50 Must-Watch Biopics: Real-Life Stories That Captivated the Silver Screen

Carolina

Carolina

Argentinian Carolina has an extensive movie background in the cinematic universe. She is our resident TV analyst and a seasoned expert in global streaming platforms. She showcases her comprehensive knowledge through her love for Netflix 'Originals', Frozen, The Good Place, and The Dragon Prince.

The biographical film has been a genre since the very beginning of cinema.

The real lives of musicians, painters, writers, historical figures, religious characters, and people who have achieved extraordinary things have always been the source of inspiration for literature, theatre, and movies.

Of course, the accuracy of the real account of events can vary depending on the film and the topic. Biopics aren’t meant to be a documentary, but a dramatisation of facts, where some events are slightly changed for the sake of the narrative.

Also, not all biopics tell the whole life of a person but instead focus on specific and remarkable periods of the biography.

However, biopics are a great approach to the lives of real people who have left a mark on the world. And as I always say, if a film or TV series sparks your curiosity to learn more about these people, then the mission is accomplished.

In this list, I’ve chosen 50 films from different times, covering a wide range of people from varied spheres.

So if you’re read to get inspired by the biographies of these wonderful and amazing people, let’s roll right in.

Why are biopics important?

Regardless of how faithful to history or facts a biopic can be, it’s one of the most important genres in the arts. In the case of films, through entertainment, people can be educated about the lives of important figures from history and the present.

These films made available to a wide range of audiences facts that would otherwise get lost in the sea of time.

Some films create conversations and debates, making cultural, social, and historical events relevant once more.

Biopics are a way of preserving memory in a world and a time where everything seems to be ephemeral.

1. Oppenheimer (2023)

Biography, Drama, History – 180 min.

Oppenheimer is the latest Christopher Nolan film and one of the big successes at the box office in 2023. The film is not about the whole life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, but it accounts for the period when the scientist worked for Project Manhattan and the development of the atomic bomb.

The objective of Nolan wasn’t to worship Oppenheimer, brilliantly portrayed by Cillian Murphy, because of his geniuses, but to show him all his flaws as well.

Also, the film shows how scientists focus on their discoveries, sometimes losing contact with reality and the consequences of their experiments.

Creating the atomic bomb in a world threatened by World War II was for Oppenheimer a priority. The objective was to be ahead of the nazis and prevent them from developing it first. But at what cost?

When science is backed by politics and politicians have the final word, scientists become mere puppeteers. Nolan shows us how Oppenheimer ends up haunted by the guilt of creating a massive destruction weapon that was used to wipe out two cities in Japan.

How the US government tried to bury him with accusations of communism that for them were more evil than creating the atomic bomb.

During three hours, where flashbacks and flash forwards mixed with colour and black and white scenes, we witness the hypocrisy of politics and how the fate of the world can be decided by people in power, like you can choose between eating a pizza or a hamburger.

Oppenheimer is an important film that is relevant today when, again, science and technology are pushing boundaries without measuring the consequences.

Cillian Murphy is followed by an ensemble cast featuring Emily Blunt as Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, Matt Damon as Gen. Leslie Groves, Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss, Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, Josh Hartnett as Ernest Lawrence, Casey Affleck as Boris Pash, Rami Malek as David L. Hill, and Kenneth Branagh as Niels Bohr.

Besides being a box-office success, Oppenheimer has been acclaimed by critics. Wendy Ide from The Guardian gave the film four stars out of five, saying in her review:

“Oppenheimer is a dense and intricate period piece, playing out in a tangle of timelines. It weaves together courtroom drama, romantic liaisons, laboratory epiphanies and lecture hall personality cults. But perhaps more than all of this, Oppenheimer is the ultimate monster movie.”

2. Veronica Guerin (2003)

Biography, Crime, Drama – 98 min.

Directed by Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys, Flatliners, 8mm) and starring Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings, Elizabeth, Thor Ragnarok) as the titular character, the film follows Irish journalist Veronica Guerin, whose investigation of drug trafficking in Dublin led to her murder in 1997.

Originally a crime reporter for the Sunday Independent, Guerin became aware of how drug dealing was controlling people’s lives, mainly the ones in the working class and their children.

Her investigation began with addicted kids and led her to the big names in the criminal world. This makes her and her family the targets, which later leads to her murder.

Why is this biography important? It’s a reminder that drug trafficking and dealing is not something that affects only the people who consume drugs, but it’s a crime working at many social levels that claims many victims, including the ones seeking the truth.

Cate Blanchett shared the cast with Colin Farrell and Ciarán Hinds.

According to Phillip French from The Guardian, “Cate Blanchett is a vital presence as Veronica and should have romantic teenagers lining up to get into journalism school.”

About how journalists’ biopics can inspire new generations to aspire to a profession that can become the key to seeking the truth.

3. The Sound of Music (1965)

Biography, Drama, Family – 172 min.

Maybe you’re wondering why a musical like The Sound of Music is on a biopics list. Well, besides being one of the most famous musicals of all time, this film is the biography of the Von Trapp family.

Directed by Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Andromeda Strain) and starring the iconic Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, the film is an adaptation of the 1959 stage musical of the same name.

Both film and musical adapted the memoir book The Story of the Trapp Family Singers by Maria von Trapp. The book is an account of Maria’s life, a young Austrian postulant who, in 1938, is sent to the village of a retired widower naval officer to be the governess of his seven children.

There, Maria teaches the children to sing, and while she falls in love with Captain Georg von Trapp and questions herself if she can be a nun, they must face the perils of war and Nazism.

Although the film took some liberties from the real story of the Von Trapp family, it managed to portray overall the life and adventures of this big clan.

The Sound of Music won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. With songs that now are classics, the film was critically acclaimed and became one of the most commercial successes of all time.

4. Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

Biography, Drama, History – 124 min.

Sometimes I get lost in the sea of historical and period dramas and miss a couple of titles here and there. This film is definitely one of them, and when I found out that Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie played Mary Stuart and Queen Elizabeth I respectively, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t watched it.

Directed by Josie Rourke, who made her feature film debut with this film, the story focuses on Mary Stuart and her attempt to overthrow her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. This leads her to be in prison for years until her execution.

Although some historians argue the film is not totally accurate with history, overall, it’s a great production that was nominated for several awards, including the BAFTAs for Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hair, and Best Supporting Actress (Margot Robbie).

Both Ronan and Robbie offer great performances, making these historical figures available to a new generation.

Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian gave the film three stars out of five and said: “This is a heartfelt, serious-minded film about 16th-century power politics from screenwriter Beau Willimon and director Josie Rourke, theatrically conceived, and influenced by Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth (1998).”

5. I Wanna Dance with Somebody (2022)

Biography, Drama, Music – 144 min.

I grew up listening to Whitney Houston, so when a biopic about her was announced, it was a must-see. I wasn’t disappointed.

Although some critics affirm the film is too generic in its execution, in my opinion, it does justice to Houston’s career with the ups and downs and her trouble with addictions.

English actress Naomi Ackie did a terrific job portraying the iconic singer. She was nominated in the Rising Star category at the British Academy Film Awards for this role.

