Biopic

"Biopic" is one word. If you were redirected to here and it says "Bio Pic," please change it on the original page you linked from. Thank you.

"This simple formula rarely fails. Pick a deceased (or soon to be deceased) musician, artist or mathematician, make sure they're the sort of person the New York media could conceivably refer to as brilliant, insert a big name actor (or Gary Busey) to play the role; watch movie critics and audiences far and wide go apeshit."
Adam Brown of Cracked.com, on the subject of Oscar Bait.

Based on a True Story, but longer. The Biopic is... well a picture (or motion picture, rather) that tells a person's biography. It takes a real person's life and tries to create drama from the things that the person experienced, to a varying degree of success.

The difference between a Biopic and Based On a True Story is that the Biopic takes place under a much longer time-span, years as opposed to, say, a summer (Finding Neverland). The famous person must also be the story's protagonist.

Due to the unending way we tend to live our life, the Biopic tends to, much like the 19th century novel, end with either the protagonist's Death, him getting married/ Finding God / Growing Up (after which he gets boring), his Downfall (after which he gets boring unless there's a Comeback) or his Greatest Triumph (which may be or follow the Comeback, but after which there is not much more to say).

Lately there have been a lot of biopics about famous musicians, mainly due to the fact that the (unavoidable?) drug/alcohol-abuse is a simple way to create drama and that all the recording sessions/concerts are an easy foil to let the soundtrack shine. Another popular sub-genre, based-on-truth movies about athletes, can count as these, and are a good source of Manly Tears.

The concept of using fiction to tell the story of a real-life figure is relatively recent. The classic works of Ancient Greece and Rome took mythical works as its subjects and avoided depicting contemporary figures, except in satires and for ridicule. The genre's true origins stem from The Renaissance, where writers evinced an equal interest in classical history as in myth, and works depicting scenes from Roman and Greek history became common. In England, history plays from the pre-Tudor era were seen as ideal material for propaganda. In the 20th Century cinema, biopics were common from the silent-era onwards and it has changed and adapted with time. While some films might heavily whitewash their subjects and their times if the intent is to show them in a positive light, it's now more common to explore the many facets, good and bad, of a protagonist's personality. This change is probably most noticeable when the subject is a historical figure - a politician and/or a military leader, for example. With performers it's particularly popular to chronicle those whose offscreen/stage behavior sharply contrasted to their work; e.g., comedians who couldn't find laughter in real life. Other films tell of those who didn't necessarily live great lives, but wonderfully unique ones - it's not a coincidence that the same screenwriting duo wrote Ed Wood, The People Vs Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon.

This genre is extremely subjective with both its makers and its viewers and largely depends on the point of view both parties bring to the table. If the filmmaker is more interested in the sad times, a viewer who loves the subject and knows what's left out might find the film too negative and their hero turned into a Jerk Ass. A filmmaker who wants to focus on the good times can upset a viewer who feels the protagonist is being unduly glorified.

A rich source of Oscar Bait. Essentially the movie form of the Biography. Compare Roman ŗ Clef. Expect many to exhibit Mononymous Biopic Titles.

When one of this is made from the perspective of someone other than the subject, it's called a Sidelong Glance Biopic.

Examples are shown with their endings:

Tropes that are frequently used in this genre include:

