Besides the hobbits, elves, dragons, orcs, and Gollums, there is also a tribe of hardy folk who constitute the backbone of the movie: Dwarves. “The Hobbit” reaches theaters this Friday.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that dwarves have been depicted in film—and it’s also not the first time that regular-sized humans have been cast as dwarfs. As a result, “The Hobbit” stands as one of the most iconic depictions of small people in Hollywood history (despite its mixed reviews).
And it led us to wondering: Where will “The Hobbit” fall on the spectrum of films portraying small people, from the most favorable to the most demeaning? As a starting point, here is a ranking from the most positive to the most insulting of nine well-known films portraying children.
1. ‘The Station Agent’ (2003)
Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage first became well-known for his work as Finbar McBride in the 2003 independent film “The Station Agent,” for which he won a Globe. Fin is a sophisticated and touching picture of the emotional toll society sometimes takes on outsiders, a reclusive guy who finds refuge in his love of trains. In “The Station Agent,” Fin’s little stature informs the character but is only a small portion of his demeanor, which immediately elevates the film above the rest. Plus, Dinklage’s intellect was introduced to us. That’s two victories in one.
2. ‘Time Bandits’ (1981)
Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits” is a group of six Dwarves who, fed up with their lives, decide to become time-traveling pirates and scour the centuries for unfathomable riches. They may be criminals, but these diminutive heroes (one of them is played by Kenny Baker, best known for his role as R2-D2 in “Star Wars”) are devoted and valiant (though a little cantankerous) allies. In addition, they’re fed up with their employment. They are, in fact, God’s messengers. And no matter how big or small you are, that doesn’t look too awful on a résumé.
3. ‘Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me’ (1999)
As it turns out, the character of Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) has a miniature version of himself in this smash film. Verne Troyer, on the other hand, was very much in on the joke in “Austin Powers,” which sets it apart from some of the other “comedies” we’ve listed here. Mini-Me held his own against Austin Powers, delivering both quips and blows with equal vigor. The fact that he returned three years later in a role that was significantly enlarged in “Austin Powers in Goldmember” is ample proof enough.
4. ‘Total Recall’ (1990)
Thumbelina’s role in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sci-fi blockbuster is widely regarded as one of the most memorable aspects of the film. On the one hand, she’s an excellent, ass-kicking warrior who uses knives, machine guns, and pretty much any other weapon at her disposal to take down baddies. Her hooker status feeds into certain old preconceptions that are both terrible and inexplicable at the same time. Carrington’s flamboyance alone makes this one a definite bonus for the record books. You’ve got this.
5. ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ (2012)
“Snow White and the Huntsman” and “The Hobbit” share many similarities. The film’s depiction of the dwarves as loyal, valiant, and faithful has several positive aspects. In spite of the fact that all seven roles were played by regular-sized actors, the picture was mired in controversy due to the fact that CGI and make-up had rendered them almost completely unrecognizable. As a result, the Little People of America joined other actors’ unions in condemning the film and calling for a boycott. Because of how the studio handled the matter off-screen rather than on-screen, this one comes in right in the middle of our rankings.
6. ‘Freaks’ (1932)
Tod Browning (“Dracula”), the filmmaker of “Freaks,” was already well-known in Hollywood prior to the release of his film in 1932. His career was gone after the picture was banned in various countries for the following three decades after its release due to the shock and fury it produced. To get their hands on Hans’ fortune, his fellow freaks in the circus sideshow exact a harsh and deadly revenge in the film “Freaks,” about a small man named Hans who marries a regular-sized woman. The film uses genuine circus “freaks” and is praised for depicting their close-knit community and for becoming a cult classic in the 1960s and 1970s for holding up a mirror to society as a whole to be seen. Still, we have a hunch that a film titled “Freaks” isn’t all that uplifting. Just a heads up.
7. ‘The Terror of Tiny Town’ (1938)
Now that we’ve entered the exploitation zone, we’re all set. As one of the most derided and hated films of all time, “The Terror of Tiny Town” is notorious. Originally released in 1938, the film is a western comedy with a cast of all-too-small actors. It’s simply an hour and a half of short jokes featuring the little folks getting themselves into all sorts of sticky situations. However, at least it employed a full cast of small people in the production. Unfortunately, “The Terror of Tiny Town” isn’t even close to the worst Hollywood has ever done. For instance…
8. ‘Midgets vs. Mascots’ (2009)
To put it simply, five little people compete against five corporate and sports mascots for money in this straight-to-DVD exercise in folly. A predictable chain of events unfolds, as you might expect: Styrofoam gladiators mud-wrestling miniature humans for the amusement of the audience. What is the film’s lowest ebb? There’s a full frontal passage with the late Gary Coleman in it, so there’s that. All three of these men are among those who must apologize to the rest of the world for their actions.
9. ‘Tiptoes’ (2003)
Tiptoes, the independent movie starring Gary Oldman, Kate Beckinsale, Patricia Arquette, Matthew McConaughey, and Peter Dinklage, is difficult to understand, given the stellar cast. Honestly, it shouldn’t be one of the most humiliating movies ever filmed. But, of course, that is the case. Why? The story revolves around McConaughey’s character, a man of average height who hides the fact that the rest of his family is made up of diminutive beings. This isn’t even the worst part; it’s that his brother isn’t played by Dinklage, but rather by Oldman, who had to practically kneel down to mimic the height difference in order to play the character. Yes. It’s worth a second look. As absurd as it seems, it happened in a genuine movie with a real Oscar-nominated actor and was never rejected by “Tropic Thunder” for being out of bounds. Ladies and gentlemen, please rise to your feet. The most savagely degrading film ever made concerning children.