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20 Great Biopics Streaming on Netflix and Beyond

History comes alive in these fascinating biopics.

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  • Photo Credit: Dreamworks Pictures

Great biopics are hard to come by—great biopics available to stream are even more scarce. We dug through the most popular streaming services to find you the best biopics currently available to watch now. From World War II espionage to 1970s San Francisco, these biopics will inspire, entertain, and teach. 

Netflix

Steve Jobs

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The 2015 film Steve Jobs won a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay. With Michael Fassbender in the role of Jobs, this movie aims to take a careful look at the man who stood at the center of the digital revolution. Though Jobs ultimately changed the world of technology, his ambitions had rippling effects for his home life and health. Following the story of his personal highs and lows, the film unfolds against the backdrop of three iconic product launches.

Barry

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  • Photo Credit: Black Bear Pictures

This 2016 biopic dives into the early life of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama. In the early ‘80s, “Barry”—portrayed by Devon Terrell—was one of a small number of Black students attending New York’s Columbia University. Plagued by an endless stream of judgement and racism as he pursued his aspirations, Barry had to fight to find his place in the world.

Related: 12 Books That Offer Perspectives on the Presidents

The Most Hated Woman in America

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Madelyn Murray O'Hair—portrayed in this biopic by Melissa Leo—was an outspoken American activist who supported atheism and the separation of church and state. She founded the organization American Atheists in 1963, and served as president of the organization for the next 23 years. This wild true story covers the controversies O’Hair stirred up throughout her lifetime, some of her landmark court battles, and her infamous abduction and murder.

The Iron Lady

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A unique take on a biopic film, The Iron Lady is about England's first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher (portrayed by Meryl Streep). Thatcher's story is told through interactions with her deceased husband, Denis (Jim Broadbent). As she cleans out Denis’s clothes, Margaret struggles to come to terms with the loss of the man who acted as her rock. But as his imagined presence lingers, he reminisces with her about her triumphs and failures, from girlhood to Parliament to her leadership of the Conservative Party.

Related: The 15 Most Fascinating Biographies of the Last 25 Years

Invictus

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After becoming the first Black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela took an interesting approach in his efforts to unite the post-Apartheid country. Portrayed here by Morgan Freeman, Mandela teams up with South Africa’s rugby team captain, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) to bring the nation together through sports in a time of great racial and economic divide. The pair rally the rugby team to pull through and win the 1995 World Cup Championship match.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

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  • Photo Credit: Dreamworks Pictures

Chicago, 1968—the Democratic Party Convention was met with protests from an array of activist groups, including the Students for a Democratic Society and the Yippies. The protesters then tangled with the authorities in a violent confrontation. The Nixon administration arraigned seven accused ringleaders—including Black Panther Bobby Seale, who wasn’t even involved in the incident—on charges such as conspiracy. As an unfair trial unfolds in this film, each member of the Chicago 7 sees their personal politics and philosophies clashing with their fellow defendants.

Snowden

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Based on the books The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena, this 2016 film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden. The biopic follows the CIA subcontractor-turned-whistleblower as he shares highly classified NSA documents exposing the agency for its illegal surveillance techniques.

Elisa & Marcela

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This film is centered on Spain’s first same-sex marriage after the Roman Imperial era, which took place on June 8th, 1901. After Marcela Gracia Ibeas (Greta Fernández) and Elisa Sánchez Loriga (Natalia de Molina) meet in school, a close friendship quickly blossoms into something more. However, their romance must be kept a secret.

Related: 11 Fascinating LGBT History Books to Read for Pride Month

After the suspicions of Marcela’s parents keep them apart for a number of years, the couple commits to a lifetime together. But in order to marry, Elisa must leave and return in disguise as a man named Mario Sánchez.

Julie & Julia

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The “Julie” side may be somewhat lackluster, despite Amy Adams’s best efforts, but the “Julia” half of this biopic is easily worth your time. The charming interplay between Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci, playing Julia and Paul Child, will remind you what true affection looks like, and the delightful insight into the creation of Child’s iconic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is only strengthened by the film’s interest in 1950s France.

Milk

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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.

The Founder

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Golden arches dot the world, signaling the presence of one of nearly 40,000 McDonald’s franchises. But what do you know about how a small hamburger stand became the world’s second largest private employer? The Founder explores how one slightly less than ethical man transformed a humble stand run by two brothers into an empire. Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc and Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch take on the McDonald brothers in this satirical biopic.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

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In this unusual serial killer drama/biopic, Disney star Zac Efron takes on the role of Ted Bundy. Told primarily from the perspective of Bundy’s longterm girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer (Lily Collins), during his trial. Bundy represented himself in a grandstanding appearance. Bundy’s eventual wife, Carole Ann Boone, also makes a major appearance in the film, played deftly by Kaya Scodelario.

Hulu

Malcolm X

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Denzel Washington stands in the lead role of this 1992 biopic of Malcom X, the highly influential and controversial Black civil rights activist. The film begins with his troubled adolescence and time spent in prison. While behind bars, Malcolm is drawn to the writings of Elijah Muhammad and joins the Nation of Islam. Following his release, Malcolm goes on to preach these teachings and becomes a leader in the Black community up until his 1965 assassination.

The Catcher Was a Spy

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In this 2018 biopic, Paul Rudd steps into the shoes of Moe Berg. Based on the book of the same name by Nicholas Dawidoff, the film follows the former major league baseball player as he joins the World War II efforts as a spy. As an undercover agent for the Office of Strategic Services, Berg is tasked with finding out how far along the Nazis are in their race to build an atomic bomb.

Related: 12 Baseball Books That Are Total Home Runs

Vice

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Adam McKay has made his name on movies portraying several sins, so it’s no wonder his latest is called Vice. Following the reign of former Vice President Dick Cheney, this film shows just how one man bent an entire administration to his will over the course of eight years. Starting with Cheney’s work in the Nixon administration, Vice has an able cast of stars who take on their real-life inspiration with aplomb.

I, Tonya

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Far from a straight biopic, I, Tonya glories in its subjects’ utter lack of objectivity. Following Tonya Harding’s life and career as a professional figure skater, and centerstaging the attack on Nancy Kerrigan that ended Harding’s career. Smashing together comedy, documentary-style filming, and biography, this film is a wild ride from start to finish.

Amazon Prime

Temple Grandin

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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

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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.

Meagan Leavey

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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.

Related: 7 Books to Read After Watching Thank You for Your Service 

Crown Heights

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Colin Warner’s story was first told in an episode of This American Life in 2005. Imprisoned and wrongly convicted of a 1980 murder, Warner spent 21 years in jail–11 of which came after the actual killer signed an affidavit saying that he was responsible for the killing. Lakeith Stanfield’s breakout role, this film brings home the horror of getting caught in a justice system that can be blinded to the truth.