest Gump” (1994)
Everyone loves Gary Sinise as the CGI-enhanced Lieutenant Dan in “Forrest Gump,” and his performance is iconic. However, there’s one particular line in the film that makes his character — and the film — lose all credibility. “I’m living off the government,” a post-amputation Lt. Dan says to Forrest after returning home from Vietnam. Any disabled viewer watching this scene knows how absurd it is. Not even Lt. Dan’s decaying apartment and beer bottles would be affordable on a government benefits salary.

#3. Fool Me Twice?

Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot” (1989) and “Gangs of New York” (2002)
While numerous thespians have won Oscars for pretending to have mental and physical disabilities, few are as prolific as the great Daniel Day-Lewis. Lewis has portrayed a wheelchair user and a gangster with a prosthetic eye. Talk about range!

#4. Awkward and Dated

Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything” (2014)
Eddie Redmayne makes this list for portraying characters from two communities he’s not a part of. From his portrayal of a transgender woman in “The Danish Girl” to his Oscar-winning turn as Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” Redmayne takes the cake for being a straight, able-bodied white man with the courage to play characters from different marginalized groups.

#5. Thanks I Hate It

Hillary Swank in “Million Dollar Baby” (2004)
Hillary Swank no doubt gives a great performance in this overly ableist sports movie from director Clint Eastwood. However, it’s the film’s story of an athlete who dies by suicide upon becoming disabled that likely inspired another film on this list. This brings us to number six.

#6. OMG Please Just Stop Making these Movies

Literally Everyone who Worked on “Me Before You” (2016)
Let’s face it. This movie required an ensemble effort to effectively execute its level of cringe. Sam Claflin plays the helpless, suicidal tetraplegic who lives in a mansion and has more than enough reasons to be happy. But his character’s inauthenticity would not have been possible without the abysmal screenplay by Jojo Moyes or the participation of the rest of the cast. We can’t let just one person take all the credit for this mess.


  1. Also needs to include Maddie Ziegler in “Music”; though the real blame for that mess belongs to Sia, who has a creepy amount of control over Maddie, and is far too obnoxiously self-important to even acknowledge how staggeringly bad and tone-deaf the whole concept was.

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