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Movies with Domestic Violence Themes


Domestic Violence documentaryDomestic Violence (2002)

By shadowing residents of The Spring in Tampa, FL - the state's largest shelter for battered women and their children - acclaimed documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman sheds light on domestic violence and reveals the complications that make it such a difficult problem to solve. Though painful to watch, Wiseman's gripping film allows each victim to share her story in a way that's both brutally honest and unspeakably horrific.

Rent from NetFlix (use the link) or purchase from Zipporah Films

A Christmas Family TragedyA Christmas Family Tragedy

Filmmakers Matt Hodges and Eric Calhoun use re-creations, interviews and historic photos to chronicle the events of Christmas Day 1929, when farmer Charlie Lawson killed his wife, six children and himself in one of the South's most legendary crimes.

The film also digs into the folk ballads, ghost stories and myth tied to Lawson's shocking murder-suicide, which left an indelible mark on the rich oral history of the region.

Till Death Do Us PartTill Death Do Us Part

In this sobering documentary, filmmaker Vita Lusty tells the true stories of 13 women who lived their lives as battered wives -- until they fought back in self-defense and killed their abusive husbands. Now in prison, they describe how they were seduced into marriage by their late husbands' charms and then gradually introduced to their "real" personalities.

Are they survivors, or murderers?

Be sure to check out Intermedia for an extensive list of video products appropriate for use with support groups, intervention programs, and training for educational programs, advocates, law enforcement and others. HIGHLY recommended!

Popular Media

A Cry For Help: The Tracy Thurman Story
(1989), Directed by Robert Markowitz
Stars: Nancy McKeon, Bruce Weitz

This is the story of the landmark case that led to the adoption of domestic violence legislation and reform in police responses to domestic violence calls. While it is not commercially available for purchase, Lifetime Television airs it about once a year. Check their website for next showing or search eBay for this hard to find title.

Bastard out of Carolina Bastard Out of Carolina (1996)
Directed by Angelica Houston
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ron Eldard, Lyle Lovett, Christina Ricci

"This fine but shocking drama (which Ted Turner paid for and then refused to show on his cable outfits), based on the novel by Dorothy Allison, concerns extensive abuse endured by a girl (Jena Malone) at the hands of her stepfather (Ron Eldard), while her mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) looks the other way." Softens up the domestic violence of the book, and focuses on the child sexual abuse, which is also softened from the book.

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Beauty and the Beast Beauty and the Beast (Disney animated version)
Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

This classic has been critiqued as a film teaching girls that they should tolerate domestic violence and stay with abusers. A critical video on Disney from Media Ed includes interviews with girls discussing what they would tell friends in an abusive relationship after seeing the movie. Some said "if you are nice enough they will change" - one of the very dangerous attitudes that we know perpetuates abusive relationships. Parents: TALK to your children about what they watch and help them develop safe and healthy relationships.

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Boxing Helena (1993)
Director: Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Starring Julian Sands, Sherilyn Fenn

A top surgeon is besotted with a beautiful woman who once ditched him. Unable to come to terms with life without her, he tries to convince her that they need each other. She has other ideas, but an horrific accident leaves her at his mercy. The plot is bizarre and perhaps sick at times, ending abruptly and with a twist.

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The Burning Bed (1984)
Director: Robert Greenwald
Starring: Farrah Fawcett

Based on the true story of Francine Hughes, a battered Michigan housewife who was prosecuted in 1977 for dousing her abusive husband with gasoline and setting him on fire as he slept. Presents moral ambiguities of the story, concerning the painful, but fascinating, questions of where justice lies. Sparks discussions of self-defense and how some women kill their abusers out of desperation when the system fails to protect them.

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Carousel (1956)
Director: Henry King
Starring: Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones

Billy Bigelow is a smooth-talking carny barker who falls in love with a millworker on the colorful coast of Maine. But right before the birth of his daughter, Billy is killed while committing a robbery. Now in heaven, years later, he returns to earth for one day to attend his daughter's high school graduation and teach her one very important lesson. The classic musical - BUT the hero is a batterer. IS he still a great guy who deserves to go to heaven?

