26 Best Biographical Dramas Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

If you're a fan of the Beach Boys' legacy, or you want to find out more about Wilson, the person, this movie will give you what you need. It has been widely praised as being true to the facts – even by Bryan Wilson himself. But thanks, in part, to the incredible writing by Oscar-nominated Oren Moverman and the work of director Bill Pohlad, this is much more than a fact-based fictionalization of a famous musician's biography. It is a singularly convincing account of the artistic process and the effects of mental illness.

Love and Mercy tells the tale of two Bryan Wilsons: the first of a young and slightly square-looking musical pioneer in the 1960s, when Wilson was working on Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys' most ambitious and ground-breaking album. Paul Dano's performance here is nothing short of perfect. And, second, the tale of the tormented, middle-aged Bryan Wilson, played by John Cusack, during a time when he was under treatment for his deteriorating mental health in the late 1980s. The juxtaposition of these two very different people and the brilliant performances of Cusack and Dano will completely absorb you and change the way you look at things. A unique and beautiful film!

Genre: Drama, History, Music

Actor: Bill Camp, Brett Davern, Brian Wilson, Carolyn Stotesbery, Dee Wallace, Diana Maria Riva, Dylan Kenin, Elizabeth Banks, Erica Jenkins, Erik Eidem, Erin Darke, Fred Cross, Graham Rogers, Haylee Roderick, Jake Abel, Jeff Galfer, Jeff Meacham, Joanna Going, John Cusack, Johnny Sneed, Kenny Wormald, Max Schneider, Misha Hamilton, Nick Gehlfuss, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Tyson Ritter, Wayne Bastrup

Director: Bill Pohlad

Rating: PG-13

An inspired by true events tale about an elderly Irish woman trying to find the child she was forced to give up many years earlier. Steve Coogan co-wrote the script and, though the base story is a tragic one, his special brand of very subtle, wry wit is apparent in the dialogue throughout. Judi Dench plays the mother who had kept her “sinful” past a secret for fifty years and, being Judi Dench, I don’t need to bother going on about her exemplary talent, suffice to say she’s charming beyond measure in the role. Steven Frears directs, as usual, deftly, and keeps the story compelling scene after scene, intensifying the emotions inherent to each, whether they be heart-warming, comedic, or outright enraging. Whoever decided to let Steve Coogan have his way with the script, it was a brave and wise choice and together this cast and crew have produced a wonderful and important piece of cinema.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Amber Batty, Amy McAllister, Anna Maxwell Martin, Barbara Jefford, Cathy Belton, Charissa Shearer, Charles Edwards, Charlie Murphy, Elliot Levey, Florence Keith-Roach, Frankie McCafferty, Gary Lilburn, Judi Dench, Kate Fleetwood, Mare Winningham, Marie Jones, Martin Glyn Murray, Michelle Fairley, Nicholas Jones, Nika McGuigan, Paris Arrowsmith, Peter Hermann, Ruth McCabe, Sara Stewart, Sean Mahon, Simone Lahbib, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Steve Coogan, Wunmi Mosaku

