Best Biographical Movies - Part 4

Posted on 1 Mar 00:00

Many long-gone politicians, musicians, events and others have led lives that thrill and enrich the 21st century generation. Biographical books and classic movies turn back the clock to help us to understand the incredible lives of these figures and events that amazed the world. The cinema world would not be complete without biopics. The motion picture educates and entertains us using past lives and legacies. Biopics are real-life stories in filmed form. Sometimes, some of these non-fiction characters are used in producing the films for more authenticity. This article and others in this series will assist movie enthusiasts in discovering top biopics to add to their collection.

1)  O.J.: Made in America (2016)

Plot:  This is a thoughtful, compelling, and sad documentary that profiles the rise and fall of the famous athlete and actor, O.J Simpson. This 2016 film was produced and edited by Ezra Edelman and gives an insider story of O. J's murder trial that puts America's racism and sexism wounds on full display. This 7-hour documentary sheds light on the rise of O.J Simpson in college sports winning accolades and later failing the black population by distancing himself from the plight of blacks. The movies focuses on race, celebrity, domestic violence(the murder of his wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman, and an extremely weak justice system in the 1990s.

Director:  Ezra Edelman.

Commercial Success:  This movie's was made on a $ 5 million dollar budget. However, no information about domestic and world wide box office gross was revealed.

Accolades: This movie was well-received by critics winning 48 awards and 35 nominations. It also won an Oscar in 2017 in the Academy Awards, the USA for the Best Documentary/feature.

2.  Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Plot: This documentary of Malik Bendjelloul, a Swedish director, switches between Cape Town and Detriot.  Two South Africans, Stephen "Sugar" Segerman and Craig Strydom, have received the news about the passing of their music icon, Sixto Rodriguez, and American musician. They then set out to find out the true fate of the musician since it was only a rumor. Rodriguez became a household name in South Africa, although nobody knows much about him.

Searching for Rodriguez eventually became easy because the internet was growing significantly fast.  However, there was no news about the Sugar man’s top artist on the internet. The quest was tiring, but the ending was sweeter. This is a miraculous documentary that should not be missed..

Director: The film was directed and edited by Malik Bendjelloul

Cast: Sixto Rodriguez

Commercial Success:  'Searching for Sugar Man' grossed $3,696,196 and $5,426,210 at the domestic and international box office. Its worldwide gross was $9,22,406.

Awards and Nominations:  This film won an Oscar at the 2013 Academy Awards for the Best Documentary. Additionally, it received 44 wins and 33 nominations in different categories.

3.  The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)

Plot: Harvey Milk vies for the Board of Supervisor’s seat for the 4th time after losing 3 previous times. Milk showed a passion for politics while running a camera store in Castro District of San Francisco. He wins the election the fourth time, joining the city’s Board of Supervisors. This made him the first openly gay elected to public office. Later, Milk meets fellow councilman, Dan White. Soon a disagreement between them over placing a mental health facility in White's district causes a rift between the two. This documentary shows White resigning and later becoming a mastermind in the assassination of Harvey Milk and Mayor Gorge Moscone.

Director: The movie was directed by Rob Epstein

Main Cast: Harvey Fierstein(Narrator), Harvey Milk, Anne Kronenberg, Torry Hatrtmann, Tom Ammiano and Jim Eliot,

Commercial Success: This movie grossed $13.6k domestically. However, it earned $29,802 worldwide.

Awards and Nominations: 'The Times of Harvey Milk' received an Oscar during at the 1985 Academy Awards for the Best Documentary.  Also, it was nominated for the Gold Hugo in the 1984 Chicago International Film Festival. In 1985, the film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the Sundance Film Festival.

4.  No Direction Home (2005)

This film by Martin Scorsese traces the life of the popular rock star artist Bob Dylan. It features footage from his 1960s concert in London before the motorcycle accident that caused him to stop touring. The movie is also edited from interviews with Dylan, his close friends, and artists, including Joan Baez. A once on a lifetime interview footage with Pete Seeger, Dylan's mentor, makes the documentary thrilling.

Bob Dylan, folk artist in the 1960s suddenly changed to rock, the reason for switching genres is explained in the documentary. The movie packs new interviews whose subject matter is his prime years in the 1960s. After the Manchester tour when Dylan's motorcycle accident that caused him to cancel tours for more than 5 years.

