18 Best Biographical Movies Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
If you don't know much about him or high fashion, don't fret because this intelligent and informative film by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui will chaperone you into this world with ease. Simply titled McQueen, this documentary is a poignant portrait of the British fashion icon that goes to great lengths to do him justice. With a reputation for shock tactics and controversy, McQueen grew from humble beginnings in a British council flat with three sisters into a world-famous enfant terrible of the 1990s for his quote unquote unwearable fashion and extravagant shows. Music fans might recognise his designs from Bjork's album Homogenic or the music video to her song Alarm Call. Despite the documentary's scope and depth, this is the type of film that leaves you wanting more and you might find yourself browsing through Wikipedia and YouTube for another hour to stay in the vibe. Alexander McQueen died of suicide in 2010.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alexander McQueen, André Leon Talley, Bernard Arnault, Charlie Rose, Detmar Blow |, Grace Jones, Ian Bonhôte, Isabella Blow, Janet Jackson, Jodie Kidd, Joseph Bennett, Kate Moss, Magdalena Frackowiak, Naomi Campbell, Peter Ettedgui

Director: Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui

Rating: R

Russel Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and the immensely talented young actor Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea) form an amazing pack of talent in this excellent drama. The story is based on the memoir by Garrard Conley, a true story. Set among deeply pious Christians in Arkansas, Hedges plays 18-year-old Jared Eamons, who discovers that he is gay. Crowe plays the father, a car dealer and a preacher, and Kidman the mom, who is a sweet-natured hairdresser with traditional values. When their son comes out to them after concealing his sexuality for some time, they pressure Jared into going to a Christian conversion camp, where his “lifestyle choice” is to be “prayed away”. The unspeakable camp is led by the Victor Sykes, who is as sinister as he is stupid, played with aplomb by Joel Edgerton, the writer and director. It's a funny sidenote to a serious movie that many actors in this Southern drama are from Australia, including Edgerton, Crowe, and Kidman as well as Red Hot Chili Peppers bass player extraordinaire, Flea, who plays a drill-instructor-type PE teacher at the camp. The powerful performances are indeed what drive this drama and they contribute significantly to telling a story that needed to be told.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Brasher Russell, Britton Sear, Cherry Jones, David Ditmore, David Joseph Craig, Drew Scheid, Emily Hinkler, Flea, Frank Hoyt Taylor, Jason Davis, Jesse LaTourette, Jesse Malinowski, Joe Alwyn, Joel Edgerton, Joy Jacobson, Kevin Linehan, Lindsey Moser, Lucas Hedges, Madelyn Cline, Malerie Grady, Matt Burke, Nicole Kidman, Paige Henry, Randy Havens, Russell Crowe, Théodore Pellerin, Tim Ware, Troye Sivan, Victor McCay, Will Kindrachuk, William Ngo, Xavier Dolan

Director: Joel Edgerton

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

Asif Kapadia, the genius of biopics who gave us Senna, is back with this documentary on an even bigger sports personality: Argentinian soccer player Diego Armando Maradona. Considered as possibly the best soccer player of all time, Maradona's footage on the pitch is pure wizardry, and you'll feel that way whether you are a soccer fan or not. But that's not the focus of this documentary. What happens outside the pitch is more interesting: from Maradona's modest beginnings to the passionate hatred (and love) that entire countries develop of him. And it doesn't make his story less interesting that during his time in Naples he was affiliated with the mafia.

This is an excellent documentary that distills 500 hours of footage into 2, giving you all you need to know about a character who captured the imagination of a big part of the world for decades. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alberto Bigon, Ciro Ferrara, Claudia Villafane, Corrado Ferlaino, Dalma Maradona, Diego Armando Maradona, Diego Maradona, Gonzalo Bonadeo, Maria Rosa Maradona, Pele

Director: Asif Kapadia

Rating: TV-14, TV-MA

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

Set in war-torn Berlin during World War II, this film explores the forbidden romance between a married mother of four and a Jewish woman working undercover for the resistance based on the real lives of Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim, as detailed in Erica Fischer's book of the same name. As expected, all of the frightening challenges of Jewish people, women, and queer folks are presented bluntly. But there are enough touching and humane moments of empathy that contrast the harsh realities of war. The performances by Maria Schrader and Juliane Köhler are simply remarkable, bringing depth and authenticity to their characters' intense connection and creating a poignant viewing experience. 