Director: Stephen Frears

Rating: PG-13

A hilarious and smart comedy that is almost impossible to hate. It doesn’t matter if you liked The Room or not; or if you’ve even heard of it, you will find The Disaster Artist extremely enjoyable. Same applies for James Franco, it’s irrelevant if you think he’s the hottest man walking or a complete waste of screen-time - this movie is better approached without any preconceived ideas. It follows the true events surrounding Tommy Wiseau’s making of The Room, a movie so bad it actually became a worldwide hit. Tommy’s character, played by Franco, is 100% mystery. He pops out of nowhere and does and says things that contain little to no logic. Capitalizing on this, the movie is both absolutely hilarious and intriguing from beginning to end.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Scott, Adwin Brown, Alison Brie, Amechi Okocha, Andrew Santino, Angelyne, Ari Graynor, Bob Odenkirk, Brett Gelman, Brian Huskey, Bryan Cranston, Cameron Brinkman, Casey Wilson, Cate Freedman, Charlyne Yi, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Corey Weber, Danny McBride, Dave Franco, David DeCoteau, Dree Hemingway, Dylan Minnette, Eliza Coupe, Eloho Josephine Okujeni, Erin Cummings, Frankie Ponce, Frederick Keeve, Greg Sestero, Hannibal Buress, Ike Barinholtz, J.J. Abrams, Jacki Weaver, James Franco, Jason Mantzoukas, Jason Mitchell, Javi Sánchez-Blanco Boyer, Jenna Curtis, Jerrod Carmichael, Jessie Ennis, Joe Mande, John Early, Jolie Mitnick Salter, Josh Hutcherson, Judd Apatow, June Diane Raphael, Kara Gibson, Kate Upton, Katherine Neff, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Oxford, Kether Donohue, Kevin Smith, Krista West, Kristen Bell, Lauren Ash, Lizzy Caplan, Megan Ferguson, Megan Mullally, Melanie Griffith, Nathan Fielder, Nicole Gordon-Levitt, Paul Scheer, Peter Gilroy, Phillip E. Walker, Ramona Tibrin, Randall Park, Ricky Mabe, Ron Saylor, Seth Rogen, Shane Ryan-Reid, Sharon Stone, Slim Khezri, Steven Liu, Sugar Lyn Beard, Tamzin Brown, Taylor DeVoe, Tom Franco, Tommy Wiseau, Tudor Munteanu, Vincent Marinelli, Xosha Roquemore, Zac Efron, Zach Braff, Zhubin Rahbar, Zoey Deutch

Director: James Franco

Rating: R

This poetic memoir by the late director Terence Davies opens with a tracking shot that takes us down a rainy, dilapidated Liverpool street, finally settling on the wet staircase of a roofless house as three audio tracks morph into one another: a Nat King Cole song, dialogue from a movie, and, finally, a boy calling for his mother. Just as we hear the latter, the shot of the exposed staircase dissolves, taking us into the past to reveal the owner of the voice sitting in the same spot — only now, the stairs are dry, the roof restored. 

The scene perfectly encapsulates the film: it's a dreamlike pool of sensory recollections from that lonely boy’s childhood, assembled according to the strange logic of memory. Music and movie dialogue echo across the film as we watch snapshots from Bud’s (Leigh McCormack, playing a proxy of Davies) early years. Though most of the memories radiate warmth — Christmases with family, euphoric cinema trips — a note of melancholy tinges these blissful recollections. Callously cruel schoolmates, desperate church prayers, and instantly rueful stolen glances jar against the nostalgia and let us know that something dark is coming. Intensely, painfully intimate, this is one of the best and most unbearably sad evocations of memory in cinema.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anthony Watson, Ayse Owens, Leigh McCormack, Marjorie Yates, Mark Heath, Nicholas Lamont, Patricia Morison, Peter Ivatts, Tina Malone

Director: Terence Davies

In a different change of pace, this biopic focuses on John Lennon’s reckless adolescence and family life instead of his soon-to-be iconic music. It brings an epic rockstar many of us have known our entire lives down to a more relatable level. The young Aaron Taylor-Johnston gives a very angsty performance which feels a little over the top at times. Anne-Marie Duff does comes off too flirtatious for a newly formed mother-son relationship but Kristin Scott Thomas outshines them all with her steely demeanor.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Andrew Buchan, Angela Walsh, Angelica Jopling, Anne-Marie Duff, Baillie Walsh, Chris Coghill, Colin Tierney, Dan Armour, Daniel Ross, David Morrissey, David Threlfall, Jack McElhone, Josh Bolt, Kerrie Hayes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lizzie Hopley, Ophelia Lovibond, Paul Ritter, Richard Syms, Richard Tate, Sam Bell, Sam Wilmott, Simon Lowe, Thomas Brodie-Sangster

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Rating: R

I’m Not There is an unusual biopic in that it never refers to its subject, Bob Dylan, by name. Instead, Todd Haynes’ portrait of the singer mimics his constant reinvention by casting six separate actors to play as many reincarnations of the same soul. It’s an ingenious spin on a usually stale genre, one that liberates the film from the humdrum restrictions of a literal retelling of Dylan's life.

