10 Biopics To Watch Immediately

by | December 22, 2015 | Comments

Einar Wegener is not exactly a household name, but if you happen upon The Danish Girl, the Eddie Redmayne-starring biopic based on Wegener’s life, you’ll come away knowing a little bit more about what it was like to be transgender in the early part of the 20th century. A thoughtful, well-considered biopic can do what your history textbook never could: make the past come alive and comment on our present moment. Here’s a batch of fresh-rated biopics of people famous — Jackie Robinson, Queen Elizabeth II — and not-quite-so. That’s the other secret power of films about real people: immortalizing nearly-forgotten institutionalized female artists and recovering drug addicts who go on very long hikes.

42 (2013) 81%


This underappreciated film should have made Chadwick Boseman a movie star. He’s that good as baseball legend Jackie Robinson. Of course, Get On Up also should have made Chadwick Boseman a movie star. He played James Brown in that one and nobody went to see it, either. But back to 42: Boseman all but resurrects the patient, determined, no-nonsense athlete who broke the color barrier in professional baseball way back in 1947 during his rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was, as you might imagine, not an easy task. Hate from fans and his own teammates tested the man every time he took the field, but Robinson never gave anyone the satisfaction of clapping back. Director Brian Helgeland, along with his extremely talented lead, creates a sobering look back at the historical realties of American sports and American racism. As for Boseman, he’s about to enter the Marvel universe as Black Panther. Movie star achievement coming soon.

Watch Trailer

Belle (2014) 84%


Maybe you thought this was just another period British costume drama, the kind that country creates with impeccable precision, all for your mom to enjoy. But Belle glides along in its own lane, taking on the ugliest truths about the English aristocracy, and inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). She was the mixed race child of Admiral John Lindsay, raised by her great-uncle Lord Mansfield in a world of privilege, one punctured by the restrictions of her race. It was the time of slavery in England, after all, which meant Belle was unable to participate fully in the world in which she lived. Solution: fight the power and work as an abolitionist, of course. Amma Assante’s direction is clear-cut and modern, necessarily imposing today’s wisdom on historical horror, while Mbatha-Raw (who was also excellent in the same year’s underrated Beyond The Lights) moves slyly through a story that demands her character’s allegiance to strict codes and the disobedient nerve to break them.

Watch Trailer

Bright Star (2009) 82%


So it’s the early part of the 19th century and you are a passionately-in-love couple of young people. But you have to keep it secret. That’s the problem faced by English poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and headstrong, fashion-minded Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). They don’t even like each other much, at first, which is romantic-drama-speak for “gotta have it,” and no one approves, of course, which makes it that much hotter. But if you think you know how this all goes, then you should also know that it’s a film by Jane Campion (The Piano), one of the world’s great directors. Campion understands the clichés inherent in this kind of story and she navigates around them with skill and intensity, delivering instead a truthful film about living a real life in a time that required a crushing denial of that same reality.

Watch Trailer

Camille Claudel, 1915 (2013) 80%


If you’re here for demanding, difficult director Bruno Dumont, then you’ve already seen this one. But chances are you’re here because Juliette Binoche is one of best actors on the planet and you never even knew this film existed. Well, get ready to work, because Camille Claudel, 1915 is an exacting drama of the long-take school, featuring a deeply felt, and highly specific performance from Binoche as an artist whose life was marked by slow, inexorable tragedy. Claudel, once the mistress of sculptor Auguste Rodin, is committed to an asylum in southern France and left to waste away. Binoche, burrowing deeply into the emptiness, speaks very little, but says everything. A tough but rewarding feel-bad experience for people who don’t need happy endings.

Watch Trailer

Fruitvale Station (2013) 94%


At the moment, Michael B. Jordan is impressing audiences in Creed, but his promise was announced with this earlier film by Creed’s director Ryan Coogler. It’s a true story, one that could have been taken from any headline of the past few years, and stars Jordan as Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man in Oakland, California, who lost his life on New Year’s Day, 2009, when he was murdered by a police officer at an Oakland BART station. It begins with cellphone video of the real killing. But instead of delving into documentary-style drama about the event itself, Coogler shows you Grant moving through his last day, dealing with work and family and friends. This approach heightens the despair and sense of wasted life by forcing the audience to live with the everyday humanity of the crime’s victim, rather than a just-the-facts approach resulting in one more numbing statistic created by institutional racism.

Watch Trailer

Philomena (2013) 91%


This tear-jerker is based on the harrowing story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), an Irish woman whose youthful unplanned pregnancy resulted in her confinement to a cruel, prison-like convent, her child put up for adoption against her will. In her later years, she joins a journalist (Steve Coogan) in the hunt for her now-adult lost child, unprepared for what she’ll find. Now, when the deck is this stacked with tragedy, a strong center is required to avoid overselling the pain. That means you go get Judi Dench. Audiences have placed massive amounts of goodwill in her, and for good reason. She’s a walking empathy machine, gently and intelligently tugging at your heart when lesser actors would mercilessly wrestle it to the ground. Her soft-spoken, perhaps needlessly naïve and devout truth-seeker (compared to the real life woman, whose relationship with the Church that abused her involves no love lost) is all goodness, all forgiveness. This is how she earns your tears. And you will shed them.

