Biopics are a tricky to get right.

Too much information and it becomes almost like a history lesson. Too little and you're not getting the whole story. The trick is to strike a balance between making a compelling story and an authentic story. With 'First Man' in cinemas this weekend - the story of Neil Armstrong's incredible journey to the lunar landing  - we're counting down our ten favourite biopics.


10. 'Serpico' (1973)

Corruption in police forces are a common theme nowadays. With TV shows like 'The Shield', 'The Wire' and countless other movies as well, almost every cop drama has it to some degree or another. However, back when 'Serpico' was released in 1973, it was completely unheard of. In fact, the real-life Frank Serpico had just left his job in the NYPD and was living in exile in Switzerland. An idealistic cop who wants to serve his city, Serpico soon realises that the Detectives' Bureau is filled to the brim with men on the take, organised racketeering and much more. What's worse is that, by all accounts, everyone on the force is out to get him. Pacino's performance fits the film perfectly; you can see him sweat in every scene as the walls close in on him and the reality of the situation - that he is completely alone- sinks in. For a film that's over forty years old, it's still as fresh today and shows what a good cop drama should look like.


9. 'Man On The Moon' (1999)

There's one name that will crop up again and again on this list - Milos Forman. He's directed three entries on this list, but for us, Jim Carrey makes this movie. If you haven't yet watched 'Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond', the documentary charting Carrey's work and immersion into the character, don't - because it's better if you watch this first, and then that documentary. Portraying Andy Kaufman, Carrey could very easily draw a line between himself and Kaufman. Andy Kaufman was mainly famous for his portrayal as Latka in the seminal TV sitcom 'Taxi'. Yet, he yearned and struggled to be taken seriously as a comedian and not as a one trick-pony. It's clear that Carrey was no doubt working through his own issues throughout the film and it pays off as you truly believe him in the role. Kaufman's initial success plagues him for the rest of his career as he tries to move further and further away from what made him famous, much like Carrey himself. Unsurprisingly, he won a Golden Globe for his performance.


8. 'Ray' (2004) 

Casting for musical biopics can be a risky game. The cross-section between resembling the title character and having their abilities can't always be met and if one area falters, the other has to be so perfect that the other is forgotten. Luckily for Jamie Foxx, he was already an accomplished pianist and vocalist and, with the help of a flat-top haircut and sunglasses, he became Ray Charles. He was even lucky enough to meet the man himself before he died to gain his blessing and learn a few tricks from him. As well as showing his incredible talent, 'Ray' also shows his tumultuous relationships with women, drugs and fame itself. Foxx won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance and rightfully so.


7. 'Patton' (1970)

"When you put your hand into a pile of goo that was once your best friend's face, you will know what to do..." Although 'Patton' could be classed as a war movie, it does give a full account of Patton's extraordinary life during World War II. By all accounts, Patton was a madman who loved war and lived for it, yet somehow, you find yourself rooting for him. This is down to George C. Scott's career-best performance which won him an Oscar - which he famously refused to accept. Written by Francis Ford Coppola, 'Patton' could be criticised for giving the Hollywood version of events, but there's no denying that it is an evocative film about a leader who was hated and revered in equal measure.


6. 'The People Versus Larry Flynt' (1999)

As mentioned, Milos Forman appears on this list a total of three times. His films often deal with troubled geniuses who are ahead of their time or stymied by its conventions. With 'The People Versus Larry Flynt', it's something totally different. Larry Flynt was - and still is - a pornographer. Owning the Hustler empire of magazines, films and videos, Flynt became an unlikely champion of free speech and free press when he was sued by televangelist Jerry Falwell. Although this makes up the latter part of the film, 'The People Versus Larry Flynt' isn't just about that. It takes people's attitudes to sex, HIV / AIDS stigma and Flynt's often harrowing life. Crippled by a sniper's bullet, Flynt became a paraplegic for the remainder of his life and used drugs to numb the pain - all of which is shown in gory detail throughout the film. Woody Harrelson, in the role of Flynt, shows his entire range - going from comedy to drama to inspiring American hero all in the course of a film.


5. 'Nixon' (1995)

If anyone was going to make a film about the life and times of America's most controversial and perhaps hated president (not counting the current guy), it was Oliver Stone. Directing Anthony Hopkins in an operatic tale of political deceit and intrigue, 'Nixon' is the fullest account of the president's life and America's political landscape in the '70s. Running at almost three hours, 'Nixon' is epic in every sense of the word. It takes in his early Quaker upbringing, his political career before launching into his trip to China, the Watergate scandal and his eventual downfall from it. The supporting cast, made up of James Woods, Joan Allen and Bob Hoskins, all turn in admirable efforts, but Hopkins takes the role and makes it his own. Constantly twitching and truly uneasy in his own skin, he gives 'Nixon' life by making him in something more than just a caricature.


4. 'Amadeus' (1984)

Although it's about classical music and court politics in Vienna in the 1800's, 'Amadeus' transcends these to become something entirely different. It's a film about the life and times of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, sure, but it's also something much more deeper. It's about mediocrity and the artistic struggle to overcome it. F. Murray Abraham is Antonio Salieri, a court composer in Vienna whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of brash young Mozart, played by Tom Hulce. Eager to make a name for himself and prove his worth to the King and to the elites of Vienna, Mozart sets about creating his most famous works, all whilst Salieri sulks and schemes against him. Milos Forman directed both actors in their best performances to date and forged a career for himself in making films about tortured and difficult geniuses. 


3. 'Malcolm X' (1992)

Denzel Washington's career has been characterised by playing roles that are often difficult, but never anything less than authentic. In taking on the role of Malcolm X, Washington truly earmarked himself as one of cinema's greatest talents. The political leader of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X was a thorn in the side of the establishment and believed in equality and equity for African-Americans by any means necessary. Spike Lee is no stranger to controversy and has often sparked it with comments or criticisms, but his work on 'Malcolm X' is his finest by far. Provocative and uncompromising, 'Malcolm X' is one of the finest political and social biographies ever made.


2. 'Gandhi' (1982)

It's often argued that biopics can't tell a whole life. Instead, they can only tell the parts that count. With 'Gandhi' and the number one entry on this list, that is never more evident. Ben Kingsley's performance as Gandhi is nigh on perfect; he prepared for the role by losing weight, taking up yoga and even learned how to spin cotton just as Mahatma Gandhi did. Directed by Richard Attenborough, 'Gandhi' begins with his time in South Africa protesting against the apartheid regime to his eventual victory over British colonialism and his untimely death. It is epic in both scale and running length, but it's a rewarding and inspirational experience that needs to be seen.



1. 'Schinder's List' (1993)

In 'Schindler's List', Steven Spielberg cuts away from any kind of flourish or pomp that could be considered superfluous; in fact, almost all of the film is done on hand-held and without the use of a crane or a Steadicam. Instead, it's shot like a documentary. Oskar Schindler, played by Liam Neeson, is a war profiteer who helps to hide over a thousand Jews in his factory and keep them away from the concentration camps. It isn't so much a film about the Holocaust as it is about those who survived it; the people on the titular list. It's difficult to talk about a film like 'Schindler's List' as anything said or written sounds, well, hollow. It's more of a document, something that is to be viewed with the knowledge that nothing is embellished. It's a record of something so unspeakably evil that it's sometimes difficult to imagine it ever happened at all.