65 Best Movies Based on True Stories — Great Films About Real Events
Hidden-Figures-Octavia-Spencer-FTR
(courtesy Everett Collection)

These movies inform us about history and don’t skimp on entertainment value. We’ve rounded up 65 of the best movies based on real-life events. For this list, all narrative features are based on true stories. This list does not include documentaries. We highly recommend these compelling, must-watch films based in history.

Here are 65 can’t-miss movies based on true events. All titles are available to rent and purchase across major digital platforms.

65 Movies Based on True Stories

David Lee/NETFLIX
(David Lee/NETFLIX)

1. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)

The most electrifying, fully realized cinematic take on an August Wilson play to date, George C. Wolfe‘s 1927 Chicago-set drama depicts a fateful recording session of the “Mother of Blues” and her band. The powerhouse performances from Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman are among 2020’s very best, making the picture’s fleeting stagey limitations mostly go unnoticed. The incomparable actors drive home Wilson’s enduring themes of race, religion, exploitation and the reality of the American Dream. Boseman is Oscar’s frontrunner for Best Actor. As ambitious, haunted trumpeter Levee, his work here has the weight of nothing less than great tragedy.

Universal Pictures
(Universal Pictures)

2. Schindler’s List (1993) 

At once one of the most harrowing films you’ll ever see—and one of the most inspiring. Steven Spielberg’s period piece stars Liam Neeson as the titular real-life merchant-turned-wartime-hero. Schindler‘s List is an unflinching account of the horrors of the Holocaust, and a testament to the power of an individual to make positive change. The American Film Institute ranked Schindler’s List the third most inspiring picture ever, behind only It’s a Wonderful Life and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Related: Best 90s Movies, Ranked 

Warner Bros.
(Warner Bros.)

3. Just Mercy (2019) 

Michael B. Jordan stars opposite Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson in Destin Daniel Cretton‘s biographical legal drama about Harvard Law graduate Bryan Stevenson and the trial of wrongfully accused Walter McMillian. Cretton’s follow-up? Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Getty Images
(Getty Images)

4. Bonnie & Clyde (1967)

1967 was a landmark year for Hollywood, the year age of innocence ended and a new age began. No film embodies this watershed moment better than Arthur Penn‘s graphically violent, potently sexy biographical crime film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway as infamous bank robbers. Conventions were shattered in a moment; this is the first film of the New Hollywood era.

Sony Pictures Classics
(Sony Pictures Classics)

5. The Rider (2018)

A work as lyrical and profound as MoonlightChloé Zhao’The Rider is a vividly cinematic study of characters too often overlooked by Hollywood.

While making her first feature in South Dakota, Zhao met Brady Jandreau, a gifted horse trainer and rodeo star who suffered a near-fatal head injury, ending his competition days forever. The Rider weaves fact and fiction into an unforgettable statement about worth and purpose, dreams and reality. It’s a bottomless trove of emotional riches–it could even change the way you look at the world.

The Rider is deeply and honorably rooted in contemporary Americana–yet timeless, and universal.

Roadside Attractions
(Roadside Attractions)

6. Judy (2019) 

Renée Zellweger‘s note-perfect, incredibly moving embodiment of Judy Garland in the twilight of her life has been rightfully hailed as a masterclass. Based on Peter Quilter‘s book End of the RainbowRupert Goold‘s biopic is, if anything, a bit underrated. A focused, punchy melodrama that serves as a showbiz cautionary tale and more, Judy benefits greatly from a subplot between Garland and two of her most dedicated gay fans. It should come off as cheesy and forced, but it doesn’t. It’s an insightful, touching look at why gay men adore their divas. Beyond that, the plot thread reflects how the world has changed in the last half-century, and how it hasn’t.

Focus Features
(Focus Features)

7. On the Basis of Sex (2018)

Director Mimi Leder‘s biopic/courtroom drama hybrid On the Basis of Sex sheds light on the early career of perhaps the most popular and culturally significant Supreme Court justice of our time. Rogue One’Felicity Jones stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a picture that’s likable and likely to crowd-please, even as it plays it safer than it could have.

