Truth is stranger than fiction: Hollywood’s greatest bio-pics

Tom Hulce in Amadeus one of the greatest bio-pics ever made. Photo: Warner Bros

Tom Hulce in Amadeus one of the greatest bio-pics ever made. Photo: Warner Bros - Credit: Archant

With Rocketman, the new Elton John bio-pic opening this weekend, following hot on the heels of the ultra-successful Queen/Freddie Mercury film Bohemian Rhapsody, true-life stories have never been quite so popular at the box office.

Ben Kinglsey as Gandhi, Photo: Columbia Pictures

Ben Kinglsey as Gandhi, Photo: Columbia Pictures - Credit: Archant

Hollywood has long known that truth is often stranger than fiction and has relished the opportunity to turn dramatic lives into box office gold. Here are the greatest bio-pics of all time.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962): dir: David Lean; starring: Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Omar Shariff, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins

David Lean's finest work and the classic example of telling an intimate story against a vast backdrop. This the sort of film that widescreen cinema was invented for. It's the story of T.E. Lawrence, the English officer who successfully united and led the diverse, often warring, Arab tribes during World War I in order to fight the Turks. The visuals are remain breath-taking.

Gandhi (1982): dir: Richard Attenborough; starring: Ben Kingsley, John Gielgud, Rohini Hattangadi, Roshan Seth; Trevor Howard, Edward Fox

Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, one of the greatest bio-pics wever made. Photo: Columbia Pictur

Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, one of the greatest bio-pics wever made. Photo: Columbia Pictures - Credit: Archant


You may also want to watch:


Lord Attenborough's masterwork, a huge sprawling, colourful epic which features virtually all of British Equity plus a couple of US actors like Martin Sheen. It made a movie star of theatre actor Ben Kingsley who fully inhabited the role of India's spirtual leader during their fight for independence. Gandhi's character is fully explained as a man of nonviolence. Through his patience, he is able to drive the British out of the subcontinent. And the stubborn nature of Jinnah and his commitment towards Pakistan is portrayed.

Amadeus (1984): dir: Milos Forman; starring: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Roy Dotrice

Most Read

One of the best looking, best sounding, biopics of all time. It would be a punk rock musical if it wasn't for the fact that its all about a boy genius and some of the greatest classical music ever written. It tells the story of the life, success and troubles of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as told by Antonio Salieri, the contemporaneous composer who was insanely jealous of Mozart's talent and claimed to have murdered him.

Ed Wood (1994): dir: Tim Burton; starring: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette

Joaquin Phoenix and Reece Witherspoon as Johnny Cash and June Carter in Walk The Line, Photo: Twenti

Joaquin Phoenix and Reece Witherspoon as Johnny Cash and June Carter in Walk The Line, Photo: Twentieth Century Fox/PA - Credit: PA

Tim Burton's love letter to his idol and world's worst film-maker. Johnny Depp is the perfect choice to play the ambitious but troubled movie director Edward D. Wood Jr. Despite his lack of talent and meagre resources, Wood tries his best to fulfill his dreams and make the ultimate movie.

Catch Me If You Can (2002): dir: Steven Spielberg; starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen

Steven Spielberg pulls off a masterstroke here, disguising an outrageous true story as a fun caper movie. Tom Hanks plays a seasoned FBI agent pursuing confidence trickster Frank Abagnale Jr. who, before his 19th birthday, successfully forged millions of dollars' worth of checks while posing as a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and a legal prosecutor.

Ray (2004): dir: Taylor Hackford; starring: Jamie Foxx, Regina King, Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell

Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in The Aviator. Photo: Buena Vista

Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in The Aviator. Photo: Buena Vista - Credit: Archant

Uplifting film about the life and career of the legendary rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles. We follow his journey from his humble beginnings in the South, where he went blind at age seven, to his meteoric rise to stardom during the 1950s and 1960s. It's real rollercoaster ride with some great music.

The Aviator (2004): dir: Martin Scorsese; starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Kate Beckinsale, John C. Reilly

A gloriously atmospheric period piece about the golden age of Hollywood and the story of one of Hollywood's most famous recluses Howard Hughes. DiCaprio allows you to identify with the legendary director, inventor and aviator Howard Hughes with Cate Blanchett turning in an Oscar-winning performance as Hughes' lover Katharine Hepburn.

Walk the Line (2005): dir: James Mangold; starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Patrick

Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaff in La Vie En Rose, one of the greatest bio-pics wever made. Photo: I

Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaff in La Vie En Rose, one of the greatest bio-pics wever made. Photo: Icon - Credit: Archant

The film opens with a hypnotic rhythmic beat, which was the foundation of many of Johnny Cash's classic songs, and doesn't stop for another 90 minutes. A chronicle of country music legend Johnny Cash's life, from his early days on an Arkansas cotton farm to his rise to fame with Sun Records in Memphis, where he recorded alongside Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins, through his alcohol blighted dark days to his elder statesman success in the early 21st century.

La Vie en Rose (2007): dir: Olivier Dahan; starring: Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory

Marion Cotillard delivers a standout performance as French torch singer Édith Piaf. It's a film rich in atmosphere and textured storytelling as it follows the life of France's most iconic performer. Raised by her grandmother in a brothel, she was discovered while singing on a street corner at the age of 19. Despite her success, Piaf's life was filled with tragedy.

The King's Speech (2010): dir: Tom Hooper; starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi

The King's Speech. Pictured: Colin Firth as Bertie (King George VI). PA Photo/Momentum Pictures

The King's Speech. Pictured: Colin Firth as Bertie (King George VI). PA Photo/Momentum Pictures - Credit: PA

Just when you thought you knew everything about the Royal Family, along comes a touching true story which completely humanises them. This is the story of King George VI, his impromptu ascension to the throne of the British Empire in 1936, and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch overcome his stammer. It's a wonderful double-act played out between Colin Firth as the reluctant King and Geoffrey Rush as the impoverished Australian living in London.

The Theory of Everything (2014): dir: James Marsh; starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Tom Prior, Sophie Perry

Eddie Redmayne entered full Daniel Day Lewis performance territory to play celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking. It's a film that manages to strike a balance between telling a moving and tragic tale while at the same time being a celebration of the uplisting nature of the human spirit about how a talented and exceptionally creative person refused to be constricted by his illness.

Hidden Figures (2016): dir: Theodore Melfi; starring: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst

Kirsten Dunst and Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures the story of black women working on complex calc

Kirsten Dunst and Octavia Spencer in Hidden Figures the story of black women working on complex calculations for NASA during the space race.. Photo: Hopper Stone - Credit: Hopper Stone, SMPSP

A collective bio-pic about three amazing female African-American mathematicians - or computers as they were called - who managed to get the Apollo programme to the moon and overcome huge prejudices to become the first female enginners working at NASA. Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were the women who changed history.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter