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The 25 Best Biopics That Will Inspire You

These inspirational movies are about real-life musicians, artists, groundbreakers, and more.

A ton of biographical movies are released every year, so if you're interested in learning about famous faces from history and pop culture, there's always plenty to choose from. Sometimes these biopics come in the form of dramas, sometimes they're comedies, sometimes they're musicals—it all depends on whose life story is being told. So, if you like biopic movies and are looking to narrow down your options for what to watch next, you've come to the right place.

The biopics below will work for you if you're looking for something inspirational, whether that be through finding out more about the life of an iconic musician, such as Aretha Franklin or Ray Charles, or through gaining knowledge about historical figures, including King George VI or Martin Luther King Jr. Many of the movies are feel-good picks, while others are much more heavy. Whatever you're in the mood for, read on for 25 of the most moving biopics ever made and then get to watching.

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Lion (2016)

The Oscar-nominated 2016 film Lion is based on the memoir A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley. Dev Patel stars as Saroo, who was adopted by an Australian couple, Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John Brierley (David Wenham), after he was accidentally separated from his family as a child. When he's an adult, he embarks on a quest to locate his birth mother (Priyanka Bose).

The Theory of Everything (2014)

Eddie Redmayne won an Oscar for playing theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, which is based on his first wife Jane Hawking's memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen. The book and film focuses on their relationship, from meeting while they were students at the University of Cambridge, to learning Stephen's diagnosis of ALS, to starting a family together. As you can tell from the fact that Jane was his first wife, the 2014 film also covers the downfall of their romantic relationship, though they did remain remain friends.

The King's Speech (2010)

The King's Speech chronicles a part of the life of King George VI (Colin Firth), starting several years before his father, King George V (Michael Gambon), dies, continuing through his brother King Edward VIII's (Guy Pearce) short reign and abdication, and ending with George VI's ascension to the throne. George VI had a stutter that he was treated for by speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), so that he would be able to give speeches to British citizens, including over the radio.

Milk (2008)

Sean Penn portrays politician Harvey Milk in the 2008 biopic Milk about his experience becoming the first openly gay man elected to a public office in California, becoming a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978. Milk was tragically assassinated that same year by fellow politician Dan White, but his success as a gay rights activist is still inspirational.

Hidden Figures (2016)

Hidden Figures, based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, centers three Black women mathematicians who were working at NASA in the early '60s during the time that John Glenn (Glen Powell) piloted the first American orbital spaceflight. It stars Octavia Spencer as Dorothy VaughnTaraji P. Henson as Katherine Goble Johnson, and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson. The film shows the pivotal role that the women played behind the scenes during the Space Race, all while they were dealing with racism, sexism, and a lack of acknowledgement in their workplace.

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Erin Brockovich (2000)

Julia Roberts scored her Oscar for starring as the title character in Erin Brockovich, a film about the real-life paralegal who got the ball rolling on a class action case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company for contaminating water in Hinkley, California and causing medical issues for the town's residents. Bringing the people of the town together to fight for a major settlement, Brockovich became a working class hero.

Respect (2021)

Aretha Franklin went through a lot of trauma before becoming the Queen of Soul. You can learn about her resilience in the biopic Respect, in which Jennifer Hudson plays the renowned vocalist. The film recounts the abuse she experienced as a child and in some of her adult relationships, her struggles with alcohol, and how she worked through it all to be remembered of the most iconic singers of all time.

Rocketman (2019)

Another biopic of an iconic musician with a turbulent life is 2019's Rocketman, in which Taron Egerton stars as Elton John. The musical biopic tells the English hitmaker's life story through some of his most famous songs and is bookended by scenes of John in a rehab facility, showing how he was able to overcome his substance abuse issues and continue on in his career as a living legend.

Selma (2014)

Selma is certainly not a life-spanning biopic about Martin Luther King Jr., but it does tell about his life during a pivotal time. The 2014 film, which stars David Oyelowo as the Civil Rights leader, is about the Selma, Alabama voting rights marches that took place in 1965. King was one of the leaders of the marches, which fought for voting rights for Black Americans. While the marches ended up successful, they were surrounded by tragedy and violence, including the assassination of King himself three years later.

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Will Smith stars in The Pursuit of Happyness, based on Chris Gardner's memoir. The medical salesperson fell on hard times and became homeless while raising his young son, Christopher Jr., who is portrayed in the 2006 film by Smith's real son Jaden Smith. In the film, Chris and Christopher Jr. find shelter where they can and hide the fact that they are homeless while Chris works an unpaid internship at a stock brokerage firm in the hopes that he will be able to land a full-time job there.

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First Man (2018)

The Damien Chazelle film First Man is based on James R. Hansen's biography of Neil Armstrong and stars Ryan Gosling as the first man to walk on the moon. In addition to his famous achievement, the film also shows the hardships Armstrong went through to get to that point, including experiencing grief over multiples loses in his life while he was undergoing strenuous preparations for space travel.

