Ranking Biopics, From Awe-Inspiring to Not Worth the Watch

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley, Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monrow
© Warner Bros. & © Netflix / courtesy Everett Collection

Biopics, whether in television or film, have been popping up a lot more over the past few years. This style of storytelling gives viewers a peek behind the curtain into the person’s life. They offer a sense of being intimately closer to a celebrity, which can be argued as being even that much more rewarding if they’re no longer alive.

There is a fine line directors, creators, and actors need to walk to deliver a biopic that will forever be stamped in people’s minds and at awards shows as being the best. Sometimes a biopic soars and brings along more fans. For the film Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen’s Brian May is considering a sequel for the highest-grossing musical biopic. Sometimes it flops and brings the critics raining down with hate and threat of a lower viewership. The miniseries Pam & Tommy received backlash from the public and Pamela Anderson for making this problematic time in her life into a money grabber.

With the 95th Academy Awards showing Sunday, March 12 on ABC, we have the chance to see if this year’s biopics have the strength to keep bringing awards to the unique genre. Austin Butler, who plays Elvis Presley in Elvis, is nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Ana de Armas from the controversial biopic of Marilyn Monroe, Blonde, is nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Which biopics did we miss or that you would rank differently? Scroll down to see our picks, from awe-inspiring to not worth the watch.

Austin Butler as Elvis Presley
© Warner Bros. / courtesy Everett Collection

Elvis (2022)

Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis chronicles the winding journey to superstardom for the rock ‘n’ roll icon Elvis Presley (Butler).

As weird as it may be to hear Butler say his Elvis voice is permanent, we can’t deny his depiction of “the King of Rock and Roll” is spot on. The once strictly-teen-roles actor delivers a character that never feels like an impersonation. Butler isn’t gimmicky or mocking. He takes a complex individual and gives us charming stage presence, vocals to scream over, and a convincing human portrayal.

We should’ve anticipated a stellar film from Luhrmann. He also directed Romeo + Juliet (1996), Moulin Rouge! (2001), and The Great Gatsby (2013). The Australian director knows how to leave his print in every aspect of his films, the deep devotion showcased in the final result.

Elvis has received numerous nominations — including eight Oscar — and awards already. Two of the Academy Award nominations are part of the “Big Five”: Best Picture and Best Actor for Butler.

O'Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube
©Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

This is yet another biopic where casting decisions make the movie even more appealing and successful. Straight Outta Compton made a touching choice with who they decided to cast to play Ice Cube: His son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., absolutely nails it. It’s hard to believe that we’re not watching a younger version of Ice Cube up on the screen with how convincing the performance is.

The film unwraps the revolutionary breakout of the most influential hip-hop and rap group: N.W.A. We are dropped in 1988 when the group, consisting of Ice Cube (Jackson), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), and MC Ren, released their first studio album, “Straight Outta Compton.” They tell an honest story of life in Southern Los Angeles, brutality, fame, and navigating the music industry. While delivering the truth, the group finds a place in history.

Like a proper biopic about a musical group, Straight Outta Compton uses the music N.W.A. created in the ‘80s and ‘90s and a few singles from members. The nostalgia fest is thriving and needed to enhance the perfect mood and setting.

Straight Outta Compton won 15 awards. Their most notable nomination was for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor, Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Joe Mazzello as John Deacon, Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp/Courtesy Everett Collection

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the life of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) and Queen. The film takes us on a winding road from the band’s first unlikely meeting to Mercury pursuing a solo career, starting and ending at arguably their most important performance at the benefit concert Live Aid.

We’re asked to put our trust in the film to not lose us in the enthralling legacy and bigger-than-life journey. They deliver big time and have fun with it along the way. Malek’s vocals are mixed with Mercury and Queen impersonator Marc Matel’s vocals to take us back to the band’s impactful sound. Brian May, Queen’s guitarist, also told the Daily Star there’s been discussion of a potential sequel. More insane vocals? More unbelievable acting? More jokes about being in love with one’s car? Sign us up!

Bohemian Rhapsody is still the highest-grossing musical biopic of all time, with Straight Outta Compton coming in second and Elvis rounding out the top three. Of its many nominations and awards, the inspiring biopic won four awards at the 91st Academy Awards, becoming the film with the most wins of the night. Malek went home with Best Actor.

Taron Egerton as Elton John
Paramount / Courtesy Everett Collection

Rocketman (2019)

Rocketman is a musical story of young Reginald Dwight becoming the iconic Elton John (Taron Egerton), all the while breaking barriers and shedding his meekness to become the global superstar known and loved by many.

The way this film is crafted, it presents more like a musical than a typical biopic. Elton John’s work is incorporated throughout to help frame his story. This also gives us a soundtrack with well-known songs, except with different tempos, duets, and instrumentation. And yet we are never deprived of what makes Elton, well, Elton! That’s all thanks to Egerton, the Welsh actor primarily known for his role in the Kingsman franchise. He delivers the spice, flair, and glamor we desperately need to see on the screen. Egerton was born to play Elton John.

Among Rocketman‘s award wins was Best Original Song for “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” by Elton John and Bernie Taupin at the 92nd Oscars in 2020.

Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking
©Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collection

The Theory of Everything (2014)

The Theory of Everything gives a personal, emotional look into the life of a man whose legacy lives on. This 2014 biopic takes us back to the 1960s, where future physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) falls in love with a peer (Felicity Jones) while enrolled at Cambridge University. A tale of romance and determination is strung after 21-year-old Hawking learns he has motor neuron disease.

Far before Redmayne was flicking around a wand and corralling mythical creatures, he was making a name for himself in period pieces. The Les Misérables star gives us the best depiction we could ask for of the English theoretical physicist. He learned how to adapt to play a character who is slowly deteriorating in speech and movement. A handful of viewers didn’t enjoy that there was more romance on screen than Hawking’s great scientific achievements. However, the whole point of a biopic is to give us a wider glimpse into the life of a person saturated by the spotlight.

The Theory of Everything received many nominations and awards, one of them being Best Actor for Redmayne at the 87th Academy Awards.

Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan
FX / Courtesy: Everett Collection

American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (2018)

When it comes to biopics crafted for TV, we’re usually given true crime cases. However, we’re not complaining with American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. The second season of the FX true crime anthology series depicts the murder of designer Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramírez) by Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). The series is based on Maureen Orth’s novel Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History.

Criss might as well have burned his Warblers blazer from Glee because he gives a performance of a lifetime as Cunanan. He transforms himself so perfectly, down to the mannerisms of the spree killer, it’ll have you forgetting the two are separate. We also can’t get enough of somewhat getting a glimpse into the life of a man and empire that is known simply by their name.

Criss most notably received an Outstanding Lead Actor Emmy and Best Actor from the Golden Globe Awards. The series also took home wins at both shows.

Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer
©Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (2022)

Told from the points of view of his victims, this Netflix original series tells the story of the notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer (Evan Peters).

Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is a problematic biopic. Although Peters succeeds in delivering a chilling performance as one of the most well-known American serial killers, the series has done more harm than good. It has received backlash from the family of one of the victims, claiming they’re being retraumatized and they were never contacted by Netflix or the creator Ryan Murphy about the series before release. Controversy has also stemmed from a fandom that popped up on social media romanticizing the murderer. This series has us wondering was the bloody, desperate, horrifying retelling worth it?

Nevertheless, the series has received multiple nominations and five awards so far, including Peters winning Best Actor – Limited Series at the Golden Globe Awards.

Lily James as Pamela Anderson, Sebastian Stan as Tommy Lee in Pam & Tommy
Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection

Pam & Tommy (2022)

Marketed as “the greatest love story ever sold,” the Hulu miniseries Pam & Tommy revolves around the marriage between actress Pamela Anderson (Lily James) and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan). The focus is heavily pushed on the period the couple’s honeymoon sex tape was unlawfully leaked to the public. The series is based on Amanda Chicago Lewis’ 2014 Rolling Stone article “Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape.”

This is yet another biopic where people whose name and likeness are depicted aren’t contacted first. Pam & Tommy took a step in the wrong direction by building on the emotional subject matter and trauma that later ensued. Anderson has come out to say she never gave her consent for the series, let alone being contacted for her involvement. The pop culture icon released her personal documentary, Pamela, A Love Story, on Netflix nearly a year later, in January 2023.

The series received multiple nominations and awards despite the controversy and mishandling of ethics.

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe
© Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

Blonde (2022)

This psychological, dramatic biopic fictionalizes the life and rise to fame of actress Marilyn Monroe (de Armas), one of the biggest icons in the world. Blonde is based on Joyce Carol Oates’ 2000 novel with the same name.

Blonde misrepresents Monroe in the worst way. She is over sexualized and paraded as the sex symbol most people keep her chained as. Monroe is worth much more than the light director Andrew Dominik dimly puts over her character. If a person is going to craft a biopic of a global star, they should lean away from over fictionalizing the person, instead attempting to include every aspect of the complicated person they are. Monroe deserves a better recent biopic.

Blonde has received multiple nominations, with one Best Actress for de Armas from the 95th Academy Awards.