  • Ability over Appearance vs. Dyeing for Your Art
  • Abusive Parents: A staple of the genre, if they had a Jerkass parent it will probably get a mention.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Most figures in life who were successful had to have been functional and committed to some extent, even if they were self-destructive in others. In fiction, expect the flaws and neuroses to be dialled up, and expect to be surprised at wondering how that messed-up classical composer ever managed the concentration to write his major opus.
  • All-Star Cast: Features a lot of actors in very different roles.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Occasionally biopics will leave in the more extraordinary details of someone's life.
  • Artistic License: Big time. In some cases this is a Justified Trope as a fictional work must telescope key moments of the person's life rather than say, all the times, Leonardo sat in his room and waited for his assistants to mix his paints. In other cases this trope exists for legal reasons, for instance if a location where an event did occur refuse permission to use its locations or if the military refuses to lend assets to a topic it regards as controversial.
  • As Himself: In more recent films, expect The Cameo of the subject.
  • Bowdlerization:
    • On account of Society Marches On, expect to be be surprised (or not really) that such figures as Cole Porter was made into a heterosexual in the film Night and Day(starring Cary Grant in additionnote ) as well as Michelangelo given a romance in The Agony and the Ecstacy.
    • This is doubly the case in films set in earlier eras where the different values and cultural norms get played down to make the characters relatable to a modern audience. Expect to see Kings and Politicians Marry for Love in eras where Arranged Marriage was the norm, and where a Perfectly Arranged Marriage still allowed room in one's heart for The Mistress.
  • Composite Character: Multiple real people might be collapsed to one in particular if they essentially serve the same purpose in the subject's life (this happens frequently with love interests). Andy Kaufman's late-in-life girlfriend Lynne Margulies is an example in Man on the Moon (where she's played by Courtney Love); she both represents the real Lynne and other women in his life, and enters the story much earlier than in reality.
    • This is sometimes also done for legal reasons as well as artistic reasons, especially in stories set in recent eras. A film may be well researched but implying certain figures are with particular groups at a specific time could be grounds for libel since legally those details are still "off-the-record". This is one reason why heavy Artistic License is sometimes a Justified Trope.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Even in cases where the past is relatively happy or not as troubling, except loads of Adaptational Angst Upgrade.
  • Deuteragonist: A lot of biopics will usually portray the subject from an Audience Surrogate POV. For example: Hitler is seen by Traudle Junge (Downfall), Mozart by Salieri in (Amadeus) and many others. This is especially the case when the person is supposed to be a bigger than life personality, who writers might regard as difficult or unconventional if shown from within, and easier to do so by a more relatable observer who might at times be a fictional character (see Me and Orson Welles).
  • Downer Ending: A tragic early death, usually by murder or substance abuse.
  • Expy: Some movies depicting a historical figure will stick close to the outline but change the names for legal and artistic reasons. This happened with Citizen Kane which was modelled on William Randolph Hearst and other press moguls and featured a number of Biopic tropes. It also appears in later films like Velvet Goldmine (based on David Bowie note ) as well as Clint Eastwood's White Hunter, Black Heart (about John Huston).
  • Fake Nationality: More often than not, an actor playing a character is not of the same nationality as that character. For example, it is not uncommon for an American character to be played by a non-American actor.
  • Flashback, often a Troubled Backstory Flashback.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Particularly for famous people who are dead, as the audience already knows this beforehand. In the case of particularly notable historical figures, the audience will obviously know their fate beforehand.
  • Foreshadowing: Certain scenes will use a metaphor or a Hilarious in Hindsight line or scene in which the celebrity is shown in the very distant past, anticipating some of the more famous stuff he'll do later in life.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Movies about artists, philosophers and scientists will often present work as Eureka Moment or a montage rather then attempt to portray in a believable fashion the evolution of an artistic sensibility, scientific acumen or insight. Some argue that this is because actors are, usually, not painters/musicians/composers/scientists so they can't believably portray the artistic and scientific process, even if the film-makers wanted to go in that direction.
  • Historical Beauty Update: Men and women will often be made more beautiful or attractive than they actually were in Real Life. And always according to modern beauty standards.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Expect to see multiple films of some figures, especially prominent and important ones like Lincoln, Nixon, Elizabeth I and Napoleon.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade/ Historical Villain Upgrade: Likely to happen when conflict with another person/group is key to the story.
  • Hollywood Atlas: It's expensive to shoot on multiple locations, so different places are collapsed into each other.
  • Hollywood History: Since Hollywood popularized the genre it often informs biographical misconceptions of famous figures.
  • Hollywood Old
  • Montages: With the sheer amount of time covered, transitions from one period to the next are often handled this way.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: The reason why biopics about writers are far rarer than composers, dancers, musicians and painters. Writing is generally not considered to be visually interesting since it features men and women in a room (sometimes a cafe) with a piece of paper. Movies which feature writers tend to be about their colourful personal lives and drama (Kill Your Darlings) or their involvement in a political cause (The Life of Emile Zola dealing with the Dreyfuss Affair). Shakespeare being that he's a playwright and theatre actor, gets a free pass to the extent (that he has his own trope).
  • The Musical Musical: Usually in biopics about musicians and composers, and especially ones about people who have performed in stage musicals.
  • Nothing But Hits: Common to the genre as a whole, but most pronounced in films about musicians. The musician's Signature Songs are likely to be used.
  • Oscar Bait: Has been one since the 1930s.
  • Politically Correct History: A side effect of the Historical Hero Upgrade in particular, but pops up in nearly all of them to varying degrees.
  • Post Modernism: Because story structure in this genre is so predictable, some more recent films invoke this to freshen things up. Commonly, the filmmakers try to frame the story in the style of the performer's work. For example, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers has a film-within-a-film structure: Peter (Geoffrey Rush) is making the film and "actually" playing everyone in it. Man on the Moon admits its use of Artistic License in the opening sequence and builds a Credits Gag from it.
  • Real Person Cameo: Often at the end.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: It's extremely rare to see films about famous figures at the height of their fame and level of influence. Some argue that the objectivity and distance of time is needed to get some measure of the life and work to form a worldview. In other cases it's because of legal reasons (fear of libel) which leads instead to Expy and Captain Ersatz coming to the rescue. A recent notable exception is Oliver Stone's W., made while President George W. Bush was still in office. A film about Kennedy's war years was released while he was still alive, so there is a precedent, but Stone's film presented a critical view of Bush's presidency during that period.
  • Shown Their Work: Expect Martin Scorsese and Roberto Rossellini to lean heavily on this trope at least.
  • Talent Double: Frequently averted as noted on the trope page, although a Non-Singing Voice/Not Quite Starring is often heard.
  • Tear Jerker
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks: Viewers more knowledgeable than others about the subject matter are often aggravated by any changes made to the story, particularly reordering events and/or dropping them. Since different people have different ideas about what is important, this is extremely subjective. Also, it doesn't just apply to viewers — the subject and/or their friends/family might have issues with what is and isn't included. This at times lead to later biopics that address the previous ones.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Very frequently with the character as a child or teenager.
  • Time Skip: Another common way to handle the passage of time.
  • Titled After the Song: Common in biopics about musicians and songwriters. Usually, the name of their Signature Song is used.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Some biopics are made for audiences who already know a lot about the person and will alienate the general public who hasn't got enough knowledge beforehand.
  • Viewers Are Morons: Things are often simplified in order not to confuse, disturb or make audiences think too much. Often they are downright romanticized.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In the more unflinching biopics.
  • When It All Began: Rule of Drama frequently means that real people's motivations will be distilled down to one significant event in their life.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BioPic