Ah, the biopic. It’s one of the most revered and resilient genres of cinema past and present. The formula is simple: make a movie about a well-known public figure, preferably one with a checkered past, form your narrative around the tone of their upbringing (usually a dramatic one) and sell the film as a “revealing portrait of a man/woman we all know and love”. You’ll be blessed with awards and showered with praise.
However there is one very hard part: casting. When you’re dealing with an especially prolific subject, this is the part that can make or break your movie. Some have gotten this wrong, and some have gotten this very right – Michael Douglas’s turn as Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra is winning his best reviews in years.
Let’s take a look at some of the best biopic casting choices in film history.
10. Robert De Niro as Al Capone in The Untouchables (1987)
It helps to start this list off with a performance of such grandiosity that the others seem more tame by comparison.
Already a legend by the time the film was made, Robert De Niro transformed himself into the notorious Chicago crime boss with a panache that only he could provide. The balancing act of making Capone seem charming, vain, psychotic and despicable simultaneously could not have been done as gracefully with another actor, especially opposite a cast that included a tour-de-force from the great Sean Connery.
Though, De Niro stepped to the plate with an evenly matched composite of a man as celebrated as he is reviled.