What is a Biopic Definition and Examples of Biographical Films

What is a Biopic — Definition & Best Examples Explained

D o you ever wonder what is a biopic, or what counts as a biopic? In contemporary cinema, biopic movies seem to be everywhere. Old historical figures, musicians, politicians, as well as “regular” people dealing with extraordinary events. There have been more biopic films in recent decades, but they’re nothing new. Biopics have been a staple in the cinema landscape dating back to its earliest days. So, what is a biopic, what do they usually entail and how has the genre evolved to be where it is today?

Watch: How to Make a Biopic

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Defining Biopic    

What does biopic mean.

The spectrum of what qualifies as a biographical film is rather wide, leaving room for creative expressions of true life. For example, consider how Tarantino adapted Sharon Tate's story in Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood . Before getting into the real complexities of biopic films, let’s first provide a biopic definition that all these films share. 

BIOPIC DEFINITION

What is a biopic.

A biopic is a movie that dramatizes the life of a real, non-fictional individual. Short for “biographical motion picture,” a biopic can cover a person’s entire life or one specific moment in their history. Topics for biopics are nearly endless, with famous figures from history, along with popular celebrities of late, being covered.

When pronouncing “biopic,” you should be saying it “BYE-oh-pic” and not “bi-YAW-pic.” This incorrect pronunciation of biopic can sometimes get confused with “bioptic.”

Biopic characteristics include:

  • Covering the life of a real individual
  • Taking "creative license" with parts of the individual’s life or character for dramatic purposes
  • Covering multiple years in their life or focusing on very specific moments
  • Featuring a “Where are they now?” section that covers what happened to the individual(s) after the events portrayed in the film

While all biopics are essentially movies about a real-life person, they can differ in many other ways. This video provides a great breakdown of biopics; they not only define biopics but provide excellent examples from the subgenre , just one of the many movie genres .

A quick but thorough biopic definition

The most obvious way a biopic differentiates itself is in how accurate it is to the subject’s history. Depending on the story you want to tell, a biopic can be almost wholly fictional, using only surface facts to create a mostly made-up narrative .

If the biopic is about someone who has a great myth around them, a filmmaker might be more interested in making a movie about the legend of the person instead of the facts.

Unfortunately, a 100% accurate biopic is impossible. If you are basing the movie on someone who existed centuries ago, filmmakers will only have so much to work with. In some of those cases, even if the facts are available, the myth surrounding a person might be a bigger draw or a more interesting story.

Take Todd Haynes  I'm Not There , which casts multiple actors to portray Bob Dylan. More than simply a marketing stunt, this varied cast accentuates Dylan's own constantly shifting personas. 

I'm Not There  •  Watch Todd Haynes define biopic

20th century biopics about 20th century individuals are often caught embellishing the facts for the sake of making the subject look better or worse than they really were. So if you make a biopic about someone who is still alive, you will absolutely get told about how right or wrong your biographical film is.

More often than not, though, biopics fudge the truth for the sake of making a better movie. This is nothing new, as artworks and plays have stretched the truth in some way for the sake of the art itself. After all, movies are not real life, and if someone really wanted to know the facts of an individual’s life, they could look up a written biography.

Biopic Early Days

The emergence of biopics.

It may surprise some to learn that biographical movies have always been popular. Some of the first films ever made were biopics, often focusing on historical figures such as Peter the Great, Joan of Arc, Napoleon Bonaparte, and even Jesus of Nazareth.

George Armstrong Custer and Abraham Lincoln are two historical figures, alive around the same time, who managed to get several biopics in cinema’s early years. For Custer, these include Custer’s Last Fight (1912), The Plainsman (1936 and 1966), Santa Fe Trail (1940), and They Died with Their Boots On (1941). Many of these films were criticized for fabricating and romanticizing the history and facts of Custer’s life.

Abraham Lincoln also got his fair share of many, many biopics before 1950. Of these many biopics, Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) is probably the most well known and revered, having been directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Lincoln. Unlike most movies about US Presidents, Young Mr. Lincoln exclusively focuses on Lincoln’s days as a young lawyer in Illinois, working on a murder case.

An interview with Henry Fonda on playing Lincoln

Aside from historical figures, early biopics would also feature celebrities of the day. Possibly the most significant and well known of these is Yankee Doodle Dandy (1943), starring James Cagney, focusing on George M. Cohan, otherwise known as “The Man Who Owned Broadway.” Regardless of how accurate it is, it proved to be a huge success, getting awards attention and critical acclaim.

Yankee Doodle Dandy also sheds light on a very important aspect of biopics, which is their popularity. On top of people wanting to see a dramatization of a real life person, biopics require actors to more or less “be” the real life individual, which can prove to be a challenge. As a result, it can be very impressive to see how an actor pulls off being so much like the real life subject.

This success can also bring with it awards, which many biopics receive. Regardless of the plot’s quality, the main draw for a biopic movies is often the acting, which ends up either being the most notable part.

Biopics Changes

The changing world of biopics.

As cinema began to change, so did the biopic meaning. While still retaining similar act structures and an air of romanticism, biopic films started to cover a greater swath of subjects. Additionally, the rate of biopics being released began to increase, particularly after the 1940s.

Auditioning actors is hard enough — trying to find a perfect match for the subject of a biopic is an entirely different challenge. The debate of choosing someone who looks like the person over whether they can act like the person is a never-ending debate, with various arguments for either side. While some believe what matters most is the performance, others think that looking like the subject is what’s important.

Additionally, if the film does not represent the subject in a way that others deem fair, it can cause problems for the actor doing the portrayal.

Some biopic movies have eliminated this issue by having the subjects star in the movie their lives were based on. Notable examples of this include Jackie Robinson in The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) and Howard Stern in Private Parts (1997).

Biopics can really run the gamut of all movie genres . While biopics such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Cleopatra (1963) used their subjects to tell grand narratives, other types of biopics were beginning to crop up. 

Spartacus (1960), while being a traditional epic biopic about the Third Servile War (73-71 BC), also worked as a commentary on the recent Communist witch hunt that led to The Hollywood Blacklist .

Andrei Rublev (1966), though set in the 15th century, uses its setting to criticize the then Soviet Union’s suppression of artistic and spiritual freedoms. Since the film was directed by Andrei Tarkovsky in the Soviet Union, the country had it banned and then censored.

Andrei Rublev  •  Watch Tarkovsky define biopic 

One of the most controversial films of the 1960s was also a (simplified) biopic: Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the classic crime couple, the film featured shameless sex and violence that broke new barriers in American cinema. It is now recognized as one of the first films to come from the burgeoning and vital New Hollywood era.

Later in the 1980s, Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) took a highly artistic approach to the biopic. Balancing its focus between the last day of Yukio Mishima’s life and recreations of some of his stories, Schrader created a biopic that dared to be way more artistic than factual. This film truly complicates the answer to "What is a biopic?"

Biopic Meaning Today

The modernization of biopic movies.

As the 20th century raged on into the 21st, the subjects of biographical films expanded to include lesser known figures alongside famous ones. Film critic David Edelstein digs into some recent and classic biopic examples in this video, along with the genre’s continued popularity.

What is a Biopic  •  Biopic definition from critic David Edelstein  

In the last few decades, politicians and musicians have strongly dominated the biopic scene. Whether it’s a recent US president or someone else working in Washington D.C., plenty of notable biopics have been about American political figures.

Using Richard Nixon as one example, he managed to get two different movies made about him in the 1990s. The first was Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995), starring Anthony Hopkins, which was a sprawling, three-hour-plus drama that touched upon his personal life and politics.

The other was Dick (1999), which starred Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as two teenagers who somehow get involved with the Watergate scandal. While Dick is more obviously a comedy, it’s still about a real historical event and has an actor playing a real politician (Dan Hedaya as Nixon).

While politicians are fun to watch, no other industry seems to get as much biopic attention as music. Elvis Presley got a made-for-television biopic in 1979 (simply titled Elvis ), starring Kurt Russell and directed by John Carpenter (their first collaboration).

Elvis  •  Watch John Carpenter define biopic

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart got a stage play that was adapted into the film Amadeus (1984), directed by renowned Czech filmmaker Milos Forman . And Selena Quintanilla-Perez got one with Selena (1997), starring Jennifer Lopez, which also brought with it some casting controversy.

Many more music biopics between the 1970s and now have been released, proving their popularity and saturation. Some very recent and famous examples include Straight Outta Compton (2015) and Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), the latter of which became the highest grossing biopic of all-time as of this writing.

Also of note is how formulaic biopic movies can be, especially when music is the subject. Watch the video below to see a deep analysis of music biopics, courtesy of Patrick (H) Willems.

Patrick (H) Willems analyzing the common music biopic meaning 

There is no shortage of biopic movies out there, and there likely never will be. Movies now have even more technology to reproduce worlds and people, thus enhancing the authenticity of any given film.

Make-up artists continue to make sure their actors look like the subject while the actors themselves still need to convince the world with their performance. And with the amount of subjects that can be chosen from, there will never be a shortage for a movie based on a real life person.

Creating Biopics

How to write a biopic.

Writing a screenplay is hard. Writing a screenplay for a biopic can be even harder. A script for a biopic will have to walk a fine line, both telling the story truthfully and also taking creative liberties.

The first, and arguably most crucial, part of writing a biopic is research. A biopic writer will have to research, research, and then research again. They should not only understand the subject of the biopic as well as the people they regularly interacted with, but they should also understand the time and world in which they existed. 

Say you’re writing a biopic about Leon Trotsky. You’d have to read as much of his writing as you could, as well as the cornucopia of biographies that have been written about him. But you should also research his contemporaries—Lenin, Stalin, Martov, etc.— and also the larger context of the October Revolution and Russia in the beginning of the 1900s. That’s a lot of reading.

What is a Biopic Walk In Line

The star of our hypothetical feature

You will also have to decide how much of a person’s life you want to cover. Plenty of successful biopics keep the timeframe tight, but others want to cover most of a person’s existence. The biopic Jackie largely focuses on the days surrounding the assassination of JFK, creating a claustrophobic feeling that lasts the entire runtime.

Walk the Line , meanwhile, tackles a large portion of Johnny Cash’s life, allowing events of his childhood to clearly affect his actions later in the film.

What is a Biopic Leo Trotsky

It took his whole life to get to this moment

Remember: writing a biopic isn’t the same thing as writing a biography. First and foremost, you’re writing a compelling film. Ideally, it will capture the essence of its subject.

Creative ways to adapt a true story

Now that you have a solid understanding of "what is a biopic," their history, and what they can entail, let's turn our attention to how a few notable films adapt those real life stories. Using the scripts themselves, along with various clips, we dig into how filmmakers like Tarantino, Charlie Kaufman and the Safdie Brothers adapted their source material to make engaging cinema.

Up Next: Adapting a true story →

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What is a Biopic? (Definition and Examples)

The genre is sweeping hollywood and getting more popular by the day..

What is a Biopic? (Definition and Examples)

Have you noticed a trend in Hollywood lately? It seems like every time you go to the movies or see a new trailer; it's an ad for a movie about someone famous' life.

Biopics are all the rage.

But what's the definition of biopic, and what are some of the best biopics of all time?

Today, we're going to answer those questions.

If you're looking to get the attention of an agent or manager , writing a biopic might be right for you. And it's not just Hollywood; even Bollywood is going biopic crazy .

Let's dive in.

What's A Biopic? 

A biographical film, or a biopic for short, is a film that tells the story of the life of a non-fictional or historical person.

Biopics use the central character(s) to show an important discovery, period in history, or dramatically relevant period within their lives to tell a contemporary lesson. That all seems straightforward, but there are some serious discrepancies in how you should pronounce biopic as well.

Biopic Definition

A biopic is a movie about someone's life.

There are music biopics, true story, presidential profiles, and breakdowns of military leaders. So many different ideas to choose from!

How Do You Pronounce Biopic?

You pronounce "biopic"...bio-pick. Not bi-opic. Let's just confirm that. I can't sit in any more meetings and hear bi-opic. It's a biographical picture. Biopic. This is not complicated, people. So let's get it right moving forward.

Key Characteristics of Biopics

Biopics are designed to dramatize the key events, experiences, and achievements of the subject's life, offering audiences insight into their personal and professional journey.

These films often focus on notable individuals such as political leaders, artists, musicians, athletes, scientists, and other influential figures.

  • Real-Life Subject: Biopics are centered around a real person, whether they are a historical figure, a contemporary personality, or someone from the recent past.
  • Narrative Structure : They follow a narrative structure similar to traditional storytelling, with a beginning, middle, and end. The story typically covers significant milestones and events in the subject's life.
  • Character Study : Biopics aim to provide a deep character study of the subject, exploring their motivations, struggles, successes, and failures.
  • Authenticity : Biopics often strive for authenticity by recreating the historical period, locations, and circumstances in which the subject lived.
  • Casting : Actors are chosen to portray the subject, often undergoing physical transformations to resemble them and capture their mannerisms.
  • Research : Filmmakers conduct extensive research to ensure accuracy in depicting the subject's life, including consulting historical records, biographies, and firsthand accounts.
  • Dramatization : While biopics are based on real events, they may take creative liberties to enhance the storytelling or condense events for cinematic purposes.

Why Are Biopics Are Oscar Bait?

Typically, biopic scripts attract bigger actors looking to take on a role that the audience already understands. These bigger actors help movies get bigger budgets, meaning wider releases. If the movie is good and seen by a lot of people or both, it can usually generate Oscar buzz.

We also have a disproportionate amount of Oscar wins for biopics. Or, at least it feels that way. Part of that has to do with why so many biopics are being made.

Examples of Biopics

'BlacKkKlansman'

  • “12 Years a Slave” (2013) dir. Steve McQueen
  • “20th Century Women” (2016) dir. Mike Mills
  • “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) dir. Ron Howard
  • “A Cry In The Dark” (1988) dir. Fred Schepisi
  • “Adaptation” (2002) dir. Spike Jonze
  • “Ali” (2001) dir. Michael Mann
  • “American Sniper” (2014) dir. Clint Eastwood
  • “American Splendor” (2003) dir. Robert Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman
  • “Arrival” (2016) dir. Denis Villeneuve
  • “At Eternity’s Gate” (2018) dir. Julian Schnabel
  • “Beyond The Sea” (2004) dir. Kevin Spacey
  • “Black Panther” (2018) dir. Ryan Coogler
  • "Blackkklansman" (2018) dir. Spike Lee
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018) dir. Bryan Singer
  • “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999) dir. Kimberly Peirce
  • “Braveheart” (2005) dir. Mel Gibson
  • “Capote” (2005) dir. Bennett Miller
  • “Catch Me If You Can” (2002) dir. Steven Spielberg
  • “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013) dir. Jean-Marc Vallée
  • “Darkest Hour” (2017) dir. Joe Wright
  • “Dreamgirls” (2006) dir. Bill Condon
  • “Eighth Grade” (2018) dir. Bo Burnham
  • “Ex-Machina” (2015) dir. Alex Garland
  • “First Man” (2018) dir. Damien Chazelle
  • “Florence Foster Jenkins” (2016) dir. Stephen Frears
  • “Foxcatcher” (2014) dir. Bennett Miller
  • “Frida” (2002) dir. Julie Taymor
  • “Gandhi” (1982) dir. Richard Attenborough
  • “Green Book” (2018) dir. Peter Farrelly
  • “Hacksaw Ridge” (2016) dir. Mel Gibson
  • “Hidden Figures” (2016) dir. Theodore Melfi
  • “Hotel Rwanda” (2004) dir. Terry George
  • “I, Tonya” (2017) dir. Craig Gillespie
  • “I’m Not There” (2007) dir. Todd Haynes
  • “Invictus” (2009) dir. Clint Eastwood
  • “Jackie” (2016) dir. Pablo Larraín
  • “Jobs” (2013) dir. Joshua Michael Stern
  • “Joy” (2015) dir. David O. Russell
  • “Julie & Julia” (2009) dir. Nora Ephron
  • “La Vie En Rose” (2007) dir. Olivier Dahan
  • “Les Miserables” (2012) dir. Tom Hooper
  • “Lincoln” (2012) dir. Steven Spielberg
  • “Loving” (2016) dir. Jeff Nichols
  • “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) dir. George Miller
  • “Milk” (2008) dir. Gus Van Sant
  • “Monster” (2003) dir. Patty Jenkins
  • “Mudbound” (2017) dir. Dee Rees
  • “Music of the Heart” (1999) dir. Wes Craven
  • “My Week With Marilyn” (2011) dir. Simon Curtis
  • “One True Thing” (1998) dir. Carl Franklin
  • “Out of Africa” (1985) dir. Sydney Pollack
  • “Patton” (1970) dir. Franklin J. Schaffner
  • “Queen Christina” (1933) dir. Rouben Mamoulian
  • “Raging Bull” (1980) dir. Martin Scorsese
  • “Ray” (2004) dir. Taylor Hackford
  • “Selma” (2014) dir. Ava DuVernay
  • “Silkwood” (1983) dir. Mike Nichols
  • “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) dir. David O. Russell
  • “Snowden” (2016) dir. Oliver Stone
  • “Steve Jobs” (2015) dir. Danny Boyle
  • “Swiss Army Man” (2016) dir. Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
  • “The Blind Side” (2009) dir. John Lee Hancock
  • “The Danish Girl” (2015) dir. Tom Hooper
  • “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006) dir. David Frankel
  • “The Disaster Artist” (2017) dir. James Franco
  • “The Elephant Man” (1980) dir. David Lynch
  • “The Florida Project” (2017) dir. Sean Baker
  • “The Imitation Game” (2014) dir. Morten Tyldum
  • “The Iron Lady” (2011) dir. Phyllida Lloyd
  • “The King’s Speech” (2010) dir. Tom Hooper
  • “The Last Emperor” (1987) dir. Bernardo Bertolucci
  • “The Last King of Scotland” (2006) dir. Kevin Macdonald
  • “The Lobster” (2016) dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
  • “The Master” (2012) dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
  • “The Post” (2017) dir. Steven Spielberg
  • “The Queen” (2006) dir. Stephen Frears
  • “The Revenant” (2015) dir. Alejandro G. Iñárritu
  • “The Social Network” (2010) dir. David Fincher
  • “The Theory of Everything” (2014) dir. James Marsh
  • “The Witch” (2015) dir. Robert Eggers
  • “Trumbo” (2015) dir. Jay Roach
  • “Unbroken” (2014) dir. Angelina Jolie
  • “Vice” (2018) dir. Adam McKay
  • “Walk The Line” (2005) dir. James Mangold

What Defines A Biopic?

'Lincoln'

The Academy Awards loves biopics. that's why we see so many nominated. Whether you cover a character's entire life the way Malcolm X does, or just a few long weeks the way Selma maneuvers its tale, biopics are centered around interesting historical characters. We want to follow a famous person or historical figures through their personal life!

Many people quibble over whether or not Apollo 13 can be a biopic because it's truly an ensemble, versus First Man, which centers around one guy, so you have to take care not to mislabel historical dramas biopics. I'm more focused on writing the best thing possible, but let's entertain what the classical definition of a biopic must be.

I think the clearest way to define a biopic is to look at the central plot. If the story revolves around one person and their actions, then it's a biopic. If it revolves around a group of people trying to do one thing, then it's probably just a historical drama. That means movies like Vice are biopics. But movies like Game Change would be historical dramas.

Biopic Tropes

'Hidden Figures'

While each biopic is unique in its own right, there are several common tropes and conventions that tend to appear in many biographical films.

These tropes help to structure and dramatize real-life stories for the big screen. Here are some common biopic tropes:

  • Rise to Fame: Many biopics start by showing the subject's humble beginnings and follow their journey as they rise to fame or prominence in their field. This often includes scenes of early struggles, setbacks, and determination.
  • Conflict and Obstacles : Biopics frequently highlight the challenges and obstacles that the subject faced throughout their life. These could be personal, professional, or societal challenges that they had to overcome.
  • Personal Relationships: Biopics often delve into the subject's personal relationships, including family, friends, and romantic partners. These relationships can provide insight into the subject's character and motivations.
  • Historical Context: Biopics often place the subject's life within a broader historical or cultural context. This helps viewers understand the significance of the subject's achievements or actions.
  • Flashbacks : Flashbacks are a common narrative device in biopics to provide insight into the subject's past. These flashbacks can reveal formative experiences or key moments in the subject's life.
  • Iconic Moments: Biopics often include reenactments of iconic moments from the subject's life, such as historical speeches, performances, or pivotal events. These moments are often recreated with great attention to detail.
  • Transformation : Actors in biopics often undergo physical transformations to resemble the subject. This can include changes in appearance, such as makeup and prosthetics, as well as changes in mannerisms and speech patterns.
  • Struggles and Addictions: Many biopics explore the subject's struggles with personal demons, such as addiction, mental health issues, or other challenges. These struggles add depth and complexity to the character.
  • Triumph and Redemption : Biopics often conclude with a triumphant or redemptive moment in the subject's life. This can be the culmination of their efforts or a resolution to a long-standing conflict.
  • Narrator or Framing Device: Some biopics use a narrator or framing device to provide context or commentary on the subject's life. This can help guide the narrative and provide perspective.
  • Music and Soundtrack: Music plays a significant role in many biopics, especially if the subject is a musician or performer. The soundtrack often features the subject's music or music from the era they lived in.
  • Awards and Recognition : Biopics often depict the subject's receipt of awards, accolades, or recognition for their achievements. This can serve as a climactic moment in the film.
  • Text at the End: Many biopics conclude with text that provides updates on what happened to the subject or other key characters after the events depicted in the film. This helps to tie up loose ends and provide closure.

Why Are Biopics Popular?

'Sleepwalk With Me'

We talked about intellectual property in our Public Domain post and our how to adapt a screenplay post; intellectual property rules Hollywood. People want ideas that already have a certain public recognition, so they're easier to get clicks or to sell tickets. It's really expensive to option huge books or news articles. And it's competitive.

But as you know, the Public Domain contains lots of free ideas. And you know who's part of the Public Domain? Most historical figures or famous people.

Screenplays that cover the lives of famous people are free intellectual property. They're great ways to build a story and to highlight story structure , without having to make up everything that happens.

Sure, you have to be truthful, but writing about a famous figure and chronicling their lives or a moment in their lives gives you less to pitch. Usually, these people are part of the cultural lexicon already. So you don't have to do much, just add drama and reasoning to the internal and external conflict provided by history.

That's easier said than done, but you understand the gist.

This makes writing biopics very attractive to writers.

Summing Up Biopic Films In Hollywood

So there you have it - biopic films are all the rage now. They're easy to sell, end up on a lot of the year-end lists, and can be popular with agents, managers, and audiences alike.

Got a great biopic idea?

Consider joining our Free Screenwriting Seminar to flesh out your idea.

We have lots of tips on dialogue , pitching , and treatments to get your idea together, too.

Senior Post is an award-winning Brooklyn-based post house that provides full post production services for film and television. Their work has screened at Sundance, Slamdance, Tribeca and SXSW and they've worked with clients such as HBO, Hulu, A24, Apatow Productions, Comedy Central, Vice, Vevo and Refinery 29. Their latest project, the second season of 2 Dope Queens , airs Fridays on HBO at 11pm.

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Blackmagic Adds “No AI Training” Section to Cloud Login Page

Blackmagic design wants to let you know that they will never use your media to train an ai..

While we really wish this wouldn’t be news itself, it is nice to see that Blackmagic Design has put in messaging on the Blackmagic Cloud login page which includes an acknowledgment that the company will not train AI on your media.

We’ve seen some debates heat up recently where companies have had to explicitly clarify as much with Adobe updating their Terms of Service and Vimeo’s CEO making a similar no-AI training without consent announcement.