I Wanna Dance with Somebody is a great way to remember Whitney Houston’s legacy, and to approach the singer’s life to a new generation that perhaps only knows her by her name or her latest obscure moments and not for her amazing talent.

6. Heavenly Creatures (1994)

Biography, Crime, Drama – 99 min.

This movie is one of my favourites from this list for several reasons.

Heavenly Creatures was directed and co-written by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit trilogy), who in the 90s was still unknown and was making his first steps as director.Also, this film was the acting debut of Kate Winslet (Titanic) and Melanie Lynskey (Yellowjackets).

I was lucky enough to see this movie in the cinema and was blown away by these two young ladies’ performances. I immediately foresaw a great career for Kate Winslet, and I wasn’t wrong.

Heavenly Creatures is not an easy movie to digest because it’s based on the famous 1954 Parker–Hulme murder case in Christchurch, New Zealand. The film focuses on the relationship between two teenage girls, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme.

Both girls develop an obsessive friendship nourished by a heavy imagination. As their relationship grows, Pauline’s relationship with her mother gets worse, with constant fights. Among their feverish imagination and obsessions, Pauline and Juliet plan to kill Pauline’s mother.

They committed the crime and ended up in prison.

Believe me, I’m not giving away a spoiler because the catch of the film is not the murder, but the focus is how these two girls ended up planning to kill Pauline’s mother. When I went to see this film, I already knew about the murder, however, the scene when they kill the woman is something you cannot unsee.

Peter Jackson could have chosen to show the murder, the trial, and how they went to prison for 5 years because they were minors and all the mediatic circus.

Instead, he chose to show how these girls seek solace in their imaginations, to hide from the hardships of adolescence and other mental issues that back in 1954 weren’t taken seriously.

Probably you’re familiar with Anne Perry, a British novelist famous for her historical detective fiction books.

What if I tell you her real name was Juliet Hulme? After being released from prison and living in several countries, Juliet adopted her pseudonym of Anne Perry and became a famous writer, however, her real name and past were revealed when Heavenly Creatures was released.

7. My Boy Jack (2007)

Biography, Drama, History – 95 min.

This British telefilm produced for ITV is based on the play of the same name written by David Haig. In the film, besides adapting his own script, Haig plays English novelist Rudyard Kipling, who is famous for The Jungle Book, while Daniel Radcliffe plays his son John Kipling. The title is borrowed from Kipling’s poem.

The film follows Rudyard Kipling and his wife as they mourn his son John, who died in the First World War.

As you can imagine, it’s a hard film dealing with loss and the horrors of the Great War.

From the historical point of view, Haig had to leave out the anti-Irish position that Kipling had. He made this decision to not derail from the main focus of grief.

The film received positive reviews from the critics and earned a solid aggregate Metacritic score of 78/100.

8. Bombshell (2019)

Biography, Drama – 109 min.

Directed by Jay Roach (Meet The Parents), and starring Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie, the film is based on the accounts of the women at Fox News who publicly accused CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment.

Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman play real life Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson respectively, while Margot Robbie plays Kayla Pospisil, a fictional employee at the news network.

Besides depicting accusations of sexual harassment towards the former chief executive Roger Ailes, the film also points out the toxic working environment where women were treated as objects and obliged to follow certain fashion guidelines.

Such as almost identical blonde, blow-dried hairstyles combined with short dresses and stilettos. Everything designed for the men’s pleasure.

The cast is completed by John Lithgow as Roger Ailes, Kate McKinnon as Jess Carr, and Jennifer Morrison as Juliet Huddy, among others.

The film received mostly positive reviews and was nominated for several accolades, including three Academy Awards in the categories of Best Actress in a Leading Role (Charlize Theron), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Margot Robbie), and Best Makeup and Hair, for which it won.

9. Braveheart (1995)

Biography, Drama, History – 178 min.

This epic film was directed, produced, and starred Mel Gibson, who plays Sir William Wallace, a Scottish warrior from the 13th century who led the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England.

Braveheart is inspired by Blind Harry’s 15th-century epic poem The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campion Sir William Wallace, with an adaptation by Randall Wallace (The Man in the Iron Mask).

In the cast, Mel Gibson is followed by Sophie Marceau as Princess Isabella of France, Angus Macfadyen as Robert the Bruce, Patrick McGoohan as King Edward “Longshanks”, and Catherine McCormack as Murron MacClannough.

Until today, Braveheart is still regarded for its epicness, action, drama, and romance. Although it has been criticised for being historically inaccurate, the film was a commercial and critical success.

Braveheart was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, winning five of them, including Best Picture and Best Director.

10. Lust for Life (1956)

Biography, Drama – 122 min.

Still considered one of the best biopics, Lust for Life follows the tragic life of the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, played by a brilliant Kirk Douglas. The film is based on the book of the same name, written by Irving Stone.

Lust for Life belongs to a Hollywood era when biopics were very common, with ensemble casts. Besides Douglas, Anthony Quinn as Paul Gauguin, James Donald as Theo van Gogh, Everett Sloane as Dr. Paul Gachet, among others.

The film received four Academy Awards nominations, winning the one for Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Quinn).

11. Farinelli (1994)

Biography, Drama, Music

This international co-production was directed by Belgian film director Gérard Corbiau, and it’s among my favourite movies from this list. The movie centres on the life and career of the 18th-century Italian opera singer Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli.

Farinelli is considered the greatest castrato singer in history, with a voice that was impossible to be compared. The film also portrays the relationship Farinelli had with his brother Riccardo Broschi, a famous composer of baroque music.

The film also depicts, with some liberties and exaggeration, the world of the opera in the 18th century, with the intrigues and erotism. It also shows how the lives of young boys were changed when they were castrated before reaching puberty to keep the pure voice of a child.

The international cast is composed of Italian actors Stefano Dionisi as Farinelli and Enrico Lo Verso as Riccardo Broschi, and French actors Elsa Zylberstein as Alexandra and Jeroen Krabbé as George Frideric Handel.

Dionisi provided the speaking voice, in French, to Farinelli, however, to achieve a similar voice of a castrato, Polish soprano Ewa Malas-Godlewska and the American countertenor Derek Lee Ragin were recorded separately and then digitally merged.

Farinelli won the Golden Globe for Best Picture in Foreign Language and was nominated in the same category at the Academy Awards.

12. Tolkien (2019)

Biography, Drama, Romance – 112 min.

Nicholas Hoult impersonates English author J.R.R. Tolkien, famous for his literary works of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. This biopic covers the formative years of Tolkien, going through his school years, the Great War, and his years as a student at Oxford University.

The film also portrays his relationships. On one hand, with Edith Bratt (Lily Collins), his lifetime love and then wife, and on the other hand, his group of friends who were other marginal students who shared his same passion for language.

Sadly, the film was a commercial failure, and the critics weren’t so benevolent, stating that a biopic is too formulaic, and it skipped an important topic like the role faith played in Tolkien’s life.

Besides this, Tolkien is a good approach for those who are interested in knowing the essential facts about the author’s life.

13. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

Biography, Comedy, Crime – 113 min.

