Biographical Movies: the Genre and Biopics to Watch

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Biographical movies are the movies that chronicles the life of one or more real-life individuals. Such films reveal the life of the main character and a person’s real name is used. Biopics vary from documentary movies up to fictional film genres such as dramatic movies and historical films because they try to tell the story of a person’s life in depth or at least the most significant years of their life.

The biopic genre seemed to have disappeared with the golden age of Hollywood, but in reality it continued to exist using the exact same narrative mechanisms. The male biopic usually gets a big hit, the female one often tells the victimization of women. Casting can often be questionable for biopics: it’s a balance between similarity in appearance and being able to portray the attributes of the real-life individual. When there is no resemblance between actor and person, the film becomes less credible. 

Due to the fact that the characters depicted are real people whose characteristics and activities are known to the general public, biopics are meant for the performance of the lead actor. Lot of famous actors have gained new consideration as significant stars after starring in biopics. 

Biopics to Watch

Here is a list, sorted by year of release, of biopics to see. Westerns, movies about music, dramas, comedies, celebrities and less famous characters: there is something for all tastes. 

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They Died with Their Boots On (1941)

It is a 1941 black and white American western film by Warner Bros. written by Hal B. Wallis and Robert Fellows, directed by Raoul Walsh, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. The film’s story uses a highly fictionalized account of General George Armstrong Custer’s life, from the time he entered military college at West Point during the American Civil War to his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Custer is depicted as a man who chooses honor and glory over money and corruption. The fight against Chief Crazy Horse (played by Anthony Quinn) is portrayed as a failed deal between political leaders who want the land Custer has secured for Native Americans.

The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)

The Jackie Robinson Story is a 1950 biopic directed by Alfred E. Green and starring Jackie Robinson as himself. The film focuses on Robinson’s fight against the abuse of chauvinists as he becomes the first African-American Major League Baseball player of the modern period.

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The Bob Mathias Story (1954)

The Bob Mathias Story is a 1954 American sports film directed by Francis D. Lyon and starring Bob Mathias and Ward Bond. The story of Bob Mathias (playing himself), the first boy to win 2 consecutive Olympic gold medals in the London Decathlon in 1948 and in Helsinki in 1952. The film used a complete video of the London Games and also Helsinki , consisting of real video footage of Mathias’ results. It was created and released by Allied Artists and was marketed as similar to various other biopics The Stratton Story and The Glenn Miller Story.

The Conqueror (1956)

The Conqueror is a epic movie 1956 American historical Dick Powell and written by Oscar Millard. The film stars John Wayne as the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan and co-stars Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead and Pedro Armendáriz. Produced by entrepreneur Howard Hughes, the film was shot primarily near St. George, Utah. Despite the stature of the actors and also a commendable box office success, the film was a critical flop; it is commonly regarded as one of the most horrific films of the 1950s and also one of the worst films ever made. This is precisely why it is interesting to see. 

To Hell and Back (1955)

To Hell and Back is a Technicolor and CinemaScope war film released in 1955. It was directed by Jesse Hibbs and starred celebrity Audie Murphy as himself. It is based on the 1949 memoir of the same name and is an account of Murphy’s World War II experiences as a soldier in the United States Army. The story was written by his friend, David “Spec” McClure, who served in the US Army Signal Corps during World War II.

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Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Bonnie and Clyde is a 1967 American biographical neo-noir crime film directed by Arthur Penn and starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as the characters of the title Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The film also stars Michael J. Pollard, Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons. The screenplay of the film is by David Newman and Robert Benton. The songs are by Charles Strouse.

Bonnie and Clyde is considered to be one of the earliest films of the era New Hollywood. It has deconstructed many cinematic clichés and broken down taboos: for some members of the counterculture, the film has been considered a “rally cry”. Its success has motivated various other filmmakers to be more open about offering sex and physical violence in their films. The ending of the film became legendary, among the bloodiest death scenes in any film.

Alice’s Restaurant (1969)

Alice’s Restaurant is a American comedy film directed by Arthur Penn. It is an adaptation of the 1967 popular song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree”, sung by Arlo Guthrie. The film stars Guthrie as himself, with Pat Quinn as Alice Brock and James Broderick as Ray Brock. Penn co-wrote the film’s screenplay in 1967 with Venable Herndon after hearing the track, immediately after finishing Bonnie & Clyde.