Pathé
(Pathé)

8. The Queen (2006)

A spellbinding portrait of public figures’ private struggles, Stephen Frears‘ critically praised drama depicts the British Royal Family’s response to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Helen Mirren won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. To enhance the contrast of their different worlds, Frears shot most scenes of Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) on 16 mm film and those of the Queen on superior 35mm.

Screenwriter Peter Morgan adapted his script for the stage under a new title, The Audience. The play premiered in London’s West End in 2013, with Mirren reprising the role. She won a Tony for the Broadway run in 2015.

Related: 100 Movie Trivia Questions (With Answers) 

9. 1917 (2019)

Sam Mendes‘ astonishing simulated one-take World War I picture was favored to clean house at the 2020 Oscars, ultimately losing top prizes to surprise sensation Parasite. It won three awards though, including an easy-to-predict victory for Roger Deakins‘ jaw-dropping cinematography.

10. Braveheart (1995) 

Controversies surrounding accuracy aside, Mel Gibson‘s historical epic about Scotland’s “free-dom!” is rousing, old-fashioned, extremely gory entertainment. Winner of five Oscars including Best Picture.

Getty Images
(Getty Images)

11. Erin Brockovich (2000) 

Julia Roberts won an Oscar for a titanic, sexy, often hilarious turn in Steven Soderbergh‘s triumphant feel-good dramedy about the real-life single mom-turned legal clerk who brought corrupt mega-corporation PG&E to its knees. The Oscar-nominated script is quotably funny, with plenty of heart-tugging emotional moments. Two decades later this is still a hell of a good watch.

Warner Bros./ Getty
(Warner Bros./ Getty)

12. GoodFellas (1990)

An account of the rise and fall of mob associate Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is such a masterpiece that upon its release, Roger Ebert christened it the finest organized crime movie of all time, ahead of even The Godfather. Say no more. A key work of our finest living director, Goodfellas lost the Oscar for Best Picture to Dances With Wolves in an upset for the ages.

13. Frida (2002)

Salma Hayek garnered a Best Actress Oscar nod for her turn as iconic artist Frida Kahlo in Julie Taymor‘s fittingly eye-catching biopic. From six nominations, Frida won two Oscars, for Best Makeup and Best Original Score.

14. Zero Dark Thirty (2012) 

Both critically adored and mired in controversy upon release, Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow‘s thriller chronicles the hunt for Bin Laden, leading up to the night he was taken out by Navy SEALs. The picture’s two greatest assets are the stunning, armrest-gripping final act and a ripper of a lead performance from Jessica Chastain, Oscar-nominated here.

Related: The 15 Best Crime Movies on Netflix 

15. Lawrence of Arabia (1962) 

An essential epic from David Lean (who previously directed essential Dickens films Great Expectations and Oliver TwistLawrence of Arabia. Winner of seven Oscars including Best Picture. Peter O’Toole is best remembered for his Oscar-winning work here, as First World War hero T.E. Lawrence. Arguably his second-most iconic role is now his stunning voice work in Ratatouille, as deceptively austere food critic Anton Ego.

20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection
(20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection)

16. Lincoln (2012)

Daniel Day-Lewis is simply unforgettable in Spielberg’s electrifying biopic about the final months of Abraham Lincoln‘s life, and the writing of the Thirteenth Amendment.

STX
(STX)

17. Hustlers (2019) 

Jennifer Lopez ignites the screen as a mother hen with a career criminal edge in Lorene Scafaria‘s scorcher about a real-life Manhattan con job. This is a provocative, timely tale ripped from fairly recent headlines; what’s more, Hustlers is a damn compelling exploration of the complexities of female friendship. It’s got heart to match its bite.

