March 31, 2020 marks 25 years since the world lost groundbreaking singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez. Join Wonderwall.com as we take a look back at some of the best and most talked-about biopics for the big screen… starting with the biopic about the beloved Latin artist. Jennifer Lopez's breakthrough role in 1997 biopic, "Selena," a drama about slain Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez, turned the little-known actress into a major Hollywood star. The film tells the story of Selena's childhood as a member of her family's band, Selena y Los Dinos, leading up to her cataclysmic rise to fame, which ended in her shocking murder by a trusted family friend. Keep reading to find out which true-to-life movies you definitely need to add to your must-see list…
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After taking a hiatus from Hollywood, Renee Zellweger signed on to play the titular role of Judy Garland in "Judy." Viewers were awed by how much Renee looks and sounds like the troubled but beloved "The Wizard of Oz" singer-actress. She was so convincing, she took home the award for Best Actress at the 2020 Oscars.
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"Fighting With My Family"
Starring Florence Pugh, "Fighting with My Family" tells the real life origin story of former WWE Divas Champion wrestler, Paige. Having grown up in an impassioned wrestling family in Norwich, England, Paige receives a milestone opportunity to try out for the WWE. When she lands a coveted spot in the training program, she's forced to experience life in America and life without her closest ally, her brother Zak. The film, which is both entertaining and heartfelt, also stars Lena Headey, Nick Frost, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughan, and real-life WWE alum, Dwayne Johnson.
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"Straight Outta Compton"
In the 2015 biopic "Straight Outta Compton," O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Neil Brown Jr., and Aldis Hodge star as the members of boundary breaking hip-hop group, N.W.A. The story kicks off in 1986 and follows the group's inception, the release of their debut album "Straight Outta Compton," and the complications and tragedies that follow after they make it big. F. Gary Gray's film has been praised for its visceral and emotional depiction of black-on-black gang violence, police brutality, and systemic racism.
Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo stars as abolitionist Harriet Tubman in the 2019 biopic, "Harriet." Having endured dangerous circumstances to escape from slavery herself, Harriet went on to liberate the lives of countless other slaves through the Underground Railroad. The film, which was directed by Kasi Lemmons, has a star-studded cast that includes notable names like Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monae and Joe Alwyn.
"Walk the Line"
If overcoming a painful childhood, fighting addiction and finding true love don't sound like subjects for the best biopic ever, we don't know what does. The 2005 film "Walk the Line" starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, which chronicled the lives and loves of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, was so heartfelt and emotional, it won multiple awards including a best actress Oscar for Reese.
On May 31, 2019, the musical biopic "Rocketman" hit theaters. Starring Taron Egerton as legendary singer Elton John, the film explored Elton's early life as a musical prodigy through his meteoric rise to fame as one of the most powerful performers of our lifetimes. The movie brought in almost $200 million at the box office, making it the fourth-most successful musical biopic ever.
The Academy Award-winning 1982 biopic "Gandhi" remains one of the most powerful looks at the life and courage of India's father of civil rights, Mahatma Gandhi. Starring Ben Kingsley in the titular role, the film touches on the former lawyer's early experiences with injustice and racial discrimination in South Africa before exploring his return to India and history-making fight for freedom from colonial British rule.
"Can You Ever Forgive Me?"
Melissa McCarthy's "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" arrived in theaters in October 2018. The film chronicles the criminal downfall of celebrity biographical writer Lee Israel. The drama, which explores Lee's descent into literary forgery following a financially difficult time in her life, was nominated for best adapted screenplay at the 2019 Academy Awards and earned Melissa an Oscar nod for best actress.
"A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"
Talk about getting into character! Tom Hanks stars as Fred Rogers in "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," a biopic based on the life of beloved minister and TV host Mr. Rogers. The film, which was directed by Marielle Heller, centers on the life-changing friendship between Fred and journalist Tom Junod.
"The Imitation Game"
In the Oscar-winning 2014 biographical thriller "The Imitation Game," audiences learned about the amazing mind of English mathematician Alan Turing, who helped crack the Nazi Enigma code during WWII. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan (Keira Knightley co-starred as his friend and fellow decoder Joan Clarke), the film also explores Alan's homosexuality, which led police to investigate him for "gross indecency" and, later, a sentence of chemical castration before his alleged suicide in 1954.
"Mary Queen of Scots"
Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie starred in the big-screen historical biopic "Mary Queen of Scots," which hit theaters in December 2018. The drama highlights the 16th century fight for power between cousins Queen Mary (Saoirse) and Queen Elizabeth I (Margot), which ended with the imprisonment and ultimate death of the Scottish ruler.
The 1998 biopic "Gia," starring Angelina Jolie, tells the tragic tale of fashion model Gia Carangi who's promising career takes a turn for the worse after her agent passes away. Without anyone to keep her on the right path, Gia's modeling career begins to fall apart as she turns to heroin to help her cope. For her compelling and poignant portrayal as the late model who died from HIV/AIDS, Angelina Jolie won a Golden Globe Award for best performance by an actress in a mini-series or motion picture made for television in 1999.