Based on the book by Chuck Barris’ “unauthorised autobiography” of the same name, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind marks George Clooney’s debut as director.

The story follows Chuck Barris, an American game show creator, producer, and host, who claimed to have led a double life as an assassin for the CIA. The CIA denied these allegations, and Barris was never clear if they were true or not, leaving the question if his autobiography was in part fiction or if he was delusional.

In the film, Barris is played by Sam Rockwell (Frost/Nickson). Completing the cast are Drew Barrymore as Penny Pacino, George Clooney as Jim Byrd, Julia Roberts as Patricia Watson, Rutger Hauer as Keeler, with a couple of famous cameos like Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, all Clooney’s friends.

A curious fact: Michael Cera played Barris as a kid.

The film was well-received by the critics and the audience alike, still holding a solid 7 rating at IMDb.

The late Roger Ebert gave the film 3 1/2 out of 4 stars and praised Clooney’s direction by saying “His first movie is not only intriguing as a story but great to look at, a marriage of bright pop images from the 1960s and 1970s and dark, cold spyscapes that seem to have wandered in from John le Carré.”

14. Steve Jobs (2015)

Biography, Drama – 122 min.

Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) and written by Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball), this is the second film about Steve Jobs’ life, with Michael Fassbender playing Jobs.

This is considered the better one in comparison with the 2013 film starring Ashton Kutcher, mainly for its cinematography aspects.

This British-American co-production is based on the 2011 biography by Walter Isaacson and also on some interviews made by Sorkin.

The film covers 14 years in the life of Apple Inc. co-founder, starting at the almost failed Apple Macintosh 128K presentation, going through the issues Jobs had regarding accepting his daughter Lisa, and the founding of a new company, NeXT Computer in 1986, among other events.

Fassbender is followed by a solid cast featuring Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, and Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan.

Although the critics gave the film positive reviews, its performance at the box office was poor.

Regarding the accuracy of what’s depicted in the film, Mark Kermode from The Guardian resumes it very well in his review: “How ‘true’ any of this is remains a moot point. Although the credits acknowledge Walter Isaacson’s densely researched book, several of Jobs’s associates have insisted that the film does not represent the man they knew.”

“No matter. Like Mark Zuckerberg of The Social Network, this Steve is very much the creation of his writer; if we find truth in the drama (as I do), then that truth belongs to Sorkin.”

I think this statement can be applied to any biopic.

15. Elvis (2022)

Biography, Drama, Music – 159 min.

If someone knows how to transform any story into an epic tale, that’s Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby). And, of course, Elvis deserved an epic biopic.

Luhrmann brings to life The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll through the eyes of Elvis’ former manager, Colonel Tom Parker. The whole biopic is a journey through Elvis Presley’s life and career under the management of Parker.

Austin Butler plays Elvis, and although this is his breakthrough role, he already had a career in teenage films. Tom Hanks plays Colonel Parker. Both are followed by a solid Australian cast featuring Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

The film received positive reviews, earning high ratings on platforms like RottenTomatoes and IMDb. It was nominated and won several accolades, although it was ignored at the Academy Awards, where it received eight nominations, including Best Picture, but it won none.

Mark Kermode from The Guardian wrote an exhaustive review and gave the film 5 stars out of 5.

He summarises the film saying: “With electrifying performances from Austin Butler as Elvis and Tom Hanks as Colonel Parker, Baz Luhrmann’s whirlwind biopic is cinematic dynamite.” I agree with him on every word.

16. Kill Your Darlings (2013)

Biography, Drama, Romance – 104 min.

Directed by John Krokidas in his directorial debut, Kill Your Darlings follows the college days of some founding members of the Beat Generation: Lucien Carr, played by Dane DeHaan, Allen Ginsberg, played by Daniel Radcliffe, William S. Burroughs, played by Ben Foster, and Jack Kerouac, played by Jack Huston.

The film follows the group interactions and Lucien Carr’s killing of his long-time friend David Kammerer, played by Michael C. Hall.

Kill Your Darlings premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and then it was screened at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, ending its run with a limited release in the US.

The film received positive reviews, and although it wasn’t a blockbuster due to its independent nature, it’s considered a cult film now.

Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian gave the film three stars out of five and said in his review: “Kill Your Darlings is the third film recently about the beat generation, after Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Howl (2010) and Walter Salles’s On the Road (2012).”

“This movie by John Krokidas is superior to both, with Daniel Radcliffe giving an intelligent and considered performance as the young Allen Ginsberg.”

17. Elizabeth (1998)

Biography, Drama, History – 124 min.

Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth is perhaps one of the best portrayals of the queen. Even though the film presents some historical inaccuracies, it still does a great job.

The film centres on the first years of Elizabeth’s reign and her difficulties in learning how to govern such a fractured kingdom. Facing plots and threats to kill her to take her down, Elizabeth learned that she couldn’t trust anyone, especially men who only were interested in her throne.

Cate Blanchett brings Elizabeth magnificently to life in one of her most iconic roles. The rest of the cast is an ensemble of A-listers like Geoffrey Rush, Joseph Fiennes, Richard Attenborough, and Vincent Cassel.

The film was praised for Kapur’s direction, costume design, production, and Blanchett’s performance. Elizabeth proved to be a critical and commercial success and earned several accolades nominations, including seven Academy Awards nominations.

In 2007, Kapur directed the sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age which focuses in the later part of Elizabeth’s reign with Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush reprising their roles.

Richard Williams from The Guardian summarised it very well in his review: “Deploying the richness of a pageant and the sweep of a thriller, Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth is the very model of a successful historical drama – imposingly beautiful, persuasively resonant, unfailingly entertainment.”

18. Missing (1982)

Biography, Drama, History – 122 min.

Missing was directed by Greek-French director Costas-Gravras and based on the book The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice by Thomas Hauser, later republished under the Missing title.

The story is about the disappearance of the American journalist Charles Horman during the Chilean coup of 1973 that was supported by the United States to depose the democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende and put in charge Augusto Pinochet.

As you can guess, Missing is not an easy film because of the political events it depicts and the sensitive topic of missing people.

Jack Lemon plays Ed Horman, Charlie’s father, who arrives in Chile searching for his son and meets his daughter-in-law, Beth (Sissy Spacek), with whom he has a difficult relationship.

Both of them ask for help from the American embassy, but they only get lies and excuses. Ed, who at the beginning is against Charlie and Beth’s radical political views, realises that the US are part of the conspiracy and his son’s disappearance.

Although the Chilean cities of Viña del Mar and Santiago are mentioned in the film, Chile itself and Pinochet are never named. This didn’t prevent the controversy in Chile, and the film was banned during Pinochet’s dictatorship.

Missing got four nominations for the Academy Awards and won in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay.

The film received positive reviews praising Lemon and Spacek’s performances. If you’re curious to know about the dark history of dictatorships in Latin America, this film is essential.

19. The Glenn Miller Story (1954)

Biography, Drama, Music – 115 min.

I grew up listening to Glenn Miller’s music because my mom was a huge fan. She always mentioned how many times she went to the movies to see The Glenn Miller Story, and how James Stewart was perfect to play Miller. Besides her biased opinion, she was right.