Related: We Ranked the 15 Best Jennifer Lopez Movies of All Time 

18. Malcolm X (1992) 

Spike Lee‘s biopic, largely adapted from Alex Haley‘s biography, showcases an electrifying Denzel WashingtonMalcolm X takes an approach as complex as its subject. On a 90s retrospective, Roger Ebert of At the Movies and co-host Martin Scorsese (sitting in for late Gene Siskel) both named Malcolm X one of the decade’s ten best.

Courtesy United Artists
(Courtesy United Artists)

19. Raging Bull (1980)

Scorsese’s black-and-white big-screen take on one-time middleweight champion Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) isn’t so much about punching (though the balletic fights are dazzling) as it is about male insecurities ideals, ego, rage, will, jealousy and fear. Criticized at the time for its violence, now unanimously hailed (it’s a violent movie because it’s about violent people), Raging Bull is a quintessential character study. This is perhaps the ultimate art house movie.

Summit Entertainment
(Summit Entertainment)

20. Hacksaw Ridge (2016

After several years out of the spotlight, director Mel Gibson surprised us all with Hacksaw Ridge, a glorious return to form that was impossible to ignore. Masterfully blending an old-Hollywood stately pace and classical feel with immersive battle sequences, Hacksaw Ridge is one of those rare films that is at once comfortably familiar yet thrillingly new. Add to that an energetic and graceful Oscar-nominated performance by Andrew Garfield as real-life veteran Desmond Doss, and you’ve got a war picture to be reckoned with. It has a staggering emotional kick. Hacksaw Ridge is a visionary and vividly cinematic portrayal of a fascinating, inspiring American hero.

Paramount Pictures/Fox
(Paramount Pictures/Fox)

21. Titanic (1997) 

These days, it seems like that nonsense backlash is dying: pure and simple, strong and trueTitanic is one of the most extraordinary, extraordinarily entertaining of all films, a bar-setting masterpiece of the craft.

In a highly publicized ordeal quite similar to the production of “Disney’s Folly,” James Cameron bet the farm on a meticulously detailed epic pitched as “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic.” The budget was record-breaking, the production turbulent. It looked like Titanic would be a disaster movie in a cynical sense. Instead, it became an instant classic.

Any backlash in the decades since is, frankly, unfounded. Particularly in its second half, Titanic is spellbinding in a way few pictures have even aspired to be. The love story is simple—but is that even a fault? That accessibility paired with great performances (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are as captivating as the picture around them) and groundbreaking effects gripped international audiences; Titanic obliterated box-office records, and is tied with Ben-Hur and Return of the King for most Oscar wins (11 in total).

Related: Best Romantic Movies of All Time, Ranked 

Searchlight Pictures
(Searchlight Pictures)

22. Nomadland (2020) 

Delivering on the promise of her previous critical hit The Rider, Chloe Zhao teams up with three-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand in a profoundly American tale of modern poverty. Like The RiderNomadland is the kind of film that hits you on a spiritual level. The Chinese filmmaker (helmer of hotly anticipated upcoming Marvel film The Eternals), who also wrote, edited and co-produced Nomadland, has mastered and reinvented the Western. She became the second woman (after

Nomadland is adapted from Jessica Bruder‘s 2017 nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. This is American filmmaking of the highest order; a blend of fiction and fact simultaneously defines an era and achieves something like timelessness.

Fox Searchlight
(Fox Searchlight)

23. 12 Years a Slave (2013) 

Steve McQueen‘s masterful horrific, universally acclaimed period piece from the memoirs renders many—well, most, previous film depictions of slavery unwatchable. 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress (an unforgettable Lupita Nyong’o). Five years later, McQueen followed 12 Years a Slave with the wildly underrated Widows, a pop crime masterpiece starring Viola Davis and Liam Neeson.

