These 20 Movies Convincingly Capture Real-Life Stories

By: Lilli Keeve | Last updated: Oct 14, 2023

Being an actor isn’t an easy thing to do. Taking on the daunting task of putting yourself into somebody else’s shoes is difficult yet rewarding. Actors must be chameleons who can miraculously shapeshift, embodying another person or character completely.

When it comes to biopic portrayals, morphing into an iconic figure takes time, patience, and, of course, an unwavering dedication to the craft. Here are 20 mind-bending examples of actors and actresses in movie biopics who were put up to the challenge and succeeded in their portrayals of famous figures.

Ana de Armas As Marilyn Monroe Is Beyond Convincing

There have been many silver screen portrayals of the legendary bombshell Marilyn Monroe over the years. While Michelle Williams’ embodiment of Monroe in My Week with Marilyn was well-done, the Cuban-Spanish actress Ana de Armas brought something unique to the role.


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In Netflix’s Blonde, not only does de Armas bear a close physical resemblance to Monroe, but director Andrew Dominik praised her for possessing a “sense of humor and depth” similar to Monroe. Despite the controversy surrounding the film, it is undeniable that de Armas is magical. 

Cate Blanchett Personifies Bob Dylan In 'I'm Not There'

During her incredible career, Cate Blanchett has proven to be a natural-born shapeshifter and diverse actress. Stepping into Bob Dylan’s shoes in the 2007 film I’m Not There seemed to be one of the boldest choices she could have made, considering a woman is playing that particular part and not a man.


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Blanchett’s transformation is completely stunning as she played Dylan at a specific point in his life. She even went so far as to put a sock down her pants to mirror Dylan’s walk and feel more like a male.

Charlize Theron Is Unrecognizable As Aileen Wuornos In 'Monster'

When Charlize Theron was cast as the American serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster, many people were unsure about that choice. Theron even had her doubts. Up until that point, Theron had retained her status as a beautiful blonde bombshell.


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Needless to say, Theron absolutely nailed the chilling portrayal of Wuornos and even won an Academy Award for her eerily accurate performance. The actress was spot-on with every aspect, from Wuornos’ physical appearance to her detailed mannerisms.

Marion Cotillard Transforms Into Edith Piaf For ‘La Vie en Rose’

Marion Cotillard won an Oscar for her mesmerizing portrayal of French singer Edith Piaf in 2007’s La Vie en Rose. Cotillard shared how connected she felt to Piaf, considering she grew up listening to her songs. 


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She extensively researched Piaf’s life, watching old footage and reading books about her. However, the most challenging part of embodying Piaf was learning to lip-sync her songs authentically. Piaf’s spirit all-consumed Cotillard; she had to travel to Bora Bora to break free from the character.

Daniel Day Lewis Spent A Year Preparing For His Role As Abraham Lincoln In 'Lincoln'

Daniel Day-Lewis is one of those extraordinary actors that disappear so deeply into a role that it’s hard to distinguish the character from the actual figure. Lincoln was directed by the legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg who convinced Lewis to take on the massive undertaking of playing the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

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Lewis’ resemblance to Abe Lincoln is astounding, and he even lost weight to mirror Lincoln’s slender physique. Clearly, the full year that Lewis spent studying Lincoln’s life and prepping himself for the role paid off. He won the Oscar for Best Actor in 2012.


Jamie Foxx Perfects The Role Of Ray Charles In 'Ray'

Jamie Foxx has had a successful career, one where he completely embodies the roles he plays. When Foxx landed the lead of famous blues musician Ray Charles, it was evident that he put his heart and soul into making the portrayal accurate and believable.

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Foxx’s undeniably perfect performance landed him an Oscar. Losing a lot of weight for the role took a significant toll on his body. He also recreated Charles’ posture and replicated his voice. All of these elements enabled Foxx to achieve the authentic qualities of Ray Charles.


Natalie Portman's Performance As Jackie Kennedy Onassis In 'Jackie' Is Incredible

Even though Portman stated that she has “little in common” with Jackie Kennedy Onassis, she certainly outdid herself in the role.

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Portman went above and beyond in her portrayal of the United States’ former first lady. Perfecting her voice and recreating many of Jackie’s signature looks made Portman’s rendition extremely accurate.


Cate Blanchett As Queen Elizabeth I In 'Elizabeth' Brings Complexity And Accuracy

Cate Blanchett is known for being one of those actresses that can scarily blend into a role and disappear, which is fitting since this is her second mention. She’s a natural chameleon – this is especially evident when she took on the daunting role of Queen Elizabeth I in 1998’s Elizabeth. 

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It’s undeniable that Blanchett’s miraculous and meticulous performance holds the film together. No other actress could have portrayed Elizabeth as faithfully as Blanchett.


