A genre that has proven to be fruitful for both actors and production companies in award shows and at the box office is biopics. This has been a winning combination for many movies, including hits like Born To Be Blue, I’m Not Here and The King’s Speech.
Witnessing the real-life struggles of great personalities, who shaped the world to what we see today is truly breathtaking. The most recent example of this sort of movie is Freddie Mercury’s biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. The movie has become a massive box office success, grossing over $800 million worldwide on a production budget of about $50 million.
It became the highest-grossing musical biographical film and the highest-grossing biopic, thanks to Rami Malek’s outstanding portrayal of the late Freddie Mercury. His performance was widely praised by critics and audiences, including Queen guitarist Brian May, who said,
“We kind of saw Freddie in him and we could sense Rami's passion. The first time we saw him was actually in Roger's flat. It must have been horrible for him, having us watching him for the first time. But we were really blown away by him and his ability to perform--- he's incredible.”
A Beautiful Mind (2001) – Russell Crowe
Russell Crowe went from the heights of notoriety to the depths of depravity while depicting John Nash in the 2001 movie, A Beautiful Mind. Based on a book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar, Crowe delicately expressed how paranoid schizophrenia and delusional episodes cause strain on a brilliant mathematician’s ties at home and work.
While a few mathematicians were ever considered worthy material of a full budget Hollywood blockbuster, the movie was a splendid success both critically and commercially and Crowe’s performance was applauded by everyone. Unfortunately, John Nash and his wife were killed in a car crash in 2015.
Downfall (2004) – Bruno Ganz
Bruno Ganz was widely lauded for his performance as German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler in this epic historical biopic. The scene of Hitler’s outrage in the bunker was so iconic that it spawned thousands of memes and parody videos on the internet. The film depicts the final days of Hitler and the surrender of Berlin to the Soviet army. To prepare for his role, Ganz studied an 11-minute recording of a private conversation between Hitler and Finnish Field Marshal Mannerheim for four months. The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
The German-language film was critically and commercially successful, while Bruno’s portrayal of the German leader was criticized extensively. In 2015, the director of the movie Oliver Hirschbiegel stated,
“Everyone intelligent knows that evil comes along with a smiling face.”
Schindler’s List (1993) – Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson rose to the zenith of prominence after his portrayal of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who arrived in Krakow, Poland during World War II.
He bribes Nazi leaders and sets up a factory using the cheap labor of the Polish Jews. After witnessing the horrifying murder of thousands of Jewish people in the Ghettos, Schindler is moved by their plight and tries to save as many of his Jewish workers from the holocaust. The movie was directed in black and white by Steven Spielberg and won seven academy awards and is often cited as “the greatest movie ever made”.
This role put Neeson on the center of the acting world. Liam puts in a solid performance and deserved every accolade that came his way.
Walk the Line (2005) - Joaquin Phoenix
Nominated for 5 Oscars, including Best Actor and Best Actress, Walk the Line was a class act. The film chronicled the rise to fame of country singer Johnny Cash and his personal struggles. Joaquin Phoenix portrayed Cash, alongside Reese Witherspoon. The film netted Reese an Oscar but it was Joaquin Phoenix's Johnny Cash that truly shined.
With a dignified, nuanced portrayal, Joaquin adopted a heavily southern accent for the role. The film delves into the childhood of the country singer and his volatile life, which threatens his relationships.
The Social Network (2010) – Jesse Eisenberg
The Social Network depicts the slightly socially awkward Facebook creator and the youngest self-made billionaire Mark Zuckerberg’s time at Harvard and the beginnings of Facebook. Jesse Eisenberg’s uncanny resemblance of the real Zuckerberg and his spot-on impression of his mannerism makes it feel like we’re watching the actual events unfold before us.
The film earned eight Academy Award nominations including, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Jesse Eisenberg. In 2016, it was ranked 27th among 100 films in the list of the best films of the 21st century voted by 117 critics from around the world.
The Revenant (2015) - Leonardo DiCaprio
Hugh Glass survived a bear attack. That alone would be an extraordinary feat, but the legendary hunter and trapper then traveled a distance of 200 miles with a broken leg and deep cuts in his back that exposed his ribs. The extraordinary life and achievements of the hunter were chronicled in 2015’s The Revenant. Leonardo DiCaprio brought his usual flair of meticulous acting onto the screen, giving us a dark tale of revenge and survival instincts.
DiCaprio got his first Oscar win for this role in 2016. The role was widely praised, despite criticisms made for the long runtime of the film. DiCaprio accepted the Oscar and demanded urgent action against global warming, which caused the shooting of the film to be delayed.
The Iron Lady (2011) - Meryl Streep
No movie list is complete without Meryl Streep. 2011’s The Iron Lady earned Meryl her 3rd Oscar. She has been nominated a total of 21 nominations till date. Meryl portrayed the late ex-prime minister Margaret Thatcher in this biopic. Despite the film receiving mixed reviews, Meryl’s performance was unanimously praised.
The life of the strong headed Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party was presented in a rather dramatized variation in the film. The film was criticized for its historical inaccuracies. Regardless of its performance, Meryl cemented her status further with the biopic, and it earned her multiple awards and nominations besides the coveted Oscar.
Seven Years in Tibet (1997) - Brad Pitt
Seven Years in Tibet is a film adaptation of Mountaineer Heinrich Harrer’s book with the same name, based on his real-life experiences in Tibet between 1944 and 1951. It chronicles the story of two Austrian mountaineers who are stuck in British governed India during World War II in 1944. As they make their way through the Himalayan Mountain Range, the two arrive in Tibet and are granted an audience with Tibet’s spiritual and political leader His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
Brad Pitt was a huge star at the time and his delicate and decisive handling of the role keeps us grounded in the mystical land of Tibet. Mountaineer Heinrich Harrer was among the first few westerners to set foot inside the forbidden capital city of Lhasa, much less the Lhasa Palace. Adventure seems to be this movie’s theme, and it’s got it in spades. Truly, a treat to watch. The nature of the film sparked ire from Chinese authorities, who banned Pitt from entering China ever again.
Goodfellas (1990) - Ray Liotta
1990’s GoodFellas has Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro in full gangster swagger with Martin Scorsese at the helm in prime form. Based on the non-fiction book Wiseguy, it chronicles the life of Henry Hill played by Ray Liotta as he grows up in New York amidst the mob and a life of crime. The supporting character of mob guy Tommy was played by Joe Pesci, which earned him an Oscar and became one of his most memorable roles.
The film was selected to be preserved in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress. Ray Liotta has starred in many iconic roles in films such as Field Of Dreams and Hannibal, but will always be remembered as the fresh-faced gangster Henry Hill.
Lincoln (2012) – Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed Abraham Lincoln in this biopic. Hailed by scholars and critics alike as the greatest actor of this generation, Sir Daniel Day-Lewis is one of a few actors who are highly selective with their roles as he has appeared in only eight movies since 1988. So, when he chose to portray America’s 16th President, we knew he came prepared. With worldwide critical acclaim and commercial success, one critic wrote,
"Daniel Day-Lewis characteristically delivers in this witty, dignified portrait that immerses the audience in its world and entertains even as it informs."
Lewis won an Oscar for this role, becoming the only actor to win three Oscars in the Best Actor category.