The film, directed by Anthony Mann (Cimarron), follows big band leader Glenn Miller, played by James Stewart, from his early years in his music career until his disappearance in 1944, when the aeroplane he was flying got lost over the English Channel during World War II.

June Allison played Helen Burger, Miller’s wife. Also, several musicians who were Miller’s friends like Louis Armstrong, Ray Conniff, and Gene Krupa made cameos in the film.

The Glenn Miller Story was a box-office success in the US and around the world, becoming the highest-grossing film from Universal during that year.

20. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Biography, Drama – 135 min.

Directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva Goldsman, A Beautiful Mind is inspired by the biography from 1998 of mathematician John Nash, written by Sylvia Nasar. The book, which shares the same title as the film, is an unauthorised biography.

John Nash, interpreted by a magnificent Russell Crowe, is a brilliant but asocial mathematician who graduated from Princeton. Once he’s hired for secret work in cryptography, his life becomes a nightmare.

He’s a genius, but his mind, brilliant for numbers, is affected by visions that haunt him. He suffers from schizophrenia.

Besides how interesting it is to know Nash’s life, this film also is important to visualise mental illness.

Crowe is followed by a cast of big Hollywood names, featuring Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Christopher Plummer, Paul Bettany, and Anthony Rapp.

The film received positive reviews, mostly praising Crowe’s performance, for which he was nominated for several accolades, including the Academy Awards.

Roger Ebert made an interesting observation about how the film treated mental illness: “The movies have a way of pushing mental illness into corners. It is grotesque, sensational, cute, funny, willful, tragic or perverse.”

“Here it is simply a disease, which renders life almost but not quite impossible for Nash and his wife before he becomes one of the lucky ones to pull out of the downward spiral.”

21. Gandhi (1982)

Biography, Drama, History – 191 min.

When I hear the word biopic, the first film that comes to my mind is Gandhi. This behemoth of a movie directed by Sir Richard Attenborough explores the life of Mahatma Gandhi, who was the leader of an Indian independence movement against the British Empire during the 20th century.

The film covers between 1893 and 1948, the period that Gandhi was born as a peace leader for Indian independence by leaving behind his life as an attorney until his assassination. The film also shows how Gandhi embraced other faiths besides Hinduism.

Ben Kingsley played Gandhi, a role for which he won the Academy Award as Best Actor.

The film was a success with critics and audiences and earned several nominations for different awards, including 11 nominations for the Academy Awards, from which it won 8.

Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four, and his final reflection in his review expresses the importance of this kind of film: “What is important about this film is not that it serves as a history lesson (although it does) but that, at a time when the threat of nuclear holocaust hangs ominously in the air, it reminds us that we are, after all, human, and thus capable of the most extraordinary and wonderful achievements, simply through the use of our imagination, our will, and our sense of right.”

22. Immortal Beloved (1994)

Biography, Drama, Music – 121 min.

The life of composer Ludwig van Beethoven, excellently portrayed by Gary Oldman, is told in flashbacks in this film directed by English director Bernard Rose.

The film begins with Beethoven’s assistant and close friend, Schindler, dealing with the composer’s testament and last will after his death.

Beethoven left all his estates and music to his “immortal beloved”, raising the question of who this unnamed woman barely mentioned in three of Beethhoven’s letters was. Schindler begins a journey to find her at the same time the whole life of the genius composer is explored.

Although Bernard Rose decided in the film who this mysterious woman was, there are still some speculations from historians and biographers about her real identity.

Besides the historical accuracy or theories around Beethoven’s secret lover, the film is an excellent approach to the composer’s life and how he dealt with deafness and madness while still composing some of the most wonderful musical pieces humankind has known.

The late Roger Ebert said in his review: “I doubt Rose has solved the puzzle of the unnamed beloved, but I care not, because he has done something more valuable: He has created a fantasy about Beethoven that evokes the same disturbing, ecstatic passion we hear in his music.”

I couldn’t agree more.

23. The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)

Biography, Drama, History – 138 min.

I still remember watching this movie on TV when I was a kid with my dad, who was a Renaissance painters’ fan. I was fascinated by Michelangelo’s art, but at the same time by his passion and pain.

The Agony and the Ecstasy belongs to a Hollywood age when ambitious biographical films were produced, but sometimes they commercially failed. Not that now it isn’t happening, but back in that time it was very common.

The film focuses on Michelangelo, portrayed by Charlton Heston, while he was painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the conflict he had with Pope Julius II played by Rex Harrison.

Partially based on the book of the same name by Irving Stone, the film shows how Michelangelo was working for four years in what’s considered now one of his most iconic works. This delay in time caused him have some conflicts with the Pope and he was almost replaced by Raphael.

24. Awakenings (1990)

Biography, Drama – 121 min.

Awakenings is a heart-breaking film that also is inspiring, so you probably will end depressed and with hope at the same time. Not many films manage to convey such polarising feelings.

Based on the memoir of the same name by Oliver Sacks, the film was directed by the late Penny Marshall.

Starring Robin Williams and Robert de Niro, Awakenings follows neurologist Dr. Malcolm Sayer, based on Sacks, whose discovery of the benefits of the drug L-DOPA in 1969 helped the surviving catatonic patients from the 1917–1928 epidemic of encephalitis lethargica.

Leonard Lowe (de Niro) has been in catatonic state for decades, and he’s the first of the group awakening. Although Sayer and the rest of the medical staff celebrate the results of the L-DOPA drug, they soon find out that the awakenings are temporary and the patients are back to their previous state progressively.

Leonard is the first one in displaying the symptoms.

Awakenings not only showed the world the discovery of Dr. Sacks and the terrible consequences of those living with the sequels of encephalitis, but also it conveys a message of perseverance embodied in Sayer, and how to enjoy life to the fullest because being alive is not always a synonym of living.

The film was a commercial and critical success and earned several accolades nominations, including three Academy Awards nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (de Niro), and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Ebert said: “What both the movie and the book convey is the immense courage of the patients and the profound experience of their doctors, as in a small way they re-experience what it means to be born, to open your eyes and discover to your astonishment that “you” are alive.”

25. Monster (2003)

Biography, Crime, Drama – 109 min.

Patty Jenkins became famous when she directed Wonder Woman in 2017, but her directorial feature debut was in 2003 with Monster, a film she also wrote.

Starring Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci, Monster follows serial killer Aileen Wuornos (Theron), a street prostitute who killed seven of her male clients between 1989 and 1990 in Florida. She was sentenced to death, spending ten years in prison until her execution in 2002.

The film was critically acclaimed, praising Theron’s performance for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Also, the make-up has been praised, making Theron unrecognisable.

26. The Social Network (2010)

Biography, Drama – 120 min.

David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club) was in charge of directing Mark Zuckerberg’s biopic about the creation of Facebook, with a script written by Aaron Sorkin, yes the same scriptwriter from Steve Jobs.

The film has an ensemble cast featuring Jesse Eisenberg as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, Justin Timberlake as Sean Parker, Armie Hammer as Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, and Max Minghella as Divya Narendra.

Sorkin adapted the script from the 2009 book The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich.