Starring Rami Malek as Queen singer Freddie Mercury and Gwilym Lee as lead guitarist Brian May, "Bohemian Rhapsody" explores the early years of the band up until their show-stopping performance at the 1985 "Live Aid" benefit concert six years before Freddie died from AIDS-related pneumonia. The movie received mixed reviews from critics but was loved by audiences and Hollywood. "Bohemian Rhapsody" went on to gross more than $903 million worldwide and earn four Oscars (including a best actor Academy Award for Rami) plus a Golden Globe for best picture.
In the dramatic 2014 biopic "Selma," David Oyelowo (center) stars as civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. during his historic fight for voting rights in 1965 following the legal end to segregation in America. The Oscar-winning film depicts his heroic efforts in deeply divided Selma, Alabama, where the black vote was being illegally suppressed and violence against African-American protesters and their allies had reached an all-time high.
Salma Hayek brought history to life as the star of the 2002 biographical drama "Frida." The film explores the evolution of famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo from her early life through her chaotic and passionate romance with husband and fellow artist Diego Rivera. The movie won two Oscars and introduced a new generation to the talent and legacy of one of Mexico's greatest creative forces.
In the 2009 biographical drama "Milk," Sean Penn stars as openly gay politician and civil rights activist Harvey Milk. Set in the 1970s, the film follows Harvey's highly publicized campaign for the seat of city supervisor in San Francisco amidst the LGBTQ community's fight for civil rights. Sean went on to win an Oscar for his performance, which critics called one of the best of his career.
Starring Natalie Portman, "Jackie" follows the life of Jackie Kennedy in the days following the assassination of her husband President of the United States John F. Kennedy in 1963. While struggling with her own grief, in the following week, the former First Lady is forced to make significant decisions that will shape her husband's legacy and the way in which she is viewed — not just by her own country, but by the rest of the world.
Often hailed as the late Philip Seymour Hoffman's greatest role, his performance in 2005's historical biopic "Capote" led to his first Oscar nomination and only win. The film explores quirky writer Truman Capote's fascination with the 1959 story of a murdered Kentucky family, which led him to travel the the crime scene from New York to write about the events and form a strange friendship with one of the accused murderers.
The 2018 historical biopic "First Man" stars Ryan Gosling in the role of famed astronaut Neil Armstrong. The film examines Neil's life from 1961 to 1969 leading up to the historic space mission that allowed him to become the first person to ever walk on the moon.
In the 2017 Oscar-nominated drama "Molly's Game," Jessica Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, a former Olympic hopeful skier who becomes the organizer of an underground, high-stakes gambling ring that includes wealthy and famous players. In the film, Idris Elba co-stars as Molly's reluctant attorney who represented her after her life was turned upside down by an FBI raid.
In the 2016 Oscar-nominated biographical drama "Hidden Figures," actresses Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae bring to life the true story of NASA mathematicians Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine G. Johnson and Mary Jackson, respectively. The film explores how these women, true heroes of history, served as "human computers" who did complex calculations enabling the historic launch and, later, landing of astronaut John Glenn.
"A Beautiful Mind"
Russell Crowe starred in the riveting 2001 biopic "A Beautiful Mind," a drama about the life and psychological struggles of math genius John Nash. Set in the 1950s, the film explores John's rise as one of the top minds in mathematics, leading to a teaching position at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Unbeknownst to John, he's also dealing with severe mental health problems including hallucinations that he believes are real. The film won numerous awards, including the Oscar for best picture.
"The Social Network"
"The Social Network," which stars Jesse Eisenberg as computer whiz-kid Mark Zuckerberg, tells the tumultuous tale of how social networking platform Facebook came to be. What was once a Harvard student-only rating system quickly turns into a multi-billion dollar company. Facebook's quick and unprecedented success, which leads to subsequent legal and personal turmoil, is explored in this Aaron Sorkin-written biopic.
In the heartbreaking 1993 biopic "Schindler's List," Liam Neeson plays the role of German businessman and unlikely hero Oskar Schindler. Set during WWII, the film explores the true story of how Oskar went from a greedy opportunist to savior, rescuing an estimated 1,100 Jewish people from the Holocaust by employing them in his factory. The movie went on to win seven Oscars and is often included as one of the top 100 films in history.
"The Motorcycle Diaries"
In the 2004 biopic "The Motorcycle Diaries," Gael Garcia Bernal plays Latin American revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara in the months leading up to his transformation from wide-eyed college student to radical political activist. The film, based on Che's private diaries, follows him and his friend Alberto as they set out on a 5,000-mile tour of South America one semester before Che would graduate from medical school and highlights how his experiences with South America's poorest communities inspired him to change his path.
In 2018, Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell starred in the heartbreaking biopic "Beautiful Boy." The film is based on the memoirs of David Sheff and his son, Nic Sheff, which detail their chaotic, painful journey through David's addiction to crystal meth and eventual recovery. For his work, Timothee earned award nominations from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, the BAFTAs and the Critics' Choice Awards.
