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The 15 greatest biopic portrayals ever

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The verdict for Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Princess Grace is in, and it’s not pretty.

The Guardian’s reviewer Peter Bradshaw described the biopic Grace of Monaco as “so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire-risk.” Ouch.

It appears as though Nicole Kidman has joined longtime friend and fellow Australian actress Naomi Watts in that dark, gloomy corner of portrayal fails. Watts earned her spot in the undesirable pile with last year’s efforts in Diana, Princess of Wales.

Apparently, portraying a beloved public figure is harder than it looks. But who are Kidman and Watts up against? And what is the benchmark for a great biopic?  (Hint: Daniel Day-Lewis).

We’ve compiled a list of the 15 greatest biopic performances of all time to show Kidman and Watts how it’s done.

15. Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady

While the film itself wasn’t strong, whatever merit it had came from Streep’s pitch-perfect performance as the former British Prime Minister. Streep was cunning and strong in the role, and captured the intricacies of Thatcher’s ageing perfectly.

meryl streep margaret thatcher

14. Julia Roberts as Erin Brokovich in Erin Brokovich

Ah, the magic of a push-up bra. Roberts’ Oscar-winning portrayal of the sassy single mother, environmentalist and lawyer packed a punch, combining sex appeal and strength.

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13. Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network

While we have a feeling the role of the socially awkward, eccentric Zuckerberg wasn’t that much of a stretch for the nerdy Eisenberg, he pulled it off with aplomb. He was impressive, insufferable and inexplicably likeable all at once.

jessie eisenberg mark zuckerberg

12. Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster

With the help of some pretty substantial makeup, the gorgeous, swan-like Theron disappeared, becoming roughened prostitute and murderer Aileen Wuornos. Crazy-eyed and deeply disturbed, Theron worked hard to win the 2004 best Actress Oscar for her astounding transformation.

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11. Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There

Leave it to Cate Blanchett to get cast as a man and actually pull it off. As legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan she was surprisingly convincing and cemented her reputation as a true chameleon.

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10. Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The Hours

We didn’t say she was all bad. Kidman’s dowdy yet dark portrayal of the mentally ill author won her an Oscar and almost makes up for the Grace of Monaco shocker. Many argue that the prosthetic nose was the star of the show, but it takes a talented actress to own such a dramatic makeover. It was undeniably the role of Kidman’s career.

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9. Denzel Washington as Malcolm X in Malcolm X

Despite initially facing doubt over his casting, Denzel Washington expertly embodied Detroit Red, the young black man who would later become powerful and influential Muslim activist Malcolm X. His efforts catapulted him into superstardom stratosphere and he’s stayed there ever since.

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8. Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray

Foxx, better known for his stand-up comedy routines than his acting chops, brought more to the role of blind musician Ray Charles than most people could have expected. He was charismatic and nuanced in his efforts and had the musical skills to back it up.

Ray

7. Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth in The Queen

Dame Mirren’s perpetual sex appeal was sufficiently toned down when she took on the role of corgie-loving Queen Elizabeth II in 2006’s The Queen. Dealing with the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, the film let Mirren prove that she is more than capable of versatility. Her mimicry of the Queen’s walk and voice was pure brilliance.

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6. Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln

Simultaneously majestic and fragile, Day-Lewis was the ultimate choice to play the pioneering American president. His soft-spoken lilt was strangely commanding and his best Actor Oscar win appropriately acknowledged his brilliance.

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5. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in Capote

When Hoffman died of a drug overdose in early 2014 it was his role as author Truman Capote that was at the top of every list commemorating his fine performances. He will be remembered for winning the Best Actor Oscar for this role and his diminutive take of a unique man.

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4. Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown in My Left Foot

Day-Lewis is the master or transforming himself into a character and nothing portrays this more than his turn as disabled Irishman Christy Brown in My Left Foot. His Method acting technique for this powerful role saw him spend almost the entire shoot in a wheelchair. It worked: he won the first of his three Best Actor Oscars for this film.

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3. Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose

Simply put, no one else could have played legendary French diva Edith Piaf better than Marion Cotillard. Her performance was so disciplined, precise and captivating that she won the 2010 Best Actress Oscar effortlessly.

marion cotillard edith piaf

2. Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line

Joaquin Phoenix didn’t just play country star, he became him. The voice, the mannerisms, the dark, brooding gaze and that voice seemed to come naturally to Phoenix. Honourable mention goes to an equally compelling Reese Witherspoon as June.

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1. Bruno Ganz as Adolf Hitler in Downfall

How do you make the most hated man in history seem human? You cast Bruno Ganz. More than the undeniable physical resemblance to the Nazi leader, the Swiss actor contributed a jarring realism to the role that captivated audiences despite themselves.

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Do you agree with our list? Is there anyone you would add? Let us know in the comments section below.

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