10 Old-School Fictional Orphans We Heart

What is it about orphans that TV shows and movies find so interesting? Being an orphan is super sad, but somehow, the media has turned it into something that actually seems sort of… cool? Well, maybe not, but they definitely know how to take a depressing orphan story and turn it into a sort of fairytale. You know, a poor orphan is rescued by an amazing (maybe rich) family – and their life totally turns around.

So here are 10 fictional orphans from TV shows and movies that we here at Gurl.com definitely envied when we were kids (before we really understood the term ‘orphan’). And even if these stories are a little ridiculous, you have to admit they’re still kind of inspirational. Check out our favorite old-school fictional orphans from the ’80s, ’90s, and more:

Annie from Annie

If the story of Annie doesn’t give you hope that things will get better, then I don’t know what does. Annie just might be the cutest little redhead ever, plus she kicks some serious butt – just look at that punch she throws in the beginning of this trailer! Little orphan Annie has to be one of the most famous orphans of all time, and we’ll probably never stop watching this 1982 film, no matter how old it gets.


Punky from Punky Brewster

Penelope, better known as Punky, is one of the coolest fictional orphans ever. Punky Brewster was only on TV for about two years in the late ’80s, but I know I’m not alone in wishing that it lasted much longer than that. At only seven-years-old, Punky was a total rockstar – complete Gurl crush material!


Arnold and Willis Jackson from Diff’rent Strokes

Although Diff’rent Strokes is a pretty old TV show (beginning in 1978!), I know most of you have definitely heard of it. Arnold and his older brother Willis were left to fend for themselves in Harlem after their mother died. But luckily, they were rescued by her totally rich boss and started to live an awesome life. Fairytale ending! Does anyone know if they still play re-runs on TV now? Please say yes!


Luke from Growing Pains

Luke just might be my favorite orphan on this list, and I swear it has nothing to do with the fact that a young and adorable Leonardo DiCaprio played him. Okay, that might be a lie, but Growing Pains was always one of my favorite shows. As nerdy as the Seavers could be, they were still really awesome. What homeless kid wouldn’t want to be taken in by them?


All of the girls from Rags to Riches

You’re all familiar with Glee, right? Okay, well Rags to Riches was kind of like the ’80s version of Glee… except instead of being about high school kids, it was about five orphan girls who were adopted by a millionaire. It was the coolest show ever, because every episode featured a music video of a popular song of that time re-done by the cast. Can this come back on, please?


The Salinger kids from Party Of Five

For some reason, Party Of Five never got great ratings when it aired in the ’90s, which I will never understand, since it was one of the best shows ever. I mean, seriously. It was all about the five Salinger kids – Baily, Charlie, Julie, Claudia and Kristen – who became orphaned after their parents died in a car accident. Even though the idea was really sad, watching the five of them get by was pretty awesome.


Cinderella from Cinderella

Um, has anyone else noticed that the Disney princesses have some serious parent issues? Cinderella’s family life seriously stinks after she’s left with her evil stepmother and stepsisters. Believe it or not, the Disney movie came out in 1950… but she’s still one of the best princesses of all time.


Amanda from It Takes Two

Does anyone else remember when Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen made movies and weren’t fashion designers? Because I do. And let’s be honest, It Takes Two might have been their best movie ever. Amanda (played by Mary-Kate) was an orphan who just so happened to look identical to Ashley’s character Alyssa… even though they weren’t related. And then they do their best to become sisters. Movie perfection.


Jesse from Free Willy

Thanks to this movie, I still can’t look at killer whales without wanting to cry. Jesse was a 12-year-old boy abandoned by his mom who ended up in a foster home… and became best friends with Willy. It’s one of the cutest movies ever, and you seriously have to wonder how a mom could abandon someone as cool as Jesse.


Oliver Twist from Oliver Twist

I know I said Annie might be the most famous orphan ever, but I take that back – she probably ties with Oliver Twist. There have been tons of different adaptations of this story by Charles Dickens, but they all have the same basic plot: how Oliver gets treated terribly as an orphan. It will definitely always be a classic.


Who was your favorite orphan from this list? Who did we miss? Have you seen all of these shows/movies? Let us know in the comments!


Want more nostalgia? Check out these old-school girl bands!

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  • Los Angeles lady

    Pollyanna, The Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, Emily of New Moon.

  • Los Angeles lady

    Don’t forget:
    Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, The Little Princess,

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  • Lorenzo

    PS~ Dan Cruver was one of the professors at the liltte Bible College I attended in Northeast Pennsylvania. In fact he was the last professor standing between me and my degree as I had to take my one on one oral theology exam from him, which covered all of the theologies I had studied in my four years there. I was a nervous wreck, but he was beyond gracious, and by some miracle I got an A . Small world! His book is on my to read list. :0)

  • Victoria

    OMG!!!!!!!!! ANNIE!!!!!!!!! Lets just say Annie was my idle growing up. I kinda a tomboy, but I clean up nice. Just like Annie. I have red hair and its curlly. Like Annie’s. We went to a play in a big town here to see Annie. I got a tee shirt that says Annie in front. I love it.

  • Johanna

    How the heck did you miss Anne Shirley?!

    • Angie

      Thank you, Johanna. Thank. You.