Did you know nearly 20 percent of people in the United States experience some level of hearing loss? Even though it’s a fairly common condition, authentic representations of hearing loss in film and television are still rare. When we encounter characters with hearing loss on screen, they’re often depicted as helpless or disabled — stigmas that perpetuate misconceptions about hearing loss and create even more barriers to communication.
The good news? More inclusive, educational and realistic portrayals of hearing loss are making their way to the big screen. Here are 11 of the best movies that showcase sides of hearing loss we don’t often see — from what tinnitus sounds like to the benefits of wearing hearing aids.
Widely regarded as a breakthrough film for the deaf community, “Children of a Lesser God” explores the conflicted romantic relationship between James (William Hurt), a hearing speech teacher at a school for the deaf, and Sarah (Marlee Matlin), a deaf woman who is speechless by choice. It was one of the first major movies to feature a deaf performer in a leading role: Marlee Matlin’s performance as Sarah earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress, making her the only deaf performer in history to receive it.
On top of giving hearing audiences a glimpse into the lives of the deaf, “Children of a Lesser God” also introduced American Sign Language (ASL) to the general public, showcasing the beauty and legitimacy of the language in signed conversations throughout the film. At its core, it’s a story about communication of all kinds and its importance for connection.
In this spinoff of the Rocky film series, former boxing champion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stalone) trains and mentors Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of his late friend and former rival Apollo Creed. The “Creed” movies explore hearing loss through the storyline of Adonis’ love interest, Bianca (Tessa Thompson). She’s a young musician with degenerative hearing loss, determined to make the most of her career before she loses her hearing completely. As her hearing loss progresses, she’s shown wearing hearing aids, learning ASL and openly discussing the challenges of her condition.
Critics and fans have applauded the film for its realistic and nuanced representations of life with hearing loss. Actress Tessa Thompson prepared for the role by consulting her brother, who was born with a hearing impairment, and other hard-of-hearing actors. She told the Chicago Tribune : “The truth is there are tons of people who don’t hear anything or do experience hearing loss, and they live rich, awesome lives. I think it’s important, particularly in media, to reflect that; it doesn’t have to be a pained experience."
“Wonderstruck” is the film adaptation of the novel by Brian Selznick, who was inspired to write the story after learning how the 1920s transition from silent films to talkies made movies suddenly inaccessible to people with hearing loss. “Wonderstruck” interweaves the stories of two children living 50 years apart: Rose (Millicent Simmonds), a deaf child in 1927 who runs away to New York City in search of her favorite silent movie actress, and Ben (Oakes Fegley), a boy in 1977 who loses his hearing in an accident and goes to New York City to find his father.
Director Todd Haynes did extensive research to recreate the sound experience of a deaf person in scenes from Rose’s point of view.  He also hired several deaf actors to play hearing characters and had the set crew learn basic ASL, sparking important conversations about access and opportunities for the hard-of-hearing in Hollywood.
This Academy Award-winning remake of the 1937 original tells the love story of celebrity musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and struggling artist Ally (Lady Gaga), while also shining a spotlight on the importance of proper hearing protection and timely hearing loss treatment.
Maine is a country-rock star who performs blaring concerts every night. Because of his constant exposure to dangerous noise levels, he has hearing loss and tinnitus (musicians are four times more likely to develop tinnitus than non-musicians, according to studies). His doctor advises him to wear in-ear monitors (custom earplugs for musicians that block sound but allow them to hear their voices and instruments) to protect his hearing while performing, but he refuses. The story is a poignant reminder of how impactful noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus can be, especially when these conditions go untreated.
“Baby Driver” is a bank heist film about a young getaway driver called Baby (Ansel Elgort) who plays music around the clock to drown out the tinnitus he developed after a childhood accident. His constant soundtrack not only soothes the ringing in his ears — it also sharpens his focus, enhances his senses and, ultimately, makes him one of the best drivers in the game.
People with tinnitus and medical experts have praised “Baby Driver” for its accurate and respectful representation of the condition.  Writer/director Edgar Wright, who got the idea for the movie from his own experiences with tinnitus as a child, says his goal was for audiences to hear the environment like Baby does: “When he’s not listening to music, you hear tinnitus. When he listens to music, it envelops you.”
If you’ve ever wondered what it sounds like to lose your hearing, “Sound of Metal” takes audiences through a strikingly realistic simulation. This story of a heavy metal drummer who experiences sudden hearing loss — and struggles to come to terms with his identity thereafter — uses innovative sound design to immerse viewers in a sensory experience that is rarely explored on screen.  The movie received multiple awards for sound design and editing, including the Academy Award for Best Sound.
“A Quiet Place” (2018) & “A Quiet Place II” (2021)
This thrilling sci-fi film series is set in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by monsters with super-sonic hearing — if they hear you, they hunt you. It follows the Abbott family, who have managed to survive for so long because their oldest daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), has full sensorineural hearing loss. They communicate with sign language, which helps them stay quiet. The father (John Krasinski) spends his free time trying to fix his daughter’s malfunctioning hearing aids, which, without giving away too much of the story, end up playing a pivotal role in the plot. The series was praised for casting a deaf actress in the role of Regan, prominently featuring sign language and portraying hearing loss as one of the “heroes” of the story.
Based on the 2014 French movie, “La Famille Bélier,” “CODA” (which stands for “child of deaf adults”) centers on Ruby, the only hearing child in deaf family that owns a small-town fishing business. When her family’s business is threatened, Ruby struggles to decide between pursuing her dream of attending music school and staying behind to help her parents. Deaf and hard-of-hearing audiences praised the film for casting deaf actors in leading roles (including Marlee Matlin from “Children of a Lesser God” as Ruby’s mom) and for reflecting “the depth of our experiences, without making deafness an all-defining feature.” 
In this coming-of-age tale, an audio-obsessed high school student (Keean Johnson) discovers he needs brain surgery that will cause him to permanently lose his hearing. He decides to drive across the country to experience 50 of the world’s greatest sounds before his operation. The movie is a good reflection on the sounds we take for granted. Though the main character’s hearing loss ultimately results from other health conditions, it’s also a reminder of the importance of hearing protection at every age.
Add these best movies about hearing loss to your watchlist and make your next movie night with the family more meaningful.