If there’s anyone who warrants such an inventive approach to biography, it’s Dylan, whose public and private personas are so numerous that it’s only by angling six different mirrors at him that Haynes can hope to catch some of his essence. Impressionistic editing toggles freely between these vignettes, each visually distinct: from the 11-year-old Woody Guthrie-obsessive (Marcus Carl Franklin) and the black-and-white Super 16mm-shot poet (Ben Whishaw) to the aging cowboy outlaw (Richard Gere), all by way of Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cate Blanchett’s incarnations. To be sure, this is a somewhat challenging film, reflecting, in places, the enigmatic surrealism of Dylan’s lyrics and his refusal to be pinned down to one thing. But, as Blanchett’s embodiment says, “Mystery is a traditional fact,” and that’s no more true than of Dylan, making Haynes’ film a fascinatingly fitting spiritual biopic.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alison Folland, Andrew Shaver, Andrew Simms, Angela Galuppo, Arthur Holden, Ben Whishaw, Benz Antoine, Bill Croft, Bob Dylan, Brett Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Cate Blanchett, Catherine Colvey, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Bale, Craig Thomas, Danny Blanco Hall, David Cross, David Gow, Dennis St John, Dominic James, Don Francks, Emmanuel Schwartz, Eric Newsome, Eugene Brotto, Fanny La Croix, Garth Gilker, Gordon Masten, Graham Cuthbertson, Greg Kramer, Heath Ledger, Holly Uloth, Ivan Freud, Jane Gilchrist, Jane Wheeler, Jason Cavalier, Jennifer Rae Westley, Jesse Todd, Jessica Kardos, Jim James, Jodie Resther, Joe Cobden, John Koensgen, Julianne Moore, Kathleen Fee, Kim Gordon, Kim Roberts, Kris Kristofferson, Kristen Hager, Kyle Gatehouse, Kyle Switzer, Larry Day, Leif Anderson, Leigh Ann Taylor, Lina Roessler, Lisa Bronwyn Moore, Lorne Brass, Maggie Castle, Marcus Carl Franklin, Marie-Julie Rivest, Mark Camacho, Matt Holland, Matthew Boylan, Matthew Harbour, Melantha Blackthorne, Michelle Williams, Nathalie Girard, Noel Burton, Patrick Costello, Paul Cagelet, Paul Johnston, Paul Spence, Pauline Little, Peter Friedman, Phyllis Gooden, Pier Paquette, Pierre Leblanc, Pierre-Alexandre Fortin, Richard Gere, Richard Jutras, Richard Robitaille, Richie Havens, Rob Burns, Roc LaFortune, Sharlene Royer, Shawn Baichoo, Steve Godin, Susan Glover, Terry Haig, Thiéry Dubé, Tim Post, Trevor Hayes, Tyrone Benskin, Vito DeFilippo, Wyatt Bowen, Yolonda Ross

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: R

, 2016

Here’s a based-on-a-true-story courtroom drama that transcends the limits of its genre by virtue of an incisive and unexpectedly prescient script. Twenty years before 2016 sent us hurtling through the looking glass and into a post-truth era, the idea that you could deny the facts as you pleased teetered terrifyingly on the brink of legitimacy when author David Irving (a suitably odious Timothy Spall) brought a UK libel suit against Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz), an academic whom he claimed had defamed him for calling him exactly what he was: a Holocaust denier.

