The 25 Best Performances in a 21st Century Biopic Film

17. Tomasz Kot in Bogowie (2014)

Bogowie (2014)

A criminally underrated biography film from Polish director Lukasz Palkowski, “Bogowie” which translates to “Gods” in English, depicts the life and career of a talented and passionate cardiac surgeon, Zbigniew Religa, who despite struggling to set up his own clinic, and the highly troubling political and economic issues within his native country of Poland during the 1980’s regarding solidarity and the fall of communism, managed to successfully lead a team of doctors to the country’s first human heart transplant.

Tomasz Kot provides a tour-de-force performance as the chain smoking, charming yet conceited surgeon, who oozes confidence and charisma in a similar manner as that of Hugh Laurie’s titular TV character in “House”.

A daring doctor with a big personality and build to match, his unrelenting passion about putting his name and country in the world of cardiology, as he battles to revitalise the run down hospital in which he works, accomplishing medical achievements along the way, and Kot’s portrayal of the man at its core is simply magnificent.

Memorable Quote: “Old ones are scared to do it, young ones simply don’t know how to do it.”


16. Benicio Del Toro in Che (2008)

Che (2008)

Following the life of Argentinian Marxist revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, part one tells the tale of the Cuban Revolution, and the successful toppling of dictator Fulgencio Batista’s rein of power, whereas the second part portrays the attempted Bolivian revolution, leading to the influential man’s untimely demise.

“Che” is seen as a tribute to the Marxist notion of advancement through two conflicting ideas, known as dialectics, separated into two halves, with two colour schemes and two approaches to its narrative, cleverly showing two different revolutions, both essentially the same in theory but resulting in very different endings.

Utilising a nonlinear narrative, selecting interspersed segments of the leaders life, it indicates the fundamental aspects of his rise and fall, full of weighty storytelling, indicating just how critical the man became to the people of South America, a saviour for so many, which makes for truly heart breaking emotional scenery at the time of his execution.

The performance, beautifully crafted by Benicio Del Toro is phenomenal, without question, one of his most successful and remarkable portrayals on film to date. Spending a total of seven years researching the role, Benicio Del Toro is magnificent, honourably creating a truly brilliant depiction worthy of the fallen icon that achieved so much in South America.

Memorable Quote: “Homeland or death!”


15. Michael Sheen in The Damned United (2009)

The Damned United (2009)

A fundamental British sports film, following the trials and tribulations of the successful football manager Bryan Clough, who after a highly fruitful start to his colourful and varied career was headhunted and employed by one of the country’s top teams, Leeds United.

Struggling to bond with the team due to his abrasive and confrontational managerial style, visible dislike of the team’s aggressive mentality and their obvious loyalty to past manager Don Revie, he set the dubbed “Damned United” on course to their worst start in football history.

Uncontrollably spiralling out of control on an unstoppable downfall at the hands of his own ego and hunger to prosper after Revie’s departure, a man who he had a vibrant history with, Clough’s career goes into turmoil, only later revitalised after learning the error of his ways and seeing the value of his backroom staff.

A legendary sports manager in British football, the determined Bryan Clough was portrayed by Michael Sheen, no stranger to biopics following his faultless work in “Frost/ Nixon”, he masterfully executed the headstrong authority figure, a charismatic, hilarious and insufferable entity whose clashing personality and gaudy audacity is truly magnificent to witness.

Memorable Quote: “As far as I’m concerned, the first thing you can do for me is chuck all your medals, and your caps and all your pots and all your pans into the biggest fucking dustbin you can find, because you’ve never won any of them fairly. You’ve done it all by bloody cheating.”


14. Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line (2005)

Walk the Line (2005)

Whilst Joaquin Phoenix’s rendering of the ground-breaking country musician Johnny Cash is sublime, it’s Reese Witherspoon as singer-songwriter June Carter who truly astonishes.

Depicting their rollercoaster relationship, both on and off stage, they both learnt to play guitar and perform all the songs without being dubbed, as the pair’s onscreen relationship is electric. Ironically the two leads spent the entire time preparing for their roles in a constant state of argument, only later becoming friends and eventually respecting each other’s work, as real life imitated art.

Preliminarily as Johnny Cash’s friend, singing partner, lover and later wife, Witherspoon’s depiction of June Carter mixes complex elements of strength and vulnerability, appearing as an independent woman who gets sucked into the vocalist’s tempestuous life and becomes profoundly reliant on what they share together, a flawless chemistry.

Memorable Quote: “You are not allowed to speak to me. After that stunt you pulled on the bus, the only place you are allowed to speak to me is on stage. Do you understand?”