24. Casino (1995) 

In addition to some bone-crunching violence and no shortage of true style, Martin Scorsese‘s epic crime follow-up to GoodFellas features the most stunning performance of Sharon Stone‘s remarkable career. She received a Golden Globe and an Oscar nod.

eOne/ IFC
(eOne/ IFC)

25. The Death of Stalin (2017) 

Based on a French graphic novel of the same name, Armando Iannucci‘s historical black comedy features an ensemble cast including Steve BuscemiJeffrey WrightJason Isaacs and Andrea Riseborough. Making farce of the violent Soviet power struggle in the wake of the eponymous dictator’s demise, The Death of Stalin was one of the most critically acclaimed comedies of the decade.

courtesy Everett Collection
(courtesy Everett Collection)

26. Hidden Figures (2016)

Taraji P. HensonOctavia Spencer and Janelle Monae star in Theodore Melfi‘s feel-good drama about African-American female heroes in the U.S. space program’s history.

Open Road Films
(Open Road Films)

27. Spotlight (2015)

Winner of two Academy Awards including Best Picture, Tom McCarthy‘s riveting drama follows The Boston Globe’s investigative journalism “Spotlight” team’s investigation of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. A gripping, Oscar-winning script and uniformly excellent cast make Spotlight a truly stunning piece of work, a film hailed by virtually every major critic, and audiences worldwide. Spotlight stars Michael KeatonRachel McAdamsLiev SchreiberStanley TucciJohn Slattery and Mark Ruffalo.

Francois Duhamel
(Francois Duhamel)

28. American Hustle (2013) 

“Some of this actually happened” reads a tantalizing title card at the start of David O. Russell‘s star-studded romantic crime epic, his follow-up to Silver Linings PlaybookAmerican Hustle was nominated for 10 Oscars, but didn’t win any.

Disney
(Disney)

29. Queen of Katwe (2016)

A wonderful, stirring sports biopic from Disney, Queen of Katwe was mostly overlooked upon release, and this might be at least in part due to an uncommonly strong and full 2016 awards season (remember that Oscar kinda-sorta tie?!). David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o star in the story of Phiona Mutesi, a Ugandan girl born in the slums who became a chess champion, helping her family escape a life of poverty.

Shooting entirely on location in Africa, director Mira Nair (Monsoon WeddingThe Namesake) creates a vivid, transporting sense of place, and Queen of Katwe deftly explores thematic territory few family films will even approach. Nyong’o and Oyelowo are two of the most generous actors working today, and as always they put heart and soul into their work here.

30. Jackie (2016

Natalie Portman received her third Oscar nod for a masterful turn as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in Pablo Larraín‘s stylish, entertaining drama that’s equal parts biopic and mood piece, mostly set around the assassination of JFK.

Courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment
(Courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment)

31. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Entertaining as all hell (as three hours and change running time evaporates), morally murky, often uncomfortable—and irresistible, Martin Scorsese‘s hit biopic of former stockbroker and convicted felon Jordan Belfort was Margot Robbie‘s breakthrough. We also highly recommend Scorsese and DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes film The Aviator.

Paramount Pictures/Entertainment Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com
(Paramount Pictures/Entertainment Pictures/ZUMAPRESS.com)

32. Selma (2014)

David Oyelowo is Oscar-worthy as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Ava DuVernay‘s snapshot biopic about an essential moment for American civil rights. Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, winner of Best Original Song (Pharrell and John Legend).

TWC
(TWC)

33. Lion (2016)

The true story of Saroo Brierley‘s journey to find his family, 25 years after they were separated in the streets of Burhanpur, will probably make you cry. Garth Davis‘s heartstring-tugger is most absorbing in its Dickensian first half before turning into something a little more conventional and melodramatic, though the denouement is anchored by outstanding work from Dev Patel and Nicole KidmanLion was nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture, and with a worldwide gross of over $140 million, this is one of the most successful Australian productions ever.

FilmRise
(FilmRise)

34. My Friend Dahmer (2017) 

Based on the 2012 graphic novel of the same name by Derf Backderf, writer/director Marc Meyers‘s My Friend Dahmer is a fresh and oddly successful union of true crime backstory and All-American coming-of-age drama, with striking performances from Ross LynchAnne Heche and Alex Wolff.

