The 20 Best Biopics of the 21st Century
Biopics are one of the best film genres. Not only do these based-on-a-true-story movies entertain, they also teach us about some of the most fascinating people in history, politics, and pop culture. Biopics also inspire; they show us what’s possible when people follow their passions and refuse to surrender to mediocre lives. These 20 flicks capture the best of the real-life narratives that have graced the silver screen this century.
Photo: Fox 2000 Pictures
20. 'Rocketman' (2019)
Pop superstar Elton John’s eccentric personality, epic career, and addiction issues are at the center of this bold biopic starring Taron Egerton.
19. 'The Social Network' (2010)
This David Fincher-directed biopic tells the origin story of Facebook from Mark Zuckerberg’s point of view – meaning that of a wounded, narcissistic asshole. The film follows the creation of the social media site when Zuckerberg was just an undergrad to legal complications after he reaches billionaire status. We don’t feel sorry for him by any means, but the film is a rare (and slightly sinister) peek behind the curtain.
18. 'Julie & Julia' (2009)
This biopic gives you two true stories. The first is that of Julia Child (Meryl Streep), a food lover turned cookbook author and TV chef. The second is of Julie Powell (Amy Adams), an unfulfilled New Yorker who decides to cook – and blog about – every recipe in Child’s magnum opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The meatiest part of this biopic, though, is the tender relationship between Julia and her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci).
17. 'Marie Antoinette' (2006)
Austrian princess Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) was only 14 years old when she was recruited to become queen of France and produce an heir with Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman). Director Sofia Coppola depicted her cloistered, if spoiled, life with lush visuals and a modern soundtrack of punk, new wave, and pop.
16. 'Selma' (2014)
This critically-acclaimed civil rights biopic follows Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) in his quest for equal voting rights and the legendary march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965.
15. 'Jackie' (2016)
One of history’s favorite first ladies, Jackie Kennedy, is flawlessly portrayed by Natalie Portman in this biopic that follows her during the shell-shocked days immediately after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
14. 'Erin Brockovich' (2000)
Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) is an unlikely hero. After the unemployed single mother has a car accident, she convinces her lawyer to hire her, which leads her to discover a that a California power company has been covering up water pollution that is destroying residents’ health. Her stubborn persistence led to one of the biggest class-action lawsuits in history.
13. 'I, Tonya' (2017)
Hardscrabble Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) was one of the most controversial figures in the sports world in the ‘90s. After being the first American female figure skater to land a triple axel in competition, her career imploded when her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) organized a heinous assault on Harding’s Olympic competitor Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). This biopic traces Harding’s rough road, from the daughter of abusive, alcoholic mother LaVona (Allison Janney) to the battered wife of Gillooly. It provides context, but not an excuse, for the talented, troubled athlete’s professional downfall.
12. 'Notorious' (2009)
This biopic examines the final years of the short life of Notorious B.I.G. (Jamal Woolard), a rapper signed by Sean Combs at age 20 and murdered only four years later.
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures
11. 'The King's Speech' (2010)
England's Prince Albert (Colin Firth) must overcome his stammer in order to take the throne as King George VI. He does so with speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), with whom he forms a lifelong friendship in this beloved biopic.
10. '12 Years a Slave' (2013)
This biopic is based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from the North who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South.
9. 'The Wolf of Wall Street' (2013)
Martin Scorsese’s take on corrupt stock broker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in this whiplash-paced biopic that follows Belfort’s humble beginnings to obscene wealth to federal persecution.
8. 'Unbroken' (2014)
This biopic directed by Angelina Jolie and written by the Coen brothers tells the true story Olympic runner Louie Zamperini who enlisted in WWII. After his plane crashes in the middle of the ocean, he and a fellow serviceman barely survive being stranded at sea for 47 days. When a boat finally comes to their rescue, they’re disheartened to find out it’s the Japanese, who take them to a prisoner of war camp. Zamperini endures unimaginable torture but manages to forgive his captors years after the war ends.
7. 'The Imitation Game' (2014)
British mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is responsible for creating a device that decrypted messages sent by the Germans on the Enigma Machine during WWII. This film follows Turing’s exhilarating discovery process and professional successes, but it also depicts the pain he suffered as a result of being a closeted gay man in an era when homosexuality was illegal in England. As a man ahead of his time (he laid the groundwork for what would become the computer), his story is both inspiring and tragic.
6. 'Frida' (2002)
Salma Hayek nailed her performance as famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in this visually stunning biopic. Kahlo’s personal life was as vibrant as her artwork: she survived an agonizing accident that left her unable to bear children, became a respected artist during a period in history when female artists were often disregarded, and carried on unapologetic affairs with both men and women. If you don’t fall for Kahlo during this film, you haven’t been paying attention.
5. 'Capote' (2005)
Novelist Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) travels to small-town Kansas to cover the shocking murders of a family by two men. The writer grows close to one of the killers, threatening to compromise his journalistic integrity. Seymour Hoffman downright disappears in this role about the events that became the basis for Capote’s In Cold Blood, one of the bestselling true crime books in history.
4. 'Milk' (2008)
In this heartbreaking biopic, Sean Penn shines as Harvey Milk, a trailblazing politician who became the first openly gay man elected to public office in Californian history before being senselessly assassinated by a colleague.
3. 'The Fighter' (2010)
Boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) decides to cut ties with his half-brother trainer, Dicky Eklund Jr. (Christian Bale), a boxing legend in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, who has succumbed to crack addiction. Family tensions run high as Micky struggles to differentiate himself while Dicky is confronted with the fleeting nature of fame. This biopic packs an intense punch, and it’s one you won’t soon forget.
2. 'The Old Man & the Gun' (2018)
Forrest Tucker (Robert Redford) is a charming old man, and it’s that charm that allows him to effortlessly rob banks all over the country. Though Tucker has been in jail 18 times, he’s a talented escape artist. And despite his rap sheet, he manages to find love with Jewel (Sissy Spacek), a smart widow who is among the many who fall for the outlaw’s wiles. Redford couldn’t have picked a better film to be his last.
1. 'Walk the Line' (2005)
Joaquin Phoenix perfectly captured iconic country musician Johnny Cash in this biopic which covers the singer-songwriter meeting and marrying June Carter, the infamous Folsom Prison concert, and his journey to sobriety.