The Best Biopics to Stream on Netflix
Sometimes the craziest movie is the one that really happened. Or was inspired by something that really happened, at least. Films based on people's true stories can be equal parts inspiring, cautionary, and downright entertaining -- besides, Netflix has plenty of them.
To that end, we sifted through the streaming service's biographical movie options, and present to you our favorites here. Whether they follow the rise of Che Guevara or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, you'll find a hefty nugget of truth in each of them... they just look a whole lot more photogenic than their real-world counterparts.
Peter Shaffer's acclaimed play received the adaptation treatment from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest director Milos Forman, and it might be the greatest biopic of all time. Starring Tom Hulce as the giggling composer and F. Murray Abraham as his struggling contemporary Antonio Salieri, Amadeus extrapolates creative pursuits through bitter rivalry, discovering how masterpieces and failures, disasters and sophisticates, can bang together into history as one invisible, harmonic chord.
Drive and The Neon Demon director Nicolas Winding Refn put Tom Hardy on the map with this expressionistic biopic of career inmate Michael Gordon Peterson, aka "Charles Bronson." Attracted to mayhem and prone to spurts of violence, Bronson is known for having spent most of his life in solitary confinement. Refn takes this in playful stride, framing prison life like a circus with Bronson as the ringmaster. Imagine Hardy's Dark Knight Rises character, Bane, with an old-timey mustache and wicked sense of humor instead of mask: that's his Bronson, who is frighteningly fun to watch.
Most war movies are about action and ideals; Che is about tactics. In telling the story of the Argentine Marxist leader, played with an enigmatic glow by Benicio del Toro, director Steven Soderbergh found the perfect historical setting to once again explore his favorite theme: process, particularly the way groups plan and execute complex tasks. In Ocean's Eleven, it was a casino heist. In Che, it's guerrilla warfare. While many military films take the long view, Che is almost single-mindedly focused on the tactile and granular aspects of combat. It puts you in the dirt, then leaves you there.
Cinderella Man (2005)
The boxing movie and the biopic are two of film's oldest, sturdiest genres, so it only makes sense that Ron Howard, a reliable craftsman of old-fashioned, sturdy entertainment, would take a shot at both. Fresh off his Oscar-winning work in Howard's A Beautiful Mind, Russell Crowe brings all his burly charm to bear on the role of Great Depression-era fighter James J. Braddock, while Paul Giamatti offers a humanizing portrait of real-life manager Joe Gould. It's a little schmaltzy -- a boxing movie that references a fairy tale in the title isn't exactly trying to hide it's heart-wrenching goals -- but Howard lands every punch and earns every tear.
Ip Man 3 (2016)
There aren't many biopics that also pass for decent action movies. Somehow, Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen and director Wilson Yip have made three separate movies based on the life of Chinese martial arts master Yip Kai-man, who famously trained Bruce Lee (the whole trilogy is on Netflix, but the last chapter is our favorite). What's their trick to keeping this series fresh? Playing fast and loose with the facts, upping the melodrama with each film, and, when in doubt, casting Mike Tyson as an evil property developer. The third movie in the series isn't necessarily the best -- that's probably still the first film -- but the fights are incredible, and Yen's portrayal of the aging master still has the power to draw a few tears from even the most grizzled tough guy.
Jimi: All Is by My Side (2013)
It's challenging to find a unique angle on an icon like Jimi Hendrix, and writer and director John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) certainly had his work cut out for him on this subtle portrait of an artist as a young hippie. For one thing, he couldn't get the rights to use any original music from Hendrix's estate. Also, his star, OutKast rapper André Benjamin, was over a decade older than Hendrix was in the period the film covers. Ultimately, those constraints help the film find pockets of originality in a genre that typically sticks to the standard rise-and-fall narrative. Instead of the greatest hits, we get a movie that feels like a rare, unearthed B-sides collection, revealing by virtue of its intimate scale.
Critics and worried parents admonished Deep Throat, one of the most mainstream porn films to ever grace the silver screen, when it debuted in 1972. Forty years later, Hollywood made a movie about the making of the movie. Go figure. Lovelace tracks the rise of Linda Lovelace, who battled abusive relationships before and after starring in Deep Throat. The movie is as straightforward as they come, but it dares to consider the most famous porn star with the legitimacy that she deserves.
Before he spent his days mailing Margot Robbie dead rats on the set of Suicide Squad, Jared Leto immersed himself into the legendary and laconic life of American long-distance runner Steve Prefontaine. The movie covers the runner's Olympic wins and media glory, but it doesn't shy away from the lows, from the runner's irksome tendency for self-aggrandizement to down-years bartending -- his only source of income as a nonprofessional student athlete. Hoop Dreams documentarian Steve James made his narrative debut with Prefontaine, the definition of "Disney sports movie."
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