This is one of few movies about a real serial killer (it’s about his teendom) that is tasteful and worth watching. Many movies on the subject are problematic trash.

Sony
(Sony)

35. Moneyball (2011)

Brad Pitt‘s finest performance to date perhaps is found in Bennett Miller‘s smashing biopic about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, who transformed America’s favorite sport using simple economics.

Warner Bros.
(Warner Bros.)

36. Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Shaka King and Ryan Coogler‘s dramatic thriller biopic followup to Black Panther stars Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield. It centers on the true story of Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton and FBI informant William O’Neal. Thanks mostly to Kaluuya’s towering, Oscar-winning tour de force, Judas and the Black Messiah delivers a powerful, timely message from American history.

Matt Kennedy / Annapurna Pictures
(Matt Kennedy / Annapurna Pictures)

37. Vice (2018) 

Made with the subtlety of a bulldozer, Adam McKay‘s scathing Dick Cheney biopic (starring Christian Bale) has a way of really getting under your skin. It’s haunting, even. Vice divided critics like no other movie this year: some say it’s a comedic masterwork; some said it’s garbage. It’s not perfect, tonally jarring —but good luck shrugging this one-off. The glue here, perhaps, is a grounded, gritty Oscar-nominated performance from Amy Adams.

38. Get On Up (2014) 

The legacy of Chadwick Boseman lives on in Tate Taylor‘s acclaimed James Brown biopic. The late actor—and 2021 Oscar frontrunner—embodies The Godfather of Soul, in one of his best-known roles. Thanks to uniformly electrifying performances (the supporting cast includes Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, Get On Up is head and shoulders above most biopics, transcending the standard trappings.

Disney
(Disney)

39. Dangal (2016)

If you’ve never seen a Bollywood movie and you’re curious, this Disney-released family sports drama could be the perfect place to start. Based on the true story of an amateur wrestler who trained his daughters to become India’s first world-class female champions in the sport, Dangal works for American audiences because much of it is comfortably familiar. Not uncommon for Bollywood, Dangal runs nearly three hours long with an intermission—and there are a few musical numbers. At the same time, this is a feel-good sports triumph in the vein of Miracle and Rudy, easy to connect with thanks to sympathetic, well-developed characters and strong performances.

Following its Christmas 2016 release, Dangal became not only the highest-grossing Indian film ever; it was 2017’s top-earning sports film worldwide to boot. It’s on Netflix right now.

Related: The Best Action Movies on Netflix 

Courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment
(Courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

40. The Theory of Everything (2014)

Eddie Redmayne won a Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking. At the age of 21, Hawking learned he had motor neuron disease. In the face of incredible odds, Hawking and colleague Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) broke ground in science and medicine.

41. Glory (1989) 

Edward Zwick directed Matthew BroderickDenzel Washington and Morgan Freeman in this sweeping and beautifully photographed drama about one of the first military units in the Civil War’s Union Army to consist almost entirely of African-American soldiers. Washington won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. 

Summit
(Summit)

42. The Impossible (2012) 

Naomi Watts was Oscar-nominated (for what might be the performance of her career thus far) in JA Bayona‘s gripping, spectacular disaster drama based on the real-life account of Maria Belón and her family in the 2004 Indonesian tsunami.

Related: The Best and Worst Stephen King Movies, Ranked

Universal Pictures
(Universal Pictures)

43. United 93 (2006) 

Between making The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) Paul Greengrass directed this masterpiece about hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on September 11, 2001. In the months leading up this film’s release, many insisted that it was too soon to make a film about this tragedy, with some going as far as to demand Universal Pictures pull trailers for the movie from theaters. One could argue that it is never too soon to make a great and sensitive film, and Greengrass’ meticulously researched, hyperrealistic vision truly honors the memory of the victims. United 93 is one of the most emotionally overwhelming movies you’ll ever see. It is ultimately rewarding, and worth the ordeal it puts you through. Handle with care. Greengrass was nominated for a Best Director Academy Award for his work, and this searing tribute to American heroism is easily one of the most commendable films so far this century.