Alice’s Restaurant launched on August 19, 1969, a couple of days after Guthrie showed up at the Woodstock Festival. A soundtrack CD for the film was also released by United Artists Records. The soundtrack consists of a variation of the title song, which was initially split into two parts. 

The Greatest (1977)

It’s a 1977 biographical sports film about the life of the fighter Muhammad Ali, in which Ali plays himself. It was made by Tom Gries. The film chronicles Ali’s life from the 1960 Summer Olympics to his recapture of the heavyweight crown from George Foreman in their popular “Rumble in the Jungle” bout in 1974. Videos of the boxing matches themselves are incorporated into the film. The film is based on the story The Greatest: My Own Story written by Muhammad Ali and Richard Durham and adapted by Toni Morrison.

Raging Bull (1980)

is a 1980 American biopic directed by Martin Scorsese, produced by Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler and adapted by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin from Jake’s short story 1970 LaMotta Raging Bull: My Story. The film stars Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta, an Italian-American middleweight fighter whose compulsive, self-destructive rage, jealousy, and animal hunger have damaged his relationship with his wife and family. Included in the film are Joe Pesci as Joey, LaMotta’s brother, and Cathy Moriarty as Vikki, his significant other. Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana and Frank Vincent perform supporting roles in the film.

During principal photography, each of the boxing scenes were choreographed to a particular visual design, and De Niro gained around 50 pounds to represent LaMotta in his later post-boxing years. The film received mixed ratings upon its release but was nominated for 8 Academy Awards. After its release, the film continued to garner great acclaim, and is now regarded as one of the best movies ever made.

The Elephant Man (1980)

The Elephant Man is a 1980 British-American biopic about Joseph Merrick, a severely deformed man in late 19th-century London. The film was directed by David Lynch, produced by Mel Brooks and Jonathan Sanger, and starring John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon and Freddie Jones. The screenplay for the film was adapted by Lynch, Christopher De Vore and Eric Bergren from The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences (1923) by Frederick Treves and The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity (1971) by Ashley Montagu. It was shot in black and white and uses make-up by Christopher Tucker. The Elephant Man was a commercial success with 8 Oscar elections including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor.

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Gandhi (1982)

Gandhi is a 1982 historical biopic based on the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the pacifist Indian independence leader against the British Empire. An Indian-UK co-production, it is directed by Richard Attenborough from a screenplay by John Briley. It stars Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. The film chronicles Gandhi’s life from 1893, when he was thrown off a South African train for staying in a whites-only area, and ending with his murder and funeral in 1948. A practicing Hindu, tolerance is displayed in Gandhi of other religions, especially Christianity and Islam.

Goodfellas (1990)

It is a biographical movie and gangster movie 1990 American Martin Scorsese, written by Nicholas Pileggi and Scorsese and produced by Irwin Winkler. It is a film adaptation of Pileggi’s 1985 book Wiseguy. Starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco and Paul Sorvino, the film chronicles the adventures of mobster Henry Hill and his relatives and friends from 1955 to 1980. To prepare for their role in the film, De Niro, Pesci and Liotta have often spoken with Pileggi. According to Pesci, improvisation is the result of rehearsal sessions in which Scorsese provided the actors with the flexibility to do as they wished. The director recorded these sessions, took the lines he liked best, and put them into an edited script, which the cast worked on during filming. Among the best films of Martin Scorsese’s career, it is considered among the best movies ever made, especially in the gangster category.

Kafka (1991)

Kafka is a thriller movie led by Steven Soderbergh. Ostensibly a biopic, based on the life of Franz Kafka, the film blurs the lines between Kafka’s reality and fiction, developing a Kafkaesque atmosphere. It was created by Lem Dobbs and stars Jeremy Irons in the lead role, with Theresa Russell, Ian Holm, Jeroen Krabbé, Joel Grey, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Alec Guinness. It was partially filmed in the Prague area. Launching after Soderbergh’s famous directorial debut Sex, Lies and Videotape, it was the first in what was sure to be a collection of box-office failures. In fact, over time it has become a cult movie.

