I thought I was going to have trouble choosing only 10 films to put on this list, and actually, the opposite turned out to be true. Looks like I haven’t seen as many biopics as I thought, and liked even fewer of them. But, I guess you could say that’s a good thing, since I enjoyed so few of them, that this list will end up being just the very best. No mediocrity here! hehe
I’m also going to try do a wee bit of research to see just how true the film really is. But I’m not a historian, or a time traveler, nor do I have an all-seeing eye, so please don’t be a jerk if I get something wrong. Google knows a lot, but what it doesn’t know is which articles are the actual truth, and with so much info out there, it’s almost impossible to separate the real truth from the rumours. But I’ll do my best.
I also won’t be including any horror or supernatural “true stories”. Since I already did both top horror and top serial killer films lists, I won’t include any of those in this list, to avoid repetition. And on that note, we’re off!
Title: The Runaways
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Michael Shannon, Stella Maeve, Scout Taylor-Compton, Alia Shawkat, Riley Keough, Johnny Lewis, and Tatum O’Neal
Released in: 2010
Directed by: Floria Sigismondi
Written by: Floria Sigismondi
Based On a Book?: Yes; Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story by Cherie Currie
Who is the Story About?: Cherie Currie, Joan Jett and their short-lived band The Runaways
How Close to the Truth Is It?: What Joan has said about the friction between Cherie, Kim Fowley, and herself: “There was more friendship than was shown. I never really had a falling-out with him, even after the band broke up. Disharmony is natural in any band. But there were times when we were on the same page. Kim and Cherie and I still have an extremely intimate bond.” What Cherie has said about the film depicting them as always being miserable: “And that’s not true at all. How do you shove two-and-a-half years into an hour and a half? That was tough because we had a lot of fun.”
Why I Love It: Such a fun film with great music and really strong acting. Think Kristen Stewart is a bad actress? Then you’ve only seen her in Twilight. Joan Jett herself has said that she was absolutely blown away by her performance. She was recorded as saying “It was like looking in a mirror”.
Title: The Basketball Diaries
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Lorraine Bracco, James Madio, Patrick McGaw, Juliette Lewis, Bruno Kirby, and Ernie Hudson
Released in: 1995
Directed by: Scott Kalvert
Written by: Bryan Goluboff
Based On a Book?: Yes; The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll
Who/What is the Story About?: The drug-hazed teenage years of writer/musician Jim Carroll.
How Close to the Truth Is It?: What Jim Carroll has said about the film: “I thought it was well made. I thought the performances were fantastic. I thought Leonardo was wonderful; I couldn’t have asked for a better actor. I thought the whole cast was great. Unfortunately, the director had no idea what my book was about. And then the ending was much more ambiguous [originally]. They changed it and re-shot it in LA, so I didn’t know about that until I saw the final version of the film. And so I said, “You’re not gonna like make it fucked up and preachy and stuff??” and they said, “No, no!” But that’s what they did!”
Why I Love It: Despite the fact that it’s pretty far from the truth, it’s still a wonderful, albeit hard to watch, film. Leo turns his performance up to 11, and he really shines.
Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Hume Cronyn, Martin Landau, Roddy McDowall, Robert Stephens, Francesca Annis, George Cole, and Kenneth Haigh
Released in: 1963
Directed by: Joseph L Mankiewicz
Written by: Joseph L Mankiewicz, Ranald MacDougall, Sidney Buchman
Based On a Book?: Yes; The Life and Times of Cleopatra by CM Franzero, plus historical texts by Plutarch, Appian, and Suetonius
Who/What is the Story About?: The life, rule and eventual death of Ancient Egypt’s last Pharaoh, Queen Cleopatra, and the two men in her life, Julius Caeser and Mark Antony.
How Close to the Truth Is It?: Wikipedia says: “On the whole, the film followed the history of the period fairly closely, and took fewer liberties with historical accuracy than several other epics. However, there are a few minor inaccuracies:” Click here for the list.
Why I Love It: I don’t think I need to explain. I love everything Ancient Egyptian, and this film is beautiful, lush, and actually quite historically accurate, which is sadly rare in Hollywood. Elizabeth Taylor is breath-taking in the lead role, oozing sexuality and power, much as I assume the real Cleopatra would have.
Starring: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Angus Macfadyen, Catherine McCormack, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Cox, Peter Hanly, Stephen Billington, Barry McGovern, and Tommy Flanagan
Released in: 1995
Directed by: Mel Gibson
Written by: Randall Wallace
Based On a Book?: Yes; The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace by “Blind Harry”
Who/What is the Story About?: The life and death of William Wallace, a 13th century Scot who led the First War of Scottish Independence against Edward I of England.
How Close to the Truth Is It?: This is one of the most famously inaccurate films in Hollywood history. I won’t even try to list it all. Click here to see what Wikipedia has to say on the subject. Give yourself some time, there’s a lot there :-p
Why I Love It: Despite it’s glaring inaccuracies, one can’t deny this is a beautiful, powerful film. Shows just what Mel Gibson could accomplish before he went bat-shit crazy.
Title: Remember the Titans
Starring: Denzel Washington, Will Patton, Wood Harris, Ryan Hurst, Donald Faison, Craig Kirkwood, Ryan Gosling, Hayden Panettiere, Kip Pardue, Ethan Suplee, Nicole Ari Parker, and Kate Bosworth
Released in: 2000
Directed by: Boaz Yakin
Written by: Gregory Allen Howard
Based On a Book?: No
Who/What is the Story About?: Black football coach Herman Boone is assigned to TC Williams High School’s team the Titans, and the first inter-racial school in the United States.
How Close to the Truth Is It?: The core of the story (integration of the races, most of the players and games) seems to be all there, but a lot of the smaller details (or most of them, rather) are fictionalized. Click here to see what Chasing the Frog (a website devoted to uncovering the real truth behind Hollywood’s “true stories”) has to say about it.