Blackmagic’s “No AI Training” Section

Copy on the Blackmagic Cloud login page

Blackmagic Design

As users have pointed out online, if you go to the login page for Blackmagic Cloud, you’ll find a few sections about BMD’s various selling points for their cloud services. These value props point to Live Sync Projects ( which just came to DaVinci Resolve ) as well as other sections about collaboration and managing large teams.

However, there’s another section that stands out which states “No AI Training” and provides the following copy:

“We acknowledge that you own the media uploaded to Blackmagic Cloud. We will never use your media to train an AI. Your media is always private. This means you can work safely and securely knowing your content, ideas and intellectual property remain under your control and won't leak publicly via an AI.”

Again, this is great news, but also news we would hope to expect to see not just for Blackmagic, but for pretty much all of the major tech companies in the film and video space. It’s also just a nice reminder of the crazy times we’re currently living in and how quickly things might change moving forward.

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What Is a Biopic? Definition, Examples & Historical Impact

what is a biography movie called

A biopic, short for biographical picture, brings real-life stories to the silver screen, immortalizing the tales of historical figures, celebrities, and unsung heroes alike.

It’s a genre that offers us a lens into the complexities and triumphs of a person’s life, often leaving us inspired or more informed.

In this article, we’ll jump into what sets biopics apart from other film genres, explore their significance in cinema, and highlight how they shape our understanding of history and culture.

Stay tuned as we unpack the art of biographical storytelling and its impact on audiences around the world.

WHAT IS A BIOPIC

What is a biopic.

There are many different types of films, but one type that is especially popular these days is the biopic.

A biopic tells the story of a person’s life or a significant event in their lives through film. Biopics can be dramatic, comedic, and even more rarely – documentary-style.

What Is A Biopic?

Biopics, short for biographical pictures, are a genre of film that dramatizes the life of a real individual.

These films go beyond mere factual recounting, weaving in creativity and dramatic elements to bring depth to the portrayal of a person’s life journey.

Often, they shine a light on notable figures who have had a remarkable impact on society, culture, or history.

The allure of biopics resides in their dual purpose – to entertain and educate.

Audiences get a glimpse into the events and personal experiences that shaped a historical figure’s contributions and legacy.

What sets biopics apart from documentaries is the focus on emotional engagement, drawing viewers into the world of the subject through compelling narratives and cinematic techniques.

Key Attributes of Biopic Films Include:

  • A focus on a specific individual’s life story,
  • A blend of factual detail with dramatized scenes,
  • The casting of actors who often physically resemble the real-life subjects.

Films like  The King’s Speech  and  Lincoln  exemplify the genre’s power to immerse audiences in the personal struggles and triumphs of influential leaders.

Biopics don’t just retell history; they offer a cinematic interpretation of a life, fraught with all its complexity and nuance.

what is a biography movie called

Our appreciation for biopics stems from their ability to humanize icons and present their stories with a unique artistic flair that resonates on a deeply personal level.

By engaging with biopics, we’re often invited to reflect on the vast tapestries of lives that have carved out significant corners of our collective consciousness.

Whether it’s  Frida  exploring the vibrant life of artist Frida Kahlo, or  The Social Network  depicting the controversial ascent of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, biopics serve as a conduit for powerful storytelling.

They provide a lens through which we can explore the human condition, redefining our perceptions of the figures we thought we knew.

The Origins Of Biopics

Biopics stem from a long tradition of biographical storytelling that predates cinema itself.

Initially, stage plays and literature provided the primary means for exploring the lives of intriguing figures, honing a narrative artform that would later find its perfect canvas in film.

As the motion picture industry blossomed, filmmakers seized the opportunity to bring these complex, real-life narratives to the silver screen.

The inception of biographical films can be traced back to the early days of cinema.

The Story of the Kelly Gang , released in 1906, is often cited as one of the first feature-length biopics, dramatizing the life of the notorious Australian outlaw Ned Kelly.

This pioneer in the biopic genre laid the groundwork for future films to tell the stories of historical figures and icons.

Key Features In Early Biopics

The evolution of the biopic genre introduced several key features that became indicative of these types of films:

  • Historical Context  – Biopics often set their narrative against the backdrop of important historical events to add authenticity and gravity to the protagonist’s story.
  • Character Depth  – Early biopics put a strong emphasis on character development, striving to depict the protagonist’s personality, motivations, and struggles.
  • Cinematic Liberty  – Filmmakers embraced the creative latitude to add drama and flair, weaving in fictional elements to highlight emotional truths over strict factual accuracy.

As storytelling traditions intersected with the expressive possibilities of cinema, biopics continued to evolve.

Directors and screenwriters found innovative ways to engage audiences with the defining moments and inner lives of historical figures, delivering experiences that resonate on both a personal and collective level.

The ongoing fascination with individual legacies ensured that the biopic remained a staple in the film industry, showcasing not only the accomplishments but the very humanity of those whose lives are depicted on the screen.

what is a biography movie called

The Significance Of Biopics In Cinema

Biopics hold a mirror up to society, providing viewers with intimate access to the lives of influential figures and events that have shaped history.

Through meticulous research and artistic interpretation, these films offer an avenue for audiences to engage with the past in a deeply human way.

It’s not only about recounting events but also about exploring the psyche of individuals who’ve made a mark on the world.

By bringing historical characters to life, biopics serve as both educational tools and sources of inspiration.

  • Highlight lesser-known aspects of famous personalities,
  • Illuminate social issues through the lens of a single individual’s experience,
  • Encourage viewers to reflect on their own lives in relation to those on screen.

The storytelling power of biopics is enhanced by their ability to resonate with contemporary issues.

While set in the past, the themes of struggle, innovation, and resilience remain evergreen, bridging the gap between then and now.

Films like  Gandhi  and  The King’s Speech  have not only entertained but also enriched our collective consciousness.

what is a biography movie called

Also, the genre’s flexibility in narrative style allows directors and writers to explore various filmmaking techniques.

The use of visual elements, non-linear timelines, and dramatic recreations gives each biopic a unique voice.

As film historians, we recognize that the relationship between the featured individual’s life and the contextual history they belong to is pivotal in crafting a biopic that stands the test of time.

Biopics also contribute significantly to the legacy of their subjects, often renewing interest in their life stories and, in some cases, introducing them to new generations.

The cinematic portrayal of these figures can also catalyze discourse around their impact and the accuracy of their representation, ensuring that the dialogue around these iconic individuals continues to evolve.

Biopics As Historical And Cultural Artifacts

Biopics hold a mirror to the times they represent, offering reflections that go beyond mere storytelling.

They serve as historical and cultural artifacts, capturing the essence of an era or the spirit of a movement through the lens of an individual’s life.

Our fascination with history and culture is satiated by these films, which weave factual elements with artistic interpretation.

Watching  The Imitation Game , we’re not just learning about Alan Turing’s life, we’re diving into the complexities of World War II cryptography.

The influence of biopics extends into various domains, including education, politics, and social discourse.

By embodying the struggles and triumphs of real people, biopics encourage us to draw parallels with current affairs and recognize repeating patterns in history.

  • They spur dialogue about past events and their significance today,
  • They can challenge or reaffirm cultural beliefs and societal norms,
  • They create a space for marginalized stories to be heard and understood.

Creators of biopics have a unique responsibility – to honor the truth while creating compelling cinema.

Films like  Selma  and  12 Years a Slave  bear the weight of accurately portraying the civil rights movement and the brutality of slavery, respectively.

While these films aim to entertain, their greater achievement lies in educating audiences, fostering empathy, and demanding reflection on the fabric of society.

Balancing entertainment with authenticity, contemporary biopics often blur the lines between documentary and dramatization.

This hybrid approach garners wider audiences, bridging the gap between those seeking knowledge and those simply looking for a powerful cinematic experience.

Biopics like  A Beautiful Mind  or  Bohemian Rhapsody  exemplify this trend, captivating viewers while shedding light on the intricacies of genius and the nuances of cultural revolutionaries.

We understand that the cultural imprint of a well-crafted biopic can be immense.

Its capacity to influence public perception and rekindle interest in historical figures or events is a testament to the genre’s potency.

By meticulously reconstructing the past, biopics provide potent stimuli for today’s conversations and tomorrow’s artworks.

The Power Of Biographical Storytelling

Biographical storytelling, often known as the biopic genre, unlocks a treasure trove of immersive narratives that engage audiences on a deeply personal level.

These powerful tales Help a profound connection between viewers and the subjects, allowing us to experience the world through the eyes of some of history’s most intriguing individuals.

The heart of biopics lies in their ability to humanize figures that have, until now, been confined within the pages of history books or the silent annals of time.

Our fascination with biopics stems from an innate desire to understand the human condition.

Films like  A Beautiful Mind  and  The Theory of Everything  provide intimate glimpses into the lives of extraordinary minds, spotlighting their triumphs and challenges.

Biopics have the unique capability to transcend time and place, crafting narratives that are both universal in emotion and specific in their cultural context.

  • Biopics demystify the legend,
  • They bring nuance to public perception,
  • They uncover the threads that connect us all.

By delving into personal histories, biopics underscore the power of individual agency within the larger tapestry of societal progress.

Films such as  Selma  showcase the impact one person can have on the movements that shape our collective experience.

Through dynamic storytelling, the genre emphasizes the single person’s potential to enact profound change.

The rich canvas of biopics presents filmmakers with the opportunity to experiment with artistic expression, engaging in a dialogue between past and present.

Telling these stories through the audiovisual medium reinforces the relevance of forgotten or underrepresented individuals.

Whether it’s the color palette chosen to depict a period piece or the soundtrack that accompanies a protagonist’s journey, every creative decision serves to breathe life into once-distant figures.

Our understanding of heritage and identity is often expanded through the lens of biopics.

These films act as conduits for cultural reflection, offering insights into the complexities that define various eras.

Powerful narratives in  Lincoln  and  Gandhi  not only recount historical events but also encourage us to contemplate the broader implications of leadership, morality, and social responsibility.

What Is A Biopic – Wrap Up

We’ve explored the captivating realm of biopics and their profound impact on storytelling.

These films don’t just recount history—they breathe life into it allowing us to walk in the shoes of the remarkable individuals who’ve shaped our world.

Through the artful blend of fact and creative liberty biopics offer a unique lens on the human condition.

They’re not just films; they’re windows to the past and mirrors reflecting our shared humanity.

As we continue to seek out these stories let’s cherish the way they enrich our understanding of both the legends they portray and the legacy we carry forward.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main focus of biopics.

Biopics focus on humanizing historical figures, letting viewers see the world through their eyes, and showcasing the universal emotions and specific cultural contexts of their stories.

How Do Biopics Affect The Perception Of Historical Figures?

Biopics demystify legends and introduce nuances to public perceptions, revealing the shared human experiences that connect us across time.

What Do Biopics Offer To Filmmakers?

Biopics provide filmmakers with the opportunity to explore artistic expression while delving into the life stories of significant individuals.

Why Are Biopics Important For Understanding Heritage And Identity?

Biopics allow us to gain deeper insights into the complexities of different eras, thereby expanding our understanding of heritage and identity.

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What Does Biopic Mean? Examples of Great Biographical Performances

Biopics, or biographical films, play a significant role in storytelling and cultural representation. From preserving historical events and figures to celebrating diverse stories, a well-executed biopic can capture the essence of complex, interesting individuals.  Biopics are more popular than ever, with an upcoming Michael Jackson biopic currently in production, starring Jaafar Jackson. The biopic The Florist has also been announced, with Carla Gugino set to play iconic actress Vivien Leigh . The film is also an accomplishment in the representation and portrayal of mental illness on-screen , as it’s confirmed to follow Leigh’s challenges with bipolar disorder in the 1960s.

What Does Biopic Mean?

“Biopic” combines the words “biographical” and “picture” and refers to a film that dramatizes the life of a real person. Biopics capture significant achievements, challenges, and personal aspects of political leaders, musicians, artists, athletes, and scientists. Biopics can be informative and entertaining, shedding light on the complexities of real-life personalities. Exceptional biopics have also earned accolades such as nominations and awards at film festivals and prestigious award shows .

A few examples of well-known biographical performances include:

Sofía Vergara, Griselda (2023)

Griselda, the latest biographical crime drama miniseries on Netflix, delves into the captivating life of Griselda Blanco, the notorious Colombian drug lord known as the “Godmother of Cocaine. Portrayed by Sofía Vergara, the miniseries directed by Andrés Baiz and written by Doug Miro and Ingrid Escajeda follows Blanco’s rise in the Miami drug scene, showcasing her relentless pursuit of power and wealth, which ultimately lead her to paranoia, betrayal, and tragic downfall.

Sofia Vergara, known for her comedic roles, delivers a career-defining performance as Griselda Blanco in her first Spanish-language project. Her portrayal highlights her versatility and depth as an actress, as she skillfully embodies the complexities of this compelling and multifaceted character, earning well-deserved acclaim. The main cast includes  Matthew Bellows , a faculty member at NYFA Los Angeles, portraying DEA Special Agent Bob Palombo, NYFA Miami Acting for Film alum Sally Nieves, and  Orlando Pineda , an NYFA Alum, who plays Dixon Blanco, Griselda’s eldest son.

In a recent Q&A with NYFA, Pineda described his experience preparing for his role in the film.

“I read absolutely everything there is on Griselda Blanco and her legacy, including family, business, and private life. I worked on my character’s intentions, motivations, obstacles to build an arc, I asked my dad (retired General in Colombia’s Military) so many questions about that world and all of that helped me find the essence of Dixon, who is a very different persona from myself.”

Header image via Netflix.

David Oyelowo, Selma (2014)

Directed by the iconic Ava DuVernay, Selma follows Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign to secure equal voting rights. Following the epic march from Selma to Montgomery, this film is considered one of the best movies about Martin Luther King, Jr ., offering a powerful and poignant portrayal of the civil rights movement and King’s pivotal role. The film won an Oscar for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song.

Kingsley Ben-Adir, Bob Marley: One Love (2024)

Bob Marley: One Love, hitting theaters on February 14, 2024, is a cinematic celebration of the reggae legend’s life. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, the film stars Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley and Lashana Lynch as his wife, Rita. The biopic traces Marley’s journey from overcoming adversity to becoming a trailblazer in reggae music. Ben-Adir, known for roles in One Night in Miami and The Comey Rule, masterfully embodies Marley’s persona, tackling the challenge of adopting Jamaican patois.

The film unfolds in 1976 Kingston as Marley plans a peace concert amid political turmoil. It follows his move to London after surviving an assassination attempt and recording the iconic “Exodus” album. Flashbacks provide glimpses into Marley’s formative years, capturing his Rastafarian beliefs reflected in influential songs like “Redemption Song.” The movie succinctly encapsulates Marley’s enduring influence and cultural impact through his timeless music. NYFA Filmmaking camp alum Michael Gandolfini stars in the film as Howard Bloom.

Natalie Portman, Jackie (2016)

In Jackie, May December , star Natalie Portman portrays Jacqueline Kennedy. The story follows the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and provides an intimate look at Jackie’s grief and strength. Portman’s compelling performance earned her critical acclaim, capturing the nuances of Jackie’s complex emotions and resilience during one of the nation’s most tragic moments. The film was nominated for three Oscars.

Bradley Cooper, Maestro (2023)

Maestro , a biographical romantic drama, explores the relationship between the American composer Leonard Bernstein and his wife, Felicia Montealegre. Directed by and starring Bradley Cooper, the film is based on a screenplay co-written by Cooper and Josh Singer. NYFA Guest Speaker Carey Mulligan plays Montealegre.  Image via People.

Lex Scott Davis, Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart (2016)

Based on Braxton’s book Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart a Memoir and her hit song, this biopic stars NYFA alum Lex Scott Davis as Toni Braxton. Directed by Vondie Curtis Hall, the film shows the life of the famous singer. Using the book as source material, the biopic has Braxton’s own spin on it, providing a raw and in-depth view of her life.

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Hidden Figures (2016)

Hidden Figures tells the untold story of three African-American women mathematicians—Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson—who played pivotal roles at NASA during the Space Race. The film sheds light on their remarkable contributions, breaking barriers of both race and gender, and celebrates their resilience and brilliance in the face of adversity. Their achievements, crucial to the success of historic space missions, are finally brought to the forefront in this inspiring narrative. The film was nominated for three Oscars.

Austin Butler, Elvis (2022)

Austin Butler, recipient of a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama award for his role in Elvis, brought the famous singer’s legacy to life. The movie was filmed in Gold Coast, Australia, with the assistance of some hardworking NYFA Australia students . The film itself garnered eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. The nominations carried a bittersweet tone for the Elvis team, as Lisa Marie Presley, the real-life daughter of the legendary singer, tragically passed away shortly after the Golden Globes ceremony that year. Image via IMDB.

Ana de Armas, Blonde (2022)

Directed by Andrew Dominik, Blonde stars Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe. The film, which received an NC-17 rating, delves into the complexities of Monroe’s life, examining both her public persona and private struggles. Per Variety magazine, Ana De Armas received a standing ovation for her performance. The film received one Oscar nomination.

Salma Hayek, Frida (2002)

Directed by Julie Taymor, Frida stars Salma Hayek as the iconic artist Frida Kahlo. The film explores Kahlo’s tumultuous life, art, and relationships. Hayek’s compelling performance captures Kahlo’s passion, pain, and unapologetic spirit, offering a visually stunning and emotionally resonant portrayal of the celebrated Mexican painter. The film won two Oscars for Best Music, Original Score, and Best Music, Original Song. Image via IMDB.

Jennifer Lopez, Selena (1997)

Selena is a biographical musical drama film directed by Gregory Nava. The movie chronicles the life and career of Tejano music superstar Selena Quintanilla, played by Jennifer Lopez, showcasing her rise to fame, cultural impact, and tragic death at a young age. The film received critical acclaim for Lopez’s performance and portrayal of Selena’s legacy . It remains a poignant tribute to the iconic singer, capturing the essence of her spirit and her lasting influence. Lopez was nominated for an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical.

A documentary rather than a traditional biopic, RBG focuses on the life and career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The film highlights her impact on gender equality and the law. Through interviews, archival footage, and a nuanced portrayal of her legal battles, RBG offers a comprehensive and inspiring look at Justice Ginsburg’s enduring legacy as a trailblazer for women’s rights and a champion for justice. RBG was shot by director of photography and NYFA Documentary and cinematography instructor Claudia Raschke . The film was nominated for two Oscars.

Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody (2019)

Bohemian Rhapsody depicts the journey of the rock band Queen and their legendary frontman, Freddie Mercury . This film joins a rich tradition of biopics centered on renowned musicians, such as Ray, Walk the Line, La Vie en Rose, Get on Up , and Straight Outta Compton. Starring Oppenheimer actor Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury, the film won four Oscars, including Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. Malek, who is the son of Egyptian immigrants, beat out several other established actors for his first Oscar.

Madina Nalwanga, Queen of Katwe (2016)

Queen of Katwe follows Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan girl from a slum who becomes a chess prodigy. Lupita Nyong’o stars as Phiona’s mother. The film highlights Phiona’s remarkable journey in chess and explores her family’s resilience, determination, and unwavering support, making it a heartwarming and inspiring tale. Image via Business Standard.

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game (2014)

Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, a mathematician who played a crucial role in breaking the Enigma code during World War II. The film, titled The Imitation Game , delves into Turing’s genius, personal struggles, and the impact of his groundbreaking work on modern computing, offering a poignant tribute to his legacy. The film won an Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.

Additional Biopic Films 

  • Erin Brockovich (2000)
  • Cesar Chavez (2014)
  • Wild (2014)
  • Get on Up (2014)
  • Malcolm X (1992)
  • The Iron Lady (2011)
  • The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Bring Characters to Life at NYFA

Ready to step into the shoes of an icon or fictional character? Learn more about making your own film or performing in a film or television show in one of  NYFA’s filmmaking  or  acting for film programs !

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A quick definition for biographical films

Biopic (biographical picture; biographical film)

A film that tells the story of the life of a real person, often a well-known monarch, political leader, or artist. Thomas Edison’s Execution of Mary Queen of Scots (US, 1895) prefigures the genre but perhaps the earliest biopic is Jeanne d’Arc/Joan of Arc (Georges Méliès, France, 1900). Biopics were popular with audiences in Europe in the early 20th century, including Queen Elizabeth (Henri Desfontaine and Louis Mercanto, France, 1912), Danton (Dimitri Buchowetski, Germany, 1920), Anne Boleyn (Ernst Lubitsch, Germany, 1920), Napoleon (Abel Gance, France, 1927), and The Private Life of Henry VIII (Alexander Korda, UK, 1933). Beyond Europe and North America, biopics celebrated anti-colonial figures and continue to do so ( see Philippines, film in ). The biopic was a staple of US cinema during the studio period, with some 300 films released between 1927 and 1960. The work of director William Dieterle, including The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), Juarez (1939), and The Life of Emile Zola (1937), is particularly worthy of note. It is common for films from this era to start in media res and proceed by way of flashbacks through a ‘stages of life’ structure, with details from a person’s early life often prefiguring the events they subsequently became known for ( see plot/story ). This structure allows the biopic to move between public and private knowledge pertaining to the film’s subject: the revelation of a private self is one of the genre’s key pleasures. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), generally agreed to be one of the greatest films ever made, is a scathing and thinly disguised biopic of newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst. US versions of the genre display a shift from celebratory studio-era films to a ‘warts and all’ approach in the late 1960s and 1970s; as, for example, in the Woody Guthrie biopic, Bound For Glory (Hal Ashby, US, 1976). From the 1990s, a number of films, such as 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould (François Girard, Portugal/Canada/Finland/Netherlands, 1993) and the Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There (Todd Haynes, US, 2007), actively sought to deconstruct the genre. The lives of entertainers, film stars, and artists comprise some 36 per cent of all Hollywood biopics, a tendency that continues in the contemporary cinema with films showing the rise to fame of Freddie Mercury ( Bohemian Rhapsody (Bryan Singer, 2018)) and Elton John ( Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher, 2019)).  ...

Kuhn, A., & Westwell, G. (2020).  Biopic . In  A Dictionary of Film Studies . Oxford University Press. Retrieved 19 May. 2023

Finding library resources for biographical films

The Jones Media Center has a collection of biographies for viewing. To find them, you can do a subject search for " biographical films ." To find books about biographical films, look at the subject headings that contain " history and criticism ." These books will discuss historical films in general or those produced in different countries. To find film resources on a specific person, you can do a subject search and add " drama " with your other search terms.

  • biographical films Call number range PN 1995.9 .B55 on Baker Level 4 .
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Biopic – Everything You Need to Know

Do you ever wonder what a biopic is or what qualifies as one? Biopic films appear to be omnipresent in today’s cinema. Old historical figures, musicians, politicians, and “normal” individuals dealing with exceptional situations are featured. Biopic films have been more popular in recent decades, but they are not new. Biopics have been a feature of the cinematic world since its inception. So, what is a biopic? What does it usually involve? How has the genre progressed to its current state?

Let’s explore.

what is a biography movie called

 Robert Downey Jr in & as “Chaplin.”

Image Source: IMDB

What is a Biopic?

A biopic is a movie that tells the story of a real, non-fictional person’s life. A biopic, which stands for “biographical motion picture,” might chronicle a person’s entire life or a single event in their history. Biopics can cover a wide range of subjects, including historical people as well as contemporary celebrities.

Biopics – Explained

Features of a Biopic

Revolves around a single character.

Biopics are focused on a single character, which is why the title of so many biographical films is simply the protagonist’s name: Ali, Gandhi, Malcolm X, Patton, and Selena are just a few examples. 

what is a biography movie called

Will Smith in & As “Ali.”

In some cases, the main character is a small group of genuine people—usually a band. For example, the protagonist in F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton is the rap group N.W.A.