Watch Trailer

The Queen (2006) 96%


Is this really how Queen Elizabeth II behaved behind closed doors in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death? Did she have a genuine crisis of manners and standards? Was she forced to contend with the changes taking place outside the confines of royal life, where contemporary public expectations of figureheads shifted, altered by that public’s relationship with Diana herself? We’ll probably never really know for sure, but as portrayed by Helen Mirren, we now want to believe that the stoic monarch in the pastel-colored hats had a dormant heart that grew three sizes the moment Elton John re-recorded “Candle in The Wind.” Mirren carries the film like it all rests on her shoulders – it does, by the way – and she does so gracefully, balancing regulation and feeling like a proper queen. She won a well-deserved Oscar for it, too.

Watch Trailer

Selma (2014) 99%


One of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2014 was, strangely, ignored at the box office and by award-giving organizations. Perhaps it all felt like it might be the moviegoing equivalent of homework, but Ava DuVernay’s Selma is a huge achievement, both in re-examining the past through fresh eyes, as well as in sheer entertainment. This is not a saintly MLK. David Oyelowo portrays the legendary civil rights leader as a real, flawed, sometimes frightened, sometimes furious man, and you can’y take your eyes off him. Maybe people stayed away because the story of King’s campaign to secure the Voting Rights Act of 1965 might have felt too real in a moment when politicians are still trying to figure out ways to keep non-white Americans from voting. Whatever your reasons for avoiding it were, you were wrong. Go watch this one today.

Watch Trailer

Violette (2014) 86%


You’ve heard about the famous French writer Simone de Beauvoir. Well, this is not about her. Instead, it’s the story of Violette Leduc, a French author who was deeply involved with de Beauvoir for years. As played by Emmanuelle Devos, this lesser-known literary figure is a fascinatingly complex cauldron of conflicting feelings, a woman filled with unhappiness who was stoutly determined to get what she wanted, grasping for life and personal connection anywhere she could find it. She had an iron will and a prickly personality that you won’t like, but also won’t soon forget. Sometimes it’s the unlikeliest people who make the most interesting subjects.

Watch Trailer

Wild (2014) 88%


This is not Reese Witherspoon’s 127 Hours, her Incredible Journey, or anything else you think it is. It’s a much more subtle story about a woman’s determination to finish what she starts and heal herself along the way. Based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild tells the story of the troubled author’s 1,100 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. She encounters danger and despair, but not the kind you expect. In fact, very little of this movie relies on the usual prestige picture story beats and cathartic uplifts, the kind that secure nominations and awards. Meanwhile, Witherspoon’s performance rivals her Oscar-winning turn as June Carter in Walk The Line. She’s that good, as is Laura Dern as her mother.

Watch Trailer

  • phylos

    The Social Network is a better film than the entirety of this list and I certainly like Rush more than all of them too.

    And those are just the omissions off the top of my head.

    • Brandon

      Agreed, The Social Network will go down as one of the best movies of this generation. I don’t know why it’s not included on this list, whoever wrote this should seriously reconsider.

    • Larry Strong

      While it is a good film, I find Zuckerberg so distasteful, I can’t bear to acknowledge it. Facebook, otherwise known as DIY Background Check.

      • phylos

        Even assuming that one’s opinion of the subject matter of a movie matters to its overall quality, which it doesn’t, your comment made in a system born thanks in part to the influence of facebook speaks for itself.
        Which means that not only The Social Network is a better movie, it’s also more relevant to our times than most of them, with the sole exception of Selma. And with that one is more about what it represents, which social media has helped advance greatly, than anything else.

      • meredith_angel

        I feel the same about Reese Witherspoon. Ever since she pitched that “Do you know who I am” hissy fit at a police officer and then proceeded to continue to lie to him and to the people at the police station after her husband was arrested for drunk driving, I just do not want to put any more money in her pocket. So, Wild just doesn’t look that great to me. (Although, I did go see Gone Girl & she produced it, but I still didn’t like the thought that it would benefit her in any way).

  • Jan Terri

    I can’t wait for the biopic about that guy who commented on the internet.

  • Genadijus Lesiuk

    You forgot to include “La vie rose” with Marion Cottilard, also “W.” with Josh Brolin is kind of under-rated.

  • Paul

    Wow! What an incredible list of nothing I want to see!

