Best Biographical Movies - Part 3

Posted on 1 Feb 00:00


Biographical movies portray historical figures, musicians, politicians, and all types of people involved in extraordinary events.  These movies can tell the story of a person's past life or extraordinary events. What makes biographical movies more special is their focus on covering non-fictional characters and events to enlighten and entertain viewers.  This article sheds light on seven of such biopics. The films are are edited from archival footage of the real events, interviews with the real persons, and old portraits from the events.  

1.  Don’t Look Back (1967)

Plot:  This movie begins with singer/songwriter, Bob Dylan showing the cue cards containing words extracted from ‘Subterranean Homesick Blue' lyrics. The song was from his newly released album. Also, it was among the top ten songs in the UK by that time. 'Don't Look Back' also features Joan Baez, Donovan, and Alan Price. In this film, one can see the confident, aggressive, and charming young Dylan ready to take over the concert.

In this film, Dylan cuts short Price's 'Little Things' performance to ask him why he left the Animals. While in the hotel room, Dylan and Baez sing Hank William songs, including 'Love is Just a Four-Lettered Word' and 'Percy's song.' This film also plays Dylan's songs from the Royal Albert Hall performance. After Donovan's performance of ‘To sing for You,' Dylan comes in with 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.'

Director:  P.A Pennebaker

Main Cast: Bob Dylan, Albert Grossman, Bob Neuvirth, Joan Baez, Alan Price, Tito Burns, Donovan, and Derroll Adams.

Commercial Success: Not revealed.

Awards and Nominations: This movie received 4 awards and two nominations, including Cinema Eye Honors  Awards in 2014, 2015, and 2016. In the 1967 Faro Island Film Festival, Bob Dylan won the Audience Award for the best actor. Also, D.A  Pennebaker won the Golden Mood Award for the Best Film in the same event. The film also entered the National Film Registry after impressing the National Film Preservation Board, the USA, in 1998.

2.  Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)

Plot:  The opening scenes of this movie show the crime footage of the horrific murders of three 8 year old boys. It was on May 5, 1993, when three boys Stephen Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore were murdered. Three months later, bodies of the three would be found in a shallow creek with evidence of rape and mutilation. Pressure from the community demanding justice led to charging Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin for the murders.

Misskelley denied being involved in the brutal murder of the three young boys. However, he admitted to helping one of the suspects escape the scene. With that in mind, the authorities decided to try Misskelly separately. After a series of trials, the jury convicted Baldwin and Damien. Baldwin was given a life sentence without parole. Damien was sentenced to death through lethal injection.

Directors:  Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

Main Cast: Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin

Commercial Success:  Not known.

Awards and Nominations: This movie was received well and won the Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Informational Programming.

3.  The Burden of Dreams (1982)

Plot:  'The Burden of Dreams' centers on German filmmaker, Werner Herzog.  Les Blank's masterpiece captures the filming of Herzog's most anticipated movie, 'Fitzcarraldo'. The movie is about a man who tries to build an opera in the Amazon forest. 'The Burden of Dreams' sees Herzog struggling with his cast, unfavorable weather conditions, and carrying a steamship to the mountain.  The filming resulted in an incredible documentary showing the determination of the best filmmakers of our time.

Director: Les Blank.

Main Cast: Werner Herzog, Claudia Cardinale, Mick Jagger, Klaus Kinski, Candace Laughlin, and Mariano Gagnon.

Commercial Performance:  Unknown.

Awards and Nominations: This movie received 4 awards and 1 nomination. In 1983, the movie won Flaherty Documentary   Award in the BAFTA Awards.  Also, it won 3 Cinema Eye Honors Awards in 2014, 2015, and 2015. In 1983 during the American Cinema Editors, USA, the movie was nominated for the Best Edited Documentary.

4.  Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

Plot: In this movie, the life of a middle-class Jewish family takes a dark turn when the father, Arnold Friedman and younger son,Jesse, are arrested for child molestation. In the 1980s, during Thanksgiving day, the Friedmans were raided by police and found something that would later destroy the family. The police found child pornography in Arnold's basement.  Also, it was alleged that it was also Jesse's place where he molested underage boys.

In the film's closing scenes, Arnold and Jesse plead guilty to their child sexual abuse crimes. Arnold went to Wisconsin Federal Prison while Jesse entered New York's Clinton Correctional Facility. Arnold died in 1995 after committing suicide in prison. Jesse was released from the correctional facility in 2001 after serving 13 years.  Today, he is an online book-selling merchant.

Director:  Andrew Jarecki.

Main Cast: Arnold Friedman, Elaine Friedman, David Friedman, and Jesse Friedman.

Commercial Success: The film grossed $65,154 during the US opening weekend. It grossed $3,177,985 at the domestic box office and a worldwide gross of $ 4,409,434.

Accolades: This movie was nominated by the Academy Awards for the Best Documentary in 2004. In the same year, it was nominated for the Best Edited Documentary by the American Cinema Editors.  During the 2003 Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, the movie won the BSTFC award for Best Documentary. Andrew Jarecki was awarded Best New Filmmaker.

5.  Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018)

Plot:  'Won’t You Be My Neighbor' is an educational documentary that focuses on Fred Rodgers, the famous TV host of 'Mr. Roger's Neighborhood' and children's advocate. This highest-grossing documentary by Morgan Neville gives an insider story of Rodger's life and legacy. 

Director: Morgan Neville.

Main Cast: Fred Rodgers, Francois Clemmons, Yo-Yo Ma, Joe Negri, David Newell, Tom Junod, and Joanne Rodgers.

Commercial Success: The documentary was well received by critics receiving 97% rotten tomatoes. In the US opening weekend, the movie grossed $475,419. However, at the domestic box office, the movie grossed $12.4 million. The worldwide gross was $ 22.6 million which made it the highest-grossing documentary at the time.

Awards and Nominations: The movie received 53 awards and 32 nominations after its 2018 premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Even in his absence, Fred Rodger's life and legacy has enriched many generations.

6.  Harlan County USA (1976)

Plot: The 1973 strike against Duke Power Company grows as the coal miners demand safer working conditions, fair labor treatment, and sustainable wages. Director, Barbara Kopple arrives at the scene to film the thirteen month struggle between the community and the company. In this documentary, Kopple accompanied people who went to strike in New York Stock Exchange. The film shows the interviews she filmed with troubled coal miners.

Director: Barbara Kopple

Commercial Success:  Unknown.

Accolades: This documentary received 9 awards, including an Oscar for the Best Documentary during the Academy Awards, USA, in 1977. Also, the movie won 3 Cinema Eye Awards in 2014, 2015, and 2016.  In 1979, the movie was awarded the Grand Prix de I'UCC. In the same year, Kopple won the Special   Award in the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards. The movies made it to the Top Ten Films winning the NBR Award from the National Board of Review, the USA, in 1977. Moreover, in 1990, the movie was preserved in the National Film Registry by the USA National Film Preservation Board.

7.  When We Were Kings (1996)

Plot: Leon Gast arrives in Africa in 1974 to film a music festival, the black Woodstock. It was during the black power era of the dictator Mobutu Sese Sseko. Also, 'The Rumble in the Jungle' boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman was to be held there.

The boxing match was delayed a month due to a training injury to Foreman.  Gast made much film footage of prime Ali training for one of the hardest matches in his career.  “Rumble in the Jungle” would add a chapter in his career during the stay in post-colonial Africa. The two-decade edited film captures Mohammad Ali's power, elegant movements and defiance.

Director:  Leon Gast

Main cast: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, B.B. King, Norman Mailer, Spike Lee, James Brown, the Spinners, and Crusaders.

Commercial Success: This film grossed $2.7 million at the domestic box office and $4.7 million worldwide.

Accolades: This movie received accolades and won a total of 12 awards and 5 nominations, including a 1997 Oscar at the  Academy Awards for the Best Documentary.


Biographical movies offer the best way of learning about history from old musicians, politicians, and people involved in once extraordinary events. Listed here are seven of the best biographical movies ever produced.

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