Both the film and the book portray the origin of Facebook from a 19-year-old Harvard University sophomore Mark Zuckerberg, whose spitefulness because his girlfriend dumped him leads him to create a campus website named Facemash.

This later would become Facebook and would be a massive social network.

Of course, in the middle, Zuckerberg will face academic probation as the most naive punishment to gain a few enemies from his inner circle.

The Social Network is considered one of the best films of the 2010s and the 21st century. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Jesse Eisenberg), Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won), Best Original Score (won) and Best Sound Mixing.

Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian summed up Fincher and Arkin’s work: “This is an exhilaratingly hyperactive, hyperventilating portrait of an age when Web 2.0 became sexier and more important than politics, art, books – everything. Sorkin and Fincher combine the excitement with a dark, insistent kind of pessimism. Smart work.”

27. Battle of the Sexes (2017)

Biography, Comedy, Drama – 121 min.

This biographical sports film is loosely based on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, with Emma Stone and Steve Carrell playing their respective roles.

Both actors were nominated for Best Actress and Best Actor for the Academy Awards and received praise from the critics for their respective performances.

Even with the critic’s positive reviews, the film was a bomb at the box office, which is a shame because it’s a great film about a sports event that was game-changing in tennis history.

The film portrays the story behind the 1973 tennis match between 29-year-old Billie Jean King, who was the world number one, and 55-year-old ex-champion Bobby Riggs. Back in that time, women’s tennis wasn’t taken so seriously, and this match was the beginning to show the world that women are worth the same as men as pro players.

Mark Kermode from The Guardian gave the film four stars out of five and said: “Made by Little Miss Sunshine directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton from a superb screenplay by Slumdog Millionaire scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy, this terrifically entertaining film generates a rally of responses (tears, cheers, laughter) as it shifts from poignant LGBT love story to powerful human drama against a backdrop of excellently evoked historical upheaval.”

28. Spencer (2021)

Biography, Drama – 117 min.

Spencer is among my favourite movies, not only from this list, but general talking. I was lucky to see it in the cinema and fully enjoy Kristen Stewart’s amazing performance as Diana Spencer, and Pablo Larraín’s beautiful cinematography.

This is not the average Princess Diana biopic you may expect. With several liberties from reality and some speculations as inspiration, Larraín takes an episode in the life of Diana to explore her psyche and feelings.

We don’t see her as Diana Princess of Wales, but just as the title says, as Diana Spencer, as herself.

The story takes place on Christmas Eve 1991, when the British Royal Family is making the arrangements to spend the holiday at the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk. Diana is part of the attendees, however she decides to go by car by herself.

During this short period of time, we can see how her marriage to Prince Charles is already in crisis, how the royal duties are a burden to her, how she deals with eating disorders, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, all portrayed magnificently by Kristen Stewart who not only seems to be performing Diana but she seems to be Diana for real till the point of being scary for the audience.

Stewart was nominated for an Academy Award and other accolades for this role.

By the time Larraín worked on Spencer, he had already made another biopic about another woman going through a crisis, Jackie, about the US first lady Jackie Kennedy after her husband assassination.

Mark Kermode from The Guardian made a summary about the film that I couldn’t say it better: “Playing out over three excruciating days at Sandringham – from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day – and carried shoulder high by a note-perfect Kristen Stewart, Spencer (the very title of which seems to present a challenge to the House of Windsor) dances between ethereal ghost story, arch social satire and no-holds-barred psychodrama, while remaining at heart a paean to motherhood.”

29. Amadeus (1984)

Biography, Drama, Music – 160 min.

If my mom injected me with her love for bands like Glenn Miller, my dad did the same with classical music. Amadeus was one of his favourite films, and Mozart’s music was a daily diet at my home.

Directed by Czech-American filmmaker Miloš Forman and adapted by Peter Shaffer from his 1979 stage play Amadeus, this biographical drama is a fictional take on Mozart’s life and his rivalry with Italian composer Antonio Salieri at the court of Emperor Joseph II.

Tom Hulce played Mozart, in the most defining role in his career. The now-retired actor also is known for the role of Henry Clerval in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and for providing his voice to Quasimodo in Disney’s 1996 animated feature film The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

F. Murray Abraham portrayed Antonio Salieri, a role that sent him to fame. He has also been part of films like All the President’s Men, Scarface, The Name of the Rose, Last Action Hero, Mighty Aphrodite, Dillinger and Capone, Star Trek: Insurrection, Finding Forrester, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

Forman and Shaffer took inspiration from the 1830 play Mozart and Salieri written by Alexander Pushkin. The play was adapted to an opera by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov 67 years later, and in 1914 it had its first film feature adaptation by silent-film director Victor Tourjansky.

By no means, Forman’s intention was to make a historically accurate film, but his intention was merely entertainment.

Amadeus was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning eight of them, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Abraham).

Roger Ebert summarised his review by saying: “‘Amadeus’ is a magnificent film, full and tender and funny and charming – and, in the end, sad and angry, too because in the character of Salieri it has given us a way to understand not only greatness but our own lack of it.”

30. Mary Shelley (2017)

Biography, Drama, History – 120 min.

Mary Shelley has always been a fascinating writer for me. Although her most prominent and famous work is Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, which has become popular thanks to Hollywood, Shelley has written other novels, including The Last Man, that can be considered the first dystopian novel in literature.

It’s interesting how Hollywood has milked her monster Frankenstein, but we have to wait till 2017 to see her biopic.

Haifaa al-Mansour (Nappily Ever After and The Perfect Candidate) embarked on the task of bringing to the screen Mary Shelley’s life. al-Mansour is a Saudi Arabian film director who is among the first female directors from the country. Mary Shelley was her feature directorial debut.

The film features Elle Fanning as Mary Shelley, Maisie Williams as Isabel Baxter, Douglas Booth as Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Tom Sturridge as Lord Byron, and follows Mary meeting with poet Percy Shelley, how they fall in love, and how she starts writing Frankenstein, the novel that put her name in everyone’s mouths.

Although the film received mixed reviews, there’s agreement in praising Fanning’s performance and the overall gothic mood of the film.

31. Chaplin (1992)

Biograph, Comedy, Drama – 143 min.

Chaplin is the second biopic directed by Sir Richard Attenborough after Gandhi.

This British-American co-production follows the life of English comic actor and filmmaker Charles Chaplin with an ensemble cast featuring Robert Downey Jr. as Chaplin, Marisa Tomei, Dan Aykroyd, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Kline, and Geraldine Chaplin in the role of Chaplin’s mother, Hannah Chaplin.

The film is an adaptation of Chaplin’s book published in 1964, My Autobiography, and the 1985 book Chaplin: His Life and Art by film critic David Robinson. The narrative of the movie is through an elderly Chaplin remembering his life while having a conversation with the editor of his autobiography.

Although the film received mixed reviews from critics, the film has been praised for its production values and Robert Downey Jr.’s performance, considered one of the best in his career.

The film was nominated for several accolades, including three Academy Awards for the categories of Best Actor (Downey Jr), Best Art Direction, and Best Original Score.