Paints a Striking Picture of the Protagonist’s Life

A biopic doesn’t have to depict the protagonist’s complete life from birth to death, but it should represent a significant amount of it. A biopic is not a film that portrays the story of one event in a genuine person’s life. The actual narrative of the three real astronauts who flew the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, for example, is told in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 . This film is not technically a biopic because it concentrates entirely on that one event and does not record more of the astronauts’ lives.

Being Subjective

Biopic filmmakers frequently take artistic license with the subject’s life story. To heighten the tension and create a more engaging film, they may condense dates, delete information, and rework critical conversations. Some biopics, such as Steve Jobs, directed by Danny Boyle and scripted by Aaron Sorkin, may employ surface-level facts about a person as a framework for a somewhat fictional narrative.

what is a biography movie called

Michael Fassbender in &as “Steve Jobs.”

Image Source: Variety

Genre Fluidity in Biopics

While all biopics are essentially films about real people, they differ in a variety of ways. A western outlaw; a criminal; a musical composer; a religious figure or leader of a movement; a war-time military hero; an entertainer; an artist; an inventor, scientist, or doctor; a politician or President; a sports hero or celebrity; or an adventurer are all examples of big-screen biopics and they cover a lot of genres.

Accuracy in Biopics

The most obvious way in which a biopic distinguishes itself is in its historical accuracy. A biopic can be nearly entirely fictional, employing only surface facts to construct a primarily made-up narrative, depending on the story you portray.

A director may be more interested in making a film about the person’s mythology rather than the facts if the biopic is about someone who has a tremendous mystique surrounding them.

Unfortunately, a biopic that is 100 percent accurate is impossible. Movie Directors will only have so much to work with if the picture is based on someone who lived centuries ago. Even though the facts are known in some of these circumstances, the mystique surrounding a person may be a stronger pull or a more compelling story.

Take Todd Haynes’s ‘ I’m Not Th ere , for example, in which many performers play Bob Dylan. This diverse cast is more than just a marketing trick; it highlights Dylan’s own continually fluctuating personas.

I’m No t There Trailer

Biopics of people from the twentieth century are frequently detected, embellishing the facts to make the subject appear better or worse than they were. So, if you make a biographical film on someone who is still living, you will undoubtedly be informed how good or bad it is.

Biopics, on the other hand, frequently distort reality to make a better film. This is nothing new; artworks and plays have twisted reality in some fashion for the art. After all, movies are not exactly real life, and if someone truly wanted to know the details of someone’s life, they could read a biography.

The Rise of Biopics

Biographical films have always been popular, which may surprise people. Biopics, which generally focused on historical people such as Peter the Great, Joan of Arc, Napoleon Bonaparte, and even Jesus of Nazareth, were the first films ever made.

Abraham Lincoln and George Armstrong Custer are two historical individuals who lived around the same time and had multiple biopics made about them during the early years of cinema. Custer’s Last Fight , The Plainsman , Santa Fe Trail , and They Died with Their Boots On are among them. However, many of these films have been chastised for embellishing and romanticizing Custer’s life narrative.

Before 1950, Abraham Lincoln was the subject of a slew of biopics. Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda as Lincoln, is undoubtedly the most well-known and revered of these numerous biopics. However, unlike other films on US presidents, Young Mr. Lincoln concentrates solely on Lincoln’s early years as a young lawyer in Illinois. He worked on a murder case.

Young Henry Ford on Mr. Lincoln

Aside from historical personalities, early biopics featured current-day celebrities. For example, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1943), starring James Cagney, centers on George M. Cohan. Known as “The Man Who Owned Broadway,” it is perhaps the most famous early-day biopics. Regardless of how realistic it is, it was a great hit, garnering numerous prizes and critical acclaim.

Yankee Doodle Dandy also highlights one of the most crucial aspects of biopics: their appeal. Aside from the fact that viewers want to witness a dramatization of a real person, biopics demand actors to “be” the genuine person, which can be difficult. As a result, seeing how an actor manages to look so much like a real-life subject can be rather impressive.

This success can lead to prizes, which numerous biopics have received. However, regardless of the quality of the plot, the main pull for biographical films is frequently the performance, which ends up being either the most significant element or the least significant part.

Changes in the World of Biopics

As cinema began changing, so did the meaning of biopics. While they still retain similar act structures and an air of romanticism, biopic films started to cover a more significant variety of subjects. Additionally, the rate of biopics being released rocketed, especially after the 1940s.

Casting in a Biopic

Finding the right person to play the subject of a biopic is difficult enough; finding the right person to play the subject of a biopic is a very different difficulty. It is a never-ending dispute on whether you choose someone because they look like the person or act like the person. While some believe that the most crucial factor is performance, others argue that it is more necessary to appear like the subject.

Furthermore, suppose the film does not portray a subject that others consider fair. In that case, it may generate issues for the actor showing the subject.

Some biopic films have avoided this problem by having the subjects star based on their lives. Howard Stern in Pri vate Parts (1997) and Jackie Robinson in The Jackie Ro binson Story (1950) are two notable instances.

Biopics can cover a wide range of film genres. While films like Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Cleopatra (1963) exploited their themes to convey big stories, new forms of biopics began to emerge.

While Spartacus (1960) was an epic movie about the Third Servile War (73-71 BC), it also critiqued the recent Communist witch hunt that resulted in The Hollywood Blacklist.

Andrei Rublev (1966), while being set in the 15th century, criticizes the Soviet Union’s restriction of artistic and spiritual freedoms at the time. First, the picture was prohibited and then suppressed in the Soviet Union because Andrei Tarkovsky directed it.

Tarkovsky on Biopic

Bonnie and C lyde , a (simplified) biopic, was one of the most divisive films of the 1960s (1967). The picture contained unabashed sex and brutality that broke new ground in American cinema and starred Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the quintessential crime couple. It is now widely acknowledged as one of the earliest films to emerge from the budding and crucial New Hollywood period.

Mishi ma: A L ife in Four Chapters (1985), directed by Paul Schrader, takes a more artistic approach to the biopic later in the 1980s. Schrader devised a biopic that dared to be far more creative than factual. It balances its focus between the final day of Yukio Mishima’s life and redoing some of his stories. The answer to the question “What is a biopic?” is profoundly complicated by this film.

Biopic in the Modern Day

As the twentieth century gave way to the twenty-first, biographical films evolved to incorporate lesser-known personalities with well-known ones. In this video, film critic David Edelstein examines some recent and classic biopic instances, as well as the genre’s enduring popularity.

David Edelstein on Biopics

Politicians and entertainers have dominated the biopic landscape for the past few decades. As a result, many significant biopics have been about American political personalities, be it a recent US president or someone working in Washington, D.C.

For example, in the 1990s, Richard Nixon was able to have two different movies created about him. Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995) was the first. As a result, a massive three-hour-plus drama starring Anthony Hopkins focused on his personal life and politics.

Dick (1999), starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as two adolescents who become embroiled in the Watergate crisis, was the other. While Dick is a comedy, it is still based on a true story. Moreover, it portrays a genuine politician (Dan Hedaya as Nixon).

While politicians are entertaining to watch, it appears that no other industry receives as much biopic attention as music. For example, in 1979, a made-for-television biopic of Elvis Presley (simply titled Elvis) starring Kurt Russell and directed by John Carpenter was released (their first collaboration).

Elvis DVD Trailer

A stage play about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was transformed into the film Amadeus (1984), directed by acclaimed Czech filmmaker Milos Forman. Finally, Selena Perez got one with Selena (1997), which starred Jennifer Lopez and sparked debate due to the casting.

Many more music biopics have been released since the 1970s, demonstrating their popularity and saturation . Two recent and well-known examples are Straight Outta Compton (2015) and Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), two recent and famous examples, with the latter becoming the highest-grossing biopic of all time.

It’s also worth noting how predictable biographical films may be, especially when the subject is music. Patrick (H) Willems provides a detailed study of music biopics in the video below.

Patrick H Willems Analyzes Music Biopics

There is no scarcity of biographical films, and they probably never will be. Moreover, movies now have even more technology to recreate environments and people, boosting the realism of any specific film.

Make-up artists continue to ensure that their actors resemble the subject. In contrast, the actors must still persuade the audience with their performance. As a result, there will never be a shortage of movies based on real people with so many subjects to choose from.

Criticism Against Biopics

The celebrity biopic is the genre with the most risk. When it goes well, especially in the twenty-first century, it fills theatres and wins prizes. But, on the other hand, a biopic may be dreadful in its own unique, torturous way when things go wrong.

Actors believe it’s worth the risk, which is understandable. Since 2000, just one short of a dozen Oscars for the best actor has been given to actors portraying other personalities, including Jamie Foxx for Ray , Philip Seymour Hoffman for Capote , Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln , Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything , Gary Oldman for The Darkest Hour , and, of course, Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody . During the same 20-year period, ten of the best actress Oscars have gone to actresses who have portrayed real-life characters, including Charlize Theron for Monster , Reese Witherspoon for Walk the Line , Helen Mirren for The Queen , Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady, and Renée Zellweger for Judy last year .

However, not everyone has been so fortunate. Gotti (2018), starring John Travolta as crime leader John Gotti, is one of the few films on Rotten Tomatoes with 0%. In the New York Post, Johnny Oleksinski stated, “I’d sooner wake up next to a severed horse head than ever see Gotti again.” Beyond the Sea (2004), Kevin Spacey’s biopic of musician Bobby Darin, did not fare any better.  He made the film on a budget of $25 million. However, it only made a third of that at the box office. The movie was co-written and directed by Spacey. Also, he is credited for singing the songs and playing Darin, even though he was in his 40s. The singer died at the ripe age of 37.

Take a look at four examples from two directors to understand how dangerous the modern biopic can be.

Downfall (2004), directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, is about Adolf Hitler’s final days. While a clip of the Führer’s bunker speech is frequently jokingly re-subtitled on YouTube, the film is one of the most lauded of all cinematic depictions of the Nazi era. So, you’d think that if Hirschbiegel went on to film another drama on a twentieth-century icon, it’d have to be at least acceptable.

Downfall – Steiner’s Attack

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.primevideo.com/detail/Downfall/0RE6P9FQ94D14NJWPVAWMFM5JD” watchon=”Amazon”]

However, Diana (2013), starring Naomi Watts as a besotted Princess Diana, was so ridiculous in so many ways. Tim Robey wrote a piece for The Daily Telegraph titled “The 10 Most Ridiculous Moments in Diana.” The only problem, according to Robey, was that the picture had “so many crazy, tonally odd, and unintentional-LOL moments that picking just ten is a significant job.”

what is a biography movie called

Naomi Watts in & as “Diana.”

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.netflix.com/in/title/81323667″ watchon=”Netflix”]

La Vie en Rose

Similarly, Olivier Dahan directed La Vie en Rose (2007), a biopic of Edith Piaf, and Marion Cotillard became the first actress to win an Oscar for a performance in a language other than English.

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Vie-en-Rose-Marion-Cotillard/dp/B00CDJS84Q” watchon=”Amazon”]

Grace of Monaco

The Grace of Monaco (2014), featuring Watts’ friend Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, was Dahan’s next biopic. Unfortunately, the film was “awe-inspiringly wooden [and] incredibly boring, like a 104-minute Chanel ad, only without the subtlety and depth,” according to Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian.

what is a biography movie called

Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly in “Grace of Monaco.”

Gra ce of Monaco

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Grace-Monaco-Nicole-Kidman/dp/B086PH151V/ref=sr_1_1?crid=JVVMEK9DN6OV&keywords=Grace+Of+Monaco&qid=1674031870&s=instant-video&sprefix=grace+of+monaco%2Cinstant-video%2C339&sr=1-1″ watchon=”Amazon”]

How did the two filmmakers go from such dazzling heights to such ominous depths? Robey tells BBC Culture, “It’s nuts, isn’t it?” “In the biopic, I believe the line between excellence and camp is alarmingly thin. Something about the genre’s excessive seriousness appears to invite ridicule. But, then, when the directors are not in command of the farce, they may let things go completely awry.”

One of the key reasons why some biopics are adored – while others are mocked – is because of their “high seriousness.” According to Yannis Tzioumakis, author of American Independent Cinema: An Introduction , “biopics have been mainly considered as a prestige picture, not something which is common.” “They abound in the Hollywood studio era of the 1930s, and 1940s biopic story depicting reality was regarded as superior to a western or a musical at the time. It was enticing viewers to go back in time.”

A biopic, unlike a western or a musical, has “a kind of all-boxes-ticked attraction.”According to Robey: “You have a true story on your hands. You have a historical foundation to work with, as well as a backdrop that lends grandeur or importance. You’ve had a life arc that has been great or meaningful in some way.” People who go to the movies once or twice a year believe that such magnificence and significance are more worthy of their time than the cheap thrills of a Gerard Butler action film. However, when a film’s sense of grandeur and importance is exaggerated, it’s like a balloon that’s about to burst. One blunder and the entire venture are doomed.

Hollywood’s Obsession with Biopics

The pin that blew the balloon in Clint Eastwood’s biopic of the FBI’s founder, J Edgar (2011), was the old-age make-up that transformed Armie Hammer (playing J Edgar Hoover’s right-hand man Clyde Tolson) into a newly uncovered Egyptian mummy. Likewise, when Lee Krasner commented on Jackson Pollock’s first action painting in Ed Harris’s biopic Pollock (2002), it was the on-the-nose phrase given by Marcia Gay Harden as Lee Krasner: “Pollock, you’ve done it. You’ve shattered the seal.”

It was also the famous scene in The Darkest Hour (2017). Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) is cheered up by a subway carriage full of adoring, poetry-quoting Londoners.

what is a biography movie called

Leonardo Di Caprio and Armie Hammer in J.Edgar.

“That’s when the movie went for broke,” says Ellen Cheshire, author of Bio-Pics: A Life In Pictures. “It was so oppressive that you could not help but think, ‘Oh my God, what are they doing?”

Biopics are torn apart at their worst by the conflict between their highbrow, respectful tone and the genre’s inherent trashiness. In other films, screenwriters can choose the most dramatic path. In contrast, biopics must follow an existing life story, cram its key events into two hours, and bring about the “eureka” moment for which the hero or heroine is famous. 

The Dilemma of Imitation

Similarly, the performers, hair, and make-up artists cannot create the most intriguing characters. This is because they must impersonate specific persons, which necessitates wigs, prosthetics, and unique accents. Nevertheless, the success of the imitation is straightforward to assess. We can see when the hard work pays off, which is why actors who star in biopics win Oscars regularly. “You view it with a checklist in your head,” says Cheshire. “Have they put on lots of weight? Have they lost a lot of weight? Are they singing? How much do they resemble the person they are playing? How much do they sound like the subject?”

But we can all see when our efforts haven’t paid off. “It is like an unstoppable force meets an immovable object if they can get a big-name actor to play a famous person,” Bradshaw adds. “They want to maximize the actor’s star quality, but they also want the star quality of the character they’re portraying, so they end up with a crazy composite figure.” Amelia Earhart ” always feels exactly like Hilary Swank putting on artificial teeth and talking in a weird voice, as Anna Smith put it in her Metro review of Amelia (2009).

what is a biography movie called

Hilary Swank in & as “Amelia.”

Image Source: Roger Ebert

The biopic’s contradiction is that it prides itself on being faithful to life. Still, no genre is more clearly fake than this one, thanks to the cleverly disguised performers and intrinsically predictable screenplays. And that artificiality is becoming increasingly apparent. We can now fact-check someone’s biography on Wikipedia and watch their mannerisms on YouTube with a single click. We can also express our discontent more swiftly and loudly than ever before, thanks to the internet. Nina Simone’s admirers complained that Zoe Saldana’s skin was too light and her nose was too small when cast as the singer in Nina (2016). Simone’s estate stated that her portrayal was “gut-wrenching, sickening, soul-crushing” — not exactly a quote for a poster. The film went on to receive a 2% Rotten Tomatoes rating, prompting Saldana to apologize in 2020, saying, “I should never have portrayed Nina.”

what is a biography movie called

Image Source: Fox Source

Examples of Biopics

A beautiful mind (2001).

what is a biography movie called

A Beautiful Mind , which represented American mathematician John Nash’s life (played by Russell Crowe), won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

A Beautiful Mind

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Mind-Russell-Crowe/dp/B00ENYKBD0″ watchon=”Amazon”]

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

what is a biography movie called

Rami Malek received the Academy Award for Best Actor for depicting Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in this musical biopic.

Bohemian Rhapsody

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Bohemian-Rhapsody-UHD-Rami-Malek/dp/B08GYK261S/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3NHLSGT3K2HCS&keywords=Bohemian+Rhapsody+%282018%29&qid=1674030339&s=instant-video&sprefix=bohemian+rhapsody+2018+%2Cinstant-video%2C1004&sr=1-1″ watchon=”Amazon”]

I’m Not There (2007)

what is a biography movie called

Todd Haynes selected six different actors to represent Bob Dylan in his unorthodox way to show his multiple personalities.

I’m Not There

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Im-Not-There-Christian-Bale/dp/B017PG8FFI/ref=sr_1_1?crid=HGAVMQEJI9BZ&keywords=I%E2%80%99m+Not+There+%282007%29&qid=1674030390&s=instant-video&sprefix=i+m+not+there+2007+%2Cinstant-video%2C333&sr=1-1″ watchon=”Amazon”]

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

what is a biography movie called

This biopic received seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for David Lean, and is based on the life of British archaeologist and army commander  T.E. Lawrence.

Lawrence of Arabia

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Lawrence-Arabia-UHD-Peter-OToole/dp/B00SJUTL08/ref=sr_1_1?crid=V4EBTUO2AJJ&keywords=Lawrence+Of+Arabia+%281962%29&qid=1674030519&s=instant-video&sprefix=lawrence+of+arabia+1962+%2Cinstant-video%2C332&sr=1-1″ watchon=”Amazon”]

Lincoln (2012)

what is a biography movie called

In this historical biopic produced by Steven Spielberg, Daniel-Day Lewis received the Academy Award for Best Actor for playing former US President Abraham Lincoln.

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Lincoln-Daniel-Day-Lewis/dp/B00BOLE7X0/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1BV0V4Y98YR3Z&keywords=Lincoln+%282012%29&qid=1674030639&s=instant-video&sprefix=lincoln+2012+%2Cinstant-video%2C661&sr=1-1″ watchon=”Amazon”]

Nixon (1995)

what is a biography movie called

Anthony Hopkins portrays former US President Richard Nixon’s real life in this biopic directed by Oliver Stone. Hopkins received four Academy Award nominations.

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Nixon-Anthony-Hopkins/dp/B004JOVMDC” watchon=”Amazon”]

what is a biography movie called

Ray Charles, the iconic blues artist, is the subject of this biopic directed by Taylor Hackford. For his portrayal of Charles, Jamie Foxx received the Academy Award for Best Actor.

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Ray-Jamie-Foxx/dp/B001NMLMAQ/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1OYQEE85ZIE0W&keywords=Ray+%282004%29&qid=1674030826&s=instant-video&sprefix=ray+2004+%2Cinstant-video%2C325&sr=1-2″ watchon=”Amazon”]

Selena (1997)

what is a biography movie called

Jennifer Lopez has a breakout performance as Mexican-American singer Selena in Gregory Nava’s musical biopic.

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Selena-Jennifer-Lopez/dp/B0091XFP6G/ref=sr_1_2?crid=3AG9VCSAADF9C&keywords=Selena+%281997%29&qid=1674030911&s=instant-video&sprefix=selena+1997+%2Cinstant-video%2C322&sr=1-2″ watchon=”Amazon”]

The Social Network (2010)

what is a biography movie called

This biopic, directed by David Fincher, tells the story of how Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook. The screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin, who won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The Social Network

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Social-Network-Jesse-Eisenberg/dp/B0B677T6FT/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1D00Q57869K4G&keywords=The+Social+Network+%282010%29&qid=1674030971&s=instant-video&sprefix=the+social+network+2010+%2Cinstant-video%2C327&sr=1-1″ watchon=”Amazon”]

The Theory of Everything (2014)

This biopic is based on a memoir by Stephen Hawking’s ex-wife, Jane Hawking. It follows the great theoretical physicist’s life and relationships. For his portrayal of Hawking, Eddie Redmayne earned the Academy Award for Best Actor.

The Theory of Everything

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Theory-Everything-Felicity-Jones/dp/B00SNEGFNG/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2KQMLIHKKBM4X&keywords=The+Theory+Of+Everything+%282014%29&qid=1674031028&s=instant-video&sprefix=the+theory+of+everything+2014+%2Cinstant-video%2C328&sr=1-2″ watchon=”Amazon”]

The Imitation Game (2014)

During World War II, Alan Turing, an English mathematical genius, attempts to crack the German Enigma code with the help of colleagues and mathematicians.  Also, he tries to come to terms with his tumultuous personal life with the war and its principles at the back end.

The Imitation Game

[Jwatchnow link=”https://www.amazon.com/Imitation-Game-Benedict-Cumberbatch/dp/B00R7FRTWI/ref=sr_1_1?crid=30WX8SYXNU516&keywords=The+Imitation+Game+%282014%29&qid=1674031078&s=instant-video&sprefix=the+imitation+game+2014+%2Cinstant-video%2C302&sr=1-1″ watchon=”Amazon”]

Biopics still attract much intrigue and discussion because they are about real-life stories that are stranger than fiction. However, there are many instances when the biopic’s subject has been shortchanged, as their story was not handled well. Just because a biopic is being made on a colorful life, it does not mean that a filmmaker can get away with making a bad film. So, handle your techniques and watch for minute aspects in the person’s life to make the story as natural and engaging as possible.

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Non-Diegetic Sound – Everything You Need To Know

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  • August 23, 2021

What is a Biopic Film?

Have you ever heard the term “biopic film” and wondered silently to yourself, “What is a biopic film?” You’re not alone! Many are confused when they initially hear the term “biopic film” and for good cause. However, a biopic film isn’t all that difficult to understand when you get a basic definition of it. In fact, a biopic is actually a biographical film that tells the story of someone’s life similar to a biography in a book.

what is a biography movie called

So, what is a biopic film and how is a biopic produced?

A biopic film is a biography of sorts but it’s a biographical movie that dramatizes the life of an individual that truly exists. For instance, you might have heard the term biographical motion picture?

It’s the same as a biopic film. These films focus on various famous figures from history including politicians, celebrities, and others and deliver non-fiction dramatizations of the lives of the individuals represented by the film.

Essentially, a biopic film is a movie about a person’s life. It can cover an entire lifetime, just a few years, or just certain elements of the individual’s life. So, why not just call it a biography? The main reason these films are called biopics.

Rather than biographies is because a biography covers the person’s life from start to finish whereas a biopic can cover just a certain time period for the purpose of dramatization or it may cover several elements, but it does not have to cover the person’s entire life.

What Qualifies as a Biopic Film?

Many different types of biographical stories could potentially qualify as a biographical film. Most of the time, biopic films will cover the actual life of a non-fiction character or person. They might cover just certain parts of a person’s life or the entire thing.

Generally, a biopic film will require a creative license that allows the filmmaker to create the film based on parts of the individual’s life for dramatic purposes. These films may cover several years of an individual’s life or they could cover just certain moments.

Are Biopics Accurate?

Not always! In fact, it’s basically impossible to produce a 100% accurate biopic film because these films are based on past times and tend to dramatize a situation or situations that took place prior.

Basically, a biopic is reenacting and dramatizing a situation and thus might accentuate certain elements while omitting other details or missing out on some facts. The idea is to create an interesting story, not so much to focus on facts.

Examples of Biopic Films

So, what is a biopic film? It’s essentially a dramatized biography that has the power to fudge the truth for the purpose of producing a more engaging or interesting movie.

Examples of biopic films include: Young Mr. Lincoln, Private Parts, the Jackie Robinson Story, and Spartacus, all of which dramatized different elements of an individual’s life. 