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Barbara Focke, Dani Levy, Désirée Nick, Detlev Buck, Dorkas Kiefer, Elisabeth Degen, Heike Makatsch, Jochen Stern, Johanna Wokalek, Juliane Köhler, Klaus Manchen, Kyra Mladeck, Maria Schrader, Peter Weck, Rosel Zech, Ulrich Matthes

Director: Max Färberböck

This movie’s energy is completely intoxicating.

It’s the directorial debut of renown British/Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, but it feels like the work of a veteran.

In a true story told in English and Chichewa (a language from Malawi), a young boy is expelled from school because his parents couldn’t afford tuition. At the same time, his village is struck by a variety of natural circumstances that bring them the threat of drought and famine.

The young boy sneaks into the library in the hopes of making a windmill and saving his village, and you can guess what follows from the title.

The triumph of engineering and a boy with a dream; mix in an incredibly interesting culture, full of unique family dynamics and a thought-provoking intersection between religion, tradition, and technology. The result is a delicate but uplifting movie, not to be missed.

Genre: Drama, Family, History

Actor: Aissa Maiga, Bruno Chitsulo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Eddie Mbugua, Edwin Chonde, Felix Lemburo, Fredrick Lukhere, Grace Msiska, Hope Chisano, Joseph Marcell, Kelvin Chimpokoser, Khalani Makunje, Latifa Tambala, Lemogang Tsipa, Lily Banda, Lomuthi Jere, Maxwell Simba, Noma Dumezweni, Owen Chikanken, Philbert Falakeza, Raymond Ofula

Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Rating: TV-PG

Although it opens on Janet Frame’s first steps as a baby, this Jane Campion-directed biopic of the celebrated New Zealand writer doesn’t take an exhaustive approach to its subject’s life. We frequently only learn of milestones — the many awards she won, the death of her mother — later on and in passing. In a beautiful gesture that feels like a tiny righting of the many wrongs done to Janet, it’s her perspective that guides the film. 

That embedded approach also makes the emotions that come with her heartbreaking yet uplifting story more profound. And there is much heartbreak here: alongside the several tragic losses Janet experienced as a child, she was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic as a young woman and spent eight harrowing years in psychiatric hospitals. Throughout all of this, she wrote fiction and poetry, work that saved her life in more ways than one: as well as being a rare constant source of joy, it won her a literary prize just days before she was scheduled for a lobotomy, prompting her doctors to reconsider. Neither Campion nor Janet allowed this experience to define her, however, and the film empathetically grants her real moments of joy and choice throughout — making for a deeply sensitive and uplifting watch.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alexia Keogh, Alison Bruce, Alistair Douglas, Andrew Robertt, Brenda Kendall, David Letch, David Stott, Elizabeth McRae, Francesca Collins, Gerald Bryan, Iris Churn, Jessie Mune, Julia Calvo, Karen Fergusson, Katherine Murray-Cowper, Kerry Fox, Kevin J. Wilson, Mark Clare, Mark Morrison, Martyn Sanderson, Melina Bernecker, Paul Norell, Peter Needham, Robert Jayne, Timothy Bartlett, Willa O'Neill

Director: Jane Campion

Rating: R

, 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

, 2013

Filmmaker Petra Costa tells the story of moving to New York from Brazil to follow her dream, the same one her mother once followed, of becoming an actress.

She carries memories of a third person who made the same move, a sister called Elena. Elena left her when she was seven-years-old, and after intermittent calls and messages, disappeared.

This documentary is a tale of three women: of their feelings separation, longing, and ambition. It’s made to be a visual poem of their story.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Elena Andrade, Li An, Petra Costa

Director: Petra Costa

Rating: N/A

Set between the years 1977 and 2005, this Polish drama goes through various stages in the life of the controversial surrealist-expressionist painter Zdzisław Beksiński. The extensive video archive left behind by the artist was used to craft an intimate portrait of three interdependent people: Beksiński himself, his suicidal and neurotic son, and his wife.

