"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."
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
This genre's been around for decades, and it's 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 Ó 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
- 24 Hour Party People (Tony Wilson / Downfall)
- 8 Mile (Eminem (via expy) /His first Success)
- 42 (Jackie Robinson/success)
- Alexander (Alexander the Great /Death)
- Ali (Muhammad Ali)
- Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe (via expy) /Early life and success)
- Amazing Grace (William Wilberforce / Greatest Triumph)
- American Gangster (Frank Lucas / Downfall)
- The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. (Robert Ford / Death)
- The Aviator (Howard Hughes /Greatest Triumph and Downfall)
- Beginners (Mike Mills/Growing Up/Father's Death)
- Bernie (Bernie Tiede/Mid-life/Success/Trail and Downfall)
- Beyond The Sea (Bobby Darin/Early Life, Success)
- The Blind Side (Michael Oher / Growing Up/Success)
- Blow (George Jung / Downfall)
- Braveheart (William Wallace / Early life/Success/Downfall/Death)
- Caligula (Caligula / Coming into power/Downfall/Death)
- Cantinflas (Mario Moreno "Cantinflas" /Early life/Greatest Success)
- Capote (Truman Capote / Greatest Triumph)
- Catch Me If You Can (conman Frank Abagnale Jr./ Downfall)
- Cesar Chavez (Cesar Chavez / Early life/Success)
- Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin / Early Life/Success/Downfall/Literal Coming Back)
- Che (Ernesto 'Che' Guevara / Part 1: Success / Part 2: Death)
- Coal Miner's Daughter (Loretta Lynn /Early Life/Success)
- Coco Before Chanel (Coco Chanel / Early Life (obviously)/Success)
- Control. (Ian Curtis of Joy Division/ Death
- The Dale Earnhardt Story (Dale Earnhardt Sr) Teenager/Early career/Success/Death)
- De-Lovely (Cole Porter / Death)
- Night and Day was made much earlier and is a lot more fictionalized.
- The Doors (Jim Morrison of The Doors /Death)
- Downfall (Adolf Hitler / Downfall (obviously)/Death)
- Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (Bruce Lee /Early Life/Teenager/Success/Death described in closing epilogue)
- Ed Wood (Ed Wood /"Success")
- Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth / Awesome Moment of Crowning)
- Elizabeth: The Golden Age (ditto/ um... awesome moment of crown retention? or maybe death?)
- Frida: (Frida Kahlo / Success/Death)
- Gandhi (Mohandas Gandhi/Death)
- Get On Up (James Brown/Early life/Success)
- The Glenn Miller Story (Glenn Miller/Success/Death)
- The Great Caruso (Enrico Caruso /Success)
- The Great Mr. Handel (Georg Friedrich Handel /Success/Death)
- The Great Ziegfeld (Florenz Ziegfeld /Success/Downfall/Success/Downfall/Death)
- Hitchcock (Alfred Hitchcock / Greatest Triumph)
- I'm Not There (Bob Dylan / Growing Up or Downfall)
- In the Realm of the Senses (Sada Abe / Claim to fame)
- Into The Storm (usefulnotes/Winston Churchill / Greatest Triumph and Downfall)
- The Iron Lady (Margaret Thatcher / Rise to power/Dementia)
- J. Edgar (J. Edgar Hoover / Early life/Rise to power/Death)
- Jersey Boys (Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons / Early life/Success/Downfall/Comeback)
- Jinnah (Muhammad Ali Jinnahnote / Death (not a spoiler since it happens in the opening minutes of the film)
- Juarez (Benito Juarez / success)
- The King's Speech (King George VI / Early life/Rise to power/Success)
- Kinsey (Alfred Kinsey / One of the first people to do real scientific research on human sexuality.)
- La Revolucion Es Un Sueno Eterno (Juan JosÚ Castelli)
- La Bamba (Ritchie Valens /Early life/Success/Death)
- The Lady (Aung San Suu Kyi/ Early life/Rise to power/romance with husband)
- The Last Emperor (Pu Yi / Early/middle life and downfall)
- The Life of Emile Zola (Emile Zola The Dreyfus Affair/Death)
- The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers (Exactly What It Says on the Tin, although the Death is not depicted on screen.)