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Giorgio Vasari

biography , form of literature , commonly considered nonfictional, the subject of which is the life of an individual. One of the oldest forms of literary expression, it seeks to re-create in words the life of a human being—as understood from the historical or personal perspective of the author—by drawing upon all available evidence, including that retained in memory as well as written, oral, and pictorial material.

Biography is sometimes regarded as a branch of history , and earlier biographical writings—such as the 15th-century Mémoires of the French councellor of state, Philippe de Commynes , or George Cavendish’s 16th-century life of Thomas Cardinal Wolsey —have often been treated as historical material rather than as literary works in their own right. Some entries in ancient Chinese chronicles included biographical sketches; imbedded in the Roman historian Tacitus ’s Annals is the most famous biography of the emperor Tiberius ; conversely , Sir Winston Churchill ’s magnificent life of his ancestor John Churchill, first duke of Marlborough , can be read as a history (written from a special point of view) of Britain and much of Europe during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14). Yet there is general recognition today that history and biography are quite distinct forms of literature. History usually deals in generalizations about a period of time (for example, the Renaissance), about a group of people in time (the English colonies in North America), about an institution (monasticism during the Middle Ages). Biography more typically focuses upon a single human being and deals in the particulars of that person’s life.

Both biography and history, however, are often concerned with the past, and it is in the hunting down, evaluating, and selection of sources that they are akin. In this sense biography can be regarded as a craft rather than an art: techniques of research and general rules for testing evidence can be learned by anyone and thus need involve comparatively little of that personal commitment associated with art.

A biographer in pursuit of an individual long dead is usually hampered by a lack of sources: it is often impossible to check or verify what written evidence there is; there are no witnesses to cross-examine. No method has yet been developed by which to overcome such problems. Each life, however, presents its own opportunities as well as specific difficulties to the biographer: the ingenuity with which the biographer handles gaps in the record—by providing information, for example, about the age that casts light upon the subject—has much to do with the quality of the resulting work. James Boswell knew comparatively little about Samuel Johnson ’s earlier years; it is one of the greatnesses of his Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. (1791) that he succeeded, without inventing matter or deceiving the reader, in giving the sense of a life progressively unfolding. Another masterpiece of reconstruction in the face of little evidence is A.J.A. Symons ’ biography of the English author and eccentric Frederick William Rolfe , The Quest for Corvo (1934). A further difficulty is the unreliability of most collections of papers, letters, and other memorabilia edited before the 20th century. Not only did editors feel free to omit and transpose materials, but sometimes the authors of documents revised their personal writings for the benefit of posterity , often falsifying the record and presenting their biographers with a difficult situation when the originals were no longer extant .

The biographer writing the life of a person recently dead is often faced with the opposite problem: an abundance of living witnesses and a plethora of materials, which include the subject’s papers and letters, sometimes transcriptions of telephone conversations and conferences, as well as the record of interviews granted to the biographer by the subject’s friends and associates. Frank Friedel, for example, in creating a biography of the U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt , had to wrestle with something like 40 tons of paper. But finally, when writing the life of any person, whether long or recently dead, the biographer’s chief responsibility is vigorously to test the authenticity of the collected materials by whatever rules and techniques are available. When the subject of a biography is still alive and a contributor to the work, the biographer’s task is to examine the subject’s perspective against multiple, even contradictory sources.

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IOPICS ILMS


) are a sub-genre of the larger and genres, and although they reached a hey-day of popularity in the 1930s, they are still prominent to this day. 'Biopics' is a term derived from the combination of the words "biography" and "pictures." These films depict and dramatize the life of an important historical personage (or group) from the past or present era. Sometimes, historical biopics stretch the truth and tell a life story with varying degrees of accuracy.

(and Cecil B. DeMille's with opera star Geraldine Farrar), D.W. Griffith's religious epic , Abel Gance's innovative six-hour-long epic , and director Lloyd Ingraham's with Fred Thomson as the western outlaw.

represented historical character on the screen is French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Others that are very often represented include: US President Abraham Lincoln, Jesus Christ, Vladymir Ilich Lenin, Adolf Hitler, Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Henry VIII, and Queen Elizabeth I. Western characters often portrayed include William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody, William Bonney ("Billy the Kid"), Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickock, General George A. Custer, and Wyatt Earp.

, George C. Scott as the cantakerous WWII General Patton in the widely-acclaimed , Katharine Hepburn as King Henry II's Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine in , Sissy Spacek as legendary country singer Loretta Lynn in , Daniel Day-Lewis as Irish cerebral palsy victim Christy Brown in , and Ben Kingsley as the charismatic, pacifist, 20th century Indian spiritual leader Mahatma in Sir Richard Attenborough's .

with Best Actor-winning Charles Laughton, other studios (both in the UK and in Hollywood) followed suit with similar treatments of historical characters in the mid- to late 30s:

about the famous French scientist who attempted to find a cure for anthrax and hydrophobia, with Muni honored as Best Actor about the famous French writer and court defender with Muni as Mexican President Benito Pablo Juarez opposite Bette Davis as Empress Carlotta von Habsburg

, and in seven different roles in including Chopin's teacher Joseph Elsner, Napoleon and Franz Schubert. Later, he portrayed French explorer Pierre Radisson in .

about the famed inventor (Mickey Rooney), , the historical drama about the famous Austrian princess who married future King Louis XVI, Michael Curtiz' costume drama , and Mervyn LeRoy's oft-nominated with Greer Garson as the title character researching radioactivity with her husband Pierre (Walter Pidgeon).

with Walter Huston in the adult title role with Henry Fonda in the title role , portrayed convincingly by Best Actor-winning Daniel Day-Lewis

told the life story of WWI's US President Woodrow Wilson was a superb and sympathetic dramatization/biography of German general Erwin Rommel with James Mason in the lead role with Ralph Bellamy provided an intense look at the enigmatic British leader of the Arab tribes examined the tragic downfall of Richard M. Nixon with Anthony Hopkins as the scandalous 37th President of the US and Joan Allen as his supportive, long-suffering wife Pat showcased Madonna in the role of beloved Argentinian Eva Peron was a biopic of assassinated San Francisco city supervisor and gay-rights-leader Harvey Milk (portrayed by Sean Penn) - a chronicling of the life of the 43rd President George W. Bush (portrayed by Josh Brolin), a film released during the last few months of W's unpopular tenure ; Langella had won the Tony for Best Actor

can be considered a life-story 'biopic.' Artists and literary authors have also inspired biographical film epics, such as two films from Vincente Minnelli. His film starred James Mason as Gustave Flaubert on whose classic novel the film was based, and another film, featured Kirk Douglas as tormented Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh.

dramatized the historical figure of 27-year old Charles Lindbergh (James Stewart), the "Lone Eagle." (See the genre and sub-genre for biopics such as and ). Dustin Hoffman starred as tormented comedian Lenny Bruce in , and Rod Steiger played the title role of Chicago's famous mobster in . Attenborough's reverential chronicled the life story of silent comedian and film-maker Charlie Chaplin (Robert Downey, Jr.), as did part of Peter Bogdanovich's . And Tim Burton's zany was about the maverick, low-budget, Hollywood director (Johnny Depp) of cult films who often is regarded as the 'worst director' of all time. Milos Forman's starred comic Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman, a quirky and eccentric comedian. Paul Schrader's cautionary was the quasi-biopic of the double-life of sitcom star Bob Crane (Greg Kinnear), who engaged in various sexcapades due to his newfound fame.

, from director Milos Forman, viewed the antics of young musical prodigy Mozart (Tom Hulce) and jealous composer Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) , titled after his 'signature' song told the life story of the slain civil rights leader with a great performance from Denzel Washington followed the travails of the song/dance team and couple: Ike (Laurence Fishburne) and Tina Turner (Angela Bassett) brought Geoffrey Rush a Best Actor Oscar for his role as troubled Australian pianist David Helfgott - a mock-biography of a fictional 1930s jazz guitarist named Emmett Ray (portrayed by Sean Penn) and about the life of schizophrenic, Nobel Prize-winning mathematics prodigy John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russell Crowe) , not technically a biopic - about hip-hop rapper Eminem (as Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith Jr.) in the mid-1990s in the Detroit area, and his relationship with Alex (Brittany Murphy) -- adapted from Roger Lewis' controversial book of the same name and directed by Stephen Hopkins , a biographical drama about the legendary figure's career and life's problems with women and drug addiction [the film was released only months after Charles' death in 2004] (its tagline: "Let's talk about sex"), with Liam Neeson as the title character and Laura Linney as his wife, stirred up further protest about the impact of his pioneering work, interviews and publications on morality and behavior as the central character - the eccentric and high-flying Howard Hughes - over three decades , about the early life and career of country music artist Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and his romance with long-suffering June Carter (Oscar-winnng Reese Witherspoon) , a biography on sexploitation filmmaker and adult film pioneer Russ Meyer (dubbed "King Leer"), based on the book of the same name was the life-story of Christopher Wallace - aka The Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls (played by Jamal Woolard), who was tragically shot to death at the age of 24 during a drive-by shooting
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Academy Award winning actor Denzel Washington walks the red carpet as he arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of the film ...

Courtney Norris Courtney Norris

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What makes a good biopic? Here are 8 movies that mastered the form

A biographical film is delicate territory. The stakes are high for retelling the story of the most beloved — or loathed — people in history. This year, we’ve seen many of the lives of the world’s most infamous musicians, artists, politicians and even serial killers adapted for the big screen. From J.R.R. Tolkien, Elton John, Ted Bundy, and Fred Rogers — all subjects for 2019 films — it’s clear that biopics can either be total hits or far-off misses.

Is Ted Bundy, played by Zac Efron, glorified in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile”? How accurate is the highly stylized “Rocketman”? Why did “Bohemian Rhapsody” sidestep Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s queer relationships? When it comes to recent biographical films, these are just a few questions moviegoers and critics have regarding the depictions of these iconic figures.

“Very few films have been able to toe that line between fact and creative liberties,” journalist and film critic Tari Ngangura told the PBS NewsHour. “You need access to information, some of which might be denied by the subject or their estate. And fans have a vested interest in seeing films done well and factually,” she added.

Film and television writer Scott Tobias believes a successful biopic should focus on a narrow period of time, such as the recording of an album or a particular moment in history.

“I think it’s important to try to be innovative. If you can avoid the sort of birth-to-death conventions, and really try to find some creative way to access a person and access a person’s life, I think that leads to a good biopic,” Tobias said.

The NewsHour asked Ngangura and Tobias to tell us about their favorite biopics that have mastered the form. Here are eight of their all-time favorites that remain relevant today.

1. “Malcolm X” (1992)

Denzel Washington, who plays Malcolm X, received an Academy Award nomination in 1993 for Best Actor, as well as a Golden Globe nomination that same year. Years earlier, Washington had played the influential black nationalist in the off-Broadway play “When the Chickens Come Home to Roost.”

“The ‘Malcolm X’ film by Spike Lee is one of the most well-done biographies that pleased the subject’s family members, supporters and critics. It’s one that aged very well, painting a picture of not only one great man, but an entire movement and a politically violent era,” Ngangura said.

2. “Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould” (1993)

For those less familiar, Glenn Gould was a Toronto-based pianist and by all definitions a prodigy, obsessed with Johann Sebastian Bach. In fact, Gould would nearly morph into his idol through his musical adaptations. He’s described by The New Yorker as “one of the few performers who can stand alongside the great composers as an artistic equal.” In this film, events appear in chronological order– a rule of a good biopic to many critics.

“It just takes 32 different approaches to understanding his work from a lot of different formats. There’s documentaries, there’s interviews, there’s reenactments of episodes from his wife, there’s performance footage, and there’s animated stuff,” Tobias said.

3. “Capote” (2005)

“Capote” by Bennett Miller was sensational for three reasons: stunning cinematography, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the lead actor, and a brilliant script from Dan Futterman.

“Here is a film that could have been easily sensationalized, offering more flash than substance, because of the infamy surrounding its real-life inspiration. But it avoided those potholes and delivered an understated and disquieting film that was both visually stark, but also very lush,” Ngangura said.

4.Topsy-Turvy (1999)

Set in the 1880s, the film tells the story of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan who co-wrote the famous opera “The Mikado.”

“It’s at this very small period of time, but it’s also kind of deals with a very fraught time in [the duo’s]collaboration. Then, it just digs into the period, digs into their art and into who they were as people and as artists. It’s just so particular. That one I really love. I’ve been kind of annoyed that “Topsy-Turvy” hasn’t got as much attention as it deserves. In a great movie year, it’s one of the best,” Tobias said.

5. Bessie (2015)

“Queen Latifah in ‘Bessie’ is another good retelling of a layered and tempestuous life, and a great example of good casting, as opposed to the horror that was the Nina Simone film, starring Zoe Saldana,” Ngangura said. “The latter wasn’t only terribly cast, it was terribly written, with no discernible plot and no support from either the singer’s estate or her very loyal fanbase.”

6. The Social Network (2010)

“What I thought was really interesting, and almost suddenly incriminating about the film, is how much Mark Zuckerberg the person — or at least the person as depicted in this film — is sort of embedded into Facebook in all of its insidiousness,” Tobias said. “All of his sociopathy is suddenly part of the network. I like the implication about the film, and I liked how tough it is on him as well,” he added. “I think there can be a tendency when you deal with people who are innovators or geniuses, to lionize them, and it certainly does not do that.”

7. Lincoln (2012)

“[Abraham] Lincoln is the type of figure who is lionized, and who we can talk about in very broad terms,” Tobias said. “What I liked about the film was how it showed him as a gifted politician, and not only a gifted politician, but somebody who is willing to engage in a lot of horse trading and some of the ugly type of exchanges that go on in a democracy. I think it’s always a good idea when you have a figure that revered to show them to be human and flawed, and I thought that ‘Lincoln’ did a particularly good job at that.”

8. American Gangster (2007)

Known drug trafficker Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, was able to smuggle heroin into the United States during the Vietnam War. Richie Roberts, played by Russell Crowe, is a police officer dead set on bringing Lucas to his knees.

“American Gangster had a great ensemble cast working alongside Denzel Washington, and although it was accused of straying very far from the truth, it was an entertaining film where good versus bad wasn’t quite so clear,” Ngangura said.

Courtney Norris is the deputy senior producer of national affairs for the NewsHour. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @courtneyknorris

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What Is A Biographical Movie Film?

Photograph of the blog post author, Sam Jones

With many prominent figures throughout history, biographical films have become increasingly popular. The telling of these people’s stories and lives is a desirable narrative that many of us have an interest in. When making a biographical movie , there are many things to consider and include to make it a success. In this article, we will discuss the main influences of what makes a good biopic to help develop your knowledge. 

Biographical Movie

From The Danish Girl to The King’s Speech, there has been no shortage of biographical film releases in recent times. With many being received well, these representations of people’s lives have become a common genre within film. Bohemian Rhapsody in 2018 became the highest-grossing biopic of all time. Receiving awards such as the BAFTA for Best Sound and Leading Actor as well as Oscars for the same categories. Biopics can be as successful as any film and if done well, become extremely celebrated. 

When making a biographical film though, there are many elements to consider before diving straight in. Despite many successful biographical movies, there have been many failures too. Portraying someone’s life truthfully but engagingly and entertainingly can be a task, one never to be overlooked. 

More than often, the narrative of a film is created by the writer. Already being provided with a narrative can immediately present challenges. We will first take a look at what defines a biopic and then discuss the process needed to make it successful. 

What Is A Biographical Movie? 

Biographical Movie

A biographical movie portrays the life of a non-fictional or historical figure. 

However, this version of their life story is often dramatized to create a more appealing film . The essence of that person’s life however must be kept throughout. Docudrama films and historical drama films differ from biopics by focusing on whole events or periods. Biopics focus solely on a single person’s life and their most important moments. 

The movies use the real name of the figure and tell the events of their life. They give audiences an insight into what these people went through and often the hardships they experienced during their lives.  

It is noteworthy that a biopic is not written by the main characters themselves. The list of good autobiography movies is rare with people seldom wanting to write about themselves. 

What Makes A Good Biographical Movie? 

Now that we’ve touched on the subject it’s time to get into what makes a good biographical movie.

Of course, there is no secret recipe for making the next triumphant biopic. Who the biopic is about, what era they lived in, and what they achieved will all impact your target audience and how well people will perceive your film . Despite this, there are still a few aspects that should ring true for all biographic movies. We go into more detail about these below.

Research 

Biographical film

Getting your facts right is fundamental. No matter how you’re portraying their life, the relevant events and their impacts need to be told factually. There is no need to include every excruciating detail, but the overall truth needs to be present. 

Research of course is the first stage in making a good biopic. If anything, you need to find out if there is substantial available information to make a full narrative. Whether focusing on a specific event or their whole life, you need enough content to make a full movie . It is also important to check if you’re legally allowed to make a movie about the person’s life. Do you need to ask their family for permission? Do you need to ask them for permission? Check this first before contributing any resources or time to your film. 

Drama 

stage curtains

Even though we’ve just discussed the importance of factuality, you still need an enticing and engaging film . Their narrative must still be dramatized to become successful. When writing a biopic, people tend to fall into a false sense of security that they have an already well-established story on their hands. Even though this is true, it is still necessary to find drama within their story and portray this among the facts to combine it into a coherent but invigorating story.

No dramatic events should ever be materialized. Look deeply into the real events of the protagonist’s lives and play on these moments. Were they hated by a group of people? Did they have a turbulent home life? Everyone’s story will have a little drama somewhere. Find it and use it to your advantage. At no point should the film feel whitewashed, however.

If the protagonist experiences an extremely harsh life, for example, you cannot portray it as a life of adventure and fun. Getting the balance between creating an appealing story whilst factually portraying someone’s life is imperative for being well received. 

Find Your Direction

direction

As we’ve discussed, a biopic is a mix of facts and drama. The way you balance between the two is arguable between producers . However, one aspect of making a good biopic is true for all films. You need a solid direction to work towards.

No matter your protagonist, you should focus on a key element in their life. For example, in The King’s Speech, the focus was the king’s ability to work past his stutter. In Snowden, the focus is Edwards’ determination to make public the CIA technology he helped to create.

Every biographical film should have a strong focus that the entire plot is based around. Include only the facts that are relevant to this focus and treat the structure of the film as a drama leading up to the most prominent moment within this focus. 

Consider The Other Characters 

woman drawing

Your protagonist is of course the focus of your film . But no prominent figures’ stories played out without other influential people. You must include these people if they had a significant influence on the focus of your narrative. When looking at The Imitation Game, Joan Clarke had a significant role to play in cracking Enigma ciphers with Alan Turning. Her narrative is essential to Turning’s story so must still be told in your version. 

When researching the protagonist’s life for your biographical movie, you will come across many people who influenced their lives. Only include the characters that strongly impacted their lives and the direction of the story you’re focused on. 

Consider Audience Response 

audience

This may seem obvious, but you need to consider how different audiences will react to your movie . A clear example of this would be; Is the antagonist a good person? Even if you want to cover the life of someone controversial, you need to judge if the public’s opinion towards them is strong enough that they might avoid your film altogether.

Another example would be the reaction from audiences who are very knowledgeable about the protagonist. If you dramatize their life to an extreme level, your portrayal of them could be unsatisfactory to fans and give your movie a bad name. This is a less prominent, but nonetheless important point to remember.  

How To Make A Biographical Movie

We’ve covered all the essential aspects involved with making a good biopic. Now you’ve got your protagonist, focus, and added a little drama, you’re ready to start collecting them all into a movie .

We will look at a step-by-step process on how to collect and compress your information into a coherent story. 

Biographical Movie – Synopsis 

Biographical Movie

Firstly, you want to create a synopsis. List all the relevant events in the protagonist’s life to your story, missing out on any small details. In this stage, you want to be extensive. With dedicated research, you want to broadly discuss the events and include every fact whether it seems important or not. You should end up with a messy and extremely long synopsis. To first create a focused story, you need to look at the wider, but precise picture.

Fundamentally, you are creating an extensive, factual story. Not following a screenplay structure as of yet, it should be completely uncensored. 

Review 

Biographical film

Now, review your synopsis. You need to ensure you’ve got their story correct before adapting it into a screenplay . Go over and read aloud your synopsis again and again. Make sure the story includes everything you want it to. You need to make sure this is perfect before you start to alter and mold the narrative. 

Another way to ensure your synopsis includes everything you need is to get someone else to go over it. Find someone knowledgeable of the protagonist and see if they agree with the points you have included. 

Structure 

movie reel

Structure can be an often overlooked aspect of a movie . With many successfully following a linear structure of beginning, middle, and end, why would you consider following an alternative structure? When making a biopic, an alternative to the usual structure might have a greater impact. 

Following a non-linear structure could convey the main points of your protagonist’s life more impressively. For example, starting with the end of the protagonist’s life and following with the events leading up to this moment might be a good alternative. There is no right structure to follow, but consider if an alternative would fit your biographical film better. 

Biographical Movie

It is time to start adapting your synopsis into a screenplay. Take your synopsis and try to alter it to follow your chosen structure, likely composed of 3 acts. Set an outline for the story you want to create and fit the synopsis points within it. 

There are numerous different techniques writers will recommend following when making your screenplay. Find the one that best works for you.

A common way of grouping your synopsis into 3 acts is by giving the acts categories. Act 1 usually focuses on the goals of the protagonist, Act 2 then can look at the main struggles in reaching these goals. Act 3 of course would then focus on the protagonist reaching their goals or failing to in some cases. Whichever method you use, you want to ensure you include all the relevant information in a coherent way. 

Draft 

clapperboard

You now have the direction, acts, and relevant facts all ready to be written into a biographical movie screenplay. This is where you want to add the drama and make the story exciting.

You have the basis for your biographical film , it’s time to make it into the next blockbuster. Remember when doing this the points we covered in the previous section. Stay true to the protagonist’s life but dramatize key events within it. Don’t rely on an already provided storyline, you need to make it your own. 

Now You Know How To Make A Biographical Movie 

movie camera

You’ve now got the knowledge to start making your very own biographical film. There is no shortage of amazing true stories to be told and we want more. Biopics have become beloved films portraying some of the most influential figures alive or past. Not only do these stories make great films, but they play an important role in telling history. Learning about past events in an educational setting can be laborious and uninteresting. Telling the story of prominent figures in an invigorating way allows us to understand their impacts on the world whilst enjoying a movie. 

Whether you’re making a movie about Julius Caesar or Lady Gaga, the guide we have provided should give you a good basis for making a successful biopic. Portraying people’s lives in an adapted way whilst satisfying these people’s biggest fans can be hard. Not appealing to a general audience can often occur when trying to please knowledgeable fans. Likewise, changing the narrative significantly to appeal to a general audience can anger fans. We never said making a biographical movie would be easy, but considering all these points is important for a writer. 

Closing Thoughts On A Biographical Movie

That concludes our guide on how to make a biographical film. We hope you have enjoyed reading and are feeling wiser on the subject. If you enjoyed this article, why not check out another on our  blog ? To get you started, we recommend our  Film Terminology Glossary , Pre-Production Checklist For Filmmakers , and our guide on How To Become A Set Designer .

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From 'Elvis' to 'The Pianist': 20 Best Biopic Movies of the 21st Century (So Far)

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Oppenheimer , Christopher Nolan 's most anticipated biopic will soon hit theaters this summer (July 21), marking not only Nolan's return but also the newest installment in the biopic genre, which is currently popular in Hollywood. In the meantime, there are tons of great biopics of the 21st century that fans can watch.

What is a biopic? A biopic (short for "biographical picture") is a non-fictional film that depicts the tale of a real person's life. Biopic movies are usually about a historical figure or a well-known individual. However, they can be about anyone as long as the subject exists. A biopic film must focus on a single protagonist and portray the narrative of that person's life across many years (rather than simply one event or era in their life).

