Hollywood loves hardship – it’s why biopics are made so frequently. They serve as inspiration for the masses, offering a character that we relate to, and who is more or less a real person, which adds some amount of legitimacy to the story. Of course, there’s no guarantee that a biopic will be good, and Hollywood has delivered at least as many terrible ones as they have that are fantastic.
In the hands of a great actor, a role in a biopic is a challenging, rewarding endeavor. Unlike a fictional character, the characters in biopics are based on real people, meaning actors must study the life of the individual in order to adopt their mannerisms and accents to properly portray them in the film. The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman would immerse himself in to his characters, seeking to emulate their dark and light sides. Others have watched hours of old video footage of the person to get as well acquainted with their personalities as possible.
What follows is a list of biopics about people who have left an impact upon our world and overcame great challenges to do so. They not only show the inspiring sides of these individuals, but also some of the harsh and even cruel sides that were known best to those who lived with them. Whether you liked the movie or not, the actors featured here (we’ll skip Daniel Day-Lewis because he’s an obvious pick) portrayed their real life counterparts extremely well.
10: Emma Thompson In “Saving Mr Banks”
Released at the tail end of 2013, Saving Mr Banks follows the rights battle that author PL Travers (played by Emma Thompson) engaged in with Walt Disney. Having enjoyed success with her books about the flying nanny, Mary Poppins, she found herself sitting in the Burbank studios of the Disney corporation fighting to keep the rights to the film. There was no way that she would put the story in Disney’s hands, fearing that it would lead to an unrecognizable form of her novels full of signing and dancing cartoon animals.
In the end, as you may be aware, Travers relented, giving Disney full rights to the movie and the go-ahead to present the story however he wished to do it. There were still aspects of the movie that she did not like, but she did seem to be a difficult woman to please, even at the best of times.
9: Phillip Seymour Hoffman In “Capote”
Phillip Seymour Hoffman played Truman Capote as only Hoffman could, diving head first in to the role and bringing him to life on the big screen. Capote is inspired to write his book, In Cold Blood, after hearing of the grisly murders of a family in Kansas. He picks up and leaves for the state, to document the events around it, with the purpose of producing a book.
Perhaps this could even be considered a 2-for-1 biopic, because Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird, is brought in by Capote to help facilitate his inquiry into the events surrounding the murder. Capote is intrigued by one of the killers, Perry Smith, and forms an attachment to the man. In the end the two killers are hung and Capote is left contemplating the story.
8: Denzel Washington In “The Hurricane”
Rubin Carter, who died on April 20th this year, caused an uproar within the boxing world when he was accused of a triple homicide in 1966. Denzel Washington has the honor of playing the boxer in the movie adaptation of his life, the Hurricane.
As many biopics do, the movie jumps between timelines, touching upon elements of his troubled youth and time in the army, as well as depicting fights from his career. It covers his struggles with the race issues of the time and his time in prison for the crimes he was accused of. Based upon a lawsuit against the film, and other facts that have been unearthed, it seems that Hollywood changed the storyline somewhat to make it more appealing to the audience.
7: Johnny Depp In “Finding Neverland”
JM Barrie captured the imagination of everyone who never wanted to grow up when he brought to life his creation, Peter Pan. This movie follows the relationship between Barrie and the Davies family, who helped inspire his creation. Kate Winslet plays Sylvia, the mother of five young boys, including the troubled Peter, upon whom Peter Pan is based.
Barrie becomes a kind of father to the young boys and observes the power of their imagination as they play games throughout their day. It was their play that ignited his passion for Peter Pan and propelled it into the history books.
6: Ashton Kutcher In “Jobs”
A bit of a bomb at the box office, Jobs follows the life of the founder and visionary behind Apple, from his college days through until the launch of the iPod. Ashton Kutcher adorns Steve Jobs’ signature turtleneck shirt and whips us through the formative years of his time at Apple and his struggles to take Mac to the top.
Though it touches sparingly on his personal life, it pays specific attention to his relationships with the men and women who ruled the roost at Apple. You get a bit of a glimpse at the harshness of the man, though Isaacson portrayed a much more volatile and emotional man in the book. The film didn’t do as well as hoped, and had many flaws, but Kutcher obviously spent some time studying Jobs the man and fulfilled his part of the deal.
5: Gwyneth Paltrow In “Sylvia”
Poets have influenced our culture in so many ways, but there are few that have received the international recognition that Sylvia Plath did. Gwyneth Paltrow donned her poet’s guise as she stepped in to the role of this American poet in the movie Sylvia, exploring her relationship with fellow poet Ted Hughes.
The film opens with the two of them meeting in Cambridge in 1955, not too long after her first suicide attempt. She married, had children and wielded great influence as a poetry icon – yet she still could not find happiness. Hers is a sad story, culminating in her suicide in 1963. It serves as a reminder to all other writers that the goals of fame, marriage and wealth may still not bring the happiness sought.
4: Meryl Streep In “Julie & Julia”
Julia Child was well known for her recipe books and whether she would have liked it or not was featured in the movie Julie & Julia, where she was played by Meryl Streep. Julie Powell wrote a blog where she spent 365 days reporting on her experiences of mastering the art of french cooking, which later became the title of the book.
Child was not a fan of Powell’s work, considering it to be a stunt on the part of the blogger. Nevertheless it was well received by the public and the movie did a great job of weaving together the individual stories of Julie and Julia. It showed the rise of Child, her struggles, and the time she spent in the world of television, sharing her recipes with an eager North American audience.
3: Meryl Streep In “The Iron Lady”
Reviled by many in her homeland, and even around the world, Margaret Thatcher nonetheless left a formidable legacy. Streep gets another feature, because as always, she nails the character and portrays her exactly as many would remember her, with her stiff upper lip and upper class accent.
The film depicts her climb through the ranks of the tory cabinet, from a local politician in the 1950s all the way up to the PM position that she assumed at the end of the 70s. Not only does it cover the public life, we also get a glimpse at family life, raising kids and being married to her eccentric husband Dennis. The director may have been hoping to help us sympathize with this iron lady, but in the end, with her funeral being a state event, it did not seem to change the opinion of many brits.
2: Gandhi In “Gandhi”
It could be argued that no man had a greater political influence on freedom seekers than Mahatma Gandhi did as he fought, through civil disobedience and non-violent protest, for the freedom of his people from British rule.
Ben Kingsley won an oscar for portraying the life and personal change of this Indian icon. At 3 hours and 10 minutes, the movie is not a short one, and covers in-depth the struggles that Gandhi faced when meeting with his British counterparts. Scenes such as his hunger strike, his first epic protest speech, and standing up to the brutality of soldiers and policemen are clear reminders of why this man is held in such high esteem.
1: Johnny Cash In “Walk The Line”
Johnny Cash did not lead an easy life. Walk The Line follows the young musician from his success in playing Folsom Prison Blues to a music producer, to his rise as a country music phenom. Despite his successes, his personal life was a shambles as he enjoyed the results of his fame a little too much. It didn’t take long before he found himself falling in to drug and alcohol addiction that affected everyone who knew him well.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny Cash, and Reese Witherspoon takes the role of his long-time lover June Carter. Grossing $190 million worldwide and receiving five Oscar nominations, the film did well at the Box Office and helped Cash’s fans to know him a little better.