32. The Conjuring (2013)

Horror, Mystery, Suspense – 112 min.

Probably, you’re wondering why The Conjuring is on a list of biopics.

The events depicted in this film are based on real-life American paranormal investigators Edward Warren and his wife Lorraine Rita Warren. Their investigations about hauntings led to the creation of two horror movie franchises: The Amityville Horror series and the films in The Conjuring Universe.

Although there is a lot of controversy about what the Warrens investigate, with some sceptical investigators claiming that the events were made up, it’s up to the audience to believe it or not.

Something that cannot be denied is that the Warrens existed, and they dedicated their lives to investigate paranormal events.

The Conjuring follows one of these incidents. The film takes place at the beginning of the 1970s when a family moves to a farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island. During the first nights, the family experiences some paranormal events which lead them to contact the Warrens.

It doesn’t matter if you believe what happens in The Conjuring is true or not, what’s important here is The Conjuring is still considered one of the best horror movies ever made.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga star as Ed and Lorraine Warren under the direction of James Wan (Saw, Aquaman).

Owen Williams from Empire said in his review: “A strong cast and an atmosphere of real dread mean that despite a catalogue of immediately recognisable ghost devices, The Conjuring amounts to more than the sum of its scary parts.”

33. I, Tonya (2017)

Biography, Comedy, Drama – 119 min.

Craig Gillespie, who directed the brilliant Cruella starring Emma Stone, directed I, Tonya, a biopic that uses the mockumentary format to tell the story of Tonya Harding, an American figure skating, and her connection to the 1994 assault perpetrated against her rival Nancy Kerrigan.

The film heavily relies on interviews with Harding and her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, portraying them as unreliable narrators, and it’s up to the audience to believe them or not.

Besides her implication in the assault on Kerrigan, Harding led a hard life with her mother forcing her to practise figure skating from the early age of four.

Margot Robbie stars in the film as the titular character, featuring Sebastian Stan as Gillooly, and Allison Janney as Harding’s mother LaVona Golden.

Overall, the film has been praised by critics who put emphasis on Robbie and Janney’s performances. However, journalists who covered the real story back in 1994 accused the film of changing real events to make Tonya sympathetic.

Film critics welcomed the film with positive reviews like the one written by Christy Lemire on RogerEbert.com where she summarised the film’s virtues: “What ‘I, Tonya’ does provide honestly, though, is a vivid slice of pop culture history—an irresistible, soapy mix of jealousy, competition and class warfare, fortified by powerful performances and unexpected emotional resonance.”

34. Rebel in the Rye (2017)

Biography, Drama, Romance

Directed by Danny Strong, who you may know from Buffy The Vampire Slayer for his role of Jonathan Levinson, this biopic follows American writer J.D. Salinger during and after World War II, and how he forged his ideas to write The Catcher in the Rye.

The film is based on the book J. D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski, and features Nicholas Hoult as J.D. Salinger, Zoey Deutch, Kevin Spacey, Sarah Paulson, Brian d’Arcy James, Victor Garber, Hope Davis, and Lucy Boynton.

Although the film received mixed reviews, it’s a good take on Salinger’s life and the period he lived in.

Jordan Hoffman from The Guardian recognised the film is not bad, but accused it of shallowness.

As I always say, the best critic is yourself.

35. The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)

Adventure, Biography, Drama – 135 min.

Directed by Billy Wilder (Sunset Boulevard, Sabrina), The Spirit of St. Louis follows Charles Lindbergh, the American aviator and military, interpreted by James Stewart.

The film focuses on how Lindbergh prepared and managed to successfully complete his transatlantic flight between Paris and New York on board his Spirit of St. Louis high-wing monoplane, a journey that took him 33 hours in the air.

Back in time, The Spirit of St. Louis received mixed reviews, stating that the film focused so much on the technical aspects of Lindbergh’s adventure by leaving behind his human nature.

However, when the film was released on DVD, it was valued for the technical aspects, the script, and the acting.

36. Cleopatra (1963)

Biography, Drama, History – 192 min.

Cleopatra is one of Hollywood’s behemoth films and also a cursed one. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the film stars Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, supported by Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Roddy McDowall, and Martin Landau.

The film follows the Egyptian queen as she struggles with the Roman Empire’s ambitions. The script is based on the book The Life and Times of Cleopatra by Carlo Maria Franzero.

Originally, the film was going to be directed by Rouben Mamoulian, but he was forced to resign after some production issues. When the film resumed shooting, Mankiewicz was hired as director.

Amid the shooting, the adulterous affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made its way toward headlines, becoming an international scandal.

Cleopatra was the most expensive film ever made up to that moment and almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox.

The film was a success at the box office, however, due to the exorbitant budget, the studio saw little revenue.

The critics talked about Cleopatra as being one of the greatest epic films of our time. And the epicness can’t be denied at all. Sadly, Cleopatra made history more for its scandals and production issues than for its greatness as a film.

37. Schindler’s List (1993)

Biography, Drama, History – 195 min.

Steven Spielberg can be considered one of the greatest film directors of our time. Schindler’s List is his biggest film. When I say big, I mean it in all aspects. We are living in strange times now, and this film couldn’t be more important because the lack of historical memory makes us repeat our mistakes over and over again.

During World War II, Oskar Schindler, a German nazi party member, arrives in Krakow, Poland, dreaming to make a fortune producing enamelled cooking utensils.

With the help of Itzhak Stern as his administrator, Schindler started his production with Jewish manpower. In the meantime, he makes friends among the nazis while enjoying his status as a businessman. However, the horror of the war knocks at his door when he witnesses how SS-Untersturmführer Amon Göth begins a massacre of Jews on the streets.

From that time on, Schindler’s objective changes, and his main goal is to hire as many Jews as he could to save them from the Holocaust.

Spielberg knew that shooting the film in black and white would give it the status of document, like the old footage screened at the cinemas during the war. Black and white has this powerful force of old, sadness, nostalgia, and history.

This is the reason why once you see Schindler’s List, you can’t unsee it, and it lives forever in your memory.

The film was a vehicle for Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes for their roles of Oskar Schindler and Amon Göth respectively. Ben Kingsley (Gandhi) played the role of Itzhak Stern.

Schindler’s List was a success at the box office and received critical acclaim. It was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, from which it won 7, including Best Picture and Best Director.

Roger Ebert said in his review: “What is most amazing about this film is how completely Spielberg serves his story. The movie is brilliantly acted, written, directed and seen. Individual scenes are masterpieces of art direction, cinematography, special effects, and crowd control.”

“Yet Spielberg, the stylist whose films often have gloried in shots we are intended to notice and remember, disappears into his work. Neeson, Kingsley and the other actors are devoid of acting flourishes. There is a single-mindedness to the enterprise that is awesome.”

38. What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)

Biography, Drama, Music – 118 min.

Based on Tina Turner’s 1986 autobiography I, Tina, What’s Love Got to Do with It follows the beginnings of the legendary singer till she rises to fame, finding the courage to break up from the abusive relationship with her husband Ike Turner.

