Hollywood loves a good biopic.
Whether they are about Civil Rights leaders, musicians, athletes, or anyone in between, casts and crews strive to create an entertaining story that centers on a real one.Though documentaries may be the better source of information, no one can deny the entertainment value of a well-directed and produced biopic.
While some may struggle to communicate stories in a Hollywood production style, these five biopics star our favorite actors and excel at bringing historical events to light in the most entertaining of ways.
Malcolm X (1992)
Directed by Spike Lee, this biopic chronicles the life of human rights activist Malcolm X, who dedicated his life to advocating for Black rights and nationalism, encouraging his followers to protect themselves, “by any means necessary.”
From his childhood to his imprisonment in the fifties, to becoming a leader in the Nation of Islam, and eventually, to his assassination, the 1992 release is based on The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a collaboration between Malcom X and Alex Haley, released in 1965.
Denzel Washington portrays Malcom X, so controversial in his time, as his teachings were in conflict with the peaceful mindset held by Martin Luther King Jr.
Washington’s portrayal won him Best Actor in several Award Shows, including the 1992 New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Malcolm X was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States Film Registry in 2010.
You can watch it on Max.
A Beautiful Mind (2001)
A Beautiful Mind, directed by Ron Howard, stars Russell Crow as John Forbes Nash Jr., a mathematician most well known for his work in game theory, differential geometry, and partial differential equations.
Inspired by the book of the same name, written by journalism professor Sylvia Nasar, the movie details the professional and personal life of Nash, from his mathematical success at Princeton and MIT, to the illness that would disrupt his success.
In 1953, Nash believed he had been recruited by the United States Department of Defense, only to realize with the help of his wife, Alicia Nash, that the entire assignment is a figment of his imagination, as he struggles with paranoid schizophrenia. Nash must overcome his illness while becoming one of the more successful mathematicians, leading him to win the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1994 and the Abel Prize in 2015.
A Beautiful Mind won several awards for the representation of Nash’s life, from Golden Globes for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Screenplay-Based on Material Previously Produced or Published, to awards from the Directors Guild of America and the Critics’ Choice Awards.
You can watch it on Hulu.
Walk the Line (2005)
Walk the Line, directed by James Mangold, documents the life of Johnny Cash, one of the most influential musicians in music history. Joaquin Phoenix portrays Cash throughout his troubled life.
The biopic tells of Cash’s coming of age during The Great Depression on a cotton farm in Arkansas, with an abusive father who was said to have blamed Cash for his brother’s tragic death. Cash eventually joined the U.S. Air Force in 1950, serving in Germany, where he bought a guitar and began to write songs in 1952.
When he returned to the states, he was signed by Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, where he began to collaborate with Elvis Presley, among other stars of the time. As his career took off, he struggled with drug addiction, as well as with his relationships, including his first wife Vivian Liberto (Ginnifer Goodwin) and later the love of his life June Carter (Reese Witherspoon).
Based on autobiographies, Johnny Cash : Man in Black : His Own Story in His Own Words (1975) and Cash : The Autobiography (1997), the movie is a rather accurate retelling of Cash’s life, and the casting was even gladly approved by Cash himself.
Walk the Line won numerous awards, including an Academy Award win for Witherspoon for Best Actress, as well as Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
You can watch it on Max and Hulu.
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Straight Outta Compton tells the controversial story of American hip hop group N.W.A., who made waves in the mid-1980s, ultimately becoming one of the most influential hip hop groups in music history.
Director F. Gary Gray collaborated with members Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and member Eazy-E’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright, to tell the story in the most accurate manner. The biopic takes viewers through Compton, Los Angeles among street gangs, drugs, and police brutality, until N.W.A was formed in 1987, when Eazy-E started Ruthless Records, with Jerry Heller, music manager and businessman.
Throughout diss tracks, the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the members of N.W.A. fought for their place in the industry while also managing their own personal issues.
Even though the members of N.W.A. were involved in the production, Heller filed a lawsuit against the filmmakers for the depiction of himself and for taking ideas from his autobiography, Ruthless : A Memoir by Jerry Heller.
Despite criticism from Heller, Straight Outta Compton won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Motion Picture 2015, as well as more than twenty other awards, including an AFI Award for Movie of the Year (2016,) a BET Award for Best Movie (2016,) and an EDA (Eda Reiss Merin) Award for Best Ensemble Cast from the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (2016).
You can rent it on YouTube, Vudu, Apple TV, Redbox, and Google Play.
I, Tonya (2017)
I, Tonya, is an unconventional biopic, with a mockumentary style, tells the story of American figure skater Tonya Harding and the conspiracy by the people around her to eliminate her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan.
Largely framed to introduce Harding as a victim of her situation, I, Tonya, details her life starting in 1974 Oregon, with Harding at the age of four, being forced to ice-skate by her abusive mother, LaVona Golden, portrayed by Allison Janney.
Directed by Craig Gillespie, I, Tonya, is loosely based on real events that occurred mainly in the early to mid nineties, after Kerrigan was struck in the knee with a baton by Shane Stant. Stant, hired by Jeff Gillooly, the ex-husband of Harding, aimed to injure Kerrigan enough so she couldn’t skate in the 1994 United States Figure Skating Championships and the Winter Olympics.
While Janney partially stole the show, winning an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, as well as a BAFTA, Critics Choice Awards, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and several more, Robbie’s portrayal of Harding is one you won’t want to miss.
You can watch it on Max.
Biopics are a great way to be immersed into the life of someone famous, brilliant, or maybe even controversial. Leave a comment sharing which biopic you’ll be watching this weekend.