Biopics are the goldmines of Hollywood movies, regardless of whose life they show. Many of these films served as stepping stones in the careers of their filmmakers and actors, helping to launch them to stardom. Even though many excellent biopics are produced each year, a special few have gone above and beyond after the turn of the millennia.

Updated on March 30, 2023, by Jessie Nguyen:

20 'bohemian rhapsody' (2018).

Bohemian Rhapsody’ (2018) (1)

Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of the British rock band Queen and their lead singer, Freddie Mercury , played by Rami Malek . The film traces the band’s rise to fame, from their early days playing small gigs to their legendary performance at Live Aid in 1985. It also explores Mercury’s relationships with his bandmates, as well as his romantic ones and his struggle with his sexuality.

Bohemian Rhapsody nevertheless serves as a good reminder of the band's musical brilliance and Freddie's singular stage presence owing to the film's aesthetically stunning musical moments and Malek's dominating leading role. Despite its limitations, the movie is still an exquisite tribute to the band and its dedicated fans.

Watch on Hulu

19 'A Beautiful Mind' (2001)

A Beautiful Mind (2001) (1)

Inspired by the 1998 biography of the same name by Sylvia Nasar , A Beautiful Mind chronicles the life of John Forbes Nash Jr. ( Russell Crowe ), who went through it all – from fame's pinnacles to its darkest abysses. He was a mathematical prodigy who was on the verge of receiving international renown when he made an astounding discovery early in his career. Yet he quickly finds himself embarking on a torturous and terrifying quest of self-discovery.

A Beautiful Mind has become one of the most engaging and well-liked movies of all time, despite issues with tone and structure as well as some significant absences from Nash's real life. Because Nash's life is the focus of the film rather than his mental health , and because of Russell Crowe's stirring portrayal, Nash is given a second chance to relive both his success and his failure.

Watch on Prime Video

18 'Elvis' (2022)

Elvis (2022) (1)

Elvis chronicles the life story of American music legend Elvis Presley , played by Austin Butler , from his youth to his 1950s rise to rock and roll stardom while retaining a complicated bond with Colonel Tom Parker ( Tom Hanks ), his manager.

Butler's spectacular portrayal of Elvis humanized the legend by bringing down the spotlight from his physical gestures to the enormous, gruff voice to reveal the troubled man hiding behind the timeless God of Rock. In addition, the wild singing, set design, reenactment of iconic incidents, and compelling performers give the impression that audiences are viewing a documentary instead.

Watch on Max

17 'Ray' (2004)

Ray’ (2004) (1)

Ray tells the story of the legendary musician Ray Charles ( Jamie Foxx ) and his struggles with blindness, poverty, and addiction, as well as his relationships with the women in his life. It also delves into Charles' musical career, including his experimentation with different genres such as R&B, gospel, and country, and his collaborations with other musicians.

Ray is a moving and inspiring film that offers a window into the life of one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, and the struggles and triumphs that shaped his extraordinary career. Also, the acting is strong, the directing is deft, the storyline is insightful, and Foxx gives an outstanding performance.

Watch on Netflix

16 'The Wolf of Wall Street' (2013)

A man being praised

The story of 1990s stock trader Jordan Belfort , whose company, Stratton Oakmont, participated in unprecedented levels of corruption and fraud, is told in Martin Scorsese 's smash biopic The Wolf of Wall Street .

Scorsese's picture is the ultimate of excess, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Belfort giving a truly outrageous performance. As they are in many of Scorsese’s films , the sins are visited upon the sinner, but the "Wolf" warns us at the end that no number of cautionary stories will prevent future generations from engaging in short-sighted, amoral, selfish ambitions.

Watch on Fubo

15 'A Hidden Life' (2019)

A Hidden Life’ (2019) (1)

Based on the true story of Franz Jägerstätter , an Austrian farmer who refused to fight for the Nazis during World War II, The Hidden Life follows Franz ( August Diehl ) as he lives a quiet life with his family in the small village of St. Radegund. When war breaks out, Franz is called up to serve in the German army, but he refuses to swear allegiance to Hitler and fight for the Nazis.

Through a genuine account of faith, family, and the indomitable human spirit in the face of extreme persecution, director Terrence Malick presents the viewers with a rare image of a special kind of hero. Additionally, it serves as an engaging and oftentimes moving example of how regular people respond to the ills of the world.

14 'Lincoln' (2012)

American President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) sits behind his desk.

Lincoln follows the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln ( Daniel Day-Lewis ), as he navigates the political landscape of the Civil War era, trying to garner support for the amendment from both Republicans and Democrats. It also focuses on the final months of his presidency and his efforts to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which would abolish slavery.

Lincoln is one of Steven Spielberg 's most methodical efforts as a director, and it is undeniably a respectable, absorbing film. Additionally, despite having a history lesson at its center, it is deftly concealed by one outstanding performance and a number of steadfast supporting characters.

13 'Capote' (2005)

Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) sits next to Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) in 'Capote'

Capote tells the story of Truman Capote ( Philip Seymour Hoffman ), a famous American writer, as he travels to Kansas to investigate and write about the brutal murders of the Clutter family in 1959, which later becomes the basis for his novel, In Cold Blood . The film explores Capote’s relationship with the murderers, Richard ‘Dick’ Hickock ( Mark Pellegrino ) and Perry Smith ( Clifton Collins Jr. ), as he spends them with them in jail.

Hoffman offers a captivating portrayal of and perspective on a troubled character who is nonetheless regarded by many as one of America's best authors. Moreover, Bennett Miller was able to convey the complexity of human brains and relationships, as well as the source of artistic inspiration, thanks to a fantastic screenplay.

Watch on Roku

12 'I, Tonya' (2017)

An emotional woman in the kitchen

After her husband ordered an assault on her opponent, Nancy Kerrigan , Tonya Harding ( Margot Robbie ) went from one of the most skilled athletes in the country to a worldwide laughingstock. Her troubles as an outcast, her dysfunctional family, and her outspoken nature were all depicted in the film.

Craig Gillespie 's film does more than convey Harding's story, it completely reframes the narrative and rewrites her as the hero of her own story in a complicated but persuasive way. I, Tonya also provides Robbie with her first opportunity to demonstrate her entire range as an actor, and she is radiant.

11 'Dallas Buyers Club' (2013)

A woman and a man sitting on a bench but facing different directions

Dallas Buyers Club follows Ronald Woodroof ( Matthew McConaughey ), a philandering, drug addict, and homophobic electrician from Texas, living a carefree life until his doctor diagnoses him with HIV/AIDS, which will likely kill him in 30 days. Woodroof discovers an experimental medicine that can potentially prolong his life and establishes the titular "Dallas Buyers Club" to import the drug from Mexico to anyone who needs it.

The combination of sharp character study and moving pharmaceutical docudrama is lively and memorable at just under two hours. Moreover, McConaughey and Jared Leto ’s transformative performances are the reason to visit this biopic. Not only do they successfully give voice to the disaffected of the 1980s, but to everyone who is suddenly confronted with unfathomable challenges.

10 'Hidden Figures' (2016)

Hidden Figure 2016 (1)

Loosely based on the 2016 non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly , Hidden Figures chronicles the story of a group of female Black mathematicians (played by Taraji P. Henson , Octavia Spencer , and Janelle Monáe ) who played crucial roles in NASA during the early stages of the US space program.

With its recognizable period-piece perspective on a neglected moment in space history, Hidden Figures maintains optimism for what science and technology may accomplish when the sharpest minds work together. Moreover, the film respectfully honors the unheralded female heroines of history by featuring three exceptional performances from the three leads.

Watch on Disney+

9 'Milk' (2008)

Sean Penn as Harvey Milk smiling on stage in Milk.

Milk is about the life of an openly gay activist and politician, Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn ), who became the first LGBTQ+ person elected to public office in California. The film chronicles the period from Milk's 40th birthday until his horrific killing in 1978, using archival footage from his life.

The film, directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Dustin Lance Black , immerses us in the political process as Penn's brilliant performance captures Milk's playful intellectual personality. Furthermore, by combining 1970s news footage with newly shot sequences, Van Sant constructed his film around some massive, screen-filling set pieces, making the audience feel as if they had stepped inside the story.

8 'The King's Speech' (2010)

Two men talking with a microphone

When Albert "Bertie" George 's father, King George V , dies and his brother King Edward VIII chooses love over the kingdom, he is compelled to crown himself king. The King's Speech depicts the narrative of King George VI 's friendship with his speech therapist, who helped the king overcome his stutter to confidently address his subjects.

Instead of being a film about a monarch triumphantly leading his folks to victory, it is about a would-be king battling to find his voice and the strength to lead his people through one of the most challenging periods in their history. Colin Firth as Bertie also imbues his restrained character with complexity, dignity, and wit, making a lasting impression.

Watch on Plex

7 '12 Years a Slave' (2013)

Chiwtele Ejiofor as Solomon Northup alongside a group of slaves in a plantation in 12 Years a Slave.

Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor ) was a free Black man from New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. For a dozen terrifying years, he was subjected to various forms of torture and wickedness before being free once more.

Though 12 Years a Slave is full of intriguing characters, Ejiofor steals the show by maintaining the character's dignity throughout. Moreover, director Steve McQueen immerses the spectators in an unforgivably hideous era from which there is no way out. It's about as intense as a biopic can go and many viewers deem this movie to be too heartbreaking for a second screening .

6 'The Pianist' (2002)

Adrien Brody as Wladislaw playing the piano in The Pianist (2002)

Based on the autobiographical book of the same name by a Polish-Jewish pianist, composer, and Holocaust survivor, Władysław Szpilman , The Pianist follows Szpilman ( Adrien Brody ), who after being forced into the Warsaw Ghetto, loses contact with his family as a result of Operation Reinhard. He then hides in various places among the rubble of Warsaw from this point until the captives of the concentration camps are released.

The unflinching anti-war film is a masterpiece about the struggle between good and evil, the tenacity and mercy of art, and the horrific personal toll left by one of history's worst moments. Like many films about the Holocaust, The Pianist can be difficult to see, but it's important to remember what happened and Brody was mesmerizing in it.

5 'The Social Network' (2010)

Four men staring at a computer screen in a dorm room

Though it wasn’t perfectly accurate, The Social Network covers the narrative of Facebook's early years and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg ’s ( Jesse Eisenberg ) initial social decline, starting with the break-up of his romantic relationship with Erica Albright ( Rooney Mara ) and concluding with the tragic end of his friendship with co-founder Eduardo Saverin ( Andrew Garfield ).

The film is one of the best performing and acclaimed films of 2010 , thanks to screenwriter Aaron Sorkin 's typical quick-witted writing and Jesse Eisenberg's riveting portrayal of the renowned social network creator. Moreover, everyone in the film is on the verge of snapping, which adds to the film's authenticity and realism.

4 'Catch Me If You Can' (2002)

Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abegnale Jr dressed as a pilot standing in front of stewardesses in Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can follows Frank Abagnale Jr. (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a skilled con man who pretended to be a doctor, lawyer, and pilot while only being 21 years old. Meanwhile, Tom Hanks ' FBI agent Carl Hanratty gets obsessed with finding Frank and later succeeds in persuading Frank to become an FBI assistant for atonement.

The story was brought to life by Steven Spielberg's skill as a filmmaker, exquisite cinematography, elegant editing, brilliant script, and a beautiful score by John Williams . Not to mention DiCaprio and Hanks' incredible chemistry and performances resulting in a gentle, charmingly adventurous film that makes you feel wonderful.

3 'BlacKkKlansman' (2018)

blackkklansman (2018) (1)

Based on Ron Stallworth ’s 2014 memoir Black Klansman , BlacKkKlansman takes place in the 1970s in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and follows the city's first Black detective ( John David Washington ) as he attempts to infiltrate and out the local Ku Klux Klan chapter.

BlacKkKlansman is timely because it engages in a crucial national dialogue that is full of metaphors and juxtapositions. Moreover, the chemistry between Washington and Adam Driver is crucial to keep the film's rhythm enjoyable as the movie alternates between comedy and crime . Also, through their characters, viewers feel like they have just walked through the lane of history in over two hours.

2 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' (2018)

A woman working surrounded with a cat and lots of typewriters

Melissa McCarthy plays Lee Israel , a struggling writer who seeks to revive her career by selling counterfeit letters from celebrities who have died. Can You Ever Forgive Me? by Marielle Heller is one of the finest contemporary films on economic hardship and ethical compromise.

The biopic is an intellectually interesting drama due to the contradiction between blatant deception, undeniable necessity, and a group of victims who, presumably, can afford to be fooled. Moreover, McCarthy's impressive performance is both fierce and compassionate at the same time, constantly improving the material and stealing every scene she is in.

1 'Selma' (2014)

Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and Andrew Young leading a march in Selma

Selma was praised for its historical authenticity as it followed Martin Luther King Jr. as he fought for Black voting rights. The film follows King's frenetic three months leading up to the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965. Their efforts directly contributed to President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The film focuses primarily on King's role in the events without diminishing the importance of the other leaders' contributions to molding this pivotal moment in American history. Moreover, the screenplay by Paul Webb and David Oyelowo ’s performance as King gives us a profound, gratifying depiction of King as a man capable of errors, self-doubt, and pain.

Watch on Showtime

NEXT: Great Biopics That Got Surprisingly Dark

Best Biopics Ever Made, Ranked

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The silver screen is a faithful and loyal servant to a good biographical film; the genre is undisputedly the darling of both the Academy Awards and Tinsel Town, with over a dozen biographical dramas winning Best Picture and numerous actors winning for their portrayals of real-life historical figures. Biopics are a tried and true style of movie-making that are more often than not slam dunks with both the box office and critics alike. Despite the genre being brought to the big screen more frequently in recent years, their effectiveness and impact remains consistent.

Update August 8, 2023: In honor of the release of Oppenheimer, this list has been updated by Callum Jones with even more great biopics.

Whether depicting the life of an esteemed physicist, Wild West outlaws , or even United States President Abraham Lincoln himself, biopics are the cream of the crop in Hollywood cinema. Many of these films helped skyrocket the careers of both their directors and their actors , serving as stepping stones in their lucrative and successful careers. These are some of the best biopics ever made.

Robert Downey Jr. as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin

Depicting the fascinating life of worldwide film icon Charlie Chaplin, 1992’s Richard Attenborough biopic Chaplin stars Robert Downey Jr. as “The Little Tramp” in a searing performance. The film features an elderly Chaplin as he recollects his incredible life journey for his autobiography, from his poverty-stricken roots to worldwide success. With a talented supporting cast including Dan Aykroyd, Marissa Tomei, and even Chaplin’s real life daughter Geraldine Chaplin, the movie was released on the fifteenth anniversary of the beloved star’s death.

Despite mixed reviews for the biopic itself, Downey Jr.’s performance was lauded and garnered critical acclaim. It is arguably his finest role to date and won him the BAFTA Award for Best Actor, along with an Academy Award nomination. The Los Angeles Times wrote, “Downey becomes Chaplin, re-creating his character and his chilly soul so precisely that even the comedian’s daughter Geraldine, a featured player here, was both impressed and unnerved.”

14 The Theory of Everything

the theory of everything redmayne thewlis

2014’s critically acclaimed biopic The Theory of Everything is a poignant portrayal of the relationship between renowned physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife, Jane. The film was adapted from Jane Hawking’s 2007 memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, and she provided input and insight for the script. The Theory of Everything stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as the famous couple, with the former spending six months researching Hawking’s life and mastering his accent and speech patterns. The biopic was a massive hit both commercially and critically, with Redmayne specifically receiving immense praise and winning the Academy Award and BAFTA for Best Leading Actor.

13 Walk the Line

Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line

Telling the story of famous American country musician Johnny Cash, James Mangold 's 2005 biopic, Walk the Line , sees Joaquin Phoenix take on the role of the "Ring of Fire" singer. The film uses two of Cash's autobiographies as the basis for the script - 1975's Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words and 1997's Cash: The Autobiography - and details the late singer-songwriter's rise to fame, his two marriages, and his addiction to drugs.

Co-starring Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Robert Patrick, the movie was a box office hit and gained rave reviews from critics. It also earned five Academy Award nominations, with Phoenix taking home the award for Best Actor. Indeed, though the film, in general, is solid, like many biopics, it's the performance of the leading man that makes Walk the Line truly great. Phoenix completely transforms into Cash, even managing to expertly imitate the singer's infamous voice. It is a subtle yet charismatic performance that stands out as among the best of the Phoenix's career .

12 The Elephant Man

John Hurt in The Elephant Man

1980's The Elephant Man tells the real-life story of an English man, Joseph Merrick, who adopted the cruel nickname "The Elephant Man" owing to his severe facial deformities as a result of a rare genetic disease. Set in Victorian London, the film portrays the friendship between Merrick (played by John Hurt) and Frederick Treves, a surgeon who rescues Merrick from a freak show and who sees the disfigured man for the kind-hearted and intelligent person he truly is.

Directed by David Lynch , the film garnered critical acclaim upon its release and went on to receive eight Academy Award nominations at the 53rd annual ceremony. Hurt's performance, in particular, was lauded by critics, with Vincent Canby of The New York Times calling his portrayal "Truly remarkable". The Elephant Man a haunting yet beautifully moving tale of compassion, acceptance, and seeing beyond another's appearance.

11 Straight Outta Compton

The 2015 biographical drama film Straight Outta Compton

When it was released in cinemas in 2015, F. Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton almost instantly became a financial success and a modern-day classic. Set in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, the film revolves around the formation and break-up of hip hop group N.W.A, whose members consisted of rappers Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren, and DJ Yella. Titled after the group's debut album, it depicts their early success in the music industry, their rise to mainstream popularity, and the feuds, disputes, violence, and deaths that surronded the group.

Related: Best Biopics About Black Music Icons, Ranked

Straight Outta Compton is different from your average musical biopic. In fact, it's better . With N.W.A members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre serving as producers, along with Eazy-E's widow, Tomica Woods-Wright, the film is raw, honest, and provocative, and doesn't shy away from the more unpleasant aspects of hip-hop culture. Ultimately, though, it is acted and superbly directed celebration of the genre.

10 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

Starring two of Hollywood’s most talented and revered actors, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, 1969’s American western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was initially met with a mixed response but, over time has become a distinguished classic. Loosely based on Wild West outlaws Robert LeRoy Parker (Butch Cassidy) and Harry Longabaugh (the “Sundance Kid”), it features the infamous duo on the run from a crack US posse after an extensive string of train robberies. Numerous A-list actors were initially tied to the picture, such as Jack Lemmon, Warren Beatty, and Steve McQueen, but it was Newman and Redford who nabbed the roles and dished up iconic performances as the American legends.

9 Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer Cillian Murphy

Acclaimed director, Christopher Nolan, is no stranger to taking on films that deal with real-life figures or events. After all, he previously directed 2017's Dunkirk , which told the story of the Dunkirk evacuation of World War II, as well as 2006's The Prestige that, although largely a fictional story, featured real-life inventor Nikola Tesla, among its main characters. 2023's Oppenheimer , however, can be classed as Nolan's first true biopic.

Based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus , by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, the film depicts the life and career of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (played by Cillian Murphy) - the inventor of the nuclear bomb. Told across several different timeframes in a non-linear style, it follows the titular character's early life in academia, his recruitment to the Manhattan Project and the development of the nuclear bomb, the bomb's use in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and subsequent hearings that see Oppenheimer accused of communist sympathies.

A three-hour R-rated biopic about the father of the nuclear bomb should've been alienating to a general audience. However, with Nolan's attachment, an all-star cast , rave reviews, and its link to the social media phenomenon known as "Barbenheimer ," Oppenheimer has become one of the highest-grossing biopics ever. Fortunately, it lives up to the hype.

Gandhi and a few others sit as Gandhi talks to the gathered crowds

Detailing the life of the lawyer who would go on to become the famed leader of the nonviolent revolts against British rule, 1982’s Gandhi stars Ben Kingsley in the titular role. The biopic focuses on Mahatma Gandhi’s life from a defining moment in 1893, in which he was thrown off a South African train for being in a whites-only compartment. The film concludes with his tragic assassination and subsequent funeral in 1948.

The stunning picture was praised for its historical accuracy upon its release, as was Kingsley's outstanding performance and production values. It received 11 Academy Award nominations and won eight, including Best Actor (for Kingsley), Best Picture, and Best Director. Gandhi is a deeply moving and enlightening epic that features an emotionally driven performance by Ben Kingsley and beautifully depicts the civil rights leader’s riveting life.

7 The Social Network

The cast of The Social Network

When David Fincher's The Social Network was released in 2010, the social media platform, Facebook, had only been around for six years. In that time, the website had amassed an impressive 500 million global users and had become the third-largest web company in the US. A film that documented the company's meteoric rise was, therefore, a no-brainer. With a script by Aaron Sorkin , the movie depicts Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), who initially develops a website called "Facemash" that allows users to rate the attractiveness of female students on campus. This soon grows in popularity, spreading to other colleges and attracting the attention of wealthy investors.

Related: The Social Network: 5 Reasons Why it Should Have Won the Best Picture Oscar

The Social Network is a gripping story that is surprisingly small and contained, given the scale of its subject matter. Though a few artistic liberties were clearly taken, Fincher's direction, Sorkin's script, and Eisenberg's lead performance ensure the film is an expertly crafted and entertaining one, even if it's not always historically accurate. And with an Academy Award-winning score by Nine Inch Nails members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network is undoubtedly one of the best biopics of the twenty-first century that still has a lot of relevance today .

6 Malcolm X

Denzel Washington as Malcolm X

Spike Lee’s epic biography Malcolm X portrays the life of the controversial and highly influential Black Nationalist leader, from his beginnings as a small-time gangster to his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam. The dynamic Denzel Washington stars as the infamous African-American activist and features the additional talent of Hollywood greats Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, and Al Freeman Jr.

Spike Lee told The New York Times that he never envisioned any other actor in the lead role, saying that Denzel “really captured Malcolm” in his Off-Broadway portrayal of him. Largely based on the 1965 book The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the film earned rave reviews, with famed critic Roger Ebert raving that the biopic was “one of the great screen biographies, celebrating the sweep of an American life that bottomed out in prison before its hero reinvented himself.”

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln

Heavily regarded as one of the most diverse and gifted actors of all time, Daniel Day-Lewis added another feather to his impressive cap when he starred as United States President Abraham Lincoln. Known famously for his method acting approach, Day-Lewis spent a year preparing for the role, reading over 100 books on Lincoln and speaking in his voice throughout the entire shoot. The dynamic star teamed up with renowned director Stephen Spielberg for Lincoln , which was lauded upon its release, with Day-Lewis and Field garnering particular praise. The actor’s dignified and regal portrayal of the 16th president was impressive and inspiring, and he would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor.

4 Goodfellas

The cast of Goodfellas

Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece biographical crime film Goodfellas narrates the rise and fall of mob associate Henry Hill, covering his relationship to wife Karen Hill and his ill-fated ties with mob partners Tommy DeVito and Jimmy Conway. Some of the silver screen’s finest stars headline the film, with Ray Liotta portraying Henry Hill, Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito, and Robert De Niro as Jimmy Conway.

Depicting 25 years of the mobster’s life from 1955 to 1980, Goodfellas is jam-packed full of suspense, degradation, and intense violence that is critical to the authenticity of the biopic. The powerful performances of its talented cast and Scorsese’s masterful storytelling and directing were celebrated, and Goodfellas is heavily regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.

3 Raging Bull

Robert De Niro in Scorsese's Raging Bull

The biographical sports drama Raging Bull is another Martin Scorsese knockout that is considered the gifted director’s magnum opus. The classic film depicts the life of boxer Jake LaMotta, an Italian-American middleweight whose temper and violence led him to extreme success in the ring but destroyed his life outside it. Robert De Niro iconically leads the drama as LaMotta, and trained extensively with the real-life boxer in preparation for the role.

