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Classic Biopics: 3 Movies That Helped Shape the Genre

Image: Classic Biopics: 3 Movies That Helped Shape the Genre
Lawrence of Arabia, 1962. (wikimedia/commons)

By    |   Thursday, 16 Apr 2015 07:06 AM

Playing a real person is no easy task for any actor, but through the years some performers' roles in biographical films – also known as biopics – have become as legendary as the people they brought to life on the big screen. Here's a look at three classic biopics that helped shape the genre.

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1. "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962)



Not only do such publications like Rolling Stone, the United Kingdom's Telegraph, Entertainment Weekly and Moviefone say "Lawrence of Arabia" is one of the greatest biopics of all time, industry bodies like the American Film Institute agree. Directed by David Lean, the film stars Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence, a British Army officer who gained international fame for his service in the Middle East during World War I. AFI named it the fourth greatest film of all time in its "100 Years … 100 Movies" list in 1998.

The film won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Lean at the Academy Awards in 1963, and earned O'Toole the first of his eight Best Actor nominations. There's no question his turn in "Lawrence of Arabia" was one of the many reasons O'Toole was eventually honored with an honorary lifetime achievement Oscar for his body of work in 2003.

2. "Raging Bull" (1980)


If there was a match between critics regarding the greatest biopic of all time, there's no doubt some would be in "Raging Bull's" corner in the film's bout against "Lawrence of Arabia." Entertainment Weekly, for example, says it's the best biopic in history and "Lawrence" is No. 3; while the London Telegraph says "Lawrence" is the best and "Raging Bull" is No. 2. No matter its placement, there's no question that critics and industry personnel consider the true life story of Jake La Motta, as channeled by Robert De Niro, is about as hard hitting as a biopics get as director Martin Scorsese chronicles, warts and all, the boxer's troubled life.

Vanity Fair says De Niro worked out and sparred with the real La Motta, and even went so far as to gain 60 pounds to portray the boxer in his physical decline later in life. The physical sacrifices paid off, as De Niro earned his first and only Best Actor Oscar for the transformative role.

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3. "Amadeus" (1984)



Directed by Milos Forman, "Amadeus" is arguably one of the most interesting classic biopics in movie history in that not only does it tell the story of its protagonist, famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce); but his rival, the far-lesser known Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). Entertainment Weekly named it No. 2 on its list of the best biopics of all time (behind "Raging Bull"), praising the film for chronicling Mozart's genius through the eyes of Salieri, who was extremely jealous of the wunderkind, yet deeply admired him music at the same time.

Salieri, in a way, had the last laugh, as Abraham won the Academy Award for Best Actor over Hulce, who was also nominated in same category. The film won eight Oscars in all, including Best Picture, Best Director for Forman and Best Adapted Screenplay for Peter Shaffer, who originally wrote the story as a stage play.

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Playing a real person is no easy task for any actor, but through the years some performers' roles in biographical films - also known as biopics - have become as legendary as the people they brought to life on the big screen. Here's a look at three classic biopics.
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