The Doors (1991)

The Doors is a 1991 American biographical musical film directed by Oliver Stone and written by J. Randal Johnson. The film stars Val Kilmer as the lead role of Jim Morrison, Meg Ryan as Pamela Corson, wife of Morrison, Kyle MacLachlan as keyboardist Ray Manzarek, Frank Whaley as lead guitarist Robby Krieger, Kevin Dillon as drummer John Densmore, Billy Idol as Cat and Kathleen Quinlan as reporter Patricia Kennealy. The film tells the story and life of Jim Morrison, the star of the American rock band The Doors, and the success of the band, their songs, and the counterculture. The film portrays Morrison as an epic symbol of 1960s rock-and-roll and counterculture, and there are many scenes of Morrison’s drug abuse, extramarital affairs, hippie lifestyle, alcohol addiction, hallucinogens, and his growing fascination with death.

Chaplin (1992)

Chaplin is a 1992 American biographical comedy-drama about the life of English comedian Charlie Chaplin. It was directed by Richard Attenborough and starred Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Dan Aykroyd, Penelope Ann Miller and also Kevin Kline. It also includes Charlie Chaplin’s son, Geraldine Chaplin, as his mother, Hannah Chaplin.

The film was adapted by William Boyd, Bryan Forbes, and William Goldman from Chaplin’s 1964 publication My Autobiography and also from film critic David Robinson’s 1985 publication Chaplin: His Life and Also Art. The film got mixed reviews. Downey’s performance garnered major accolades and earned him the BAFTA Award for Best Actor as well as nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama.

Ed Wood (1994)

Ed Wood is a 1994 American biographical comedy-drama directed by Tim Burton and also starring Johnny Depp as Ed Wood, the cult director of the same name. The film chronicles Wood’s life as he made his most famous films and his collaboration with star Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau. Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Lisa Marie and Bill Murray are among the supporting actors. When they were students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the film was developed by writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. 

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Nixon (1995)

Nixon is a 1995 American historical drama film directed by Oliver Stone, produced by Clayton Townsend, Stone and Andrew G. Vajna. The film tells the story of the life and politics of US President Richard Nixon, played by Anthony Hopkins. The film portrays Nixon as exceptional, albeit deeply flawed. 

Private Parts (1997)

Private Parts is a 1997 American biographical comedy film written by Ivan Reitman and directed by Betty Thomas. The film is an adaptation of the 1993 publication of the same name by radio personality Howard Stern, based on a story by Len Blum and Michael Kalesniko about Stern’s life from childhood and his rise to radio success. Stern and also many of his radio show members famous as themselves, including journalist and co-host Robin Quivers, producers Fred Norris and Gary Dell’ Abate, and comedian Jackie Martling. The film also stars Mary McCormack, Allison Janney, Michael Murphy and Paul Giamatti.

Man on the Moon (1999)

It is a 1999 biographical comedy-drama about the late American actor Andy Kaufman, starring Jim Carrey as Kaufman. The film was directed by Miloš Forman and stars Danny DeVito, Courtney Love and Paul Giamatti. The story traces Kaufman’s life from childhood to the comedy clubs and TV shows that made him famous, including his unforgettable looks on Saturday Night Live, Late Night with David Letterman, Fridays and even his role as Latka Gravas in the comedy Taxi.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

It’s a 2002 American biopic and spy film that chronicles the fictional life of program host Chuck Barris. The film was George Clooney’s directorial launch, was written by Charlie Kaufman and starred Sam Rockwell as Barris, as well as Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore and Clooney. It is based on Barris’ 1984 memoir of the same name, in which he stated that he was an assassin for the CIA along with his profession in the film industry. These claims were effectively rejected by the CIA, while Barris throughout his life refused to state whether or not the case was true.

The Pianist (2002)

The Pianist is a 2002 biopic drama produced and directed by Roman Polanski, with a screenplay by Ronald Harwood and starring Adrien Brody. It is based on the autobiographical book The Pianist (1946), a Holocaust narrative by Polish Jewish pianist and author Władysław Szpilman, a Holocaust survivor. The film was a co-production of France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Poland. The Pianist premiered at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival on May 24, 2002, where it won the Palme d’Or. The film garnered major recognition, with critics praising Polanski’s direction, Brody’s performance, and Harwood’s film screenplay. At the 75th Academy Awards, the film won for Best Director (Polanski), Best Adapted Screenplay (Harwood), and Best Actor (Brody).

Ray (2004)

Ray is a 2004 American musical and biographical movie focusing on 30 years in the music of blues artist Ray Charles. The film was co-produced and directed by Taylor Hackford, as well as written by James L. White from a story by Hackford and White. It stars Jamie Foxx in the title role, as well as Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terrence Howard, Larenz Tate, Richard Schiff and also Regina King in supporting roles. The film garnered favorable reviews from critics, with some appreciating Foxx’s efficiency, and was a commercial success, earning $124.7 million globally from a $40 million production budget. Charles had intended to go to a screening of the finished film, but died of liver problems in June 2004, months before the film was finished editing.

