Nothing says you contributed something monumental to the human race like a biopic examining your life and exploits. It’s the highest praise in the age of Twitter and fifteen-nanoseconds-of-fame to be immortalized and have your story told in a feature-length film. But among all those coming-of-age and taking-on-the-world stories, few make a dent in the public eye. These are the stories-made-fims of exceptional individuals whose contributions are still felt today:
Starring the renowned Daniel Day-Lewis and directed by Steven Spielberg, this dramatization of the 16th President of the United States has the all ingredients for great storytelling: a nation torn in two, a Cabinet bickering, a wife who suffers bouts of depression and a son who demands to fight in the war. This close examination of Lincoln’s ardent drive to pass the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution in the House of Representatives during January of 1865 is a political thriller on an incredible scale. But at the heart of this story is Day-Lewis’ immersive portrayal of Lincoln the humorist, statesman, father and husband.
Truman Capote’s harrowing work of non-fiction In Cold Blood is a dark and stirring examination of murder in Kansas. But the story of Capote’s research and subsequent relationship with one of the killers is just as enthralling. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Academy Award for depiction of the charming New York writer investigating the grizzly crime.
The Elephant Man (1980)
Rarely does David Lynch choose to attempt remotely sentimental, heart-warming stories. This elegant black and white film is a rare exception. John Hurt took on the role of John Merrick, a man suffering from a condition that forced him to work as side-show attraction. Rescued from his horrible existence by Dr. Frederick Treves (portrayed by Anthony Hopkins), Merrick began to experience not only a life of respect and safety, but also friendship and culture. The film’s consideration of how misleading appearances can be is both universal and touching.
Raging Bull (1980)
In the canon of great sports biopics, one film stands alone. The grueling story Jake LaMotta, a middleweight boxer who battles in and out of the ring. Martin Scorsese set the tone for many films to come (he made many biopics), but this sports drama sets the tone for what the Scorsese-and-De-Niro duo are capable of. Although it had a rocky initial reception, it is now widely considered one of the best films in the history of cinema.
No story demonstrates the potential of non-violent activism more clearly and impressively than this dramatization of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s life. Ben Kingsley’s dignified and exacting performance as India’s most famous demonstrator is a slice of acting bravado. With an enormous cast and a running time of over three hours, this story is in every way an epic.