Will Smith Channels Muhammad Ali In 'Ali'

Will Smith has openly acknowledged how playing the legendary heavyweight champion, Muhammad Ali, changed his life. His performance was so spot-on and influential that even Ali recognized Smith’s work.

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Smith’s portrayal of the great Ali earned him an Oscar nomination. On preparing for the role, Smith said: “For nearly two years, I worked to transform myself into the man who changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and shook up the world.”


Michelle Williams Brings Marilyn Monroe Back To Life In 'My Week with Marilyn'

As the other talented performer who slipped into the graceful shoes of Marilyn Monroe, Michelle Williams’ portrayal of the bombshell will leave anybody breathless.

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For My Week with Marilyn, the actress tirelessly spent her preparation observing and studying Monroe’s progression into her famed persona. Williams brought a fresh perspective to the curious enigma of Marilyn Monroe and made it memorable.


Denzel Washington Evokes Malcolm X's Spirit In 'Malcolm X'

Denzel Washington has cemented himself as one of the most versatile and powerful actors of his generation. In Washington’s chilling portrayal of the extraordinary civil rights activist Malcolm X, he truly replicated the leader accurately.

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Washington mentioned how he evoked Malcolm X’s spirit and connected with him on a much deeper and more personal level.


Jesse Eisenberg Encapsulates Mark Zuckerberg's Personality In 'The Social Network'

Considered one of the best movies of the 2010s, David Fincher’s The Social Network showed how convincing Jesse Eisenberg was as the hoodie and flip-flop-wearing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

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Not only does Eisenberg look the part, but he also perfectly exudes Zuckerberg’s annoying pretentiousness and arrogance. Eisenberg has been praised for his portrayal of the tech genius and even received an Oscar nomination.


Daniel Kaluuya Stuns As Fred Hampton In 'Judas and the Black Messiah'

Daniel Kaluuya continually chooses roles that showcase his enormous talent as a chameleonic actor. Portraying Black Panther activist and leader Fred Hampton, Kaluuya revealed in an interview with NPR: “I had to let go of a lot of myself. I had to let go of concepts that I have been wedded to, even, like, the concepts of age.”

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In 2021, Kaluuya’s arresting performance as Hampton won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


Meryl Streep As Margaret Thatcher In 'The Iron Lady' Truly Stands Out

The fact that Meryl Streep earns an Oscar nomination for nearly all of her roles certainly rings true with her performance as former Prime Minister of the U.K., Margaret Thatcher. It also happens to be her most riveting role.

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Portraying the controversial figure of Thatcher was no simple feat, and Streep pulled it off at every turn. From the huge ’80s hair to the white pearls and perfectly pursed lips, Streep undoubtedly becomes Thatcher.


Eddie Redmayne Morphed Into Stephen Hawking For 'The Theory of Everything'

Theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, revolutionized how we understood the inner workings of the universe. When he was only 21, Hawking was diagnosed with motor neuron disease.

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To prepare for his role in The Theory of Everything, Redmayne told Variety that he spent four months studying Hawking’s life. He certainly nailed every physical and emotional aspect of the performance. Redmayne took home the Oscar for Best Actor in 2015. Anybody else playing Hawking aside from Redmayne is unimaginable.


Salma Hayek As Frida Kahlo In 'Frida' Delivers A Groundbreaking Performance

Salma Hayek is a gifted actress who spent seven years trying to get a movie about the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo made. Ultimately, it became Hayek’s passion to play Kahlo, and she was clearly born for the role.

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Inspired by Kahlo’s unwavering bravery, Hayek discovered how much she could relate. Her powerful portrayal of the influential artist is not to be missed.


Philip Seymour Hoffman's Lived Truman Capote In 'Capote'

Stepping into the role of any famous figure is daunting. So, when Philip Seymour Hoffman took on the role of writer Truman Capote, he was naturally a bit intimidated.


Hoffman strayed from doing a general, straightforward depiction; he became Capote by living him.


Joaquin Phoenix Went Deep As Johnny Cash In 'Walk The Line'

Joaquin Phoenix knew he wanted to play Johnny Cash without even reading the script for Walk the Line. The director, James Mangold, didn’t want Phoenix to do an exact portrayal of Cash, but rather his version of the singer.

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Phoenix is known for playing intriguing and complex characters, so playing Cash was a no-brainer. It was certainly an enormous challenge, and Phoenix’s rendition won him an Oscar for Best Actor in 2006.


Jennifer Lopez Was Passionate About Playing Selena Quintanilla-Peréz In 'Selena'

Playing Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla-Peréz who tragically died at 23. The movie was a passion project for actress Jennifer Lopez, which helped catapult her career. Lopez stepped into the role when she was 28 years old.

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The 1997 biopic received glowing reviews from critics, with Lopez being praised for her performance. From the costume to the physical resemblance and embodiment, Selena came alive through Lopez’s portrayal.