Films about the life of an historic individual (or individuals) often make great entertainment- and tend to win a lot of awards. With Elvis in cinemas, and biopics about huge names like Marilyn Monroe and Madonna on the horizon, we decided to put together a list of some of the best biopics that you can watch right now. Some of these span multiple years of a person’s life, and others offer a glimpse at a crucial moment in their time.
The King’s Speech (2010)
Director: Tom Hooper
This best picture winner from 2010 focuses on the life of King George VI, and specifically his difficulty with stammering. Set at various points during his life, it builds toward him learning to control and deal with his condition in order to deliver a speech to Britain as his first wartime broadcast following the country’s declaration of war on Germany in 1939. Colin Firth delivers once of the best performances of his career as the frustrated king, with Geoffery Rush as Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, alongside a large cast that includes Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Lincoln is a film that’s main strength is it’s core performance, an Oscar winning turn by acclaimed method-actor Daniel Day Lewis. Embodying the 16th US President in a very believable (and accurate) way is not easy, especially when the man is thought of more as an icon that a person. It’s not just Day-Lewis though, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and Jared Harris all give great portrayals of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, Congressman Thaddeus Stevens and Lieutenant General and future President Ulysses S. Grant respectively. Some may grumble at Steven Spielberg’s sentimentalism, but his depiction of the last months of Abraham Lincoln, end of the US Civil War and passing of the 13th amendment of the US constitution is easy follow and understand.
The Social Network (2010)
Director: David Fincher
Also from 2010 and winner of the Oscar for Best Screenplay, The Social Network has only become more relevant with time with the rise of social media and controversies surrounding Facebook, digital privacy and ethics in the tech industry. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is played brilliantly by Jesse Eisenberg, as he sets up the world changing website and comes into conflict with his friends and co-founders. The cast also includes Andrew Garfield in his breakout role as Eduardo Saverin, Justin Timberlake as Napster co-founder Sean Parker and Armie Hammer as both Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. The film, bolstered by Finher’s direction and Aaron Sorkin’s electric script, has only gained in reputation and has been named one of the best films of the century so far.
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Musical-jukebox biopic Rocketman boosted Taron Egerton’s career further following Kingsman, with his much lauded portrayal of Elton John in an all-singing all dancing role. It tells the story of the global superstar as he rises to fame from playing local pubs to sell out stadiums, his writing partnership with Bernie Taupin, and messy relationship with manager John Reid. Edgerton’s performance is the highlight, along with the great soundtrack and recreations of famous Elton videos like I’m Still Standing.
12 Years A Slave (2013)
Director: Steve McQueen
Another Best Picture winner and the film that made Steve McQueen and Chiwetel Ejiofor household names, 12 Years A Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup, a man who had been born free and tricked into being kidnapped and sold into slavery. It took 12 long years of working on the plantations in Louisiana before he was eventually released, and the inhumane hardship is portrayed unflinchingly in this truly brilliant film. The rest of the cast are no slouch, with riveting turns from Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Michael Kenneth Williams and Paul Giamatti, as well as the Best Supporting Actress winning portrayal of enslaved woman Patsey by Lupita Nyong’o.
Director: Miloš Forman
The music extravaganza Amadeus may not be particularly concerned with historical accuracy, but it’s still a hugely entertaining portrayal of the life and music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and fellow composer Antonio Salierei. Tom Hulce and F Murray Abraham play the duelling musicians, as they attempt to one up each other at the court of Emperor Joesph II. Though it has fictional and artistic elements, things like Mozart’s juvenile humour are accurate to history, and it’s the film’s key focus on Mozart and Salieri’s rivalry rather than on Mozart himself that makes Amadeus great. Obviously, there’s a lot of great classical music throughout too.
Watch it on: Apple TV
Director: Taylor Hackford
Jamie Foxx shot to prominence and got an Best Actor Oscar gong for his role as Ray Charles in the 2004 musical biopic Ray. It tracks his years from life in poverty in Florida, the onset of his blindness, rise to fame and success as an R&B artist, and recoding of hits like Hit the Road Jack and Georgia on my Mind, along with his struggles with heroin and conviction in Georgia for possession. Foxx is supported by Kerry Washington as his wife Della, Clifton Powell as Jeff Brown and Terrence Howard as Gossie McKee. Though there were a few changes of facts and events for dramatic effect, the film is a largely accurate portrayal of the legendary musician, and Foxx’s acting and singing in the part is at the heart of the film’s enjoyability.
Hidden Figures (2016)
Director: Theodore Melfi
One of the best reviewed films of 2016, Hidden Figures tells the true story of three African American women, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who were part of NASA in the 1960s during the pivotal period of the Space Race between the US and the Soviet Union. The three women faced segregation and racial prejudice, but overcame obstacles to become a key part of the mathematic force behind the various US space programmes, though their work still faded away in the public consciousness. Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monáe star as the three mathematicians, and the film also features Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons and Mahershala Ali.
Watch it on: Disney+
Director: Franklin J. Schaffer
An epic biographical war film with a script co-written by Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola, Patton focuses on the life of U.S General George S. Patton during World War II, and won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Actor and Screenplay. The hardened, controversial yet militarily successful Patton is depicted incredibly by George C. Scott, in his campaigns in the Mediterranean and European theatres of the war, and actions that he was reprimanded for like slapping shell-shocked soldiers. Though the man is controversial, the film is still excellent and considered to be a true classic.
A Private War (2018)
Director: Matthew Heineman
The life and work of Marie Colvin is explored in this 2018 biopic, which stars Rosamund Pike as the war journalist. Based on an article about her in Vanity Fair, the film chronicles Colvin’s incredibly brave journeys across the globe covering various conflicts in incredibly dangerous situations. It covers her going blind in one eye from a grenade attack in 2001, as well as the PTSD that developed from it and subsequent determination to keep reporting. Tom Hollander, Jamie Dornan and Stanley Tucci also star, as the film moves toward the events of Colvin’s death in the Siege of Homs in the early stages of the Syrian Civil War from an explosive device.
The Imitation Game (2014)
Director: Morten Tyldum
Another World War II film on this list, The Imitation Game is based on the war time efforts of Alan Turing, who was a lead code breaker for the British government and who helped crack the German war communications which were pivotal for the outcome of the war. Turing, who was not properly recognised due to the Official Secrets Act and prosecuted for his homosexuality, is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and is joined by Keira Knightley as fellow code breaker Joan Clarke, and Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance and Mark Strong.
Watch it on: Netflix