The Best and Worst Celebrity Biopics
A celebrity biopic, or movie about a celebrity’s life, can be good or bad depending on the writing, directing and acting. Some biopics are very over-the-top and have so many liberties taken with the story that they’re almost fiction, whereas others show the truth behind a celebrity’s life and even their death. The makers of a biopic can win accolades and awards for telling an honest story, whereas poorly done recreations can come across as downright disrespectful.
The 1985 biopic of singer Patsy Cline, “Sweet Dream,” garnered lead actress Jessica Lange an Academy Award nomination; Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Nora Ephron in “Heartburn” the next year was also very critically acclaimed. The 1989 biopic of rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, “Great Balls of Fire,” won Dennis Quaid good reviews and was praised for how it didn’t shy away from touching on many controversial aspects of the singer’s life, including his marriage to his 13-year-old cousin.
In 1991, the Jim Morrison biopic “The Doors” was also praised for its stark portrayal of the troubled young actor, and won Val Kilmer great reviews for his performance and his own singing onscreen. The next year, Denzel Washington also received rave reviews and an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of civil rights leader Malcolm X in the movie of the same name.
Many still remember Liam Neeson’s haunting portrayal of business man Oskar Schindler in the 1993 movie “Schindler’s List,” and the movie itself won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture. The 1993 biopic of Tina Turner, “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” is said to have introduced her music to an entirely new generation and helped to restart her career; it also earned lead actress Angela Bassette rave reviews.
The 1997 biopic “Selena” about slain singer Selena catapulted Jennifer Lopez to fame. “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” did the same for Halle Berry in 1999. Julia Roberts won an Oscar for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich in the movie of the same name in 2000. Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in 2011’s “The Iron Lady” also met with quite a bit of critical acclaim, including another Academy Award for Ms. Streep.
Not all celebrity biopics have worked out so well. In 2010, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning portrayed rockers Joan Jett and Cheri Currie respectively in the movie “The Runaways,” which came and went at the box office with little fanfare. The 2011 TV miniseries “The Kennedys,” starring Katie Holmes and Greg Kinnear, also failed to garner much interest from viewers or critics.
Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in the 2011 film “My Week With Marilyn” earned her rave reviews and an Academy Award nomination, but the film did very poorly at the box office. The 2011 biopic “Winnie,” about South African civil rights leader Winnie Mandela starring Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard, was so poorly received after its debut at the Toronto Film Festival that year that it has yet to be distributed to theatres or DVD, proving that big names and a big story do not equal box office success with any Hollywood biopic.