Paramount /Warner Bros.
(Paramount /Warner Bros.)

44. Zodiac (2007)

David Fincher‘s gorgeously photographed police procedural about the real-life serial killer will make your blood run cold, particularly a slaying in broad daylight (you’ll know it when you see it). Zodiac stars Jake GyllenhaalMark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. (this was released mere months before Iron Man catapulted his star back into the stratosphere).

Zodiac was acclaimed upon release, and many consider it a masterpiece today. In 2016, the BBC compiled a list of the 21st century’s best films based on a poll of 177 international critics. Zodiac placed 12th.

Related: The 151 Best Horror Movies of All Time, Ranked 

45. Capote (2005)

One of his generation’s most remarkable screen talents, Philip Seymour Hoffman was tragically gone too soon. He won an Oscar and boundless acclaim for playing Truman Capote in a dark, stunning biopic about the nascence of In Cold Blood. Co-starring the always-great Catherine Keener the same year as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Daniel Craig one year before Casino Royale made him a household name.

20th Century Fox
(20th Century Fox)

46. The Post (2017)

Steven Spielberg found the dramatic thriller about Katharine GrahamBen Bradlee and the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers so timely and vital that he shut down development on a stalled period piece and moved full speed ahead so The Post could meet its tight end-of-2017 deadline (fitting for a film about great journalism). 

Well, timing matters, and The Post, a model of stripped-down, streamlined storytelling, is a must-see movie of the moment. It’s easy to overlook imperfections (it’s not exactly subtle) because high-spirited The Post is mostly just downright exhilarating, and it’s a showcase for Meryl Streep‘s best performance in at least a decade, maybe since Adaptation. She’s understated and nuanced–even when the script fleetingly goes a bit broad–and Graham’s arc carries the film. Quiet, deliberate and tough, her rapport with Tom Hanks‘ gruff Bradlee is easy, lived-in, and amusing when they occasionally lock horns.

Netflix
(Netflix)

47. Roma (Mexico)

Alfonso Cuarón‘s most personal film to date, a sprawling autobiographical saga set in 1970s Mexico City, is in many ways the year’s most stunning technical achievement. Roma likely has the Best Cinematography and even Best Director Oscars in the bag. That said, the theatrics don’t always work in the film’s favor. Yalitza Aparicio is stunning as domestic worker Cleo, but none of the other characters in the film are nearly as compelling as she is. Though it isn’t as deeply moving as some of the year’s very best dramas, the ingenuity and skill on display in Roma make it a must-see for anyone who loves this medium.

'Miracle' Disney
'Miracle' (Disney)

48. Miracle (2004) 

We’ve seen so many sports biopics over the years that it’s rare for one to really stand out. Miracle is based on one of the most inspiring true stories in the history of athletics, the triumph of the U.S. men’s hockey team over the Soviet team at the 1980 Olympics during the Cold War. The strength of the true-life story, along with some muscular direction by Gavin O’Connor (FX’s The Americans) and touching performances (from Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson and others), elevate Miracle to something that’s just plain lovable and exciting to watch. Miracle is compelling and patriotic entertainment for all ages.

Paramount Pictures
(Paramount Pictures)

49. Almost Famous (2000)

Touching, hilarious, and more than what it seems at a glance, Cameron Crowe‘s semi-autobiographical dramedy, starring Patrick Fugit as an aspiring rock journalist, is as fine a picture about journalism as SpotlightNetwork or All the President’s MenKate Hudson was highly praised for a luminous turn as “Band Aid” Penny, winning a Golden Globe and garnering an Oscar nod.