Julie & Julia (2009)

Meryl Streep and Amy Adams star in Julie & Julia, as chef Julia Child and Julie Powell, a woman who decides to cook every recipe in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking while blogging about the experience. The film covers two timelines: In the 1950s, Child studies at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and works on writing her cookbook, and in the early 2000s, Powell starts her cooking and blogging project to bring some joy into her life. Both women's stories of creativity and perseverance are inspiring.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood looks at the beloved host of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, Fred Rogers, through the lens of a writer named Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who is assigned to interview him but remains skeptical that his TV persona is the real deal. Soon, though, Vogel and Rogers form a close relationship that sees Roger helping Vogel through difficult times in his life. The 2019 movie is inspired by a real 1998 article written about Rogers for Esquire magazine by journalist Tom Junod.

Rudy (1993)

"Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!" Anyone who loves sports films knows the chant from this 1993 movie about Rudy Ruettiger, a young man who dreams of playing football for the University of Notre Dame despite not being a football star and not being accepted to the school right away due to his academic status. He doesn't give up on his goal, leading to one of the most heartwarming moments in any biopic.

Ray (2004)

In case it wasn't clear by now, the Academy loves rewarding actors for biopics. Another example of that is Jamie Foxx wining an Oscar for portraying Ray Charles in Ray. The film chronicles the musician's life story, including becoming blind as a young child, his rise in the music world, and dark times, such as his tumultuous relationships with women and his addiction to heroin. Of course, none of this prevents him from leaving a legacy with his immense talent.

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Coal Miner's Daughter (1980)

Well, she was born a coal miner's daughter… Just like her song of the same name, Coal Miner's Daughter tells the life story of country musician Loretta Lynn. The 1980 film is based on George Vecsey's biography of Lynn and stars Sissy Spacek. The future star grew up poor in Kentucky, was married at only 15 years old, and welcomed six children—all before becoming one of the most iconic stars country music has ever seen.

Unbroken (2014)

Unbroken is about the life of Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), an Olympic runner who became a captain in the Air Force during World War II. During the war, he was lost at sea for 47 days after which he was sent to Japanese prisoner of war camps until the war ended. The film depicts Zamperini's fight to stay alive in both situations. The 2014 movie is based on the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.

Schindler's List (1993)

Another harrowing World War II biopic is Schindler's List, which centers Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a Nazi Party member who saved the lives of over 1,000 Jewish people in Germany during the Holocaust. After changing his loyalties, Schindler decided to employ as many Jewish people as he could in his factories in order to save them from being sent to concentration camps. The 1993 movie is adapted from a historical fiction book about Schindler, Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally.

My Left Foot (1989)

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Christy Brown in My Left Foot, based on Brown's memoir of the same name. Brown was an Irish writer and artist with cerebral palsy, which left him only in control of his left foot. So, he learned to use it to write and paint. The 1989 movie tells of his upbringing in a poor family in Ireland, hardships he faced with his family, and how he worked through his diagnosis in order to publish books and become a painter.

Joy (2015)

In JoyJennifer Lawrence plays Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop, among other products that she became very successful at selling on Home Shopping Network to the point that she became a self-made millionaire. The 2015 movie shows how Mangano life as a divorced mother drastically changed when she began producing her first invention.

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Frida (2002)

The 2002 Frida Kahlo (Salma Hayek) biopic focuses heavily on her volatile marriage to fellow artist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina). But, the inspirational part comes in when you see what Kahlo survived to become a renowned painter. When she was in her late teens, she suffered a life-changing injury when she was impaled by a metal pole during a bus accident. Kahlo began painting while she was bedridden and faced further health setbacks as her career developed.

Gandhi (1980)

Mahatma Gandhi's life was commemorated in the 1980 film Gandhi starring Ben Kingsley as the civil rights leader. The movie depicts his work fighting for rights for Indians in South Africa, fighting for Indian independence from British rule, and the hunger strike he undertook in an attempt to stop conflicts between Muslim and Hindu people.

Nyad (2023)

Annette Bening was Oscar-nominated for playing long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad in this 2023 film, which is based on the athlete's memoir, Find a Way. Nyad had already completed several long-distance swims by the time she became determined to swim the over 100 miles from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida. The movie shows the many attempts she made at her goal, most of which occurred when she was in her 60s. (However, there are some discrepancies in Nyad's claims.)

Shirley (2024)

Groundbreaking politician Shirley Chisholm gets the biopic treatment with 2024's Shirley. Regina King stars as the first Black woman elected to Congress, the first Black person to run for the nomination for president for a major party, and the first woman to run for Democratic presidential nomination. The movie focuses specifically on Chisholm's run in the 1972 presidential election.

Tolkien (2019)

Tolkien is about the life of J.R.R. Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult) prior to the publication of his famous books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. As a boy, the future author lost both of his parents, was taken in by a new guardian, and was bullied in school. The film also features his time at the University of Oxford, his time fighting in World War I, and his love story with wife Edith Bratt (Lily Collins).

Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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