P.A  Pennebaker’s 1967 'Don’t Look Back' paints a different picture about Dylan. The film depicts Dylan as an aggressive young man. At one point, he acted rudely to fans, hotel managers, and journalists during the 1965 Britain tour. Scorsese’s documentary creates another Dylan’s portrait that shows the type of person he was before and after the motorcycle accident.

Director: Martin Scorsese.

Main Cast: Bob Dylan, Dick Kangas and B.J Rolfzen

Commercial success: Unknown.

Awards and Nominations: The film won the Peabody Award in 2006. Also, in 2007, the documentary won the Columbia DuPont Award.  In the same year, Scorsese won a Grammy for the best director of a long video.

5.  Spellbound (2002)

Plot:  Spellbound is a 2002 film that centers on eight Scripps National Spelling Bee competitors in 1999. The competition was held in Washing, D.C. Participants included Harry Altman, Ashley White, Ted Brightman, Nupur Lala, April Degideo, Emily Stagg, Neil Kadakia, and   Angela Arenivar.

The eight teenagers with their families prepare and head out for the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee Competition. All these youths are hoping that they will impress their parents and the local newspapers that sponsored them. The pressure increases as parents, teachers, and audiences set high expectations for the children. Also, the winner will win a cash prize and scholarship. These factors intensified the completion, and documentary shows it all.

Ted Brigham was the expected winner of the competition, but was eliminated in the first round when he misspelled a word.  He was an alumnus of the Medical in Kansas City, Missouri. Unfortunately, he committed suicide in 2007. The circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear as the family kept things private. Other spellers are still alive and married and living happily.

Director: The movie was directed by Jeff Blitz

Main Cast: Harry Altman, Angela Arenivar, Ted Brigham, April GeGideo, Neil Kadakia, Nupur Lala, Emily Stagg, and Ashley White.

Commercial Success:  This film was made on a budget of $1.5 million. It grossed $19,000 internationally and $5.7 million domestically.

Accolades: The movie received 17 wins and 19 nominations. For instance, it was nominated for an Oscar in 2003 during the Academy Awards in the USA.

6.  21 Up (1977)

Plot:  '21 Up' is a Michael Apted film about fourteen British-born adults. The documentary focuses on their lives from when they were 7 years old. The series continues with the same cast of adults now aged 21.  It is a 9-episode film produced after 7 years to match the original age of the subjects when the film was made for the first time. Therefore, the filming of all 9 episodes took 56 years.

All the episodes in this series were received well by critics. The children were symbolic in the original film. They represented different socio-economic backgrounds in Britain then. It was assumed that the future of the fourteen children was to be determined by their social class.

Director:  Bruce Baldenm Jackie Basset, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Susan Davis, Charles Furneaux, Nicholas Hitchon, and Neil Hughes. Also, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Suzanne Lusk, and Tony walker were part of the 14 adults.

Commercial Success: Unknown.

Awards and Nominations: This film was nominated for the Golden Satellite Award during the Satellite Awards in 2005 for the Best Documentary DVD.

7.  Anvil The Story of Anvil (2008)

Plot:  This is an inspirational rockumentary film by Sasha Gervasi profiling a heavy metal band called 'Anvil'. The Canadian heavy metal band made an influential album in 1982 along with other bands including Metallica and Anthrax. However, their continuous commercial failures make them quit music for decades.

In 2006 the director, Sasha Gervasi, met guitarist Steve Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner for the European tour that restored their dreams. They discuss their failures, friendship, and how they pursued their goals. After a successful tour, the band records their thirteenth album that reawakens the quest for their dreams. The release of this film made Anvil revived their popularity and  opportunities started knocking on their door.

Director: Sasha Gervasi.

Main Cast: Anvil

Commercial Success:  This movie grossed  $667.7 domesitically, and earned $951K world wide.

Awards and Nominations:  This movie received 23 awards and 17 Nominations including the EDA Award during the Alliance of Women Film Journalist. It won the award for the Best Documentary Feature Film. Also, in 2009, the movie won the AFCCA Award for the Best Documentary.


The non-fictional world leaves viewers entertained, inspired, and enlightened. The various true-life stories from athletes, politicians, events and musicians have enlighten society. These seven best biographical movies are perfect viewing for biographical movie buffs.

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