Beksiński is superbly played by veteran actor Andrzej Seweryn, known for his appearance in numerous Andrzej Wajda films. Even though the film focuses less on Zdzisław's painting career and more on his relationship with his family, it will definitely inspire you to dig deeper into both his tragic life and impressively dark body of work. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Agnieszka Michalska, Aleksandra Konieczna, Alicja Karluk, Andrzej Chyra, Andrzej Seweryn, Danuta Nagorna, Dawid Ogrodnik, Magdalena Boczarska, Zofia Perczynska

Director: Jan P. Matuszynski

Rating: N/A

This moving biopic is about Maud Lewis, the legendary Canadian painter who suffered from arthritis. In the film, Maud gets away from her controlling family by finding a job as a live-in housekeeper for a local fish peddler. It is there where she begins to paint, before marrying the fish peddler in spite of their different personalities. Sally Hawkins, who plays Lewis, brings undeniable spark and soul to the role, for which she had to undergo an astonishing physical transformation.

Maudie is a beautiful and uncomplicated film that challenges the conventions of marriage and relationship roles, while at the same time celebrating Maud Lewis’ paintings and life’s simple pleasures.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Billy MacLellan, Brian Marler, David Feehan, Ethan Hawke, Gabrielle Rose, Greg Malone, Kari Matchett, Kate Ross, Lawrence Barry, Marthe Bernard, Nik Sexton, Sally Hawkins, Zachary Bennett

Director: Aisling Walsh

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, Perla de la Rosa, Raúl Castillo, Roberta Colindrez

Director: Roger Ross Williams

Rating: R

This Eddie Murphy comedy had all the ingredients to be both a famous movie and an award-winner, but neither happened. It tells the true story of Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian who became famous for creating a character called Dolemite, a pimp, and who later attempted to make his own movie based on the same character. Murphy plays Rudy, but there are also other recognizable faces in supporting roles: Chris Rock, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key, Snoop Dogg, and many others. It's above all a funny movie, but being Eddie Murphy's first R-rated movie since 1999, it's also a realistic portrayal of both 1970s L.A. and the struggles of being a black filmmaker at the time.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: A.J. Tannen, Aaron Craven, Akono Dixon, Aleksandar Filimonović, Amy Keys, Baker Chase Powell, Barry Shabaka Henley, Bob Odenkirk, Brandon Stewart, Bubba Ganter, Chelsea Gilson, Cheryl Francis Harrington, Chris Rock, Claude Phillips, Cole S. McKay, Craig Brewer, Craig Robinson, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Dale Gibson, David B. Lyons, Demetrius Hodges, Denise Milfort, Eddie Murphy, Erik Kilpatrick, Garland Whitt, Gerald Downey, Henry Monfries, Ivo Nandi, Jamaal Lewis, Jernard Burks, Jill Savel, John Michael Herndon, Joshua Weinstein, Kazy Tauginas, Keegan-Michael Key, Kezii Curtis, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Lamar Usher, Leonel Claude, Li Eubanks, Luenell, Michael Peter Bolus, Mike Epps, Milan Carter, Monique StaTeena, Phil Abrams, Quartay Denaya, Ron Cephas Jones, Sade E. Moore, Saudia Rashed, Snoop Dogg, T.I., Tasha Smith, Tituss Burgess, Tommie Earl Jenkins, Toni Duclottni, Wesley Snipes

Director: Craig Brewer

Rating: R

The 1980s were not a great time to be of Pakistani descent in the UK. Hate crimes are at an all-time high and the economy is suffering. Plus, there is really no good era to be a misunderstood teenager. Javed is both those things in this coming-of-age comedy based on a true story. Javed finds solace in the music of one Bruce Springsteen, relating to his themes of small-city blues and the dreams of escaping them.

All of this makes Blinded By The Light a charming movie about a lot of unpleasantness, and while it tries to be too many things (a commentary on race, a musical, a coming of age story, etc), it succeeds where it matters: to treat the story with care and intelligence.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aaron Phagura, Asheq Akhtar, Billy Barratt, David Hayman, Dean-Charles Chapman, Frankie Fox, Hayley Atwell, James Ballanger, Jeff Mirza, Kriss Dosanjh, Kulvinder Ghir, Kumiko Chadha Berges, Lorraine Ashbourne, Marcus Brigstocke, Meera Ganatra, Nell Williams, Nikita Mehta, Olivia Poulet, Rob Brydon, Robert Ryan, Ronak Chadha Berges, Ronak Singh Chadha Berges, Sally Phillips, Sofia Abbasi, Tara Divina, Vincent Andriano, Viveik Kalra

Director: Gurinder Chadha

Rating: PG-13