Related: Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro Movies: A Ranking of Their 9 Collaborations

Frequent future Scorsese collaborator Joe Pesci co-stars as Jake’s younger brother and manager Joey LaMotta; Pesci, at the time, was a struggling actor and was scouted by De Niro himself. Raging Bull debuted to an initial lukewarm response, mostly due to its violent content. Despite such a reception, De Niro’s performance garnered widespread acclaim, and he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

2 Schindler’s List

A scene from Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List (1993)

Steven Spielberg’s heart-wrenching 1993 historical drama Schindler’s List is based on the Thomas Keneally novel Schindler’s Ark and follows German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who helped save more than a thousand manly Polish-Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. Spielberg approached Schindler’s List as a documentary and shot the film in black and white, despite his reservations on whether he was mature enough to create such a picture. The esteemed director famously forwent a salary for the project, declaring it “blood money.” Liam Neeson took on the lead role of Oskar Schindler and was cast in part because he was a relative unknown; Spielberg did not want an actor’s star quality to overpower the character.

Schindler’s List received universal critical acclaim with its atmosphere, directing, performances and tone heralded. It was the recipient of seven Academy Awards and is considered one of the best films in cinema history, with The New Yorker calling it a picture that “will take its place in cultural history and remain there.”

1 Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia

The 1962 epic British historical drama Lawrence of Arabia details the life of T.E. Lawrence, an English officer who triumphantly united and led the often tumultuous Arab tribes during World War I. Acting great Peter O’Toole stars as Lawrence, and the film stunningly depicts his emotional struggles with the violence of war and his conflicted allegiance with his home of Britain and his Arabian comrades. Lawrence of Arabia was an adored phenomenon among critics and viewers alike, with its screenplay, visuals, and performance by O’Toole all lauded.

The groundbreaking biopic is considered a cinematic masterpiece and rightfully won seven Academy Awards. It is regarded as one of the most influential films ever crafted, with O’Toole’s portrayal touted as one of the finest in all cinema history, perfectly tapping into what makes a biographical performance great.

  • Movie Lists

The Cinemaholic

20 Best Biopic Movies of All Time

 of 20 Best Biopic Movies of All Time

Hollywood and other film industries have always been fascinated with the lives of famous people. That’s why we have so many biopics made right since the beginning of cinema. Not all of them are great, but we certainly have seen a fair share of really good biopic movies. From Gandhi to Zuckerberg, Hollywood has tried its hand on making biopics on people from all strata of life. Now, let’s look at the list of top biopic movies of all time. You can watch several of these best biopic movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

20. Nixon (1995)

NIXON, Anthony Hopkins, 1995

Hopkins had quite a run after he won the Academy Awards for ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991), but the boldest work of his career was as President Richard Nixon in this outstanding bio from Oliver Stone . As one of the most polarizing figures of the seventies, Nixon was a true statesman, but a flawed and paranoid man, doomed as a world leader. He captures the wounded soul of the disgraced President in every way. Looking nothing like him, he instead captures his essence and speech pattern and becomes Nixon before our very eyes.

Read More: Best Movie Couples of All Time

19. Bugsy (1991)

what is a biography movie called

Warren Beatty was always an interesting actor, but with his work here as murderous gangster Benjamin Siegel, he proved he was a great one. With movie star good looks, Siegel landed in Hollywood and quickly took over all gangland related activities and when visiting the desert, he had a vision of what became Las Vegas. Obsessed with his Flamingo Hotel in the desert, he failed to see his girlfriend was stealing from the mob, which brought Siegel down. Beatty is terrifying in his rages, deluded in his belief he can kill Mussolini, yet gentle and kind with his family and friend Meyer Lansky.

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18. Chaplin (1992)

what is a biography movie called

A brilliant actor ready for the performance of his lifetime, stuck with a weak script, a cowardly director not willing to show his subject warts and all, Robert Downey Jr. still gave one of the great performances of all time, beautifully capturing Chaplin and his artistry. Sadly neither the director nor script took advantage of Downey being so far into character; the actor was gone, Chaplin remained. With an edgy actor such as Downey, why explore the more controversial aspects of his life? They had an actor ready to cut loose and they failed him.

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17. Downfall (2005)

what is a biography movie called

Is it possible to humanize Hitler, possibly the most hated and evil man to ever exist? Bruno Ganz did that very thing in the superb German film ‘Downfall’, which explores the last days Hitler was alive in his bunker, the Soviets not far from the heart of the city. Hands shaking, frail, obviously drugged heavily, he knows the end is near and what is coming; he knows what the reaction will be to his Death Camps. Often gentle and kind with those around him, other time he flies into a rage when his orders are not followed. In the end, the monster was all too human, just a man. An astounding, brave performance.

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16. Lincoln (2012)

what is a biography movie called

The moment we laid eyes on him in the opening moments of the film, and he spoke in that surprising high reedy voice, audiences felt they were encountering Abraham Lincoln, possibly the greatest American who ever lived. Daniel Day-Lewis poured over books, found descriptions of his voice, his gait, the manner in which he spoke and the deep melancholy he carried with him and brought it with him to his performance. His co-stars claimed they never met Day-Lewis until the film’s premiere; they knew only President Lincoln. This profoundly fine performance won the actor his third Academy Awards for Best Actor.

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15. The Aviator (2004)

what is a biography movie called

As the young Howard Hughes during his Hollywood years, before the madness set in, Leonardo DiCaprio is truly outstanding. Blessed with a brilliant, inquisitive mind, he is always looking to the skies, even in his first film, ‘Hells Angels’ (1930), which he re-shot after the advent of sound. Fascinated with aviation, he built planes, making them bigger and faster, crashing one of them in downtown LA, forever damaging himself. It is a bold, outstanding performance that beautifully explores a troubled mind. The genuine fear in his eyes when he has one of his spells is truly frightening because he is never really sure if he can snap out of it.

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14. The Last King of Scotland (2006)

what is a biography movie called

In portraying the purely evil yet charismatic Idi Amin Dada, actor Forest Whitaker gave a performance for the ages, winning every single award available to him that year. As self appointed President, actually dictator of Uganda, he takes a young Scottish doctor under his wing and it is through that man’s eyes we see the monster appear. Whitaker is brilliant, seething with anger and contempt for those who defy him, believing himself to be a God. Terrifying.

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13. Patton (1970)

what is a biography movie called

As one of the greatest warriors in the history of the United States military, General George S. Patton did as he pleased often defying his superiors’ orders. George C. Scott is magnificent as Patton, one of the screen’s greatest performances and refused the Oscar he won for Best Actor. That iconic image that opens the film — Scott dwarfed by a massive flag — once seen can never be forgotten.

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12. My Left Foot (1989)

what is a biography movie called

On the rise as an actor when he made this lovely, gritty film about Irish artist/writer Cristy Brown, afflicted with cerebral palsy since birth, Day-Lewis won the Academy Award and several other awards in announcing himself as a major new acting force. His eyes ablaze with intellect and purpose; his body betraying him with constant shaking, twitching, everything out of control except his left foot. The actor brings us the fierce mind that was trapped in that wretched body. Despite his affliction, he was gifted, horny and a heavy drinker. Day-Lewis is a miracle in the film.

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11. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

what is a biography movie called

As stock swindler Jordan Belfort, who became obscenely wealthy before the FBI brought him down, Leonardo DiCaprio gives a brilliant performance – the best of his career. The young actor brings a furious energy to the performance and brash confidence, moving through the film like a young rock star. Whether stoned on drugs , smashed out of his mind, or arguing with his gorgeous wife, the actor is a revelation and force of nature. He is electrifying from beginning to end, always in motion, scheming, descending slowly into his own hell.

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10. The Social Network

the-social-network

Made at a time when Facebook had reached meteoric height’s, ‘The Social Network’ works as a powerful commentary on modern times and feels utterly fresh, even after six years. It deserves a place on every such list because of the treatment by David Fincher . Led by powerful performances from Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield , it is a deeply personal tale which works on so many levels, and is a study on the nature of friendship , ambition and power.

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capote_phillip

Helmed by Bennett Miller (who also directed ‘Foxcatcher’), ‘Capote’ chronicles the life of Truman Capote during the period when he was writing his non-fiction novel, ‘In Cold Blood’. Superbly constructed, the film feels bleak and sublime at the same time, as it tries to convey the horrors of the killings. But the movie stands out chiefly because of the honest and riveting performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman , which earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor. It is sad that we’ve lost a truly great artist.

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8. Malcolm X

Malcolm-X-right

At a run time of 200 minutes, ‘Malcolm X’ is a long movie. But it never seems long, thanks to a phenomenal performance by Denzel Washington , and nuanced direction by Spike Lee . The film dramatizes chief events of the life of African American activist Malcolm X. The film received much skepticism and criticism even before it actually hit the screen, mainly because of the sensitive nature of the subject. But it received overwhelming critical acclaim upon release. Denzel Washington was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his standout performance, but lost out to Al Pacino , which many think was unfair on the Academy’s part.

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7. The Pianist

The-Pianist

Roman Polanski is a director known for his technical prowess, edgy direction and excellence in handling the noir genre of cinema. But in ‘The Pianist’ , the visionary director takes his skills and gives us a devastating biographical drama. ‘The Pianist’ is the moving life-story of Władysław Szpilman, a Polish pianist and composer, portrayed by Adrien Brody , who loses his family during the Holocaust. Polanski paints a bleak, harrowing landscape – drawing from his own experiences of the war – and gives us a terrifying, yet human tale of hope and survival .

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Gandhi-biopic-movie

Richard Attenborough’s enduring masterpiece ‘Gandhi’ is still fresh in the hearts of the millions of Indians who watched it at the time when it was released. Made on a very large-scale and featuring actors from both Hollywood and Bollywood, this biographical drama feels fiercely authentic. The direction is quite traditional, and is exactly what a biopic of this scale needed; after all, it was about an ordinary man who did extraordinary things. Sir Ben Kingsley’s commanding presence as Mahatma Gandhi is one of the pioneering examples of biopic performances.

5. The Elephant Man

The-Elephant-Man-movie

David Lynch is a master of his craft, and is a tough director to watch. His body of work – original and largely cerebral – proves that beyond a shadow of doubt. But in ‘The Elephant Man’, the visionary director outdoes himself and shows us an intensely moving tale about a disfigured man trying to find his place in society. It is based on the life of Joseph Marrick, a man suffering from severe deformity. The film depicts his life in a Victorian freak show and his relation with Dr. Frederick Treves, who tends to him later, and provides him shelter. Technically brilliant, and at times quite bleak – considering the nature of the subject – the film is especially noted for the make-up done on John Hurt for him to look the part. It is historically quite significant because the Academy was criticized for failing to recognize the efforts gone in the make-up process, and only after this film was the category for Best Make-up introduced.

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4. Raging Bull

Raging-Bull

There are boxing movies and then there is ‘Raging Bull’ . This Martin Scorsese gem is the biographical account of the boxer Jake LaMotta, his rise to fame and his personal struggles. Scorcese pours his heart out in this picture, which is so perfectly crafted that it works both as a sports movie , and as a tragic drama. Robert De Niro gave an explosive and riveting performance as Jake LaMotta, rightfully taking home the Best Actor Oscar for this role. Shot entirely in Black and White , the movie came out in the same year as ‘The Elephant Man’, competing for the Best Picture award. Unfortunately, neither of the two won the award, which went to ‘Ordinary People’.

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3. Goodfellas

Goodfellas-Best-biopics

Hailed by many as the second best gangster movie ever, (first being ‘The Godfather’ ) ‘Goodfellas’ is a riveting crime drama based on a non fictional book Wiseguy, chronicling the rise and fall Henry Hill, a crime family associate. Plumbing the obscene depths of crime, ‘Goodfellas’ is an enduring tale about loyalty, betrayal and the corrupting nature of power. Martin Scorsese delivers perfection in this ageless film, which boasts of marvelous performances by Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and the swashbuckling Joe Pesci (who took home the Best Actor in a Supporting Role Oscar for his performance.)

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2. Schindler’s List

Schindler's List,

I won’t say much about ‘Schindler’s List’ here. Widely regarded as one of the best pictures in the history of cinema, ‘Schindler’s List’ is Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, and is truly a work of art. With the Second World war as the backdrop, with the Nazi terror achieving terrible heights, ‘Schindler’s List’ is a moving tale about one man’s change of heart, and how he becomes a messiah. But, oh, it still doesn’t occupy the top spot on this list. Wonder why? Well, scroll down to find out which film holds that honor.

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1. Lawrence of Arabia

Peter-OToole-Lawrence-of-Arabia

A film so grand and epic in scope that it commands multiple viewings. Really, get a Blu-ray and watch it on a big screen TV. Made in 1962, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ is David Lean’s magnum opus. It is a riveting saga about the life of British archaeologist T.E Lawrence and the role he played during the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Everything about this movie is beautiful in a terrific, haunting way, crafted by a film-maker at the peak of his powers. The melodious score by Maurice Jarre, the authentic, breathtaking cinematography by F.A Young (the desert never looked so mesmerizing ), and a powerful performance by the-then newcomer Peter O’ Toole , make this movie one of the greatest films of all time . Its influence can still be felt in modern biopics.

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The 10 Best Biographical Movies of All Time

what is a biography movie called

If you consider yourself a serious film fan, you must be familiar with at least a handful of essential undisputed masterpieces from every film genre, from horror to comedies and from Westerns to biographical films.

This list concerns the latter category. The majority of cinema aficionados are likely to already be familiar with most of these films and if you consider yourself one, you might already have seen most of them but perhaps you are still missing a few. If you have just recently discovered the art of cinema, and are now looking for your next cinematic obsession, these ten films serve as a great starting point for anyone wanting to discover the amazing world of biopics.

Most biographical films attempt to comprehensively tell the life story of a non-fictional or historically-based person, yet some films confine themselves to depicting only a certain period in that person’s life.

Most biopics try to do so as truthful to history as possible, however, some chose to deliberatively avoid telling the truthful story in order to dramatize their own story, thereby merely utilizing the biographical aspect of the story as an off-set for, perhaps, an even greater story. However, this doesn’t mean that the first way of making biopics is any better or worse than the second, it’s just different, and both methods have their virtues and can be used to tell a powerful story.

It should be mentioned that this list seeks to serve as a representation of the highest quality in the biopic genre, based on criteria that try to look past personal and popular taste, to encompass only the films that artistically defined the history of biographical films.

It is, of course, impossible to definitively select only ten films to represent the pinnacle of a genre. But it can at the very least and with complete certainty be said that these films helped to define the biopic genre, and still to this day serves as indispensable reference points for any serious filmmaker wanting to depict the life story of a non-fictional character.

10. The Elephant Man (1980, David Lynch)

Based on the life of the deformed Joseph Merrick

The-Elephant-Man

Depicting the life of the severely deformed John Merrick (his Americanized name in the film) as he struggles to live a peaceful life, David Lynch’s “The Elephant Man” proves to be a truly captivating and timeless study of the nature of prejudice as one critic rightfully has stated.

The film follows London Hospital surgeon Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) as he one day finds John Merrick (John Hurt) being terribly mistreated in a Victorian freak show at the outskirts of London. We quickly gather that he has been kept at the freak show against his will by his “owner”, the vicious Mr. Bytes (Freddie Jones), ever since his mother abandoned him as an infant.

When Treves realizes what is going on, he pays Mr. Bytes to let Merrick go to the hospital for exams but later decides to keep Merrick at the hospital against Bytes’ will. Before long, Merrick and Treves develop a close bond as Treves tries to cure Merrick and bring happiness to his life.

Throughout the film, Treves, and the audience, begins to see Merrick’s interior beauty which lies beneath his disfigured outer. This is just one of the reasons “The Elephant Man” can be viewed as David Lynch’s most humanist work to date as well as being a masterclass in emotional filmmaking.

Perhaps this is the reason why “The Elephant Man” also happens to be Lynch’s most commercial film as it brought back the cost of the film five times.

Yet, reviewing Lynch’s “The Elephant Man” without mentioning John Hurt’s superb performance as John Merrick would be completely ludicrous. The film stand or fall by his performance and fortunately, Hurt delivers what may be considered as a performance of a lifetime. Never for one second do you think there’s an actor under the many layers of make-up, and despite all his make-up, Hurt is convincingly able to make you feel his agony and frustrations.

Upon studying the historic source material on which “The Elephant Man” is based, you learn that several characters have been portrayed misleadingly in the film, Treves, for instance, acted much more selfishly than he appears to do in the film. Nevertheless, this shouldn’t be seen as a flaw. By dramatizing the life of Joseph Merrick, Lynch not only convincingly depicts the life of Joseph Merrick but manages to humanize him, ultimately creating a tour-de-force of pure emotional filmmaking on par with “Schindler’s List” and “The Grapes of Wrath”.

9. Ivan the Terrible, Parts I & II (1958, Sergei Eisenstein)

Based on the life of the Great Tsar Ivan IV of Russia

Ivan The Terrible

Often referred to as Eisenstein’s greatest film, “Ivan the Terrible” was originally supposed to be one three-part historical epic depicting the triumph of Ivan IV, commissioned by Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, who is said to have admired and identified himself with Ivan. Instead, after the release of Part I, Part II got banned by Stalin himself, who disliked the depiction of Ivan in Eisenstein’s film, and Part II wasn’t shown before 1958, 10 years after Eisenstein’s death. Unfortunately, when Part II got banned, the filming of Part III was stopped and the footage which had been filmed was destroyed.

In Part I, Ivan IV (Nikolay Cherkasov) crowns himself Tsar of Russia and begins to reclaim lost Russian territory as he wants to unite and protect Russia against foreign armies outside of the border. Soon after, Ivan marries, however, his marriage causes him to lose the friendship of his two best friends.

At the wedding, Ivan receives a ceremonial knife from the Khanate of Kazan. The knife implies that he should use it to commit suicide. This causes him to immediately proclaim that his kingdom is at war with Kazan. In Part II, he finds his wife dead from poisoning which causes him to get stricken with loneliness as he continues to pursue a unified Russia. That is when he realizes that in order to consolidate his power, he must establish a personal army. Meanwhile, his political rivals, the Russian boyars, learn that their only option is to assassinate Ivan.

In the majority of biographical films, the director and the scriptwriter (for “Ivan the Terrible”, this is the same person), usually tries to focus on one particular aspect of that person’s life, but sometimes the maker(s) of the biopic can write/direct themselves into that very film and as one critic argues, that is the case of “Ivan the Terrible”, “Depicting the growing isolation and ruthlessness of the ruler who united Russia in the 16th century, [Ivan the Terrible] can also be seen as an anguished self-portrait of Eisenstein’s own solitude at the end of his career.”

As Eisenstein moved from silent cinema to sound, he realized that he couldn’t, to the same extent, rely on his montage editing style – it was now a thing of the past – instead, he chose to enhance his storytelling by the use of breathtaking visuals – a skill he quickly mastered. By the time he made “Ivan the Terrible”, he had become an expert in visual and auditory storytelling and “Ivan the Terrible” is the proof of it.

In one of the most extraordinary scenes, not only in the film but in the history of cinema, Eisenstein opts to shoot the sequence in color, a vast contrast to the black and white used in the rest of the film. The color is made use of, to emphasize the transition from good to bad and it also appropriately serves as to indicate the climax of his epic three-hour masterpiece.

8. Napoleon (1927, Abel Gance)

Based on the life of military leader Napoléon Bonaparte

Napoleon 1927

Like Eisenstein’s “Ivan the Terrible”, Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” is also amongst one of the most aesthetically and visually beautiful films ever exposed to celluloid. But unlike “Ivan the Terrible”, “Napoleon” is perhaps one of the most groundbreaking masterpieces in the history of cinema.

In “Napoleon”, Abel Gance employed many innovative techniques to enhance his portrayal of Napoléon Bonaparte’s life, some for the first time. Some of the techniques he used were multiple-camera setups, a wide variety of hand-held camera shots, underwater camera, split screen and mosaic shots, just to mention a few. The reason for the awesomeness of “Napoleon” isn’t because he used these techniques but because of the way he was able to integrate these advanced techniques into his storytelling.

The film chronologically follows Napoleon’s life from early childhood when he attended military school to the early stage of his military career. During his adolescence, in one magnificent scene, he’s seen managing a snowball fight like a military campaign, afterward, we follow a short portion of his life in military school.

A decade later we find Napoleon (Albert Dieudonné) as a young army lieutenant during the French Revolution. He returns home to visit his family in Corsica but as politics have shifted against him, he suddenly finds himself in mortal danger. So he decides to flee, taking his family back to France where he will become officer of artillery in the Siege of Toulon.

Many biographical films portraying historical persons usually ends with the death of the protagonist, yet, “Napoleon” ends many years before that. The reason for this abrupt ending is that Gance originally planned for “Napoleon” to be the first of six films portraying Napoleon Bonaparte’s life and career, “a chronology of great triumph and defeat ending in Napoleon’s death in exile on the island of Saint Helena”. But as Gance spent the entire budget (and more) on the first film (“Napoleon”), he realized that the costs involved would make the full project impossible.

“Napoleon” is an undisputed masterpiece and the triptych climax of the film, which alternates widescreen panoramas with “complex multiple- image montages projected simultaneously on three screens”, is simply one of the most magnificent and awe-inspiring moments in all of cinema and serves as a perfect conclusion to a perfect film.

7. My Darling Clementine (1946, John Ford)

Based on the life of frontier marshal Wyatt Earp

My Darling Clementine (1946)

Few films and even fewer Westerns are as sweet and good-hearted as “My Darling Clementine”. It is one of the great films of the twentieth century, poetically depicting a couple of days in the life of Wyatt Earp along with his involvement in the gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. The famous story of the gunfight has often been depicted in movies but never like Ford did it in “My Darling Clementine”.

Usually, the showdown becomes the cornerstone of the film, leaving the rest of the film merely trivial, but in “Clementine”, Ford doesn’t emphasize the melodrama of the showdown, it is simply a result of what has happened earlier in the film, thus, Ford makes us realize that it is what lead up to the gunfight that is significant.

We follow the story through Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda), a good-hearted former town marshal who believes in rules and regulations. We first meet him as he and his brothers are driving cattle east to Kansas. In need of a break, Wyatt and his brothers leave their youngest brother James in charge of the herd. When they reach the town, much to their dismay, they find out that Tombstone has become a lawless town without a marshal, driven by anarchy. They quickly return to their camp but it’s too late, the cattle have been stolen and James murdered.

At this point, one might imagine that the story would turn into a run-of-the-mill revenge story, but it doesn’t. Wyatt seeks to avenge his brother but he isn’t blinded by hate. He wants revenge, but legally. Therefore, Wyatt takes on the much-needed job of town marshal in Tombstone and vows to stay there until James’ killers are found.

For most viewers, “My Darling Clementine” is the story of the gunfight at the OK Corral and while this isn’t untrue, “Clementine” is just as much a story about the end of the Old West and the arrival of civilization. That is why John Wayne wasn’t cast for Wyatt Earp because Wayne had become the embodiment of the Old West while Fonda could be seen as a representation of the New. Perhaps this is also why the film is set a year later than the actual event, to depict the clash between the New and the Old West.

The renowned director of the film, John Ford (1895-1973), is often quoted as saying, “My name’s John Ford. I make Westerns”, and it is not unlikely that he very well might have been the greatest director of Westerns, possibly the greatest of all American directors, and “My Darling Clementine” is the proof of that, as it has often been hailed as Ford’s best film by notable figures such as Roger Ebert. It is truly one of the greatest films ever made and an absolute must-see for any fan of Westerns or biographical films.

6. Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972, Werner Herzog)

Based on the life of the Basque Spanish conquistador Lope de Aguirre

herzhog-aguirre-the-wrath-of-god

“Aguirre, the Wrath of God”, Werner Herzog’s third film, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This extraordinary film that helped put the New German Cinema on the map, has been acclaimed by generations of audiences. It is a consummate study of the possessive nature of man, and a devastating character study of the eponymous Lope de Aguirre. The film possesses a haunting quality which is always apparent but impossible to describe, leaving most viewers speechless, and by utilizing guerrilla filmmaking techniques, Herzog creates a raw, yet awe-inspiring masterpiece.

Werner Herzog’s “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” is likely the greatest cinematic expressions of insanity and an experience every film fan deserves to have at least once. It tells the story of the real-life Spanish soldier Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repullés), who in 1560, along with his conquistadors, in search of the fabled legendary city of gold, El Dorado, lead more than one hundred Indian slaves through the Amazon Jungle.

The opening shot of “Aguirre” conveys a feeling of timelessness and mystique as we see the hundreds of Indian slaves, marching down the steep Andes mountains, while clouds of mist obscure our view. As we witness this striking image through Herzog’s masterful lens, we forget that “Aguirre” was made in 1972.

Herzog’s successfully manages to re-create Lope de Aguirre’s search for El Dorado in 1560 – it feels as if we’re witnessing the legend unfold for the very first time. Later in the film, on New Year’s Eve, the soldiers have reached the end of their supplies and without more information, finding El Dorado seems near impossible.

Pizarro orders a small group of men to scout the area farther up-river. It is led by Don Pedro de Ursua, with Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) as his second in command, they’re told to raft down the river to seek food and directions to El Dorado. But before long, Aguirre leads a mutiny which eventually results in the loss of his sanity and the death of everyone else.

At the center of this dreamlike masterpiece, along with Herzog’s idiosyncratic direction, is Klaus Kinski’s tour-de-force portrayal of insanity itself, Lope de Aguirre. His obsession with finding El Dorado is present in every word he utters and by the end of the film, we find that Kinski has become the embodiment of pure madness.

After more than 40 years, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” continues to repeatedly top critics’ “greatest films” lists and amaze its audience with its visionary audacity, only equaled in Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” and Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. A true masterpiece of world cinema that will continue to be relevant as long as the medium exists.

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Home » Writing » Autobiography vs. Biography vs. Memoir

what is a biography movie called

What is a Biography?

A biography, also called a bio, is a non-fiction piece of work giving an objective account of a person’s life. The main difference between a biography vs. an autobiography is that the author of a biography is not the subject. A biography could be someone still living today, or it could be the subject of a person who lived years ago.

Biographies include details of key events that shaped the subject’s life, and information about their birthplace, education, work, and relationships. Biographers use a number of research sources, including interviews, letters, diaries, photographs, essays, reference books, and newspapers. While a biography is usually in the written form, it can be produced in other formats such as music composition or film.

If the target person of the biography is not alive, then the storytelling requires an immense amount of research. Interviews might be required to collect information from historical experts, people who knew the person (e.g., friends and family), or reading other older accounts from other people who wrote about the person in previous years. In biographies where the person is still alive, the writer can conduct several interviews with the target person to gain insight on their life.

The goal of a biography is to take the reader through the life story of the person, including their childhood into adolescence and teenage years, and then their early adult life into the rest of their years. The biography tells a story of how the person learned life’s lessons and the ways the person navigated the world. It should give the reader a clear picture of the person’s personality, traits, and their interaction in the world.

Biographies can also be focused on groups of people and not just one person. For example, a biography can be a historical account of a group of people from hundreds of years ago. This group could have the main person who was a part of the group, and the author writes about the group to tell a story of how they shaped the world.

Fictional biographies mix some true historical accounts with events to help improve the story. Think of fictional biographies as movies that display a warning that the story is made of real characters, but some events are fictional to add to the storyline and entertainment value. A lot of research still goes into a fictional biography, but the author has more room to create a storyline instead of sticking to factual events.

Examples of famous biographies include:

  • His Excellency: George Washington  by Joseph J. Ellis
  • Einstein: The Life and Times  by Ronald William Clark
  • Princess Diana – A Biography of The Princess of Wales  by Drew L. Crichton

Include photos in your autobiography

What is an Autobiography?

An autobiography is the story of a person’s life written by that person. Because the author is also the main character of the story, autobiographies are written in the first person. Usually, an autobiography is written by the person who is the subject of the book, but sometimes the autobiography is written by another person. Because an autobiography is usually a life story for the author, the theme can be anything from religious to a personal account to pass on to children.

The purpose of an autobiography is to portray the life experiences and achievements of the author. Therefore, most autobiographies are typically written later in the subject’s life. It’s written from the point of view of the author, so it typically uses first person accounts to describe the story.

An autobiography often begins during early childhood and chronologically details key events throughout the author’s life. Autobiographies usually include information about where a person was born and brought up, their education, career, life experiences, the challenges they faced, and their key achievements.

On rare occasions, an autobiography is created from a person’s diary or memoirs. When diaries are used, the author must organize them to create a chronological and cohesive story. The story might have flashbacks or flashforwards to describe a specific event, but the main storyline should follow chronological order from the author’s early life to their current events.

One of the main differences between an autobiography vs. a biography is that autobiographies tend to be more subjective. That’s because they are written by the subject, and present the facts based on their own memories of a specific situation, which can be biased. The story covers the author’s opinions on specific subjects and provides an account of their feelings as they navigate certain situations. These stories are also very personal because it’s a personal account of the author’s life rather than a biography where a third party writes about a specific person.

Examples of famous autobiographies include:

  • The Story of My Life  by Helen Keller
  • The Diary of a Young Girl  by Anne Frank
  • Losing My Virginity  by Richard Branson

A collection of letters and postcards

What is a Memoir?

Memoir comes from the French word  mémoire , meaning memory or reminiscence. Similar to an autobiography, a memoir is the story of a person’s life written by that person. These life stories are often from diary entries either from a first-person account or from a close family member or friend with access to personal diaries.

The difference between a memoir vs. an autobiography is that a memoir focuses on reflection and establishing an emotional connection, rather than simply presenting the facts about their life. The author uses their personal knowledge to tell an intimate and emotional story about the private or public happenings in their life. The author could be the person in the story, or it can be written by a close family member or friend who knew the subject person intimately. The topic is intentionally focused and does not include biographical or chronological aspects of the author’s life unless they are meaningful and relevant to the story.

Memoirs come in several types, all of which are written as an emotional account of the target person. They usually tell a story of a person who went through great struggles or faced challenges in a unique way. They can also cover confessionals where the memoir tells the story of the author’s account that contradicts another’s account.

This genre of writing is often stories covering famous people’s lives, such as celebrities. In many memoir projects, the celebrity or person of interest needs help with organization, writing the story, and fleshing out ideas from the person’s diaries. It might take several interviews before the story can be fully outlined and written, so it’s not uncommon for a memoir project to last several months.

Memoirs do not usually require as much research as biographies and autobiographies, because you have the personal accounts in diary entries and documents with the person’s thoughts. It might require several interviews, however, before the diary entries can be organized to give an accurate account on the person’s thoughts and emotions. The story does not necessarily need to be in chronological order compared to an autobiography, but it might be to tell a better story.

Examples of famous memoirs include:

  • Angela’s Ashes  by Frank McCourt
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  by Maya Angelou
  • Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S.  Grant by Ulysses S. Grant

Autobiography vs. Biography vs. Memoir Comparison Chart

An account of a person’s lifeAn account of one’s own lifeA personal account of a specific time or experience
Written in the third personWritten in the first personWritten in the first person
ObjectiveSubjectiveSubjective
Presents information collected from the subject, their acquaintances, or from other sourcesPresents facts as they were experienced by the personPresents facts as they were experienced by the person
Written to inform and establish a contextWritten to inform and explain the motivation and thoughts behind actions and decisionsWritten to reflect on and explore the emotion of an experience
Has restricted access to the subject’s thoughts and feelingsOffers access to personal thoughts and feelingsOffers access to personal thoughts, feelings, reactions, and reflections
Can be written anytimeUsually written later in lifeCan be written anytime

Check out some of our blogs to learn more about memoirs:

  • What is a memoir?
  • 5 tips for writing a memoir
  • Your memoir is your legacy

Ready to get started on your own memoir, autobiography, or biography? Download our free desktop book-making software, BookWright .

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Piece by Piece

Piece by Piece (2024)

A vibrant journey through the life of cultural icon Pharrell Williams, told through the lens of LEGO® animation. A vibrant journey through the life of cultural icon Pharrell Williams, told through the lens of LEGO® animation. A vibrant journey through the life of cultural icon Pharrell Williams, told through the lens of LEGO® animation.

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This New Rom-Com Is The Top Movie On Netflix Right Now

Senior Reporter, HuffPost Life

“A Family Affair” is currently the most popular movie on Netflix , according to the platform’s public ranking system.

Released on June 28, this new rom-com stars Nicole Kidman as a widowed mother who engages in a secret relationship with a much-younger Hollywood actor (played by Zac Efron) ― who also happens to be her adult daughter’s boss. Joey King and Kathy Bates also appear in the film.

“A Family Affair” has received mixed reviews from critics ― standing in contrast to the recent Amazon Prime Video age-gap rom-com, “The Idea of You,” which was much better received.

Read on for more trending movies of the moment across streaming services including Hulu, Max, Apple TV+ and AMC+. And if you want to stay informed about all things streaming, subscribe to the Streamline newsletter.

what is a biography movie called

“Problemista”

“Problemista” is the second most popular movie on Max at the moment. The surrealist comedy premiered in theaters in March to mostly positive reviews.

Written, directed, and co-produced by Julio Torres, the film also stars Tilda Swinton, RZA, Greta Lee and Isabella Rossellini.

“Fancy Dance”

The top movie on Apple TV+ right now is “Fancy Dance,” which joined the streaming service on June 28 following a limited theatrical release and premiere at Sundance Film Festival in 2023.

A win for Indigenous representation in film, “Fancy Dance” was directed by Erica Tremblay and stars Lily Gladstone. Reviewers have praised its depiction of life on a reservation.

“Red Right Hand”

The most popular movie on Hulu at the moment is “Red Right Hand” ― an action thriller starring Orlando Bloom and Andie MacDowell.

Bloom plays a former criminal in a small Appalachian town who is forced to confront his past and return to violence to protect his family. Although the film received mixed reviews from critics upon its release in February, “Red Right Hand” seems to be reaching a wider audience on the streaming platform.

“The Devil’s Bath”

The period drama “The Devil’s Bath” is currently trending on AMC+. A co-production from Austria and Germany, the film premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February.

“The Devil’s Bath” follows a young newlywed in 18th century Austria as she struggles with depression and a sense of helplessness in her circumstances.

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How history fares in kevin costner’s new western, horizon: an american saga–chapter 1 ..

I saw Kevin Costner’s Horizon: An American Saga–Chapter 1 at a movie theater that puts together a “preshow” of clips and reels related to the feature film content. Thursday night, this show included previews of 1962’s How the West Was Won , a John Ford film starring Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Gregory Peck, and Henry Fonda. This was followed by Westward the Women , a 1951 film with the tagline “Never underestimate the will of a woman when there is a wedding ring in sight.” And then there was 1972’s Buck and the Preacher , the story of a wagon master and a con man who help Black migrants survive their journey to the West, starring Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Ruby Dee, and directed by Poitier.

Initially, I thought these choices made for the perfect setup for Horizon . Here were three “classic” Westerns, each with a different take on the history of the American West. One is an epic of interlocking narratives spanning 50 years and starring a host of Hollywood icons. The second is a film that—despite the sexism of its tagline—highlights the diverse backgrounds and experiences of women in the West. And the third is a movie that makes it clear that not all American pioneers were white.

As I settled in for Costner’s three-hour passion project , I hoped it would prove a compelling successor to these films, and to his own Dances With Wolves (1990) and Open Range (2003). And that Horizon would have rich and complex characters and a storyline that would change many viewers’ ideas of what a “Western” could be. That the Indigenous men and women in the movie would leap off the screen, fully realized people with complicated emotions and motives. And that the film would pass journalist David Treuer’s slightly adapted version of the famous Bechdel test , with “at least two Native characters who talk to each other about something other than white people, or what it means to be Indian, or what the government has done to us.”

The film begins with a white surveyor and his son laying out stakes along a riverbank, in the shadow of towering red cliffs, while another man waves from a tent. We are informed that this place is the San Pedro Valley, in 1859. At that time, this valley was the center of Apachería, a vast region of mountains, river valleys, canyons, and high desert that had been the homeland of many Apache bands for more than eight centuries. In the 16 th century, Spanish and then Mexican colonists claimed the area, and in 1821, Mexico declared its independence and the valley became part of the territory of Nuevo México. In 1854, the United States brought it into the Union as part of the Gadsden Purchase. By the late 1850s, U.S. surveyors had not yet parceled out these lands, and Mexican land grant claimants had abandoned the area. To the Apaches who lived there, these paper boundaries did not matter. In 1859, this surveyor and his son would have been trespassers on both Native and federal land.

Two Apache boys surveil them while they work, and they are soon joined by a war party. Soon, Americans are dead. A wandering Catholic missionary finds their bodies and buries them. The crosses that mark their graves appear during the film multiple times, indicating the passage of time and reminding the viewer that here we are, once again, in the nascent town of Horizon .

These initial scenes give us a sense of how important family—and fathers and sons in particular—will be to Horizon ’s narrative. Over the course of the film, we see father-son relationships in an Apache camp, a burning house under attack, and a Montana cabin. These characters are often separated, and many of them die, as conflicts over Western lands take an enormous toll on families in multiple communities. The opening segment of Horizon also indicates how violent the interactions between Apache peoples and American settler colonists will be.

A few years after that first survey, another group of white migrants has arrived in the San Pedro Valley. It is unclear where they have come from and why, but they have erected a tent city with a large dance hall at its center. This is the first fully populated iteration of the town of Horizon.

As the settlers eat, drink, and dance one evening, an Apache war party approaches in the dark. They attack the dance and kill dozens of men, women, and children, setting fire to the entire town. Several warriors move on to a house that sits on a hill, the home of the Kittredge family. As that structure burns, only Frances Kittredge (Sienna Miller) and her daughter Elizabeth (Georgia MacPhail) survive. The next morning, a U.S. Army detachment arrives. They help the survivors bury the dead and then take in the settlers who want protection.

This fictional act of violence is accurate in terms of its strategy (Apache peoples often attacked at night and used fire to their advantage), but not in terms of scope or severity. By this time, Chiricahua Apaches had been at war with American civilians and soldiers for two years. In the summer and fall of 1861, to give an example, Chiricahuas attacked a party of miners from Tubac who were fleeing to the safety of federal forts along the Rio Grande, and the mining town of Piños Altos. They took large herds of horses from these Americans but killed only five or six people. This was typical of Indigenous fighting styles in the region; Chiricahuas only attacked when they had a significant advantage of numbers and favored quick strikes rather than massed charges.

In the film, Apache warriors are determined to defend their territory against white interlopers, although it is U.S. Army officers (played by an expressionless Sam Worthington and a morose Danny Huston) who articulate the Apaches’ motivations most clearly to the audience. Here, Costner is again walking the path he trod in Dances With Wolves . In that film, viewers see Indigenous people mostly through the eyes and the diary writing of a white U.S. soldier who has fled the Eastern battlefields of the Civil War to see the frontier “before it’s gone.”

Costner has stated in several interviews that he wanted to depict white migration from an Indigenous point of view in Horizon and give the film’s Native characters individuality and dignity. Instead, we see small bands of undifferentiated Indigenous peoples. They are identified as Apaches, but from which bands? Why had they split into peace and war factions? Who is the elder who speaks for peace in the wake of the attack on Horizon? We do not have any answers to these questions, because Costner does not give his Indigenous characters (or any of his characters, really) backstories. We only see them as they confront white migration during the American Civil War and fight among themselves in response.

The reality is that in the 1850s and 1860s, the American West—from the northern Rockies to the southwestern deserts—was dominated by Indigenous peoples who had long been in contact with white people. In both areas, Indigenous peoples had faced large American migrant streams moving through their territories as part of the Mormon migration to Utah (1847), the California gold rush (1849), and the Colorado gold rush (1858–59).

Some bands of “fighting men” did break off from larger tribal nations during this period, but others had always exercised autonomy in their trade and warfare relationships. And during the 1860s, many Indigenous peoples formed alliances with one another. There was a major surge in violent encounters between American civilians and soldiers and Apache, Navajo, Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Lakota, Dakota, and Blackfoot peoples, as the latter asserted their sovereignty.

During this period, men like Geronimo, Cochise, and Victorio (Chiricahua Apache), Crazy Horse (Oglala Lakota), and Sitting Bull (Hunkpapa Lakota) emerged as powerful diplomats and war leaders in their communities. In January 1863, after U.S. troops murdered the legendary chief Mangas Coloradas near a copper mining camp in New Mexico Territory, Chiricahua leaders initiated a war with the U.S. government that would last until the 1880s. Indigenous acts of resistance in this moment also put Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull on the road to the 1876 Battle of Greasy Grass (Little Bighorn).

This history of encounter and resistance, in other words, was geographically expansive and central to what happened in the West in the middle of the 19 th century. But Indigenous peoples are almost completely absent from the Montana, Wyoming, and Santa Fe Trail narratives of the movie. Horizon takes place in many locations, but Indigenous people seem only to exist in the San Pedro Valley, and in small numbers. In interviews , Costner has repeated that the dominant emotion he wants to show in the Apache engagement with Americans is befuddlement.

“They are confused by the giant population that continues to roll toward them,” he told David Remnick of the New Yorker , “and they think of it as unbelievable.”

But at the time this movie is set, Indigenous peoples across the West already understood the power of the United States, and its massive population. In the wake of Lewis and Clark’s expedition in the first decade of the 19 th century, tribes regularly sent delegations to D.C., who reported back on the sights they had seen in America’s towns and cities. They had trade networks that extended across the continent, and they shared information with their kin and allies. The spectacle of confusion and shock may suit Costner better, but that’s just not how it was.

Hollywood has never been particularly good at depicting Native Americans in film. In the first Westerns of the 1940s and 1950s (like those in the preshow previews at my theater), they were the enemies who rode across beautiful landscapes intent on killing and sexually assaulting white pioneers. The revisionist Westerns that followed either erased Indigenous peoples completely (instead slotting in banks and corrupt law enforcement as the big bads) or refigured them as noble, stoic emblems of suffering. As in Dances With Wolves , Costner does cast Indigenous actors in Horizon , and they speak Native languages. They are agents of change. But the dominant focus is still on white protagonists and their emotional and physical journeys, even when they share scenes with often unnamed Indigenous, Mexican, and Chinese Westerners. For Costner, the “we” of Horizon is always white. “We threw their lives into chaos,” he tells Remnick when describing the Apache narrative in the film.

Yes, Costner, like most other writers and directors of Westerns, makes mainstream films for white men. I would love to see a Western set in the 19 th century, written and directed by Sterlin Harjo, who created the critically acclaimed series Reservation Dogs (with Māori New Zealander Taika Waititi) for FX. A film focused on Indigenous Westerners who have emotionally resonant relationships with friends and family, and complex motivations. A film with a sense of play, where the intimate details of everyday life are sometimes tragic, sometimes delightful. What a joy it would be to watch a vivid and compelling depiction of the real West, and the people who brought it into being.

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Yes … Who? Here Are the Chefs Who Appear in ‘The Bear.’

Last season, the FX series featured a parade of Hollywood celebrities. In the new one, it’s showing off its food-world credibility with a series of cameos from star chefs.

Two men in chef whites and aprons look at raw chickens

By Esther Zuckerman

This article includes spoilers from Season 3 of “The Bear.”

Three seasons in, it is clear “The Bear” knows how to book a guest star.

Last season, this FX series about a chef — named Carmen Berzatto, but Carmy to nearly everyone — who transforms his family’s Italian beef sandwich shop into a fine-dining restaurant called the Bear, featured a parade of Hollywood celebrities including Jamie Lee Curtis and Olivia Colman. In the new season, currently streaming on Hulu, “The Bear” is showing off its food-world bona fides with a series of cameos from star chefs.

In the premiere episode, titled “Tomorrow,” Jeremy Allen White’s Carmy reflects on his past, which leads to a series of flashbacks that take him to the kitchens of renowned establishments like Noma in Copenhagen and Daniel in Manhattan. Then, as a bookend, the season finale features a host of dining luminaries attending a closing dinner for Ever, a restaurant run in the show by Colman’s character, Andrea Terry. Colman is one of many returning guest stars (Curtis is another). Famous newcomers to “The Bear” include John Cena and Josh Hartnett, as well as the “Billions” co-creator and noted restaurant lover Brian Koppelman in an acting role.

That finale, titled “Forever,” blends fiction and reality in a way now familiar to “Bear” fans. That’s because Ever is a real restaurant in Chicago that is “open for business and thriving,” Curtis Duffy, one of the owners, said in a statement. Duffy also said he was “honored to host so many of my peers from across the nation.” And, in addition to Ever, the series continues to feature various Chicago spots, including the Croatian cafe Doma and the sausage purveyor Jim’s Original.

But it’s the chefs who steal the spotlight. Here’s who enters Carmy’s orbit this year.

Daniel Boulud

In the flashback-heavy season premiere, Carmy, while standing outside O’Hare International Airport, tells his sister, Natalie ( Abby Elliott ), that “New York’s got everything.” The next thing we know, he’s at 65th Street and Park Avenue entering Daniel, the elegant domain of Daniel Boulud. Boulud himself soon appears onscreen, training Carmy directly. One of the dishes we see Boulud showing Carmy how to prepare is his famous sea bass wrapped in thin strips of potato, which he developed at Le Cirque. A 1989 article in The New York Times explained that “the dish works brilliantly for several reasons. The crunchiness of the ultrathin potatoes contrasts with the delicate bass but does not bully it; the heavily reduced, almost pungent, red-wine sauce is counterbalanced beautifully by the sweet leeks.”

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‘MaXXXine’ is Ti West’s Hollywood horror story. The real-life locations are even scarier

A man stands on the steps in front of a spooky gothic house at night.

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Horror filmmaker Ti West steps out of the blackness behind the Bates Motel hours after the last tourist tram has made it to safety. Behind him looms the “Psycho” house where Mrs. Bates lurked in the window monitoring the movements of Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane — a shot West references in his 2022 slasher “X,” set in 1979, about an elderly farm wife named Pearl who becomes murderously inflamed by a troupe of adult actors shooting a skin flick in her barn. Pearl, an aspiring performer herself, got her own movie the following year in West’s eponymous prequel that rewinds to 1918, when the psychotic failed starlet fed her rival to an alligator named Theda Bara.

Now, West is releasing the third chiller in the series, “MaXXXine,” which finds Maxine Minx, the sole survivor of the first film’s “Texas porn star massacre,” hellbent on becoming a legitimate movie star in 1980s Los Angeles. After six years of sex work, Maxine, played ferociously by Mia Goth, has finally landed her first mainstream role in a sequel called “The Puritan 2.” But her past is still in pursuit, with one chase scene sending Maxine fleeing for her life across the Universal Studios backlot, through the Old West facades to the New York stoops, eventually scampering up the jagged “Psycho” stairs right behind him.

“It’s a weird thing to point a camera at if you’re not making ‘Psycho,’” says West, 43, as he heads farther into the darkness, lighted only by a handful of eerie red lanterns. He calls his trilogy “movie-flavored movies” — artifice and dreams are the top notes. “X” is about scrappy strivers trying to break into the business; “Pearl,” about the dangers of buying into the fantasies onscreen. “MaXXXine,” the highest-profile film of West’s career, wrestles with accepting that Hollywood isn’t quite what one hopes.

