Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Sony Pictures Releasing

Best Biopics of All Time

Explore a little slice of history and take a glimpse into the lives of some of your favorite icons with these amazing biopics!
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Baz Luhrmann’s latest project, Elvis, is the newest biopic to hit theaters. As you can probably guess from the title, the film follows the life of rock and roll icon Elvis Presley. It stars Austin Butler as the King himself, with Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ former manager.

In the age of superhero flicks dominating the box office, Elvis has already grossed over $185 million worldwide. You could say this biopic has audiences all shook up.

But Elvis certainly isn’t the first biographical film to charm audiences. There have been plenty of captivating–even riveting–biopics over the years. Especially in recent years, these films have become pretty big hits for Hollywood. Once relegated to the made-for-TV world, biopics are finally getting the attention they deserve, with heavy-hitting directors, talented writers, and perfect casting all working together to bring stories to life on the big screen.

If you’re ready to enjoy some amazing real-life stories, look no further than this list!

The Theory of Everything (2014)

2014’s The Theory of Everything details not just the life and success of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking but also the 30-year relationship between him and his first wife, Jane Hawking. It was adapted from Jane’s memoir Traveling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen. The romantic drama received praise from critics for its cinematography, musical score, and performances. It also picked up numerous accolades, including an Academy Award for Best Actor for Eddie Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking.

Chaplin (1992)

This film was based on the iconic Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography from 1964 and Chaplin: His Life and Art, an official biography written by film critic David Robinson. Chaplin follows the British comedian as he overcomes his impoverished childhood to become a Hollywood star with his persona “The Tramp.” Robert Downey Jr. stars as Charlie Chaplin, a role that earned him a BAFTA Award for Best Actor.

Related: Robert Downey Jr. and Other A-List Celebs Who Have Shockingly Never Won an Oscar

Hidden Figures (2016)

HIdden Figures is loosely based on a 2016 non-fiction book by the same name, written by Margot Lee Shetterly. It centers on Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, the African American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race of the 20th century. Critics praised the writing, direction, cinematography, performances, and historical accuracy. It won several accolades, including a Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Gandhi (1982)

As you can guess from the title, this period biopic chronicles the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the nonviolent leader of the Indian independence movement who stood against the British Empire during the 20th century. It covers his protest campaign for the rights of Indians in South Africa, his fight for the independence of India, his time in prison, and his hunger strike in response to religious unrest. Gandhi won many awards, including eight Academy Awards, five British Academy Film Awards, and five Golden Globe Awards.

Lincoln (2012)

America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, was a fascinating figure whose legacy is complicated by his tragic assassination. He’s been the subject of numerous biographical films, TV series, plays, and books, but this one is by far the best. This biopic from Steven Spielberg stars Daniel Day-Lewis, who certainly did his fair share of due diligence and was lauded for his portrayal of President Lincoln. Although historians criticized some of the historical inaccuracies in the film, Day-Lewis’ depiction was remarkably accurate. For it, the actor won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.

Read More: Actors Who Go Method—And Stars Who Absolutely Hate It

Walk the Line (2005)

Joaquin Phoenix gave one of his most memorable performances in 2005’s Walk the Line, portraying the legendary Johnny Cash during his early career. The film was based on two autobiographies: 1975’s Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words and 1997’s Cash: The Autobiography. It follows Cash’s early life and ascent in the country music scene, his romance with second wife June Carter, and his struggle with addiction. Reese Witherspoon portrays June, while Ginnifer Goodwin plays Cash’s first wife Vivian Liberto. Witherspoon received the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Frida (2002)

Mexican surrealist artist Frida’s talent was the stuff of legends, so she certainly deserves a biopic to match. Luckily, director Julie Taymor knew exactly how to get it done. Salma Hayek delivers a moving performance as the title character. 2002’s Frida gives a glimpse into both the personal and professional life of the iconic artist. The scene transitions of still paintings coming to life and Frida’s daydreams are magnificent as they play out alongside her real experiences.

Milk (2008)

Milk documents the life of politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk until his assassination in 1978. The first openly gay man elected to public office in California, he was an icon in San Francisco and for the gay community around the world. Sean Penn stars in the heart-wrenching drama, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black also won an Academy Award for the original screenplay.

Malcolm X (1992)

Based largely on 1965’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a collaboration between Malcolm X and writer Alex Haley, this biographical drama covers key events in the life of the civil rights icon. Malcolm X follows the Black Nationalist leader starting with his early life as a small-time gangster, then his ministry as a member of the Nation of Islam, and his pilgrimage to Mecca. The film also covers the founding of the Organization of Afro-American Unity and his lasting influence on the fight for Black equality. Denzel Washington plays the role of Malcolm X so perfectly. He is supported by Angela Bassett, Albert Hall, Al  Freeman Jr., and Delroy Lindo. 

Judy (2019)

While the legendary Judy Garland was surrounded by glitz and glamor, her life was actually filled with trauma and addiction. 2019’s Judy shows Garland’s career during the last year of her life after she relocated her stage career to the United Kingdom. It focuses on the actress’ last months leading up to her death in 1969, while also showing flashbacks into her earlier life, including the filming of her iconic turn as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Renee Zellweger stars as the title character, a role for which Zellweger won an Academy Award for Best Actress.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

2019’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a heart-warming story with everyone’s favorite TV personality, Mr. Rogers, at the center of it. It was inspired by the article “Can You Say… Hero?” published by Tom Junod in 1998 in Esquire. For the film, a cynical journalist Lloyd Vogel (based on real-life Junod) is assigned to profile Fred Rogers (played by Tom Hanks). The film weaves the journalist’s story into a look at the life of Mr. Rogers, making for a unique take on a biopic. It was praised by critics and audiences alike.

After you see the film, you can read the article that inspired the film online! Esquire also interviewed the author 20 years later when A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was released.

Harriet (2019)

This biopic was in the works for years before it came to fruition, and we’re lucky that this story finally made it to the big screen! Starring Cynthia Erivo as the legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman, it follows Tubman as she escapes her enslaved life in the American South and goes on to rescue others along the Underground Railroad. Critics praised Erivo’s performance, and the biopic received several accolades and nominations.

I, Tonya (2017)

Skipping the run-of-the-mill biopic formula, 2017’s I, Tonya acts as a sports mockumentary black comedy to bring the stranger-than-fiction tale to life. Following the life of figure skater Tonya Harding and her connection to a 1994 attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan, the film utilizes darkly funny interviews with the characters in a mockumentary style. Margot Robbie stars as Harding and also produced the project. She is joined by Sebastian Stan as Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, and Allison Janney as Harding’s mother LaVona Golden. The film picked up numerous accolades, including an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Janney.

Related: These Celebrities Look Related – But Aren’t!

The King’s Speech (2010)

This historical biopic features Colin Firth as King George VI during a very specific – but meaningful – time in his life. It centers on his earlier years before he ascended the throne during the time he was learning to cope with a speech impediment in order to eventually lead his country through World War II. He does so with the help of a speech therapist. One of the reasons this biopic is so wonderful is its unique look at a monarch. It shows him struggling to find his voice and the courage to lead his people. This perspective makes a figure from history that much more relatable. The film went on to win many accolades, including four Academy Awards and seven BAFTA Awards.