- Liz And Dick (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton)
- Magic Beyond Words: The J. K. Rowling Story (J. K. Rowling /Greatest Triumph)
- Magic Fire (Richard Wagner /Success)
- Malcolm X (Malcolm X / Death and martyrdom)
- Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story ( Greatest Success/Downfall)
- Man on the Moon (Andy Kaufman /Death)
- Marie Antoinette (Marie Antoinette /Early life, Awesome Moment of Crowning, downfall)
- Men of Honor (Carl Brashear / His military career)
- The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (Joan of Arc / Life and death)
- Mesrine (Two Part Story depicting Mesrine's rise to infamy as French Public Enemy No 1 and death)
- Milk (Harvey Milk / Death)
- The Miracle Worker: (Helen Keller / Early life/Struggle/Success)
- Molokai: The Father Damien Story: (Father Damien / a lot of Struggles, Success followed closely by Death
- Mongol (Genghis Khan / Early life)
- Music of the Heart (music educator Roberta Guaspari/Harlem Violin Program)
- The Mystery of Natalie Wood (Natalie Wood Early life/success/motherhood/death)
- Nixon (President Richard Nixon /Downfall)
- Nowhere Boy (John Lennon / Early life)
- The Passion of the Christ (Jesus Christ / Death/Resurrection)
- Patton (General George S. Patton / Success)
- The People Vs Larry Flynt (Hustler publisher Larry Flynt Early life/success/downfall/redemption
- Pope John Paul II (Saint John Paul II /Life/Success/Papacy/Sickness/Death)
- The Pursuit of Happyness (Christopher Gardner / Success)
- Radio (James Robert "Radio" Kennedy)
- Raging Bull (Jake La Motta/Growing Up/Downfall)
- Ray (Ray Charles /Growing Up)
- The Red Baron (Baron Von Richthofen /Success/Death)
- Rome (Gaius Julius Caesar "Augustus" Octavianus /Success)
- The Runaways (Joan Jett and Cherie Currie / Early life and success, downfall for Cherie)
- Saving Mr. Banks (P.L. Travers and Walt Disney / Early life for Travers, whose book Mary Poppins Walt turns into one of his greatest triumphs)
- Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll (Ian Dury of Ian Dury And The Blockheads)
- Shine (Australian Pianist David Helfgott Early Life/Mental Illness/Success)
- Sick: The Life & Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist (Bob Flanagan / Life and death (obviously))
- Sid And Nancy (Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols /Death)
- Spartacus (Spartacus / Early life/Coming into power/Success/Failure/Death)
- The Story of Louis Pasteur (Louis Pasteur /Success/Death)
- Sweet Dreams (Patsy Cline /Success/Death)
- Sylvia. (Sylvia Plath / Death)
- Temple Grandin (Temple Grandin / Early Life, Triumph/Success — LA Times review: "It's rare that triumph includes the word 'slaughterhouse'.")
- La Vie en Rose (Edith Piaf / Early life/Success/Death)
- W. (President George W. Bush / Triumph/Downfall of the Iraq invasion.)
- Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (A parody of musician Bio Pics / Pretty much all of them.)
- Walk the Line (Johnny Cash /Growing Up)
- What We Do Is Secret (The Germs, and their frontman Darby Crash / Cult Following/Downfall/Death.)
- Wilson (Woodrow Wilson / Greatest Triumph and then Downfall)
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.
- All-Star Cast
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Occasionally biopics will leave in the more extraordinary details of someone's life.
- Artistic License: Big time.
- As Himself
- 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.
- Dark and Troubled Past
- 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.
- Historical Beauty Update
- Historical Hero Upgrade / Historical Villain Upgrade: Likely to happen when conflict with another person/group is key to the story.
- Hollywood Atlas
- Hollywood Old
- Montages: With the sheer amount of time covered, transitions from one period to the next are often handled this way.
- 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
- 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.
- Film-in-a-film/character as himself is also used in Beyond The Sea, to justify Kevin Spacey's tiny bit of Dawson Casting - the subject, singer Bobby Darin died at a relatively early age.
- Real Person Cameo
- Shown Their Work, although sometimes quite often They Just Didn't Care, sadly.
- 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.
- 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.
- "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.