Why I Love It: I’m not the biggest fan of sports films, or sports in general for that matter (except hockey, I am Canadian, after all 😉 ), but every so often one comes along that I really love. The story is good, the acting all on point, and it’s so fun to see a bunch of actors who are big now getting their start here, like hunky Ryan Gosling.
Title: Immortal Beloved
Starring: Gary Oldman, Jeroen Krabbé, Isabella Rossellini, Johanna ter Steege, Marco Hofschneider, Miriam Margolyes, Barry Humphries, and Valeria Golino
Released in: 1994
Directed by: Bernard Rose
Written by: Bernard Rose
Based On a Book?: No
Who/What is the Story About?: The life (and loves) of great composer Ludwig van Beethoven.
How Close to the Truth Is It?: I actually didn’t know a whole lot (that means nothing) about Beethoven’s life before writing this except for what I’d seen in the film. Doing my Googling now, I can see that I may as well have been watching fiction. In the words of movie critic Lewis Butler: “About the only things they got right were that Beethoven wrote the 9th Symphony and that he died.” Ouch. You can read the rest of his review here.
Why I Love It: Having not known how historically inaccurate it was before now will be my excuse for loving this as much as I did. Bah, who am I kidding? I’d have loved it anyways. It’s beautiful, schmoopy, and Gary Oldman gives a tour de force performance, as usual.
Title: Party Monster
Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Seth Green, Chloë Sevigny, Dylan McDermott, Wilmer Valderrama, Wilson Cruz, Mia Kirshner, and Marilyn Manson
Released in: 2003
Directed by: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
Written by: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
Based On a Book?: Yes; Disco Bloodbath by James St James
Who/What is the Story About?: The rise and fall of legendary 90’s “club kid” Michael Alig.
How Close to the Truth Is It?: When asked if the film retained “the true vibe of it all”, James St James had this to say: “Well, was Cleopatra really like Elizabeth Taylor? Was Erin Brockovich anything like Julia Roberts? Movies are movies. They are meant to entertain. Was it a moment-by-moment depiction of our lives and our relationship? Oh my god no. But it captured the spirit of the times and that’s all you can hope for.” He has also expressed pure love for Seth Green and his performance.
Why I Love It: It’s fun, colourful, with great music and great performances, especially, as James has said, Seth Green’s. He ate up every inch of the screen while he was on it, and it was wonderful.
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Derek Jacobi, Djimon Hounsou, Spencer Treat Clark, Richard Harris, David Schofield, and John Shrapnel
Released in: 2000
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson
Based On a Book?: No
Who/What is the Story About?: An enslaved soldier determined to see the Emperor who murdered his family pay for his crimes.
How Close to the Truth Is It?: Well… Commodus was real, as were all the other members of his family. And that’s about it. Heroic Maximus is fiction. Commodus wasn’t the swellest dude around, but he was nowhere near as gross as he’s played on screen. Here’s a more detailed account of the historical untruths told by the film, on a cool blog called Historical Histrionics. Looks like he only did a few posts, though, which is a shame, because they’re well written.
Why I Love It: It’s actually thanks to this film, historical inaccuracies and all, that I got so interested in ancient history. I mean, I’d always been interested, especially in ancient Egypt, but seeing this really made me want to know more about ancient Rome. I was a little disappointed to find out how inaccurate this film actually is, but it didn’t make me love it any less.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Geraldine Chaplin, Paul Rhys, Moira Kelly, Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, Marisa Tomei, Penelope Ann Miller, Kevin Kline, Maria Pitillo, and Milla Jovovich
Released in: 1992
Directed by: Richard Attenborough
Written by: William Boyd, Bryan Forbes, William Goldman
Based On a Book?: Yes; My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin, and Chaplin His Life and Art by David Robinson
Who/What is the Story About?: The life and work of legendary comedian Charlie Chaplin.
How Close to the Truth Is It?: I’m actually having some trouble looking stuff up. There’s lots of reviews of the film, but even Wikipedia doesn’t have much on whether or not it’s very accurate. As far as I can tell, it seems to pretty accurate, although there’s a lot cut out (the man lived to 88, you couldn’t get all that into one film), and they seem to gloss over some rather important stuff, while focusing on some more minor things. Gotta highlight the dramatic, I guess. This movie review was the one I found with the most historical information.
Why I Love It: This is the film that made me fall in love with Robert Downey Jr. He was ridiculously perfect for the role, and the rest of the film just falls perfectly into place around him. He should have won the Oscar that year. I’ve no idea who won, but I can tell you that he wasn’t as good as Robert.
Starring: Tom Hulce, F Murray Abraham, Elizabeth Berridge, Roy Dotrice, Simon Callow, Christine Ebersole, Jeffrey Jones, and Charles Kay
Released in: 1984
Directed by: Milos Forman
Written by: Peter Shaffer
Based On a Book?: No, a play :-p Amadeus by Peter Shaffer
Who/What is the Story About?: The life, music, and death of musical prodigy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
How Close to the Truth Is It?: Well… not very actually. In the words of movie critic Alex von Tunzelmann: “A deadly rivalry that never was, a dried-up bachelor who was actually a father of eight, and flops that were hits in reality … even getting Mozart’s toilet humour right cannot redeem it.” She definitely didn’t like the film. You can read the rest of her scathing review here.
Why I Love It: I knew going into it that it wasn’t historically accurate. And do I care? Not a lick. I know a biopic is supposed to tell a true story, and I am sorry that so many people think that this is the way things actually went down, but I’ll be damned if I don’t just love this film to pieces. Fart jokes and all.
What are your favourite biopics? Let me know in the comments, and stay tuned for more!