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Are Biopics Getting Predictable?

With the release of the latest biographical film (biopic), "I Saw the Light"–about the core years of the career of Country Music legend, Hank Williams–it is beginning to look like the events depicted in biopics of this nature follow a pretty predictable pattern, no matter how real or how embellished the events actually are. And these events are not just subject to musicians, they are also true of actors, directors, business men, and many others.

The protagonist is most often a famous man. They end up courting, dating, and/or marrying multiple women during their life. In the middle of each marriage they are sleeping around. Half the time one of the wives is also sleeping around. There’s domestic violence, drinking problems, drugs, and abuse. Mistreatment of children and/or custody battles with one or more of the wives. Spiraling depression. Some terribly awkward event that ruins the protagonist’s PR. Heated arguments over artistic differences with record producers, executives, business partners, and so on. And many many moments of sobering honesty when the main character finally lets down his guard, and speaks truthfully about himself and his issues.

Now of course, these are just facts of life. The reason these things are in a large portion of bio-pics (eg. The Aviator, Chaplin, J. Edgar, and the new Steve Jobs film) is because every person in these films was at times greedy, lustful, selfish, short-sighted, insensitive, and likely cared too much about their fame and fortune to put anything else ahead of it. And yet, there are still other biopics about famous individuals who either did not lead lives as ugly as these, or at least had lives that were filled with more positive noteworthy events, which their biographies tend to highlight more than the darker anecdotes. Films like "Gandhi," "The King’s Speech," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Ed Wood," "Ali:" where their stories are not so much defined by their tragedies, but by their triumphs, both behind-the-scenes and in front.

So my question is this: is a biopic worth being made about certain famous individuals, even if their lives are basically as sad and tragic as someone else’s who already has a film about them?

  • I'm not entirely sure I agree with this concept so perhaps a comprehensive study of a) the most popular biopics and b) the most acclaimed biopics over the past decade or two might be necessary to really make this work. It would be interesting to see if the biopic is a reflection of trends in Hollywood, be it creatively or production wise. – jwiderski 9 years ago
  • I brought up this topic because every time I watch a Bio-pic, I sometimes get something interesting and original, with facts I never knew before, but usually I get the same old story of adultery, drinking, depression, failure, and regret, despite the good things a particular individual may have done in their life. And my point was, is there a reason to make a film about one person or another, if there really isn't anything unique or special to say about them, other than what has already been said or shown about another person with a similar life? Because the more I watch bio-pics, the more I see many tending to follow a predictable pattern: I'm often not surprised or engaged when I watch them, because I can just feel the the next beat in the story coming from a mile away. If you don't think you've noticed this pattern, then that's perfectly fine. But I think it's visible enough for someone to give it a deeper look. It's really less about the film aspect, and more about "Does this person's story NEED or deserve to be told? Is it unique and important enough to warrant an entire film?" – Jonathan Leiter 9 years ago
  • "is there a reason to make a film about one person or another, if there really isn't anything unique or special to say about them, other than what has already been said or shown about another person with a similar life?" - the rationale behind making films is always, will it make money? Never forget that the film industry in a business. – louisestupar 8 years ago
  • I'm in the business, so I am well aware that money is the deciding factor. But even with that said, what is it about certain individuals that would make people want to go see a film about them, especially if you have no idea who they are or who they were? Because some of the people who get films aren't that interesting in the end, even if they did something miraculous. And like I've explained above, their stories are basically the same as many other real life people. You could basically take any number of bio-pics and plot out the beat-by-beat similarities between them, and how they're almost all the same film, with only the details being what differentiates them. Other fiction and non-fiction movies can have similar beat-by-beat plots as well, but I just feel that biopics are far more obvious in this regard. – Jonathan Leiter 8 years ago
  • Some biopics inspire more than others. For instance, I saw Concussion and am a huge Will Smith fan, HUGE! But as a biopic, Concussion did not answer the question of why the doctor was so invested in pursuing truth, his religious beliefs, his integrity as a doctor or his idealism of being an American citizen. Dr. Bennet Omalu did not suffer from the perils of success that you have pointed out. In fact, he maintains the movie is not about him but the issue of concussions, humble man that he is. But I felt dissatisfied with the conclusion even though I loved the movie. I felt the movie should have celebrated the success of Dr. Omalu and could have shown the effects of his research more than it did. But, I couldn't help but smile as I read your responses to biopics. My understanding of your criticism is that perhaps you feel biopics should be inspirational and raise our awareness of the power of the common human being to show how we can triumph over insurmountable obstacles to find a way not just to survive but thrive, yes? Otherwise what is the point of telling this person's story? The qualities of the person, their courage and their character, should be worthy of a story. Perhaps this new trend in biopics is a result of a shift in moviegoers who want to see the flawed and real character, rather than an idealized version of a hero. Rather than being uplifted nowadays, maybe audiences want to be able to say, "Hey, here is a guy/girl just like me and they did something great." I also think this trend toward depicting the negative side is growing, perhaps sadly. I just saw 10 Cloverfield (spoiler alert). The premise of the movie was that instead of a heroic stereotype of a person who survives in a post-apocalyptic world, a pedophile, had the resources to survive the alien invasion. I think this trend will find a small market but hopefully biopics will be made that do inspire us to lift ourselves out of the mundane to do something worthwhile. We do need inspiration. – Munjeera 8 years ago