Along with the likes of Say Anything… and Jerry Maguire, this picture cements Crowe’s legacy as a master of screenwriting. A climactic ensemble set piece aboard a plane experiencing turbulence is as memorable a movie scene as any, with huge laughs and even some tears. It’s pure payoff, derived from solid-gold character building. Almost Famous is an essential, universal look at life and the connections we make while we’re living it.

Dreamworks
(Dreamworks)

50. Flags of Our Fathers / Letters From Iwo Jima (both 2006)

Clint Eastwood‘s ambitious two-parter shot back-to-back, depicted the Battle of Iwo Jima from the American and Japanese perspectives. Flags of Our Fathers, based on the book of the same name, tells the story of the five Marines and one Navy Corpsman who were involved in raising the flag on Iwo Jima, and the impact it made on their lives. Letters From Iwo Jima is almost entirely in Japanese, and it is even more intimate, focused and daring. With Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, Letters From Iwo Jima is one of Eastwood’s creative peaks. Watch these two films as a double feature for a newfound appreciation of one of the most insightful, humane and adventurous of all filmmakers.

Mary Cybulski / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
(Mary Cybulski / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)

51. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) 

Melissa McCarthy is so masterfully, unforgettably great as biographer-turned-literary-forger Lee Israel, it’s possible Can You Ever Forgive Me? will catch even some of the beloved star’s most dedicated fans off guard. Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a dramedy; a really funny one that will make you laugh ’til it hurts. It’s also everything a biopic should aspire to be: when it’s over, we feel like we’ve spent a couple hours in the presence of its subject. For that, the picture is unexpectedly, deeply moving.

Related: Parade‘s Review of Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Photo Courtesy of A24
(Photo Courtesy of A24)

52. The Farewell (2019)

Awkwafina stars in Lulu Wang‘s widely acclaimed dramedy, as a Chinese-American struggling with familial tradition as a loved one becomes seriously ill. Even through its emotionally-charged subject matter, The Farewell is warm and hilarious; a family film accessible to a wide audience. The Farewell broke this year’s per-screen average record for its opening weekend, besting even Endgame.

53. BlackKklansman (2018)

In 2016, Sundance hit Birth of a Nation was teased as a fiery 21st-century response to D.W. Griffith’s technically revolutionary, culturally indispensable but abhorrently racist 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation. Ultimately, that movie underwhelmed. Spike Lee‘s sensational BlacKkKlansman feels like a film that can really stand up to Griffith. Clips of the controversial landmark work are even woven into this biographical comedy-drama, an adaptation of Ron Stallworth‘s memoir Black Klansman. Stallworth was the first African-American police officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department, and in the late 1970s, he infiltrated the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan.

BlacKkKlansman isn’t perfect; sometimes the movie screeches to a halt so characters can tell us what it’s about in extended monologues. Still, Spike Lee is making essential viewing again and that’s what really matters. 

Niko Tavernise/Netflix
(Niko Tavernise/Netflix)

54. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Oscar-winning The Social Network and West Wing scribe Aaron Sorkin wrote and directed this uncommonly entertaining legal drama, drawing parallels between 1968 and today. Strong performances from an ensemble cast including Yahya Abdul Mateen IIMichael KeatonJoseph Gordon-Levitt and more benefit a film that’s bound to garner Oscar attention.

Universal Pictures
(Universal Pictures)

55. Apollo 13 (1995)

This nail-biting dramatization of the aborted 1970 lunar mission is director Ron Howard‘s best film to date, and the filmmakers went to extraordinary lengths to make it scientifically accurate as well as entertaining. Stars Tom HanksKevin BaconBill PaxtonGary Sinise and Ed Harris committed to learning and experiencing as much as possible in preparation for their highly technical roles, even impressing those at NASA.

A meticulously crafted, visceral and emotionally potent thriller about real-life survival against all odds,  Apollo 13 was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture (winning for Best Film Editing and Best Sound).

Howard recalls a comment card from the first test screening indicated “total disdain” for the film; one audience member complained about the “typical Hollywood” ending, saying the crew would never have survived.

