Great biopic movies are hard to come by—great biopics available to stream are even more scarce. We’ve dug through the most popular streaming services to find you the best biopics currently available to watch now. From a small village in India to 1970s San Francisco, these biopics will inspire, entertain, and teach.
Neruda’s director may call the film an “anti-bio”, but he still manages to create a compelling narrative about a man beloved both in his home country of Chile and around the world. Neruda only takes a slice of Pablo Neruda’s life as inspiration: It follows the poet after he attempts to avoid arrest after giving a virulently anti-communist speech. Luis Gnecco stars as Neruda; Gael García Bernal (Y Tu Mamá También, Mozart in the Jungle ) plays the police chief in pursuit.
Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning turn as Harvey Milk has become one of the most beloved renderings of a political figure in recent years. Milk, who was the first openly gay person elected to a public office in California, was assassinated in 1978, along with the mayor of San Francisco. Although Milk was only in office for about 11 months, his impact was greatly felt, especially among the LGBT community in San Francisco. What could have been a trite tale is heightened by Penn’s incredible performance and a well-tuned script.
Queen of Katwe
Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo star in this biopic about a young Ugandan girl who became a chess prodigy, stunning the world. Queen of Katwe smartly avoids the basic patterns of an underdog story, engaging with the reality of what changes when a girl born in deep poverty encounters a world far outside of her dreams. Despite its Disney-appropriate happy ending, Queen of Katwe doesn’t hesitate to engage with the real world.
Spielberg’s biopic is a classic of the genre. Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi party, became disillusioned with the party as they began the full-scale efforts of the Holocaust. Soon, he’d dedicated his life and wealth to saving Jewish people by employing them at his factory. Schindler’s List won seven Academy Awards and has been beloved since its debut.
Sofia Copolla’s biopic of the infamous French queen is not the most factually accurate on this list, but it manages to capture the feeling of a teenage queen in over her head. Kirsten Dunst imbues the (overly) hated woman with an equal sense of fun and tragedy.
The Imitation Game
Alan Turing’s fate was tragic. After creating the Turing machine, the predecessor for all artificial intelligence and much of theoretical computer science, Turing was prosecuted for homosexual acts, at the time considered a crime in the United Kingdom. Given the choice between prison and chemical castration, Turing chose castration. He died soon after (possibly suicide), and his legacy was tarnished for decades. The Imitation Game rightfully retrains the spotlight on his achievements. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as the code breaker is widely praised.
This true story will break your heart. Based on Saroo Brierly’s autobiography, A Long Way Home, Lion tells the story of how five-year-old Saroo accidentally fell asleep on the wrong train as a child, eventually arriving in Kolkata, 1,500 miles from his small hometown in India. Since Kolkatans speak Bengali, not Hindi, Saroo was unable to find his way home. Eventually, he was adopted by an Australian family, but Saroo never stopped looking for his mother, brother, and village.
A Royal Affair
This sumptuous biopic tells the story of Christian VII, the mentally ill king of Denmark, his wife Caroline Matilda, and her lover, Johann Friedrich Struensee. Struensee comes to court to help manage Christian’s illness, but soon finds himself deeply in love with Caroline. The two work together to convince the king to pass social reforms while becoming less and less covert about their affair.
Oliver Stone’s interrogation of Richard Nixon, although decried by the Nixon family, offers a full portrait of a complex man. Primarily covering the Watergate era, Nixon also digs into Nixon’s past and his life after leaving the White House.
This darkly comic biopic blurs the line of a variety of genres. Tom Hardy stars as Charles Bronson, the so-called most violent prisoner in Britain. After being arrested for a variety of petty offenses, Bronson began brawling in jail, then became a boxer during a short-lived release. Bronson is a surrealist take on the man’s strange life, told through a series of vignettes that illuminate his personality and actions.
Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Truman Capote as the writer interviews the Clutter family murder suspects for In Cold Blood. By focusing on a specific event within Capote’s life, Capote is able to capture the author’s persona. Catherine Keener also stars as Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Claire Danes plays Temple Grandin, an animal science expert and autism advocate. Born in 1947, Grandin was diagnosed with ‘brain damage’ at two. Her mother later realized that her child more likely suffered from autism. Grandin’s story admirably avoids clichés that have made other tales of individuals ‘overcoming disabilities’ less than palatable.
A Quiet Passion
This 2016 Emily Dickinson biopic will slowly draw you in until you can’t look away from Cynthia Nixon’s deeply felt performance as the iconic poet. Dickinson’s life is, in some ways, inherently uncinematic—she withdrew from society and did not receive any great acclaim during her life. Nevertheless, Nixon and director Terence Davies (The House of Mirth, The Deep Blue Sea) manage to create a propulsive and immersive narrative.
This story of a girl and her dog transcends its premise thanks to a military setting and a stunning performance from Kate Mara. Megan and her military working dog, Rex, were deployed in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. Although military dogs are typically not allowed to be adopted, Megan petitioned repeatedly to become his owner. Their story is one of hope and love.
Lawrence of Arabia
The grandaddy of biopics is available now on Amazon Prime. Lawrence of Arabia won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, in 1963 and is considered one of the most influential movies of all time.
This true story of the Supreme Court case that ensured every defendant’s right to a lawyer is astonishingly good for a made-for-TV movie. Starring Henry Fonda as Clarence Earl Gideon, the movie follows a man who is accused of breaking and entering and larceny but is too poor to afford a lawyer. Gideon was convicted to five years in prison. During his time there, Gideon worked on an appeal that said that all defendants had the right to counsel. This tale is an inspiring example of how America can change for the better.
Featured still from "Nixon" via Cinergi Pictures Entertainment