Angela Bassett puts on Tina Turner’s boots, while Lawrence Fishburne plays Ike Turner. Both were nominated for the Academy Awards as Best Actress and Best Actor, respectively.

As often happens with biopics or any film based on real events, What’s Love Got to Do with It has several historical inaccuracies with the excuse the script was fictionalised for dramatic purposes.

However, this didn’t prevent it from being critically acclaimed and a hit at the box office.

Roger Ebert summarises the film like this: “‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ has a lot of terrific music in it (including a closing glimpse of the real Tina Turner), but this is not the typical showbiz musical. It’s a story of pain and courage, uncommonly honest and unflinching, and the next time I hear Tina Turner singing I will listen to the song in a whole new way.”

That’s exactly the same feeling I had when I saw this movie in the cinema for the first time.

39. Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Biography, Comedy, Drama – 125 min.

Saving Mr Banks serves as a backstage to Walt Disney’s classic film Mary Poppins and as an account of the life of P. L. Travers, the author who wrote the Mary Poppins books.

Directed by John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Founder) and starring Emma Thompson as Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, the film focuses on how Walt Disney had to convince Travers to adapt Mary Poppins into a musical.

Travers wasn’t happy with Disney getting the rights to her books and characters because she disliked Disney films. However, she needed the money because she hadn’t written any new book in a long time.

Once Travers goes to Los Angeles to meet Disney and the creative team behind the Mary Poppins film, their relationship is tense and difficult. However, with time, the team starts to see how personal the Mary Poppins stories are to Travers.

The way she refuses to change Mr Banks, the children’s estranged father in the story, it’s a telltale of how the character is based on her own father and the relationship she had with him. Glimpses of her past are shown, with Travers Goff, her father, portrayed by Colin Farrell.

The film received critical acclaim, praising Thompson, Hanks and Farrell’s performances. Also, it was nominated for several accolades, winning some of them.

Mark Kermode from The Guardian, finished his review saying that “Travers actively disliked Disney’s movie, but no matter; ultimately, they didn’t make it for her. On the other hand, as a diehard Thompsonite who considers Mary Poppins one of the 10 best movies ever made, they appear to have made Saving Mr Banks for me. And I loved it.”

Exactly my feelings.

40. Jobs (2013)

Biography, Drama – 128 min.

This film was the first biopic about Steve Jobs to be produced. Ashton Kutcher plays Apple’s co-founder, followed by Josh Gad, Lukas Hass, Dermot Mulroney, and J.K. Simmons, among others.

One of the main differences with the Steve Jobs film, already mentioned on this list, is Jobs focuses on the whole of Steve Jobs’ career since 1974, when he was a student at Reed College until the introduction of the iPod in 2001.

The film received positive reviews, but it was overshadowed by the 2015 film produced by Sony Pictures.

41. Milk (2008)

Biography, Drama, History – 128 min.

Directed by Gus Van Sant, this biographical drama follows the life of gay rights activist Harvey Milk, played by Sean Penn. Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

There were many attempts to make a film about Milk’s life, but for some reason, no project could get the green light until 2007.

Since the beginning of the film, we know that Harvey Milk was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone in 1978. The film consists of flashbacks of him moving with his lover to San Francisco, and how he became a gay rights activist that led him to be elected until his assassination.

Sean Penn delivered a perfect performance of Harvey Milk, and he’s supported by a strong cast featuring Josh Brolin as Dan White, Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones, Diego Luna as Jack Lira, James Franco as Scott Smith, and Victor Garber as Mayor George Moscone.

The film was critically acclaimed and today still holds high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb. Milk was nominated for 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and it won for Best Actor in Leading Role (Sean Penn) and Best Original Screenplay.

Kirk Honeycutt from The Hollywood Reporter summarises the film like this: “Milk resists bumper-sticker identifications: Yes, it’s a biopic, a love story, a civil rights movie and sharp political and social commentary. But it transcends any single genre as a very human document that touches first and foremost on the need to give people hope.”

42. Isadora (1968)

Biography, Drama, Music – 131 min.

Isadora Duncan was an American-born dancer whose career was mainly in Europe. Born at the end of the 19th century, she was ahead of her time. With a life marked by tragedy, including her death, she became an icon of modern dance.

The film is based on two books: the autobiography titled My Life and the biography Isadora, an Intimate Portrait by Sewell Stokes.

Vanessa Redgrave played Isadora in a defining role of her career, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in Leading Role and won Best Actress Prize at the Cannes Festival.

The film still holds high ratings on several platforms, and back in the day, it was critically acclaimed, with most reviews praising Redgrave’s performance.

43. The Current War (2017)

Biography, Drama, History – 108 min.

Imagine an ensemble film like Avengers: Infinity War, but instead of superheroes, it’s a group of the most relevant inventors from the end of the 19th century. And to add more coincidences, some of the actors from Marvel movies are part of the cast.

In 1880, Thomas Alba Edison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, showed the world his invention: the electric lightbulb, with which he planned to give electricity to the whole US by using Direct Current.

So, George Westinghouse, a businessman and inventor played by Michael Shannon, starts to compete with Edison, proving that the Alternate Current is a better option. Then, Tesla, played by Nicholas Hoult, makes the entrance and, disappointed by Edison, leaves the team.

To complete the cast, Tom Holland plays Samuel Insull.

Besides the historical accuracy that in this type of film is always questionable, The Current War gives a good glimpse of what it was the race between inventors to bring the light to the world.

44. Evita (1996)

Biography, Drama, History – 135 min.

Based on the Broadway musical of the same name created by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, the film, directed by Alan Parker and starring Madonna as Evita, Jonathan Pryce, and Antonio Banderas, follows the life of Eva Duarte, a controversial historical figure from Argentina.

As an Argentinian, I can tell you the film is historically accurate. Thanks to the devices provided by the musical genre, it is sometimes with sarcasm, sometimes with metaphors, a historical character and a period that for some people was the glory and for others was a curse.

Without taking political sides here, the film portrays Eva Duarte with all her strengths and weaknesses. Her origins as an illegitimate child of a poor family, going through her search for fame as an actress, and then her rise as Argentina’s First Lady after marrying President Juan Domingo Perón.

Antonio Banderas’s character, Ché, is lurking in the story as a witness and someone who tries to unmask Evita by showing her true colours to the audience.

Although the film received mixed reviews, critics aren’t so kind to musicals after all, Evita was nominated and won several accolades.

As a colour note, in Argentina, there was an attempt to boycott the film on the release day.

45. Capote (2005)

Biography, Crime, Drama – 114 min.

Directed by Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Foxcatcher), the film is based on Gerald Clarke’s 1988 biography Capote and focuses during the period when the writer worked on his non fiction book In Cold Blood.

Truman Capote was an American writer, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the film, who in 1959 decided to document the crime of the Clutter family in their farm in Kansas.

During his investigations in Kansas, Capote develops a bond with the murderers, even after the trial and they’re sentenced to death. He often visits them in prison to get a full grasp of their characters and motivations, leading him to get obsessed and fall into a spiral of misery.

The film was a success at the box office and among the critics that praised Hoffman’s performance. Capote won several awards including the Academy Award for Best Actor in Leading Role for Hoffman.