Tag Cloud

Lifetime MCU Year in Review twilight name the review finale Shudder ABC foreign indie Hulu Lucasfilm Tarantino talk show Stephen King cinemax zero dark thirty Captain marvel canceled screenings SundanceTV obituary die hard diversity Crunchyroll 2020 vampires YouTube latino Showtime Black Mirror Crackle Marvel Studios remakes cancelled TV shows renewed TV shows Peacock BAFTA Starz Horror ESPN YouTube Red Trailer spinoff halloween BBC America A&E Western Heroines Martial Arts natural history VICE 2019 miniseries DirecTV Baby Yoda Funimation women dramedy Television Critics Association rt archives The Walking Dead deadpool christmas movies Rocketman boxing discovery sag awards critics The CW Sundance Teen X-Men cats BBC 4/20 anime Writers Guild of America Mary Poppins Returns Tumblr Holiday slashers spider-man scary movies documentaries Summer ID PlayStation serial killer APB Action dogs tv talk news spy thriller E3 Best and Worst YouTube Premium Fantasy crime joker Syfy DC Comics Academy Awards psychological thriller Pirates TCA 2017 cooking franchise DC Universe 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards what to watch Sneak Peek Rock CMT DGA San Diego Comic-Con History ViacomCBS elevated horror comic books sequel President Cartoon Network SDCC 2017 Rom-Com Creative Arts Emmys based on movie Pop Classic Film Lionsgate black LGBTQ Family MSNBC Awards Tour unscripted comiccon comedies harry potter french Video Games BET Awards The Purge Music Reality Arrowverse indiana jones cars festival jamie lee curtis Bravo National Geographic HBO 45 GoT Opinion 24 frames pirates of the caribbean adventure breaking bad Pop TV witnail The Witch cults series movie laika anthology versus Epix USA Network stop motion Box Office LGBT VH1 game show war PBS superhero chucky Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Valentine's Day composers 2016 singing competition biography best mutant fresh a nightmare on elm street Paramount FXX james bond Amazon Prime golden globe awards Quiz canceled TV shows toy story Discovery Channel documentary video Acorn TV SXSW dragons Netflix mockumentary Oscars Set visit Countdown TruTV robots 2018 Film Musical docudrama trailers comic 72 Emmy Awards Winter TV universal monsters spain TNT Anna Paquin Awards Turner Classic Movies VOD Country Tomatazos WarnerMedia sitcom 2015 award winner psycho Universal stand-up comedy 21st Century Fox Masterpiece Walt Disney Pictures Star Trek The Walt Disney Company Polls and Games GIFs YA TV Land parents dc asian-american halloween tv Certified Fresh TLC El Rey Mary Tyler Moore true crime Grammys First Reviews Vudu sequels Reality Competition 99% cartoon Mindy Kaling cancelled television green book Columbia Pictures Cannes adaptation Superheroes australia criterion Apple TV+ fast and furious Podcast boxoffice Nat Geo Infographic Fall TV 007 Dark Horse Comics space rom-coms crossover Warner Bros. See It Skip It game of thrones free movies Spike Trivia Comedy Sci-Fi television Paramount Network Sundance Now Amazon A24 Superheroe Pixar streaming directors Mudbound Endgame cancelled TV series batman Thanksgiving spanish language TV renewals movies venice CW Seed worst CBS Star Wars Alien mission: impossible political drama Marathons Song of Ice and Fire Elton John FX on Hulu supernatural Trophy Talk Marvel Television ABC Family CBS All Access BET 71st Emmy Awards spanish Disney Plus TCA Awards quibi GLAAD period drama social media Marvel OneApp Esquire book child's play nfl cancelled police drama HBO Max sports Election festivals japanese WGN USA ITV Fox Searchlight Black History Month Interview scorecard NBC Musicals hollywood Apple TV Plus Chernobyl revenge TCA Animation Spectrum Originals doctor who FX ABC Signature Winners IFC Films Chilling Adventures of Sabrina TIFF Schedule DC streaming service Netflix Christmas movies Shondaland Pride Month Brie Larson Comedy Central Toys Emmy Nominations teaser PaleyFest reboot Biopics rotten movies we love archives Apple Mary poppins Disney+ Disney Plus binge south america kids dark FOX Emmys Ghostbusters Nominations zombies RT History travel Rocky Fox News crime thriller hispanic werewolf transformers emmy awards Freeform Britbox nature Women's History Month Travel Channel Logo Super Bowl Ellie Kemper The Academy Extras HBO Go ghosts Paramount Plus toronto Comics on TV Film Festival Spring TV Pet Sematary stoner Holidays Premiere Dates Turner justice league Christmas E! italian worst movies Disney 20th Century Fox theme song Photos Sundance TV hist Food Network RT21 rotten all-time dceu Mystery OWN medical drama Avengers New York Comic Con independent Hallmark Christmas movies Watching Series Cosplay crime drama Lifetime Christmas movies Amazon Studios Disney streaming service science fiction thriller jurassic park TCA Winter 2020 romance Nickelodeon Amazon Prime Video MTV satire technology Comic Book disaster Tubi American Society of Cinematographers aliens CNN Television Academy NYCC ratings TCM TBS TV One politics facebook blockbuster Character Guide AMC children's TV reviews romantic comedy casting The Arrangement films Sony Pictures Binge Guide Drama classics zombie animated richard e. Grant football Adult Swim comics First Look Red Carpet TV cops golden globes Kids & Family Ovation IFC historical drama Calendar Hear Us Out video on demand nbcuniversal strong female leads blaxploitation BBC One concert Disney Channel screen actors guild Hallmark