The case was complicated by the fact that, at the time, the UK placed the burden of proof on the defendant — in other words, Lipstadt’s hotshot legal team needed to prove that the Holocaust happened and that Irving had wilfully misrepresented evidence demonstrating this. Denial captures that terrifying farcicality and the defense’s cleverly counterintuitive strategy: not allowing Lipstadt or Holocaust survivors to speak. If that sounds unsatisfying — this is the rare courtroom drama with no grandstanding speech from the protagonist — that’s the point, something the film’s title cleverly alludes to. Perhaps unexpectedly, Denial’s relevance has ballooned since its release, a fact that might hobble its hopeful ending but that only makes the rest all the more powerful.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Abigail Cruttenden, Alex Jennings, Amanda Lawrence, Andrea Deck, Andrew Scott, Caren Pistorius, Daniel Cerqueira, Edward Franklin, Elliot Levey, Harriet Walter, Helen Bradbury, Hilton McRae, Ian Bartholomew, Jack Lowden, Jackie Clune, Jeremy Paxman, John Sessions, Lachele Carl, Laura Evelyn, Mark Gatiss, Max Befort, Mick Jackson, Nicholas Tennant, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Paul Bailey, Paul Hunter, Pip Carter, Rachel Weisz, Sally Messham, Sara Powell, Sean Power, Timothy Spall, Todd Boyce, Tom Clarke Hill, Tom Wilkinson, Will Attenborough, Ziggy Heath

Director: Mick Jackson

Rating: PG-13

Shia Laboeuf and Stellan Skarsgård star in this true story about one of the greatest tennis matches in history: the 1980 Wimbledon final. The movie dissects what drives both competitors (one played by Laboeuf and the other by Sverrir Gudnason). Their personalities, considered opposites, are studied through their paths and how they got into tennis. All this leads to that one match, in this beautiful story of dealing with competition and fear of failure. Don’t stop watching when the credits roll, read what they say!

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Anders Berg, Ben Bradshaw, Bjorn Granath, Bob Boudreaux, Colin Stinton, Dag Malmberg, David Bamber, Ian Blackman, Iva Šindelková, Jackson Gann, James Sobol Kelly, Jamie Marshall, Jane Perry, Janis Ahern, Leo Borg, Marcus Mossberg, Mats Blomgren, Robert Emms, Roy McCrerey, Scott Arthur, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Sverrir Gudnason, Thomas Hedengran, Tuva Novotny, Wille Glyt, Zuzana Geislerová

Director: Janus Metz, Janus Metz Pedersen

Rating: R

Monster is a biographical depiction of Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron), a prostitute and serial killer who murdered seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. The film follows the burgeoning relationship between Wuornos and young Selby Wall (Christina Ricci, in a role based on Wuornos' real-life girlfriend Tyria Moore), as she grows increasingly desperate to provide for her young companion financially. Her desperation and her rage against men, brought on by years of both childhood and adult abuse, leads her down a dark path of murder and theft, even as she struggles to shield Selby from the horror of her crimes. The overwhelming highlight of the film is Theron’s mesmerizing performance as Wuornos—a role that won her a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actress in 2004. She’s almost unrecognizable and altogether phenomenal as the volatile and increasingly unstable Wuornos, whose ferocity is interwoven with surprising affection for young Selby. This unexpected tenderness lends the film an air of tragic poignancy, and provides a bittersweet portrayal of a severely troubled woman. Very much intended for mature audiences only, Monster is a fascinating recreation of a disturbing yet compelling chapter in the annals of true crime in America.