46. The Founder (2016)

Biography, Drama – 115 min.

After watching The Founder, you won’t see the Big Mac in the same way again. The Founder follows Ray Kroc, the American businessman who created McDonald’s fast food chain and expanded it globally.

However, the history of McDonald’s creation is not a fairy tale, or at least Kroc is far from being a hero, and he’s a villain instead. Michael Keaton plays Kroc, showing his acting skills at a new level.

Kroc was a milkshake machine seller who observed that most drive-in restaurants lack efficiency delivering food. When a restaurant in San Bernardino, California orders a large amount of milkshake machines, Kroc pays a visit and discovers McDonald’s, a walk-in restaurant with fast food service, high-quality food, disposable packaging, and a family-friendly environment.

The McDonald’s brothers welcome Krock into their restaurant, and he offers them to franchise the restaurant. They weren’t too convinced to do it, but Krock insisted on being in charge of franchising the brand with their approval.

Kroc was a man devoured by his hunger for power, money, and business. He was a visionary, yes, but he didn’t hesitate to manipulate and steal the McDonald’s brothers’ idea and restaurant.

The film was directed by John Lee Hancock, who previously had worked on another biopic: Saving Mr Banks.

The Founder received positive reviews, most of them praising Keaton’s portrayal of Kroc.

Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian gave the film four stars out of five and said that The Founder is a “fascinating, subtle film on the machinations of Ray Kroc, the ruthless, insecure man who made a burger joint an empire and sold out its originators.”

47. The Greatest Showman (2017)

Biography, Drama, Musical – 105 min.

Okay, this film is one of my favourite ones ever. I don’t really care if the historical accuracy regarding the true nature of P.T. Barnum is almost none.

Seeing Hugh Jackman dancing and singing while portraying a true showman is all I need. The catchy songs and great musical numbers are my other favourite things from this film.

The Greatest Showman was directed by Michael Gracey in his directorial debut. The film has an ensemble cast featuring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and Zendaya.

The story follows P.T. Barnum and how he became a famous showman and entertainer. It also shows the creation of the Barnum & Bailey Circus and the lives of its performers, who were considered freaks and outcasts by the society of that time.

The nine songs were composed by the duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who gained popularity for composing the songs of La La Land.

The film tells Barnum’s life since he was a kid assisting his tailor father and how he dreamed of a life of fortune and bliss. Barnum falls in love with the daughter of one of his father’s customers, who later becomes his wife.

When he loses his shipping clerk job when the company goes bankrupt, he sees a chance to take a bank loan by deceiving the bank. With the loan, he opens Barnum’s American Museum in downtown Manhattan with wax figures. This is the beginning of his career as a showman, and the museum was the kickstart of his circus.

The Greatest Showman was a box-office success. Although it received positive reviews, it was criticised because of the historical inaccuracies.

The real P.T. Barnum wasn’t the hero Hugh Jackman played, in real life, he didn’t care about the people who worked for him, and he treated his stars as freaks. However, the film as a film itself and forgetting that’s a biography, works excellently.

48. Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

Biography, Drama, Family – 107 min.

Several generations have grown up with Winnie-The-Pooh books that later were popularised thanks to Walt Disney’s animated films and series. We all know about Christopher Robin, the boy who goes to the Hundred Acre Wood to visit his friends: the bear Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Tiger, and Eeyore.

What’s little known about these classic and beloved characters is the author A.A. Milne based Christopher Robin on his son Christopher Robin Milne. As cute as it could sound, the reality was far from being happy.

Milne was in the Great War, and he never recovered from his traumatic experience in the Battle of the Somme. His wife Daphne gave birth to a baby boy, but she ended up traumatised by the birth, so they hired a nanny.

Milne took inspiration from a teddy bear he bought for his son Christopher Robin. With the help of his friend illustrator Ernest Howard Shepard, they started to create the world of Winnie-the-Pooh.

As we already know, the books were a success. However, the real Christopher Robin was publicly exposed as the inspiration source for his father, and even his mother Daphne saw the boy as a source of income, promoting the books with meetings with his son.

If you ever wonder how a celebrity child suffers at the hands of their own parents, this film makes a good description.

Although the film received mixed reviews, I consider it a good take on A. A. Milne’s life and how Winnie-the-Pooh books conceal such a history.

Goodbye Christopher Robin was directed by English director and producer Simon Curtis, who is better known for the TV series David Copperfield and Cranford.

Domhnall Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2, Anna Karenina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) plays the role of A. A. Milne, Margot Robbie plays Daphne Milne, and Kelly Macdonald as Christopher Robin’s nanny.

49. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Biography, Drama, Music – 134 min.

Besides the controversies around the film due to Bryan Singer being fired as director and replaced by Dexter Fletcher, Bohemian Rhapsody is a solid biopic about Freddie Mercury, impersonated by a great Rami Maleck, and the Queen band.

The film covers the origins of the band until Queen participates in the benefit concert Live Aid. It manages to follow Freddie Mercury’s private life at the same time addresses the rest of the members of the band.

Maleck delivers a strong performance as Freddie Mercury, and he’s followed by an equally strong cast featuring Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin, Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor, and Joe Mazzello as John Deacon.

The film was a success at the box office, having a total worldwide gross of $910.8 million, against a production budget of about $52 million.

Although the critics weren’t so kind with the movie, the audiences around the world celebrated this biopic. Some screenings were with sing-along subtitles, I’ve been there.

50. The Imitation Game (2014)

Biography, Drama, Suspense – 104 min.

Last on my list we have a film directed by Norwegian film director Morten Tyldum (Passengers), The Imitation Game is based on the 1983 biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

Alan Turing was a cryptanalyst who decrypted German intelligence messages for the British government during World War II. Turing is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, with Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, and Mark Strong completing the cast.

When Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, Alan Turing joined the cryptography team that was working on the Enigma machine. The Nazis used Enigma to send coded messages, and the objective of the cryptography team was to break the code.

The film not only explores the period while Turing worked deciphering Enigma, but also shows glimpses of his personal life. A gay man in a time when homosexuality wasn’t accepted. A genius with particular character traits that have been discovered he was in the autism spectrum.

The Imitation Game is an excellent film. Not only did it put on the spotlight a scientific figure like Alan Turing, but also showed the other side of the war, the other battles that took place far away from the frontlines.

The film was a success at the box office, being critically acclaimed. Up till today, The Imitation Game still retains high ratings on RottenTomatoes and IMDb.

The Imitation Game was nominated for several accolades, including eight Academy Awards, from which it won one in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay.

Mark Kermode from The Guardian summarised it saying that “Benedict Cumberbatch’s excellent performance gives added complexity to a fine account of the life of codebreaker Alan Turing.”

Summary

Biopics are a great way to approach the lives of famous people, even when historical accuracy is sacrificed for dramatic reasons. If a film is compelling enough to spark your interest in that historical period or character, the job is done.

This list of 50 biopics that I curated, contains mostly my favourite films from the genre and of course, I left behind several titles.

I hope you enjoy this list as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Did I miss some biopic do you know? Please, drop me some lines in the message section. I’m looking forward to it!

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