The best biopics ever made
19 May 2019, 08:00 | Updated: 19 May 2019, 08:01
It’s hard to tell the story of a life in 90 minutes but when films do it well, they can really teach you something new about a well-known face. So here are some of the very best ever made...
Elton John is getting the biopic treatment, while Oliver Stone’s notorious look at The Doors is subject to a luxury reissue. Which other real life stories have hit the big screen?
Mr Robot star Rami Malek gives an excellent performance as Freddie Mercury, which tells the story of the late Queen frontman from the band's formation in the early 1970s to their triumphant appearance at Live Aid in '85.
Walk The Line
Until the release of Straight Outta Compton, this was the most successful biopic ever made and with good reason. It charts the incredible life of Johnny Cash as brilliantly played by Joaquin Phoenix, as well as featuring loads of his best songs in electrifying performance scenes. Even Elvis turns up.
England Is Mine
The story of Steven Patrick Morrissey, from his teenage years as a would-be writer and pop star to meeting Johnny Marr and forming The Smiths in 1982. A great depiction of glum 1970s Manchester and an excellent cast, including a star turn from Jack Lowden as the criminally shy frontman.
24 Hour Party People
Not strictly speaking a biopic, but most definitely a wonderful tribute to the life and work of Factory Records boss Tony Wilson. Featuring Steve Coogan’s ace performance as the man himself, loads of great cameo, great music and a cracking joke about Simply Red, what more could you ask for?
Sid And Nancy
Gary Oldman has never been better than as the sneering, explosive, damaged Sid Vicious in this rip-roaring version of the Sex Pistols bassist’s short life. It’s a dark tale, yeah, but an important one too as it charts the destructive relationship between Vicious and Nancy Spungen. Oh, and look out for an early movie role for Courtney Love.
What’s better than a biopic that features one mega-interesting life? Rush had the answer: one with two mega-interesting lives. Centred on the rivalry between Formula One drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, this one has sex and drugs and a lot of fast cars.
Based on Wiseguy, the life of Mafia mobster-turned-informer Henry Hill, this is Martin Scorcese’s best film… maybe. From the prison cooking scene to the nightclub introductions, there’s not a single scene that isn’t instantly memorable.
What’s Love Got To Do With It
Angela Bassett is incredible as Tina Turner, from her childhood as Anna Mae Bullock through her abusive relationship with husband Ike, through to her big-haired, 1980s comeback. Inspiring and well-played throughout, particularly a thuggish turn from Lawrence Fishburne as Ike.
The life of the doomed Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis was always going to be a tough one to capture on film, so it helped to have Anton Corbijn directing it. He shot the most iconic photos of the band and gave the film a similarly striking look. Sam Riley is brilliant as Curtis, Samantha Morton is on top form as his wife and frankly Joe Anderson was born to play Peter Hook. The North has never looked bleaker.
Straight Outta Compton
Solid re-telling of the whole N.W.A. and gangsta rap story, with O’Shea Jackson Jr as Ice Cube, Corey Hawkins as Dr Dre and Jason Mitchell as Easy-E. There’s a lot to get your head round as the plot threads build up and loyalties get divided, but it’s a helluva story.
He wasn’t the most famous film director in the world, but King Of The B MoVies Edward D. Wood Jr led a wild and crazy life. He made the “worst film ever made”, Plan 9 From Outer Space, was a cross-dresser in his private life and knew some very strange people. Tim Burton directs Johnny Depp in a show-stopping performance and Martin Landau won an Oscar for his portrayal as the foul-mouthed horror star Bela Lugosi.
12 Years A Slave
It won three Oscars, it should have won them all. An adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir of being captured and sold into slavery, it stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s a hard watch at times but an important one too.
The Wolf Of Wall Street
Fair enough, it goes on a bit, but it’s a rollercoaster ride while you’re on it. Leonardo Di Caprio shines as real-life stockbroker Jordan Belfort, a man who should be very easy to hate but is someone you actually end up quite liking. Excellent support from Margot Robbie and Jonah Hill along the way.
One tactic that recent biopics have employed is covering one period of a person’s life, rather than trying to cram everything into 90 minutes. Nowhere Boy goes for that tactic, showing the early years of John Lennon rather than the whole of his life. It’s a really fun movie and even gets away with having the lad from Love Actually play Paul McCartney.
Mel Gibson is the least convincing Scotsman in cinematic history but there’s no denying that if you leave your brain (and history books) at the door, Braveheart is a blast, telling the story of warrior chief William Wallace leading the battle against the English. Even the bit where Mel flashes his bum at the English soldiers.
The rest of the band claimed it was “inaccurate” and critics thought it was overblown, but there’s no denying that Oliver Stone’s biopic of Jim Morrison and his band captures the woozy spirit of late 60s Los Angeles and all that went with it. Worth it for Val Kilmer’s show-stopping performance as Morrison and a cameo from Crispin “George McFly” Glover as Andy Warhol.