10 Must-See Biopics That Bring History To Life

10 Must-See Biopics That Bring History To Life
Image credit: globallookpress, Legion-Media

Some of these are way better than traditional history lessons, dare I say.

I, Tonya (2017)

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Who says biopics have to be all serious and somber? I, Tonya is a darkly comedic take on the life of Tonya Harding, the notorious American figure skater embroiled in the 1994 attack on her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan. Margot Robbie's turn as the misunderstood and fiercely competitive Harding is nothing short of stunning, presenting a complicated woman caught up in a world of scandal and ambition.

With a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 90% and a worldwide box office collection of $53.9 million, I, Tonya pirouettes its way through the highs and lows of Harding's life, with a sharp wit and empathy that'll have you hooked from start to finish – especially if 2023's Barbie left a void in your heart only Margot Robbie's brilliant acting can fill.

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

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Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic centered around the legendary band Queen and its enigmatic lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury. Rami Malek, with his electrifying performance, embodies the larger-than-life persona of Mercury, crooning through Queen's biggest hits, strutting around on stage with that trademark swagger, and nailing the intricate emotions that went on behind the scenes.

The film's plot twists and turns through Mercury's meteoric rise to fame, his personal struggles, his devastating AIDS diagnosis, and the band's triumphant reunion at the Live Aid concert, all while serving up a rockin' soundtrack that has you tapping your feet throughout.

Rocketman (2019)

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Yet another story about music and personal drama, Rocketman is a colorful, vibrant, and spectacular journey through the life of the one and only Sir Elton John. Played by Taron Egerton with charm and flamboyance to spare, we see the young, troubled prodigy Reginald Dwight transform into the dazzling Elton John, warts and all.

It's not just a straightforward narrative, oh no, this one takes a more fantastical approach, with musical numbers seamlessly woven into the storyline, creating an intimate look into Elton's highs and lows. Rocketman is a rollercoaster ride through Elton's colourful world, and I dare say, you'll find it's gonna be a long, long time before you find a biopic as imaginative as this one.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

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The Trial of the Chicago 7 brings to life a politically charged chapter of American history. The film delves into the infamous 1969 trial of seven defendants charged by the federal government with conspiracy and more, arising from the countercultural protests in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

With an ensemble cast featuring the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Mark Rylance, the film showcases a courtroom drama that is equal parts engaging and enraging. It's a stirring reminder of the power of protest and the flaws of the system that make it necessary. You gotta see it to believe it, my friend.

Harriet (2019)

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This film is a powerful story of Harriet Tubman, an American abolitionist and a pivotal player in the Underground Railroad. Cynthia Erivo's compelling performance as Tubman brings to life the heroine's bravery, struggles, and determination.

The film follows Tubman's escape from slavery and her subsequent missions to rescue enslaved people in the American South, painting a portrait of a woman who challenged the status quo and changed the course of history. Harriet has a 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and it made $43.1 million at the global box office.

The King's Speech (2010)

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Now, everyone just loves a good underdog story, right? And The King's Speech is one of the best, spinning a moving tale about King George VI and his struggles to overcome his speech impediment. Here's the thing: Colin Firth's performance as the stammering king is nothing short of powerful. His moving portrayal humanizes the royal figure (way better than the actual British royal family ever did,) allowing us to connect with his vulnerabilities and triumphs.

With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 94%, The King's Speech grossed more than $414 million worldwide at the box office. Plus, Firth's unforgettable performance earned him an Academy Award, which, let's be honest here for a minute, was thoroughly deserved, wasn't it?

Lincoln (2012)

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The man, the myth, the legend – Abraham Lincoln, one of the most revered figures in American history, is brought to life with quiet dignity by none other than Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's biographical epic. While a film about the 16th U.S. President could easily have become a dry history lesson, Spielberg, aided by Day-Lewis's mesmerizing performance through method acting, crafts a riveting narrative that feels as intimate as it is monumental.

Garnering a 89% score on Rotten Tomatoes and grossing over $275 million globally, Lincoln is a piece of American history that's well worth a watch.

The Imitation Game (2014)

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Have you ever heard of Alan Turing? Well, if you haven't, The Imitation Game is an absolute must-see. The film recounts the life of Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who cracked the Nazi Enigma code during World War II. Cumberbatch gives a powerhouse performance as the tormented genius, painting a portrait of a man burdened by his secrets.

The film made quite a splash both critically and commercially, earning an 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a worldwide gross of over $233 million. And trust me, Cumberbatch's performance alone makes it worth the price of admission.

Selma (2014)

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In this day and age, Martin Luther King Jr.'s fight for civil rights feels more relevant than ever, doesn't it? Selma, which focuses on the 1965 voting rights marches led by King, is a gripping exploration of a pivotal moment in American history. David Oyelowo's performance as King is nothing short of brilliant, encapsulating the civil rights leader's tenacity, charisma, and soul-stirring oratory.

Selma's critical reception was strong, reflected by its 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it bagged $66.8 million at the global box office. Honestly, it's a film that's bound to leave a lasting impression, and if, by chance, you've never seen it, 2023's the perfect time.

The Social Network (2010)

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Now, who could forget the tale of Facebook's tumultuous beginnings? The Social Network, with its razor-sharp screenplay by Aaron Sorkin and top-notch direction by David Fincher, unravels the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and his social media juggernaut. Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of the young, ambitious, and morally complex Zuckerberg is a sight to behold.

With a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a global box office haul of $224.9 million, The Social Network is a modern-day classic that's as fascinating as it is entertaining. So, if you've ever scrolled through Facebook and wondered how it all started, this film has all the answers, and more.