Biographical films have been a mainstay in cinema for decades. In the early days, these movies tended to be more entertaining than historically accurate. But times change, and films evolve. Filmmakers began to give us stories with more accurate portrayals without compromising artistic value. Of course, some liberties within these films still exist. No matter what, some of the genre’s most outstanding films continue to capture filmgoers’ hearts and minds.
1. The Aviator (2004)
Director Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator enthralls viewers, giving them style and substance. The film tells the true story of the eccentric and brilliant pilot, inventor, filmmaker, entrepreneur, and lady's man Howard Hughes. This knowledgeable man made his mark on Hollywood with grandiose filmmaking. But he soared into the stratosphere with his work in aviation. The movie also highlights his relationships with actresses Katharine Hepburn and Ava Gardner.
2. Finding Neverland (2004)
Delicate and moving, Finding Neverland tells the story of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp). Barrie’s life changes when he meets and befriends the lovely widow Sylvia (Kate Winslet) and her four boys. He shows the children the power of belief and imagination, finds a kinship with Sylvia, and is ultimately inspired to write one of the most timeless stories ever. The blend of light fantasy and reality, superb performances, and a glorious musical score make this beautiful and melancholy film a lovely gem.
3. Hidden Figures (2016)
Hidden Figures follows a group of mathematicians known as “human computers” during the earliest days of NASA space exploration. Never getting their fair due or publicity, these African-American women were critical to the safety and success of multiple missions, all while facing discrimination, harassment, and poor working conditions. The film showcases their perseverance in the face of injustice and adversity, showing the world their bravery, tenacity, and brilliance.
4. Erin Brockovich (2000)
Erin Brockovich follows a down-on-her-luck single mother who uses her determination and tenacity to help herself and the lives of an entire town. Though no one takes her seriously, she does not let that deter her from helping those affected by the illegal dumping of toxic waste and subsequent contaminated water supply. Erin Brockovich's story will both anger and inspire viewers.
5. Remember The Titans (2000)
Remember the Titans follows the football team of a newly integrated high school in Virginia in 1971. Demoting Coach Bill Yoast to defensive coordinator, the school brings in Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) to replace Yoast as head coach and help the integrated team learn to work together. Boone demands the best, pushing the athletes to work the hardest they ever have. The team’s journey is inspiring as they all learn important life lessons and become brothers on their road to a state championship. Remember the Titans is rousing, poignant entertainment.
6. Cinderella Man (2005)
Set during the Great Depression, Cinderella Man follows Jim Braddock and his family as they struggle to make ends meet. Braddock is a boxer with innate strength and talent, a loyal coach, and a devoted wife. Washed up, with little money but a lot of pride and determination, Braddock decides to get back in the ring and pull his family out of the darkness.
7. Walk The Line (2005)
Walk the Line tells the engaging true story of singers Johnny Cash and June Carter. Johnny is a gifted musician with childhood trauma, a temper, and alcohol and substance abuse troubles. His rise in fame is swift and steady, and his relationship with June is passionate but tumultuous. Their compelling story will move many, while the terrific acting and musical performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon will leave you in awe.
8. A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood (2019)
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tells the tender, moving tale of cynical reporter Lloyd Vogel, who interviews and befriends children’s television icon Fred Rogers. Believing that Rogers could not be as kind and gentle as he appears, Vogel finds his preconceptions false. But more significantly, their friendship heal Vogel’s heart and helps him deal with his repressed emotions.
9. Big Eyes (2014)
Margaret Keane’s distinctive paintings feature children with large eyes. In the film, Tim Burton proves he’s more than a one-note director with the story of this unique artist (Amy Adams). As a single mother, people overlook Margaret’s talent until she meets a fellow artist, the charming Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz).
10. 42 (2013)
42 depicts the courageous and compelling story of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in Major League Baseball. In the face of racism, Robinson remains steadfast and stalwart, letting his talent speak for itself. Notably, the film gives us an authentic peak into the life of this incredible man who never allows adversity to define or harden him and the hearts of many people around him. Chadwick Boseman makes an amazing Robinson, giving a commanding and nuanced performance.
11. Captain Phillips (2013)
Captain Phillips tells the riveting story of a captain who keeps his crew safe after Somali pirates hijack their boat. His fear is acute, but he remains calm under pressure in the face of a frightening pirate leader. While they await aid, Philips is vital in keeping everyone alive. It’s an intense ride that leaves us in tears in the end. The raw final scene by Tom Hanks will elicit tears in many.
12. Rudy (1993)
Rudy tells the inspirational story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, a young man fiercely determined to play football for Notre Dame University. Small in stature but big in heart, Rudy’s journey will captivate and move anyone told they can’t do something. With mediocre grades, Rudy’s hard work academically is just as significant as his training to be a worthy player. With fantastic performances and a rousing musical score, Rudy’s story is a genuine winner.
13. Chaplin (1992)
Robert Downey Jr. gives an award-worthy tour-de-force performance as the silent film star and director Charles Chaplin in this film. Innovative and creative, Chaplin became one of Hollywood’s most prolific silent-era filmmakers. With the transition to sound, Chaplin finds his “voice” phased out. Chaplin’s success stems from Downey’s impeccable portrayal that is so authentic there are times we believe we’re watching the real Chaplin reincarnated.
14. Judy (2019)
Judy follows the life of actress and singer Judy Garland, highlighting her career but primarily focusing on her years after leaving Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studios. Specifically, the film shines a light on her sold-out concerts from 1968 in London. We’ve seen and heard the sad truth about the abuse and mistreatment of Garland before, and this film never shies away from those realities.
15. Quiz Show (1994)
The investigation of game show contestants in the 1950s may sound like an uninteresting subject matter for a movie. But Quiz Show genuinely captivates viewers. In the film, a lawyer from the Congressional Subcommittee investigates the potential rigging of the popular game show Twenty-One after a contestant’s long winning streak.
Marianne Paluso is a freelance writer and artist and holds a Masters Degree in English and Children’s Literature from San Diego State University. Inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture and geek related, she especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She joined Wealth of Geeks in 2021, and has also contributed to The Nerd Machine, Catholic News Agency, Christianity Today, and The La Jolla Light. She writes on her own website TheGirlyNerd.com, creates art that is sold on Redbubble and Etsy, and also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video. She resides in San Diego, California.