The Aviator (2004)

The Aviator is a 2004 American biopic directed by Martin Scorsese and written by John Logan. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn and Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner. Supporting cast includes Ian Holm, John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Gwen Stefani, Kelli Garner, Matt Ross, Willem Dafoe, Alan Alda and Edward Herrmann.

Based on the 1993 book Howard Hughes: The Secret Life by Charles Higham, the film portrays the life of Howard Hughes, the leader of air travel and director of the film Hell’s Angels. The film depicts his life from 1927 to 1947, during which time Hughes came to be a powerful film producer and air travel magnate, while at the same time becoming mentally unstable due to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Critics who applauded Di Caprio and Blanchett and Scorsese’s direction. The film earned $214 million out of a $110 million spending plan and garnered several accolades. At the 77th Academy Awards, he was shortlisted for eleven awards.

Into the Wild (2007)

Into the Wild is a 2007 American biopic written, co-produced and directed by Sean Penn. It is an adaptation of the 1996 book of the same name by Jon Krakauer and tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a boy who crossed North America to the Alaskan wilderness in the early 1990s. The film stars Emile Hirsch as McCandless, Marcia Gay Harden as his mother, William Hurt as his father, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart and Hal Holbrook.

Christopher McCandless shows up in a remote location called Healy just north of Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Noticing his unpreparedness, his chauffeur provides him with rubber boots. McCandless camps out in an abandoned bus which he dubs “The Magic Bus”. He is satisfied with solitude, with the charm of nature and eats the fruits of the earth. He hunts with a rifle, reads books and keeps a journal as he prepares for his new life in the wild.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The Wolf of Wall Street is a 2013 American biopic directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Terence Winter, based on the 2007 short story of the same name by Jordan Belfort. It chronicles Belfort’s perspective on his profession as a stockbroker in New York City and how his firm, Stratton Oakmont, participated in widespread corruption and scams on Wall Street, which ultimately caused its bankruptcy. Leonardo DiCaprio, who was also a producer on the film, plays Belfort, with Jonah Hill as a partner and friend of the organization, Donnie Azoff, Margot Robbie as his wife, Naomi Lapaglia and Kyle Chandler as FBI representative Patrick Denham, who tries to arrest Belfort.

The film was a significant commercial success, earning $392 million worldwide, eventually becoming Scorsese’s highest-grossing film. The film set a Guinness World Record for profanity in a motion picture and received favorable reviews from critics and appeared on a number of “best of the year” lists. It was singled out for a number of awards, including 5 at the 86th Academy Awards event: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor (for DiCaprio), and Best Supporting Actor (for Hill). DiCaprio won the Best Actor award at the 71st Golden Globes, where the film was also chosen as Best Picture.

The Theory of Everything (2014)

It is a 2014 biopic directed by James Marsh. It chronicles the life of academic physicist Stephen Hawking. It was adapted by Anthony McCarten from the 2007 short story Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking, which chronicles her partnership with her ex-husband Stephen Hawking, her medical diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, as well as her success in the field of physics. The film stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. 

The Irishman (2019)

The Irishman is a 2019 American gangster biopic directed and produced by Martin Scorsese and written by Steven Zaillian, based on the 2004 book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt . In the cast Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, with Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jesse Plemons and Harvey Keitel. The film follows Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a truck driver who ends up as a hitman alongside mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci) and his mob family, including his time working for Teamster attorney Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). With a running time of 209 minutes and a production budget plan of $159-250 million, it is the longest and most expensive film of Scorsese’s career. The film was shortlisted for 10 awards at the 92nd Academy Awards and garnered various other accolades.

DAMaN (2022)

DAMaN is a 2022 Indian Odia biopic written and directed by Debi Prasad Lenka and Vishal Mourya and produced by Deependra Samal. The film stars Babushaan Mohanty and Dipanwit Dashmohapatra in lead roles. The film depicts a doctor’s relentless battle against superstitions and the struggle to acquaint tribal individuals with the reality of the disease malaria. The film is set in 2015. Siddharth, a young doctor who has completed his MBBS from Bhubaneswar, is sent to Janbai PHC, an isolated tribal area in Malkangiri district of Odisha.

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