It is said that truth is stranger than fiction, which is why cinema owes a lot of its greatest accomplishments to reality. Biographical films are a special breed among movies based in true events, because they try to portray the evolution of real life characters through the most important events of their lives.
It’s a daunting task for the screenwriter, sometimes hard-pressed to fit decades of life into roughly 100-120 pages. That is probably why biopics often become monumental projects that bring the audience to a fast paced journey across a bunch of dissimilar environments.
But they are often the stories of those who shaped the world- for better or worse. And well written biopics seem to generally succeed in fulfilling the demands of reviewers and audiences alike. They are a challenge for the performer as well, compelled to carry most of the narrative weight through the whole shooting process. However, those efforts are often rewarded with wide recognition, and the Academy seems to have a certain weakness for biographical dramas.
A lot of moviegoers feel an inherent curiosity about watching the tale of a notorious figure in the big screen, and the list of famous –or infamous- individuals whose life has been adapted into a film keeps growing.
Here are some of the most acclaimed biopic film scripts of all time:
(1962) Lawrence of Arabia
(1967) Bonnie and Clyde
(1972) Lady Sings the Blues
(1980) Raging Bull
(1980) The Elephant Man
(1987) The Last Emperor
(1992) Malcolm X
(1994) Ed Wood
(2001) A Beautiful Mind
(2002) Catch me if you Can
(2005) Walk the Line
(2010) The Social Network
(2014) The Theory of Everything
At the heart of every script is a conflict, and it is this conflict that drives the decisions of the characters. How the characters choose to reconcile this conflict is what gives the story its meaning. These conflicts manifest themselves in a variety of ways, sometimes as a single man versus seemingly overwhelming odds, or as a difficult choice a character must make that forces him to sacrifice something he loves. Sometimes this conflict manifests itself a little more directly, in the form of fists striking flesh, and feet shuffling to dodge blows, and when this happens the release of tension can be truly cathartic.
There are few images more compelling than a physical struggle between the sources of conflict in a film, and there are a number of ways this device can be used effectively. In films like David O’ Russell’s The Fighter the physical violence is only a manifestation of the internal conflicts of the film’s protagonist, whereas in Bronson the titular character relishes fighting as a way to garner the fame he desperately craves. In both cases it is a nebulous and abstract conflict giving rise to absolute primal resolution. This is the power of a well designed cinematic fight; it is truly raw.
A discussion of great movies about fighting would be incomplete without a mention of Sylvester Stallone’s first film which he wrote, produced and starred in, the immortal Rocky. Rocky is a beautiful example of the poetry of violence magnifying the conflict of a narrative, in this case the ambition of the hero vs. the insurmountable odds against him. In all these cases the violence comes when the hero is left with no recourse and the tension must find release. It isn’t always powerful, but when it is, its as poignant and poetic as any love story, and the push and pull between two foes locked in combat is closer to the posturing of new romance than one might think. These are some of the most impactful examples of the genre, though not as impactful of course as a punch from Tommy Conlon, Tom Hardy’s hard hitting character in Warrior. That guy ripped the door off a tank!