"The Hobbit" hits theaters this Friday and besides all the hobbits, orcs, elves, humans, dragons and Gollums, there's also a group of sturdy folk who form the backbone of the movie: Dwarves.
This isn't the first time dwarves have been portrayed in film, of course — and it's not the first time that little people have been played on screen by regular-sized folks, either. But "The Hobbit," with its band of stout and heroic dwarven heroes, is undoubtedly one of the most prominent portrayals of little people in Hollywood's long and checkered history.
So that got us thinking: Where is "The Hobbit" going to end up ranking on the scale of most positive to most demeaning portrayals of little people in film? To help you decide that for yourself, here's a quick continuum of nine prominent movies featuring little people, ranked from most positive to most demeaning.
1. 'The Station Agent' (2003)
Back before he was known as "Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage," Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage rose to fame on the strength of his role as Finbar McBride in the 2003 indie "The Station Agent." A reclusive man who finds solace from an unkind world in his love of trains, Fin is a complex and moving depiction of the emotional toll society sometimes exacts on outsiders. The fact that Fin is a little person informs the character but is only part of his persona, which immediately elevates "The Station Agent" above just about everything else Hollywood has given us. Plus, you know, it introduced us to the genius of Dinklage. That's a double win.
2. 'Time Bandits' (1981)
A bit of typical madcap whimsy from director Terry Gilliam, "Time Bandits" focuses on a group of six dwarves who, tired of their station in life, decide to become time traveling pirates, searching the centuries for untold treasure. Sure, being crooks isn't necessarily taking the high road, but these little people (one of whom is portrayed by Kenny Baker, best known as R2-D2 in "Star Wars") turn out to be loyal and courageous (if somewhat cantankerous) heroes. Plus, that job they are sick of? Turns out they're God's assistants. And that doesn't look too bad on the resume, whatever your size.
3. 'Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me' (1999)
Okay, so the role in question in this blockbuster hit is basically a joke about Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) having a little person duplicate of himself. But the difference between "Austin Powers" and some of the other supposed comedies on our list is that Verne Troyer was very much in on the joke. As Mini-Me, he more than held his own, delivering jokes and punches to Austin Powers' face with equal verve. All the proof you need is in the fact that he was brought back with a greatly expanded role in "Austin Powers in Goldmember" three years later.
4. 'Total Recall' (1990)
Arnold Schwarzenegger's sci-fi hit is fondly remembered for a number of different things, but near the top of just about everyone's list is Debbie Lee Carrington's portrayal of Thumbelina. We have kind of mixed feelings about the character; on the one hand, she's an awesome, ass-kicking fighter who takes down bad guys with knives, machines guns and pretty much whatever else happens to be available. On the other hand, she's also a hooker, which plays into some old, unfortunate and somewhat inexplicable stereotypes. Overall, though, this one has to land on the plus side of the column just for Carrington's panache. You go, girl.
5. 'Snow White and the Huntsman' (2012)
In many ways, "Snow White and the Huntsman" is similar to "The Hobbit." There are several good things about the way the dwarves are portrayed in the film, as they are loyal, heroic and steadfast. But the film was engulfed in controversy due to the fact that all seven roles were filled by regular-sized actors even though CGI and make-up made them almost entirely unrecognizable anyway. The Little People of America joined several acting groups in protesting and boycotting the film in response. The on-screen results certainly could have been worse, but the studio's off-screen handling of the situation could have been much more sensitive, which is why this one lands smack dab in the middle of our list.
6. 'Freaks' (1932)
Before "Freaks" hit theaters in 1932, director Tod Browning ("Dracula") was a Hollywood superstar. After it hit theaters, his career was over, as the film sparked such shock and outrage that it was banned in some countries for the next three decades. "Freaks" tells the story of a little person named Hans who marries a regular-sized lady; when it turns out that she's just using him to get his inheritance, Hans' friends in the circus sideshow take a brutal and terrible revenge. The film used real circus "freaks" and gets points for showing their tight-knit community as well as for becoming a cult classic in the '60s and '70s for holding a mirror up to society. Still, we have a gut feeling that you could get a little more positive than a movie called "Freaks." Just saying.
7. 'The Terror of Tiny Town' (1938)
Now we're full on into exploitation territory. "The Terror of Tiny Town" is one of the most reviled and critically panned movies ever. Hitting theaters in 1938, the movie is a western comedy featuring a cast comprised entirely of little people. It's basically over an hour of short jokes, with the little people engaging in one embarrassing farce after another. Still, it did at least employ an entire cast of little people. And as terrible as "The Terror of Tiny Town" is, sadly, it's not even close to the worst thing Hollywood has done. For example ...
8. 'Midgets vs. Mascots' (2009)
This straight-to-DVD exercise in stupidity has a pretty simple premise: Five little people compete against five corporate and sports mascots for money. What ensues is, well, exactly what you'd expect: Dudes in Styrofoam gladiator costumes mud-wrestling little people for yuks. How low exactly does this film go? Well, it features a full frontal sequence starring the late Gary Coleman. Ron Jeremy, Jason Mewes and Scottie Pippin are also among those who now owe the world an apology.
9. 'Tiptoes' (2003)
It's hard to fathom what anyone was thinking when they made the indie drama "Tiptoes," especially since it stars a legitimately excellent cast: Gary Oldman, Kate Beckinsale, Patricia Arquette and Matthew McConaughey are all in it, as is Peter Dinklage. So, honestly, it shouldn't be one of the most excruciatingly embarrassing films ever made. But it is. Why? Well, the plot is basically about a regular-sized guy (McConaughey) who spends his life hiding his secret shame — that the rest of his family are little people. And the worst part isn't even the sequence where he pitches a fit when he discovers his newborn child is a little person; it's the fact that his brother isn't played by Dinklage, but rather by Oldman, who literally played the part on his knees to emulate the height difference. Yes. Read that again. It sounds like a gag that would have been rejected by "Tropic Thunder" for going too far, except it really happened, in a real movie, with a real Oscar-nominated actor. Ladies and gentlemen: The most demeaning film about little people ever made.