Biopics are one of our favorite ways to get lost in a story. It's a way we get to learn about lives so different from our own, with all the tragedy, trauma, and tears that go with it. They're a powerful reminder that sometimes, stepping into someone else's shoes teaches us lessons we couldn't learn otherwise.
The films on this list range from Hollywood musical extravaganzas like Rocketman, to small, independent movies about historical figures that aren't quite so well-known, like Valerie Solanas, the subject of I Shot Andy Warhol. The people that each of these movies are based on all lived heartbreaking, terrifying, and joyous lives, in all their infinite complexity.
Ultimately, a great biopic teaches us something about ourselves in showing us another human's life. Film is a medium that uniquely allows us to explore those inner worlds — whether it's through the pastel dream world of Marie Antoinette, or through nonverbal mannerisms and cues, like Philip Seymour Hoffman portraying author Truman Capote. If you're looking to get lost, curl up with one of these biographical films, and meet your newest favorite historical figures.
Equal parts biopic and tribute, Judy follows Hollywood legend Judy Garland through her five-week run at London's Talk of the Town in the last year of her life. Through her ups and downs, we learn about her tragic past
, and celebrate her unparalleled legacy.
Say goodbye to the yellow brick road and get ready to crocodile rock because this upcoming musical pays tribute to the life and work of Elton John. Taron Egerton stars as the mythical superstar, and I'm just praying it's better than Bohemian Rhapsody
My Left Foot, 1989
Born with severe cerebral palsy to a working-class Irish family, Christy Brown (Daniel-Day Lewis) was written off by his family. Brown was only capable of moving his left foot. Still, with that, Brown was able to paint and write, and become a celebrated artist.
Schindler's List, 1994
The story of Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) is widely considered one the best films ever made
. Schindler freed over a thousand Jewish people from Nazi concentration camps.
Erin Brokovich, 2003 Julia Roberts masterfully plays Erin Brockovich, a paralegal who takes on some huge corporate interests — and wins.
Salma Hayek produced and starred in this beautiful homage to the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. We now know how difficult it was
for Hayek to make this movie, but it still stands as a brave piece of work.
Lady Sings The Blues, 1972
It takes a huge presence to be able to fill the role of Billie Holliday, but Diana Ross did so masterfully. This movie is a real tearjerker.
Malcolm X, 1992
One of the most important films in general, Malcom X tells the story of the civil rights activist who is eventually assassinated. Denzel Washington is absolute perfection in this film.
The King's Speech, 2005
This story is about King George VI, who becomes the next King of England, and his struggles with speech. He works with a speech therapist but in the end, he learns so much about his role as King.
Julie & Julia, 2009
Meryl Streep plays Julia Child, the beloved home cooking chef credited with exposing American audiences to French cooking techniques. Streep's talent for accents comes in handy here — she captures Child's diction perfectly.
The Social Network, 2010
Somehow, director David Fincher managed to turn the story of Facebook's creation into a compelling, award-winning film.
The Elephant Man, 1980
David Lynch, yes, the one who created Twin Peaks, directed this eerie film about a Victorian-era man suffering from a facial disfigurement.
You've no doubt seen the Angry Hitler memes all over the internet, but that meme actually comes from Downfall, a German film about Hitler's last days in an underground bunker in Berlin as Allied troops close in. It's a deeply unsettling and complicated film about history's most reviled person.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 2007This haunting film is about the life of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the EIC of French Elle, who suffers from locked-in syndrome after a stroke. Bauby can only communicate by blinking his right eye, but managed to write an entire book.
Famed rock photographer Anton Corbijn made his film debut with Control, which tells the story of Ian Curtis, the late singer of the post-punk band Joy Division. Shot entirely in black-and-white, it brings to life the story of a famously inscrutable person.
I Shot Andy Warhol, 1996
Lili Taylor steals the scene in her nervous, hurried portrayal of artist and author Valerie Solanas, famous for writing the S.C.U.M. manifesto and well, shooting Andy Warhol.
It's the film role that Jennifer Lopez was born to play: the gutsy, beloved late Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla. It's difficult to watch the movie knowing how it ends, but it's a wonderful celebration of the singer's life.
The Runaways, 2010
Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning star in this film about the all-female punk band, the Runaways. As you may expect, the soundtrack is fantastic.
Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays author Truman Capote, who investigates a murder. Capote later becomes emotionally entangled with one of the murderers. Hoffman is riveting in this movie — his mannerisms and speech patterns are truly acting genius.
24 Hour Party People, 2004
Another one of my personal favorite movies. This one is about the rise of post-punk and the "Madchester" rave scene through Tony Wilson (played by Steve Coogan), the head of the legendary Factory Records. It's a silly movie with lots of fourth wall-breaks and unreliable narration.
Game Change, 2012
Game Change is the story of the unsuccessful Republican Presidential campaign of 2008. The year, Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin faced off against then-Sen. Barack Obama. We all know who won the election, but behind the scenes, we see what Palin was really like.
Hidden Figures, 2016This fantastic film
is about three black woman who were mathematicians in the 1960s and helped create the NASA space program. We advise watching it as soon as you can.
Marie Antoinette, 2006
Sofia Coppola's story about the young queen Marie Antoinette is a pastel treat for the senses.
One of my personal favorite films (and conspiracy theories
), Oliver Stone's masterpiece tells the story of a district attorney who stumbles onto clues that the assassination of JFK may have indeed been a plot to kill the President.
The biopic that Martin Luther King, Jr. deserved, that only Ava DuVernay could have delivered.
American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, 2016We were all completely riveted
to the the story of the OJ Simpson trial, and honestly, any time we get to see more of Sarah Paulson is a good time.
The Queen, 2006
The one and only Helen Mirren stars as the one and only Queen Elizabeth II of England, and you won't be able to look away.
Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, 1998
Halle Berry beautifully brought the story of Dorothy Dandridge to life, the first black woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress in 1955. When Berry won her Best Actress Oscar
for Monster's Ball
in 2002, she famously thanked Dandridge in her speech.
That's right, this Martin Scorsese-helmed film is a biopic — it's the story of mobster Henry Hill's devolution into a world of crime.
A personal favorite, Gia is the story of Gia Carangi, the first supermodel. Carangi, played by Angelina Jolie, was addicted to drugs and later died of AIDS.
12 Years A Slave, 2013
This movie is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Northup. A difficult movie to watch, but an important one.