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Chicken Run (2000)
Directors: Nick Park, Peter Lord
Voices: Miranda Richardson, Mel Gibson

A greedy farm owner runs her poultry ranch like a POW camp while the head chicken tirelessly plots to free the birds from the farm. Animated film illustrating power/control, physical and psychological violence,etc (in this case from a wife to husband) and then shows his abuse of the chickens. Again, another tool to open discussion with children about the dynamics of safe and healthy relationships.

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The Color Purple (1985)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Whoopie Goldberg, Danny Glover, Oprah Winfrey

Based on Alice Walkers Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple is the richly textured, decades-spanning story of Celie, an uneducated woman living in the rural American south. Forced to marry a brutal man she calls "Mr.," Celie turns inward and shares her grief only with God. But she is transformed by the friendship of two remarkable women, acquiring self-worth... and the strength to forgive.

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Crimes of the Heart (1986)
Directors: Bruce Beresford
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange, Diane Keaton

Three sisters with quite different personalities and lives reunite when the youngest of them, Babe, has just shot her husband. The oldest sister, Lenny, takes care of their grandfather and is turning into an old maid, while Meg, who tries to make it in Hollywood as a singer/actress, has had a wild life filled with many men. Their reunion causes much joy, but also many tensions.

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Dangerous Intentions (1995)
Director: Michael Toshiyuki Uno
Starring: Donna Mills, Corbin Bernsen, Robin Givens

After years of being terrorized, Beth Williamson finally finds the courage to leave her abusive husband. But where can she go that's safe? Her parents' home, her sister's home - wherever Beth tries to hide, her husband finds her and beats her, each attack more savage than the last. Only when she meets Kaye, another battered wife on the run, does the nightmare look like it's coming to an end.

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Diabolique (1996)
Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Starring: Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani, Chazz Palminteri

A cruel headmaster treats his wife and students with disdain. He humiliates her and flaunts his affairs in front of her. She rebels quietly, too fragile to resist his brute strength. Ironically, it is his mistress who encourages her to plot against him. The wife is forced to make a decision, realizing he will never grant a divorce or give up the school. Since both divorce and murder are sins against God, the wife's religious beliefs conflict with the mistress's manipulation and ideas of revenge.

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Enough (2002)
Director: Michael Apted
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Bill Campbell, Juliette Lewis

A blue-collar beauty who marries the really wrong guy. Eventually, of course, she discovers his philandering and spends the rest of the movie in nomadic flight from his hot-tempered brutality. Bankrolled by her estranged father, she protects her young daughter, but knowing she must face the inevitable showdown, she turns to self-defense courses for empowerment.

Unlike the "fuzzyness" of real life, the movie has a definitive point where the vicitm doesn't just put an end to the victimization, but goes further by taking the law into her own hands. (An excellent topic for discussion for groups - the moral versus the LEGAL reactions to abuse.)

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Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Director: Jon Avnet
Starring: Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Jessica Tandy

Evelyn Couch is having trouble in her marriage, and no one seems to take her seriously. While in a nursing home visiting relatives, she meets Ninny Threadgoode, an outgoing old woman, who tells her the story of Idgie Threadgoode, a young woman in 1920's Alabama. Through Idgie's inspiring life, Evelyn learns to be more assertive and builds a lasting friendship of her own with Ninny. Central to the tale is the case of the missing batterer.

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Gaslight (1940)
Directors: George Cukor, Thorold Dickinson
Starring: Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman

A young bride is slowly tormented by strange happenings in her home, the same home in which a stash of jewels is reportedly hidden. Her ostensibly devoted husband tends to his wife's increasingly fragile mental state with fiendish charm. Chillingly portrays the control and crazy-making actions of a perpetrator against his victim without any physical violence.