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Al, Annie Corley, Brett Rice, Bruce Dern, Bubba Baker, Catherine Mangan, Charlize Theron, Christian Stokes, Christina Ricci, Cree Ivey, Glenn R. Wilder, Jesse Stern, Jim R. Coleman, Kaitlin Riley, Kane Hodder, Lee Tergesen, Lyllian Barcaski, Magdalena Manville, Marc Macaulay, Marco St. John, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Romonda Shaver, Rus Blackwell, Scott Wilson, Stephan Jones, Tim Ware

Director: Patty Jenkins

Rating: R

, 2014

A really weird and also heartwarming movie about Frank, the leader and singer/songwriter of a crazy band. He really grows on you with his big head. If you like movies with that funky edge (like Scott Pilgrim) this is especially something for you! Either way and regardless of your preferences, you'll find Frank to be a sweet, sincere, likable and clever comedy.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Abe Martell, Alex Knight, Bruce McIntosh, Carla Azar, Chris McHallem, Domhnall Gleeson, François Civil, François Civil, Hayley Derryberry, Jordyn Aurora Aquino, Katie Anne Mitchell, Kevin Wiggins, Lauren Poole, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mark Huberman, Matthew Page, Michael Fassbender, Michael James Ford, Moira Brooker, Morse Bicknell, Paul Butterworth, Phil Kingston, Scoot McNairy, Tess Harper, Travis Hammer

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Rating: R

This Netflix production is based on a case that rocked public opinion in Italy. Stefano Cucchi was arrested for a minor drug charge and died five days later from police brutality. The movie takes its time to expose what Cucchi went through, which might lead some viewers to find On My Skin slow, and rightfully so. Thinking about the issues at hand here, it’s easy to understand why the director made that choice. In fact, Italians’ complex relationship with the Carabinieri, a division of the Italian army that carries out domestic policing, is delicate to explain and requires meticulous unveiling. Nominated to nine David di Donatello Awards (the equivalent of the Academy Awards in Italy), of which it won three.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aleksandros Memetaj, Alessandro Borghi, Alessio De Persio, Andrea Lattanzi, Andrea Mautone, Antonio Gargiulo, Aurora Casavecchia, Bernardo Casertano, Daniela Amato, Daniele Amendola, Dora Romano, Elisa Casavecchia, Elodie Treccani, Emanuele Cerman, Federico Tocci, Francesca Tomassoni, Gaetano Aronica, Giuseppe Ragone, Italo Amerighi, Jasmine Trinca, Marco Giuliani, Massimiliano Tortora, Mauro Conte, Max Tortora, Michele Botrugno, Milvia Marigliano, Orlando Cinque, Paolo D Bovani, Pietro Faiella, Roberta Sferzi, Roberto Galano, Rodolfo Bigotti, Stefano Miglio, Vincenzo Tanassi, Walter Nestola

Director: Alessio Cremonini

Rating: TV-MA

, 2023

After winning Oscars for their documentary work, filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin make their narrative feature debut with Nyad. The move to narrative fiction isn’t a monumental jump for the director duo, whose cinematic documentaries (among them Free Solo and The Rescue) play like nerve-shredding action thrillers and intense human dramas. Nor does Nyad’s subject — another extreme feat of human daring and endurance — make this feel a million miles away from their most famous works.

The most obvious departures from the directors’ documentary strengths — Nyad’s flashbacks and hallucination scenes, for example — do sometimes highlight their newness to narrative filmmaking, however. These scenes feel shallow and therefore disconnected from the movie’s otherwise deeper treatment of its subject, just as the performances dip into outsized cliches at times. Mostly, though, Nyad manages to float above the trap of trying too hard to be an inspirational sports drama thanks to its confrontation of Diana’s prickly personality. This flips the film’s perspective onto that of Diana’s team (including her coach and former girlfriend, played by Jodie Foster), who ultimately suffer the consequences of her stubbornness. That refusal to submit to hagiographic impulses gives the film a documentary-like edge of truth, making the rousing moments here feel genuinely earned.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Anna Harriette Pittman, Annette Bening, Carolyn McCormick, Diana Nyad, Eric T. Miller, Erica Cho, Ethan Jones Romero, Garland Scott, Jeena Yi, Jodie Foster, Johnny Solo, Karly Rothenberg, Katherine Klosterman, Luke Cosgrove, Marcus Young, Melissa R. Stubbs, Nadia Lorencz, Rhys Ifans, Stephen Schnetzer, Tisola Logan

Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin

Rating: PG-13

As biopics go, Cassandro skews towards the conventional. It follows a template familiar to anyone who has seen a life-story movie about the underdog climbing up the ranks thanks to their unmatchable heart and talent. But it’s also a template that’s elevated by Bernal’s wonderful performance and Roger Ross Williams’ careful and naturalistic direction. Save for a few melodramatic moments, many parts of Cassandro feel fresh and authentic, not least of which is Saúl's heartwarming relationship with his mother Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa). It’s unapologetic joy is another element that sets it apart: instead of being punished for his flamboyance and cheer, Saúl is rewarded for it. This seems like a rare triumph in LGBTQ+ stories, and on that merit alone Cassandro deserves to be seen. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bad Bunny, El Hijo del Santo, Gael García Bernal, Joaquín Cosío, Julieta Ortiz, Leonardo Alonso, Mark Vasconcellos, Perla de la Rosa, Raúl Castillo, Roberta Colindrez

Director: Roger Ross Williams

Rating: R

In this French movie based on a true story, a med-school graduate from Congo is offered a job as the doctor to the president of Zaire. He refuses and chooses instead to move to a small town in France in hopes of getting French citizenship and securing a better future for his children.

The story, which starts in 1975, is set in a village where people had never seen a Black person. To that, Seyolo, the doctor, says: “so what? Now they will.”

The culture clash is both villagers-to-new-arrivals and the other way. Seyolo tells his family that he was hired in a village “north of Paris”, but all they hear is “Paris”, only to be shocked by the state of the rainy and muddy countryside village.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aissa Maiga, Bayron Lebli, Bernard Eylenbosch, Bwanga Pilipili, Christophe Lambert, Diogène Ntarindwa, Édith Le Merdy, Emilie Rouhart, Frédérick Bukolé, Ingrid Heiderscheidt, Jean Bediebe, Jean-Benoît Ugeux, Jean-Marie Barbier, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Jonathan Lambert, Julien Rambaldi, Kamini Zantoko, Laurent Caron, Marc Zinga, Marie-Philomène Nga, Marius Yelolo, Mata Gabin, Medina Diarra, Micheline Dieye, Narcisse Mame, Riton Liebman, Rodolphe Jonathan Lambert, Rufus, Stéphane Bissot, Stéphanie Crayencour, Sylvestre Amoussou, Tatiana Rojo, Thomas Vandenberghe, Thomas VDB, Vincent Lecuyer, Vincent Martin

Director: Julien Rambaldi

Rating: N/A

, 1993

Based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Rettinger, this biographical movie follows young Rudy as he pursues his childhood dream of playing football for Notre Dame, despite significant obstacles and copious discouragement from those around him. The movie works not by hitching the action to any major sequences of ball play, but rather to the most remarkable feature of the story: the sheer determination of the title protagonist. The film’s success also largely comes down to a fantastically consistent and earnest performance by Sean Astin, who outshines a very talented supporting cast to the legendary, crowd-stirring end.

Genre: Crime, Drama, History, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Amy Pietz, Charles S. Dutton, Chelcie Ross, Christopher Erwin, Christopher Reed, David Anspaugh, Deborah Wittenberg, Forest Whitaker, Gerry Becker, Greta Lind, Jason Miller, Jim Broadbent, John Beasley, Jon Favreau, Kevin Duda, Lauren Katz, Lili Taylor, Luke Massery, Mary Ann Thebus, Miranda Richardson, Mitch Rouse, Ned Beatty, Ralph Brown, Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., Robert Prosky, Ron Dean, Scott Benjaminson, Sean Astin, Stephen Rea, Vince Vaughn

Director: David Anspaugh, Neil Jordan

Rating: PG