In the 2004 Academy Award winning film, "Ray," Jamie Foxx stars as legendary musician Ray Charles. Delving into Ray Charles' life after he loses his sight at 9-years-old, the musical biopic charts the rise of his career in the Seattle jazz scene as well as the ways in which he struggles to remain sober and faithful to his wife (Kerry Washington) while on tour. Jamie Foxx received the Academy Award for best actor for his exceptional portrayal of the genre-crossing, soulful musician who inspired generations after him.
"The King's Speech"
The four-time Oscar-winning film "The King's Speech" tells a little-known story about King George VI's speech impediment and struggle to master public speaking under the weight of his sudden ascension to the throne of Great Britain in 1937. Starring Colin Firth as the monarch and Helena Bonham Carter as his devoted wife, Queen Elizabeth (the parents of Queen Elizabeth II), the film also explores the unlikely friendship that blossomed between George and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue.
"12 Years a Slave"
Few can forget the haunting 2013 biographical drama "12 Years a Slave" starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (right) as abolitionist and author Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery for more than a decade. The film, co-starring Lupita Nyong'o and Michael Fassbender, went on to win three Oscars, including one for best picture and another for Lupita in the best supporting actress category.
Keira Knightley stars as 19th century French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette in the 2018 biopic "Colette." The film explores Colette's journey from rural country girl to Parisian ghostwriter under the guidance of her author husband, Willy. As her novels grow in popularity, so does Colette's desire to take ownership for her work, her life and, ultimately, her sexuality.
Academy Award winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio stars in the 2004 biopic "The Aviator," about aviation mogul Howard Hughes' secretly tragic private life. To the outside world he's a widely successful film director, a sought-after lover to Hollywood actresses like Katharine Hepburn, and a pioneering figure in aviation — though behind closed doors, he suffers in silence. As dark as it is eccentric, the film explores Howard Hughes' real-life struggles with mental illness. For his portrayal as the troubled billionaire, Leonardo DiCaprio won the Golden Globe for best actor in a motion picture drama in 2005.
In the 2017 Oscar-winning biopic "I, Tonya," Margot Robbie stars as the infamous figure-skating villain Tonya Harding, who was linked to the bizarre attack on her Olympic competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, in 1994. Exploring the often contradictory stories surrounding Tonya's involvement in the attack, the film also delves deep into the ice-skater's dysfunctional and at times cruel childhood, painting a sympathetic picture of a woman who would later be banned from the U.S. Figure Skating Association for life.
From director Spike Lee came the 1992 biopic "Malcolm X" starring Denzel Washington in the title role. The powerful film explored Malcolm's early years as a criminal before a life-changing experience in prison leds him to change his life, become a minister and, later, the leader of the Black Nationalist party.
"The Theory of Everything"
In the 2014 Oscar-winning biopic "The Theory of Everything," star Eddie Redmayne had big shoes to fill when he played world-famous theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking. Detailing Stephen's early brilliance and enchanting romance with his first wife, Jane Hawking, the movie also explores Stephen's diagnosis of the neurodegenerative disease ALS, which left him severely handicapped for the rest of his life.
In the 2014 biographical drama "American Sniper," Bradley Cooper stars as fallen Navy S.E.A.L. sniper Chris Kyle. The film explores Chris' military career, which earned him the nickname "Devil of Ramadi" due to his lethal shooting precision, and Chris' untimely death after he was gunned down by a fellow veteran. The movie was nominated for six Oscars, ultimately winning one for sound editing.
"The Wolf of Wall Street"
Leonardo DiCaprio stars in the titillating 2013 biopic "The Wolf of Wall Street," which is based on the life of former stockbroker-turned-author Jordan Belfort. The film, which depicts the brazen debauchery, drug abuse and criminal enterprises Jordan and his colleagues participated in during the 1990s, earned critical acclaim and five Oscar nominations, including a best picture nod.
"Love and Mercy"
Starring John Cusack, Paul Dano, and Elizabeth Banks, the 2014 biopic "Love & Mercy" tells the story the Beach Boy's co-founder and frontman, Brian Wilson, as he struggles with mental illness in the '60s and '80s. The film, which was directed by Bill Pohlad, has been praised for its accurate and poignant retelling of Brian Wilson's most formative life moments.
The 2010 indie biopic "The Runaways," which stars Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie, tells the story of the legendary all-female rock band, The Runaways. The film, which is also based on the book "Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway" by lead vocalist Cherie Currie, explores the band's inception, rise, and the tumultuous relationship between its two frontwomen.
Will Smith stars in the 2001 biopic, "Ali," about history-making boxer Muhammad Ali from 1964 to 1974. The film explores his rise to boxing fame including his heavyweight title win over Sonny Liston, his conversion to Islamic faith, his fall from grace in the boxing world, his return to the ring, and more. For his portrayal as the riveting American athlete, Will Smith received an Academy Award nomination for best actor in 2002.