13. Jamie Foxx in Ray (2004)


Surpassing all expectations of the actor, following the initial pessimistic opinions of Jamie Foxx’s casting, he perfectly captures the innovative musician’s hoarse sound and piano playing ability, whilst impeccably constructing his wily demeanour and larger than life mannerisms along the way. Giving a spectacular performance as though he and Charles were one, Foxx effortlessly gets into the head of the soul singer.

“Ray” is an inspiring film that sums up the musician’s personality perfectly, as he remains an optimistic, loving man despite what hatred and hardships the world throws at him along the way, and its Foxx’s portrayal at the heart and soul of this stimulating tale. It was highly unfortunate that the late, great Ray Charles died prior to the film’s release, unable to witness Jamie Foxx’s stunning portrayal of the pioneering R&B soul singer in all his triumphant glory.

Memorable Quote: “Don’t jive me, man!”


12. Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network (2010)


Revolving around the alleged creator of Facebook and now successful business man, Mark Zuckerberg, “The Social Network” follows his time at Harvard University and the engineering of the now substantially popular and successful social media platform. Outlining Zuckerberg’s involvement in the design and production of the original networking website, and how it progressed over the years, maturing into the fundamental application used by the majority of the planet today.

Most intriguingly not shying away from Zuckerberg’s flaws as a human being during his rise to internet power, poising the well-known suggestion that the initial idea for Facebook was not his, but that of twin brothers, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, as well as the story of how Zuckerberg eventually forced out his best friend and cofounding partner, Eduardo Saverin from the business.

Despite its potential historical inaccuracies in the level of Zuckerberg’s deceitfulness, as well as other questionable aspects during the network’s creation, Jesse Eisenberg is extraordinary in the lead role, portraying the media tycoon as a self-proclaimed ostentatious character full of egotistical self-worth and an insufferable level of arrogance, yet somehow sitting on the fine line between being a remarkable protagonist you want to see succeed in his endeavours, and a narcissistic antagonist who mistreats anyone who stands in his way, a truly magnificent performance to behold.

Memorable Quote: “You know you really don’t need a forensics team to get to the bottom of this. If you guys were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.”


11. Paul Giamatti in American Splendor (2003)

American Splendor

Pop culture hero Harvey Lawrence Pekar, was an American comic book writer, music critic and media personality, arguably best known for the creation of his autobiographical comic “American Splendor”, which appropriately was the sole basis for Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s cinematic adaption in 2003, telling the tale of the writer’s generic working class life in an unsentimental, truthful manner.

Truly delightful and surprisingly enthralling, the two directors stayed faithful to the extraordinary source material, casting the real life Pekar alongside the criminally underrated Paul Giamatti to represent him in the younger years. Effortlessly cool and enthralling, Giamatti’s turn as the comic is nothing short of mesmerising.

Breathing humour, heart and soul into a very human account that everyone can relate to, this highly understated comedy drama will no doubt become a cult classic. Innovative and original, “American Splendor” blends fiction and reality, with the everyday man Pekar at its centre, with the near perfect casting of Giamatti, as he embodies the unglamorous, quirky writer to magnetic results.

Memorable Quote: “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.”


10. Leonardo Di Caprio in The Aviator (2004)

The Aviator (2004)

Undoubtedly one of the few roles that Leonardo Di Caprio was unlucky not to receive an Oscar for, further plaguing him with internet memes, he spent time with OCD patients to get a firm grasp on the condition, as Hughes suffered greatly with concerns of germs and disease, resulting in severe stints of mental illness. Yet its Di Caprio’s re-visioning of Hughes innovation and triumph that were most memorable, creating an audacious figure that dared to dream.

In preparation for the role of inventor, aviator and filmmaker Howard Hughes, Di Caprio spent time with Jane Russel, to hear her memories and impressions of the pioneer as a way to help the actor better understand the intricate workings of his complex mind, discovering Hughes to be a quiet yet extremely stubborn entity, who always got his way in the end, attributes that Di Caprio best embodied in his recreation.

Memorable Quote: “The way of the future…”


9. Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote (2005)


The untimely demise of the significantly talented and often underappreciated Philip Seymour Hoffman in 2014 steered a lot of people to revisit his past work in commemoration, most notably that of “The Master”, a rare leading performance by the actor, and his award winning turn in “Capote”, a diminutive interpretation of the author Truman Capote, who whilst writing a book on the murder of a Kansas family, became compelled by one of the murderers on death row.

Hoffman’s uncanny rendering of the sharp-witted author is breath taking, channelling the fascinating Capote perfectly, and depicting the clear cover up of pure sociopathic characteristics with his well-mannered, intellectual, and peculiar persona, as he strives to turn real life crimes into fiction. A master class in acting, Hoffman along with Dan Futterman’s captivating script manage to perfectly capture the haunting facade whilst never truly tying him down, an impeccable piece of acting.

Memorable Quote: “Ever since I was a child, folks have thought they had me pegged, because of the way I am, the way I talk. And they’re always wrong.”