A confident woman strides out of an audition.

“He was ready to deal with this kind of scale, and it’s definitely something he was hungry for,” Goth says, chiming in over Zoom. In addition to playing multiple roles across this mini-franchise, Goth co-wrote “Pearl” and executive-produced the last two films. “We just kind of manifested it,” she continues, “built this entire trilogy into existence. And it’s been incredible to see it unfold.”

West, however, tends to be scrupulously anti-hype. “It is not lost on me that there is a meta thing happening with these movies and me and Mia, and that’s gratifying and strange,” he says. “And it’s also something that we’ve never taken any time to stop and talk about. We were too busy making movies.”

While the marketing team at A24 is all in on “MaXXXine” — “I’ve never had a billboard before,” the director beams — West has been a legitimate filmmaker for well over a decade. His resume of well-regarded independent movies includes the 2016 cowboy vengeance drama “In a Valley of Violence” with Ethan Hawke and John Travolta, plus a string of festival hits like 2009’s “The House of the Devil,” which disposed of a pre-celeb Greta Gerwig early on in a marvelously nasty Hitchcock-esque shock.

Unafraid, a man sits on the front steps of an iconic movie murder house.

Still, he’s come a long way since his first trip to the Bates Motel. When he was in middle school, he and his family vacationed at Universal Studios Florida, which had just wrapped “Psycho IV” on its own copy of the set. As a promotional tie-in, the park launched an attraction that taught fans the camera tricks behind the famous shower scene. One volunteer got to brandish a rubber knife and learn how to stab a Marion Crane scream-a-like. West wasn’t chosen, but he went back home with a pair of Bates Motel souvenir slippers and an appreciation for film craft.

“Now that’s all gone, and it’s a Shrek ride or something,” he shrugs. “No offense to Shrek.”

Austin Butler in the movie “The Bikeriders”; Lily (Sasha Lane) and Tyler (Glen Powell) in “Twisters”; Colman Domingo in “Sing Sing.”

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May 17, 2024

West spent the rest of his youth in Wilmington, Del., renting five VHS tapes for $5 on Fridays at his local video store. One weekend, he rented “Habit,” a grungy but brilliant microbudget vampire flick made by filmmaker Larry Fessenden. Shortly after, he moved to New York and took a film class taught by director Kelly Reichardt , who’d played a cameo in the film. Reichardt introduced the two and Fessenden became West’s mentor, eventually producing his debut feature, “The Roost,” shot exactly 20 years ago with more moxie than money.

“Apparently, now we’re mentioned on the tour,” West adds of his upgraded circumstances, in mild disbelief. “I feel a little bit like I’ve made it.” Filming on the lot took Herculean coordination. Some theme-park trams were rerouted, others couldn’t be. Shots were hastily filmed in the gaps between gawkers. Once, the timing went awry and a few dozen tourists interrupted a take. Cameras out, the visitors snapped away at Goth and Elizabeth Debicki like they were tigers in a zoo.

A man and his black dog walk in a Los Angeles cemetery.

If West is now a Hollywood animal himself, the only affectation he’s adopted is a tiny 12-pound black dog named Molly who accompanies him everywhere. During this night stroll, she’s quietly tucked into a sling around his hips. On set, Molly had her own chair that read “Executive Paw-ducer.” The next morning, as our personal tour of “MaXXXine’s” locations continues, she’s wearing an A24-branded leash and trying to sneak sips of West’s iced oat-milk latte.

Today, he and Molly and a photographer are piled into an SUV that stops at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the location where two of the film’s detectives, played by Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale, make a grisly discovery. (Molly insists on relieving herself in a spot without any graves — she’s a professional.) The fictional corpses planted here by the production were mutilated in the manner of Richard Ramirez, popularly known as the Night Stalker, the real-life L.A. serial killer who murdered at least 13 people during the ’80s. That paranoia is the film’s terrifying backdrop, just as the Spanish flu pandemic leaves scars on “Pearl.”

But this isn’t a Night Stalker story — there’s already half a dozen of those. “MaXXXine,” like West’s “The House of the Devil” before it, vibrates with the tension of Reagan-era Satanic panic, a moment of media-hyped conspiracy that manages to feel both old-fashioned and contemporary.

“When I was growing up, you could get arrested for skateboarding, and now it’s going to be in the Olympics,” West says. But grandstanding moralists stay the same, even if A24 had to hire faux protesters to wave placards that read, “Honor God, End Smut.”

A woman sits in her car outside a video store in Hollywood.

West puts a lot of emphasis on making the past look real, not cartoonish. No ridiculous zebra prints, no suburban mall pastels. Authenticity is baked into everything, from the camera techniques and practical effects to Maxine’s fried split ends.

The “MaXXXine” review embargo has just broken as our car arrives at Hollywood Boulevard and Wilcox Avenue, but West barely glances at his phone. “It’ll be the appropriate mixture of ‘best movie of the three,’ ‘worst movie ever,’” he says calmly. So far, the critics like it, but West seems more fulfilled by the act of making, promoting and releasing three films in four years with barely a day off. During that same time span, he also met his fiancée, DJ Alison Wonderland, and welcomed his first child, who was born two weeks after the trilogy wrapped. (Wonderland, nine months pregnant at the time, cameos in the film spinning records at a nightclub.)

“Weirdly enough, my first place in Los Angeles was also on Hollywood Boulevard,” West says, crossing the street toward Maxine’s second-story dump, which usually houses overstock from the Hollywood Suit Outlet next door.

He moved to L.A. in 2005 after wrapping “The Roost,” figuring the natural progression of things was to head west and write another script. Relocation was daunting. “There’s no real sense of where you’re supposed to live and who to send the script to,” he laughs. His first spot was quieter — “a little garden apartment, very L.A.” — but it amused him to get mail addressed to Ti West, Hollywood Blvd.

A man and his dog hang out on Hollywood Blvd.

Nearly two decades later, he’s lived and worked here for so long that he pokes fun at being that naive kid who hoped he’d be instantly handed the keys to the city. In truth, his ascent has been a grind. West kept at it, as did colleagues Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski and the Duplass Brothers, who also premiered films alongside “The Roost” at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, the year that mumblecore became a movement.

They were all “making very tiny movies,” West remembers. “I think that’s where the chip on your shoulder comes from: Why doesn’t someone just realize all the work I’ve been putting in? Why don’t they know that I’m up 19 hours a day, seven days a week, working on this thing?” He describes those lean, exhausting years like someone who’s scaled his share of mountains.

“But I came of age in the ’90s, when making independent movies was cool,” he continues. “Are the 25-year-olds sleeping on floors doing that now? Or do they want to be making influencer content? Probably I would have wanted to do that too because if it goes viral, you just jump ahead. If you’re trying to change your life, that’s a quicker path.”

A woman takes notes from a director on a western set.

West’s first climb when he arrived in town was a hike up to the Hollywood sign before more fences and alarms were erected around it. “I had to do it,” he recalls. “I just thought, ‘Are they really going to arrest me?’” He hesitates, then chuckles. “Maybe the answer’s yes.” But he got away with it and was permitted to legally return while scouting for “MaXXXine” as he wanted to stage a showdown under the letters. For practical reasons, he was forced to rebuild the sign nearly to scale in Santa Clarita. Even so, the shoot was so tight on time and money that he had just eight hours to film at the duplicate site, including a lunch break and the commute up and down the hill.

“PTSD,” West mutters, flashing back to the hectic pace as he continues down Hollywood Boulevard and turns into the alleyway where Maxine gets menaced by a Buster Keaton clone. Every scene shot on the busy street — and there are a lot of them — had to be completed in four days, with the vintage store fronts mostly erected the morning-of to make sure the sets weren’t destroyed. When the film’s phony video shop went up, West’s phone buzzed with texts from friends who’d happened to drive by. A few asked if he was behind the fake signage; others mistakenly celebrated it as real.

A man and his dog walk in Hollywood.

“To turn this all into an X-rated area was a very big project, lots of neon,” West says. As he gestures toward the marquees of the Déjà Vu gentlemen’s club and the Vine Theatre (both seen in “MaXXXXine”), a bus pulls up and unloads 50 or so Scientologists in matching navy skirts and trousers who politely ignore his descriptions of sin as they head into the L. Ron Hubbard Life Exhibition. West is also unfazed. “We had to be out here in the chaos of it all. It shows in the movie.”

Some days, he got lucky. West wanted an insert shot of Theda Bara’s star on the Walk of Fame as a nod to Pearl’s pet gator, and, magically, it was just steps from the Déjà Vu. Kevin Bacon, playing one of “MaXXXine’s” heavies, has his own star across the intersection, while Giancarlo Esposito, cast in a memorable role as Maxine’s agent, is embedded three streets to the east.

But this is also the block where an angry driver smashed through the barricades and crashed into a parked car in the middle of filming. The cops who were hired to guard the set had to abandon their posts in pursuit. West and the cast and crew held their positions and finished the scene.

“From making a movie here, I realize it’s difficult to get permits because the neighborhoods just don’t want movies shooting,” West says. “But it’s Hollywood. If there’s ever a reason to be in traffic, it should be because Will Smith is flipping a car in the middle of the street. Every other reason to be stuck in traffic sucks.”

West hopes to stage his next movie in a more controlled environment. He’s 40 pages into that script — “It will not be a trilogy, I assure you of that” — and already imagining the comforts of constructing a set that’s “meticulous and complicated.” He’s challenging himself to surprise audiences and top all three Maxine films combined. “That’s the goal: You put in the reps and you keep getting better.”

A glamorous woman walks the red carpet at her movie's premiere.

But for now, he’s focused on getting people to root for the trials and tribulations of his marvelously wicked Maxine Minx. Right after the car crash, West and Goth hustled to film a scene of Maxine strutting the red carpet at Mann’s Chinese.

Eventually, “MaXXXine” itself will debut there too: an ’80s-chic world premiere with Angelyne parked outside in her pink Corvette and attendees dressed like Gordon Gekko and Sunset Strip metal heads. West wears a white suit jacket — “very ‘Miami Vice,’” he says — while his toddler sports “Risky Business”-style sunglasses and charms paparazzi by giving them a let’s-do-lunch-babe finger point.

That was a couple days ago and West is back with us at the Chinese’s autographed concrete, still finding his footing in the surreality of it all. He nods approvingly that the town hasn’t swapped out its shoe prints of classic stars for, well, Shrek.

“The movies aren’t going anywhere, because telling stories is how people communicate,” he says. Tenacious creatives like Maxine and Pearl and yes, even he and Goth, are now part of Hollywood lore. West exhales. “Maybe someday, someone will say, ‘I really like those old movies — like ‘MaXXXine.’”

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‘deadpool 3’ was dead in the water. then hugh jackman called ryan reynolds and brought it back to life.

"Ryan and I were right at the edge of saying to Kevin [Feige], 'You know what? Maybe now is not the right moment because we’re not coming up with a story.' And that is the moment when Ryan’s phone rang," said director Shawn Levy.

By Christy Piña

Christy Piña

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Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool/Wade Wilson and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine/Logan in Shawn Levy's 'Deadpool & Wolverine.'

Ryan Reynolds felt like he had one more Deadpool movie in him, but finding the right story took years — and help from Hugh Jackman and director Shawn Levy.

One day while on the set of The Adam Project after pitching several ideas to Marvel for Deadpool 3 , Reynolds told Levy that he wanted to do another film in the franchise if he could work with the director on the sequel.

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Reynolds added, “We knew we wanted to work together as much as humanly possible until we crawl into a box and turn into skeletons, but I wasn’t totally certain it would be in that Marvel space because it isn’t original IP. … It would technically be a sequel, and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with it.”

The frequent collaborators spent a few months working with Deadpool and Deadpool 2 screenwriting team Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, along with scribe Zeb Wells, trying to come up with story ideas and having weekly meetings with Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige. However, they struggled to find a story that felt original and not derivative of the previous installments.

“Ryan and I were right at the edge of saying to Kevin, ‘You know what? Maybe now is not the right moment because we’re not coming up with a story,'” Levy revealed. “And that is the moment when Ryan’s phone rang, and it was Hugh calling from his car.”

On Aug. 15, 2022, Jackman was on a weeklong break from his two-year run in The Music Man on Broadway when he was sitting on a beach thinking about what he wanted to do next, and he recalled he immediately thought: “ Deadpool-Wolverine . I want to do that movie.”

Despite being mildly concerned over how he could continue the story of Wolverine after Logan tied up his story nicely, Jackman called Reynolds right away and told him he wanted to do the film. Reynolds recounted thinking he couldn’t believe the timing because they were about to have a meeting with Feige and weren’t sure what they were going to do.

Jackman explained that he knew Deadpool would allow him to explore a different side of Wolverine than he had previously, noting that everything felt new and fresh to him in the possible storylines they were looking into.

“And I’d be sharing it with Ryan and Shawn, who are two of my best friends,” the Les Misérables Oscar nominee said. “The three of us together are like the Three Amigos. There was not a day where I wasn’t in tears laughing. I felt so rejuvenated playing the part. I mean, I’m 25 years in, man, and it feels better than ever.”

Levy echoed Jackman’s statement about how their friendship played a role in the production of Deadpool & Wolverine . “This friendship between the three of us also made the movie better,” he said. “You’re not embarrassed to try weird, dumb shit. And some of it is going to fail. Some of it doesn’t work. But if you’re comfortable failing in front of your buddies, you’re also going to be comfortable trying stuff that will be inspired.”

While Reynolds, Jackman and Levy wouldn’t give away too much about the storyline of their upcoming R-rated film , they did tease a bit about the dynamics of Deadpool’s silliness and lightheartedness and how it contrasted with Wolverine’s much more serious demeanor.

Deadpool & Wolverine hits theaters July 26.

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‘Baby Reindeer’s’ Real-Life Martha Accused of Stalking Politician George Galloway in 1980s: ‘She Called Me Hundreds of Times’ and ‘Everywhere I Turned, She Was There’

By Zack Sharf

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Fiona Harvey George Galloway

UPDATE (1:58pm PT) : Fiona Harvey legal team responded to accusations made by George Galloway with the following statement: “The statements of George Galloway, a former member of parliament with his own agenda, which vaguely and generally claim that Ms. Harvey stalked him “hundreds of times” forty years ago, has nothing whatsoever to do with what Netflix did to Ms. Harvey in 2024.”

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Galloway said that Harvey was “forever on my case” and called her an “obsessive woman.”

“Everywhere I turned she was there,” Galloway continued. “At first I thought that she fancied me. But it turned out that she fancied my job. She was a relentless and physical, up-close-and-personal stalker of mine. I am ready to testify.”

When asked how much she stalked him, Galloway answered: “Everywhere I turned, she was there…she called me hundreds of times and she showed up probably hundreds of times.”

The lawsuit continues, “As a result of Defendants’ lies, malfeasance and utterly reckless misconduct, Harvey’s life had been ruined. Simply, Netflix and Gadd destroyed her reputation, her character and her life.”

Netflix responded to the lawsuit by writing in a statement: “We intend to defend this matter vigorously and to stand by Richard Gadd’s right to tell his story.”

Watch Galloway’s appearance on “Piers Morgan Uncensored” in the clip below.

EXCLUSIVE: George Galloway reveals he was stalked by Fiona Harvey decades ago. "Everywhere I turned, she was there… she called me 100s of times and she showed up probably 100s of times." Watch more at 8pm: https://t.co/QR11ywt8D5 @georgegalloway | @piersmorgan pic.twitter.com/rxml3ptQTT — Piers Morgan Uncensored (@PiersUncensored) June 26, 2024

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COMMENTS

  1. Biographical film

    Biographical film. A biographical film or biopic ( / ˈbaɪoʊˌpɪk /) [1] is a film that dramatizes the life of an actual person or group of people. Such films show the life of a historical person and the central character's real name is used. [2] They differ from docudrama films and historical drama films in that they attempt to ...

  2. What is a Biopic

    A biopic is a movie that dramatizes the life of a real, non-fictional individual. Short for "biographical motion picture," a biopic can cover a person's entire life or one specific moment in their history. Topics for biopics are nearly endless, with famous figures from history, along with popular celebrities of late, being covered.

  3. What is a Biopic? (Definition and Examples)

    A biographical film, or a biopic for short, is a film that tells the story of the life of a non-fictional or historical person. Biopics use the central character (s) to show an important discovery, period in history, or dramatically relevant period within their lives to tell a contemporary lesson. That all seems straightforward, but there are ...

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    Guide to Biopics: 3 Characteristics of Biographical Films. Written by MasterClass. Last updated: Jun 7, 2021 • 3 min read. If you've ever watched a biographical film about the life of a famous person, chances are you've watched a biopic. But what exactly makes a biopic a biopic?

  5. What Is a Biopic? Definition, Examples & Historical Impact

    Definition, Examples & Historical Impact. A biopic, short for biographical picture, brings real-life stories to the silver screen, immortalizing the tales of historical figures, celebrities, and unsung heroes alike. It's a genre that offers us a lens into the complexities and triumphs of a person's life, often leaving us inspired or more ...

  6. What Does Biopic Mean? Examples of Biographical Films

    Bob Marley: One Love, hitting theaters on February 14, 2024, is a cinematic celebration of the reggae legend's life. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, the film stars Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley and Lashana Lynch as his wife, Rita. The biopic traces Marley's journey from overcoming adversity to becoming a trailblazer in reggae music.

  7. Research Guides: Film Genres: Biographical films

    A quick definition for biographical films. Biopic (biographical picture; biographical film) A film that tells the story of the life of a real person, often a well-known monarch, political leader, or artist. Thomas Edison's Execution of Mary Queen of Scots (US, 1895) prefigures the genre but perhaps the earliest biopic is Jeanne d'Arc/Joan ...

  8. Biopic

    A biopic is a movie that tells the story of a real, non-fictional person's life. A biopic, which stands for "biographical motion picture," might chronicle a person's entire life or a single event in their history. Biopics can cover a wide range of subjects, including historical people as well as contemporary celebrities.

  9. Biographical movie

    A biographical film or biopic is a movie about a particular person or group of people, based on events that actually happened. They are like docudramas but concentrate persons rather than events. They may present events as they actually happened, or may stretch and adjust the truth for other purposes. Biographical movies often single out the most important events of the lives involved to focus on.

  10. What is a Biopic Film?

    The main reason these films are called biopics. Rather than biographies is because a biography covers the person's life from start to finish whereas a biopic can cover just a certain time period for the purpose of dramatization or it may cover several elements, but it does not have to cover the person's entire life.

  11. Biography

    biography, form of literature, commonly considered nonfictional, the subject of which is the life of an individual.One of the oldest forms of literary expression, it seeks to re-create in words the life of a human being—as understood from the historical or personal perspective of the author—by drawing upon all available evidence, including that retained in memory as well as written, oral ...

  12. 10 Best Biographical Movies of All Time, According to IMDb

    Released in 1984, Amadeus is a biographical film loosely based on the life of the Austrian musical prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The film focuses on the personal struggles Mozart ( Tom Hulce ...

  13. Biopics Films

    Biopic Films (or biographical pictures) are a sub-genre of the larger drama and epic film genres, and although they reached a hey-day of popularity in the 1930s, they are still prominent to this day. 'Biopics' is a term derived from the combination of the words "biography" and "pictures." These films depict and dramatize the life of an important historical personage (or group) from the past or ...

  14. What makes a good biopic? Here are 8 movies that mastered the form

    Here are eight of their all-time favorites that remain relevant today. 1. "Malcolm X" (1992) Malcolm X (1992) Official Trailer - Denzel Washington Movie HD. Watch on. Denzel Washington, who ...

  15. What Is A Biographical Movie Film?

    A biographical movie portrays the life of a non-fictional or historical figure. However, this version of their life story is often dramatized to create a more appealing film. The essence of that person's life however must be kept throughout. Docudrama films and historical drama films differ from biopics by focusing on whole events or periods.

  16. The 50 Best Biography Movies of All Time

    My 50 personal favorite biography movies of all time. Honourable Mentions: Elvis (2022) Mank (2020) Dolemite Is My Name (2019) First Man (2018) The Disaster Artist (2017) The Danish Girl (2015) Trumbo (2015) 127 Hours (2010) Hachi (2009) Hunger (2008) The Diving Bell & The Butterfly (2007) The Basketball Diaries (1995) Quiz Show (1994) Glory (1989) My Left Foot (1989) Escape From Alcatraz ...

  17. 20 Best Biopic Movies of the 21st Century (So Far)

    20 'Bohemian Rhapsody' (2018) Bohemian Rhapsody tells the story of the British rock band Queen and their lead singer, Freddie Mercury, played by Rami Malek. The film traces the band's rise to ...

  18. Best Biopics Ever Made, Ranked

    15 Chaplin. Carolco Pictures. Depicting the fascinating life of worldwide film icon Charlie Chaplin, 1992's Richard Attenborough biopic Chaplin stars Robert Downey Jr. as "The Little Tramp ...

  19. 20 Best Biopic Movies of All Time

    8. Malcolm X. At a run time of 200 minutes, 'Malcolm X' is a long movie. But it never seems long, thanks to a phenomenal performance by Denzel Washington, and nuanced direction by Spike Lee. The film dramatizes chief events of the life of African American activist Malcolm X.

  20. Best Biography Movies

    95. Metascore. 6. Schindler's List. Dec 15, 1993 • Rated R. Steven Spielberg's epic drama tells the compelling true story of German businessman Oskar Schindler (Neeson) who comes to Nazi-occupied Poland looking for economic prosperity and leaves as a savior. (History in Film) 95. Metascore.

  21. The 10 Best Biographical Movies of All Time

    Nevertheless, this shouldn't be seen as a flaw. By dramatizing the life of Joseph Merrick, Lynch not only convincingly depicts the life of Joseph Merrick but manages to humanize him, ultimately creating a tour-de-force of pure emotional filmmaking on par with "Schindler's List" and "The Grapes of Wrath". 9.

  22. The 20 Best Biographical Movies

    1. Gandhi. 1982 3h 11m PG. 8.0 (241K) Rate. 79 Metascore. The life of the lawyer who became the famed leader of the Indian revolts against the British rule through his philosophy of nonviolent protest. Director Richard Attenborough Stars Ben Kingsley John Gielgud Rohini Hattangadi. 2.

  23. Autobiography vs. Biography vs. Memoir

    What is a Biography? A biography, also called a bio, is a non-fiction piece of work giving an objective account of a person's life. The main difference between a biography vs. an autobiography is that the author of a biography is not the subject. ... Think of fictional biographies as movies that display a warning that the story is made of ...

  24. Piece by Piece (2024)

    Piece by Piece: Directed by Morgan Neville. With Pharrell Williams, Morgan Neville, Kendrick Lamar, Gwen Stefani. A vibrant journey through the life of cultural icon Pharrell Williams, told through the lens of LEGO® animation.

  25. A Family Affair: New Rom-Com Is The Top Movie On Netflix

    "A Family Affair" is currently the most popular movie on Netflix, according to the platform's public ranking system. Released on June 28, this new rom-com stars Nicole Kidman as a widowed mother who engages in a secret relationship with a much-younger Hollywood actor (played by Zac Efron ...

  26. Kevin Costner's Horizon: An American Saga: Some historical inaccuracies

    I saw Kevin Costner's Horizon: An American Saga-Chapter 1 at a movie theater that puts together a "preshow" of clips and reels related to the feature film content. Thursday night, this ...

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  28. 'MaXXXine' is Ti West's Hollywood horror story. The real-life locations

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    Ryan Reynolds felt like he had one more Deadpool movie in him, but finding the right story took years — and help from Hugh Jackman and director Shawn Levy.. One day while on the set of The Adam ...

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