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Human Trafficking
Director: Christian Duguay
Starring: Mira Sorvino, Donald Sutherland

The Lifetime cable channel made TV history with this ambitious, acclaimed original miniseries on the horrifying phenomenon of human trafficking, or sexual slavery. It follows the fictional cases of young women around the world, lured or abducted, sometimes right off the street, into a world of unspeakable brutality--which the filmmakers show in almost overwhelming detail at times. While sometimes almost unbearably harsh, the film serves as a reminder this terrible situation still exists and thrives; and told through the characters, is also a well-paced thriller.

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If Someone Had Known (1995)
Director: Eric Laneuville
Starring: Kellie Martin, Kevin Dobson

A teenaged girl with a bright future who is swept off her feet by an attractive, but dubious young man. The two soon marry and live a storybook life on the outside. But, on the inside they live with a terrible secret hes physically abusive and shes too afraid to confide in anyone, especially her domineering father, a police detective. When their son is born, the beatings increase in frequency due to his jealousy over the baby. Yet, each time he apologizes and promises it will never happen again. Upon the impending birth of their second child, Katie realizes the situation will only get worse and makes an earnest attempt to leave her husband.

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No One Would Tell (1996)
Director: Noel Nosseck
Starring: Candace Cameron Bure, Fred Savage

A shy 16 year old girl can't believe that the most popular guy in school is interested in her. At first she's flattered by his constant attention, but then he becomes possessive and jealous. Threats escalate into violence when he thinks she has stepped out of line. Soon she is walking on egg shells and living in fear. Having seen the tell-tale bruises, Stacy's best friend convinces her to break things off with him - but in a moment of weakness, she goes to meet him. It will be the last time she is seen alive.

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Once Were Warriors (1995)
Director: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison

Temuera Morrison gives an outstanding and sometimes shocking performance as the violent head of the household, more adept at keeping up his social stature within his community of friends than holding down a job. The film pulls no punches, literally and figuratively. Depicts the intersection of class, race, alcoholism, and gender in the Maori community in New Zealand. Very violent.

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Shattered Dreams (1990)
Director: Robert Iscove
Starring: Lindsay Wagner, Michael Nouri

The true story of Charlotte Fedders and her quest to break the cycle of domestic violence. Charlotte marries John, things seem ok. But every so often he loses his temper and she gets the brunt of his anger. During their 18 year marriage, there are at least 8 incidents of physical abuse and countless of mental. Her family and friends tell her to leave John but she keeps going back because he has convinced her that she would be nothing without him.

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Sleeping With The Enemy Sleeping With the Enemy (1991)
Director: Joseph Ruben
Starring: Julia Roberts, Patrick Bergen

Newlywed Laura (Julia Roberts) discovers that, in private, her handsome husband (Patrick Bergin) is an enraged psychotic who takes out his frustrations on her with his fists. Tired of being a punching bag, Laura orchestrates her escape by faking her death and starting over in a small Iowa town, where she meets a new beau. But her peace is quickly shattered when she discovers her husband is hot on her trail.

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The Unspoken Truth (1995)
Director: Peter Werner
Starring: Lea Thompson, Patricia Kalember

True Stories Collection. When Brianne met Clay, she thought her dreams had come true. Despite her parents' wishes, she marries him and soon has a daughter. Clay's violence boils over when he sees a man talking to Brianne. Clay shoots him dead. To avoid losing their freedom and each other, they decides to claim that Brianne shot the man by accident. The plan backfires and they both go to prison for life. At first, Brianne believes that her love for her husband can prevail. But, when her father dies and authorities threaten to take away custody of her daughter, she's learns a horrible truth.

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What's Love Got To Do With It (The Tina Turner Story)
Director: Brian Gibson
Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburn, Rae'Ven Larrymore Kelly

The true story of Tina Turner, whose turbulent relationship eventually forces her to leave and face the fear, pay the price, and find the courage to believe in herself. One domestic violence expert wrote: "It taught me two things: (1) that many women stay because they are strong, not weak, and (2) that it may take the courage to face down the perpetrator to get him to stop."

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Last Updated: March 8, 2011