Focus Features
(Focus Features)

56. Milk (2008)

Sean Penn delivers one of his finest performances in Gus Van Sant‘s biographical drama about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California. Milk was nominated for two Oscars including Best Picture. It won two, Penn taking his second Best Actor trophy, and out writer Dustin Lance Black winning for his original screenplay.

Related: Best LGBTQ Romantic Movies of All Time, Ranked 

57. Temple Grandin (2010)

One of the most acclaimed TV films of the past decade or so stars a resplendent Claire Danes as the titular advocate for both autism awareness and the humane treatment of farm animals. HBO original Temple Grandin won seven Emmys, including an acting win for Danes. If this triumph doesn’t make you bawl, be sure to check for a pulse.

58. Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Loosely based on a true storyGiuseppe Tornatore‘s classic bildungsroman is about a boy who befriends a middle-aged film projectionist in post-war Sicily. There’s a timelessness to the filmmaking evocative of the Old Hollywood the characters love and bond over—and Cinema Paradiso’s themes. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

59. Ray (2004) 

Jamie Foxx won a Best Actor Academy Award, Golden Globe, SAG Award, BAFTA and Critics’ Choice Award for his portrayal of R&B legend Ray Charles in Taylor Hackford‘s musical biopic. Charles struggled with heroin addiction for nearly two decades, before successfully kicking the habit in the 1960s. Charles is now widely regarded as one of the greatest artists and singers of all time.

60. Julie and Julia (2009)

Meryl Streep and Amy Adams co-star in Nora Ephron‘s final film, a biographical dramedy about iconic chef Julia Child and writer Julie Powell, who cooked 524 of Child’s recipes in 365 days, amidst a midlife crisis of sorts. One half of the picture is more compelling than the other, no doubt, but it’s a tender and well-acted entertainment a wide audience can feast upon.

Columbia Pictures
(Columbia Pictures)

61. A League of Their Own (1992)

Tom HanksGeena DavisMadonna and Rosie O’Donnell star in Penny Marshall‘s much-loved fictionalized account of real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. This is one of the most popular sports films ever, great family entertainment.

Paramount Pictures
(Paramount Pictures)

62. Rocketman (2019) 

Bohemian Rhapsody was overcommitted to recreating some things on a technical level. Rocketman really, truly feels the musicDexter Fletcher‘s Elton John biopic is a splashy old-fashioned musical, a juicy showbiz melodrama, and one of the most affecting movies about sobering up in recent memory. It all wouldn’t work without Taron Egerton, who is now one of the most versatile and well-liked young actors working in popular films.

Rocketman can’t get bogged down by the clichés that commonly burden biopics, because–to be perfectly accurate here– it dances all over them. What a triumph this is.

Related: Taron Egerton Reveals How Elton John Helped Him Prepare for Rocketman, What He Found Reading His Diaries and More 

63. Respect (2021) 

Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson embodies Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin in a new biopic. MGM made Respect available to rent on digital platforms two weeks after its initial theatrical release.

Disney
(Disney)

64. Red Tails (2012) 

The Tuskegee Airmen were the U.S. military’s first African-American air division, American heroes whose story must be told. George Lucas‘s blockbuster film is well-meaning, also corny and stagey. It’s worth seeing for the vital history, but it should have been better.

Sony Pictures Entertainment
(Sony Pictures Entertainment)

65. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) 

Based on Chris Gardner‘s eponymous memoir about his nearly one-year struggle with homelessness while raising his very young son, The Pursuit of Happyness could have turned out schmaltzy, but it’s grounded by one of Will Smith‘s best performances. Acting alongside son Jaden Smith, he’s at his most natural and appealing here, and Gabriele Mucino‘s film is a crowd-pleaser in all the right ways, earning Smith his second Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Gardner initially thought the charismatic action star wasn’t the right choice to play him, but his daughter Jacintha set him straight. “If Smith can play Muhammad Ali,” she told her father, “he can play you!”

Next, check out the 100 best movies of all time, ranked. 

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