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15 Biopics that Light Up the Golden Age of Hollywood

Forget dusty archives and faded photographs, these biopics catapult you into the heart of Hollywood's Golden Age. These films portray ambition and audacity of legends who redefined fame and underdogs who dared to steal the spotlight.

By Alyciah Beaver Last updated

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The Golden Age of Hollywood remains an epoch revered for its iconic stars, timeless glamour, and unparalleled cinematic magic.

Biographical films, commonly known as biopics, have become the medium through which we delve into the lives of iconic figures who shaped the entertainment industry during this illustrious era.

This is a rollicking rollercoaster and the occasional plot twist that made Hollywood the wonderland we can't help but adore!

1. The Aviator (2004)

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Rotten tomatoes86%
iMBD77
Metacritic7.5
Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio

Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett

Kate Beckinsale

Kate Beckinsale

John C. Reilly

John C. Reilly

Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin

Alan Alda

Alan Alda

Ian Holm

Ian Holm

Danny Huston

Danny Huston

Gwen Stefani

Gwen Stefani

Jude Law

Jude Law

Adam Scott

Adam Scott

Matt Ross

Matt Ross

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Soaring through the gilded age of Hollywood, Howard Hughes, a man of boundless ambition and restless spirit, leaves a trail of broken records and burnt wings in his wake.

Leonardo DiCaprio embodies the audacious aviator and filmmaker in "The Aviator," a biopic that transcends the genre's conventions. It's a love letter to the magic of filmmaking, a cautionary tale about unchecked ambition, and a deeply human portrait of a man who dared to touch the sun, only to get singed in the process.

And let's not forget the supporting cast; Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn and Alec Baldwin as Juan Trippe. They're not just characters, they're co-pilots in Hughes's larger-than-life story, adding layers of depth and intrigue to the narrative.

Don't just watch "The Aviator", experience it. Let it whisk you back to a time when the impossible was just a blueprint away.

"How does she sound, Howard?" "She's whispering to me, buddy!"

2. Hitchcock (2012)

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Rotten tomatoes60%
Metacritic6.8
Anthony Hopkins

Anthony Hopkins

Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren

Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson

Danny Huston

Danny Huston

Toni Collette

Toni Collette

Michael Stuhlbarg

Michael Stuhlbarg

Michael Wincott

Michael Wincott

Jessica Biel

Jessica Biel

James D'Arcy

James D'Arcy

Richard Portnow

Richard Portnow

Kurtwood Smith

Kurtwood Smith

Ralph Macchio

Ralph Macchio

Directed by Sacha Gervasi

Ah, the Golden Age of Hollywood. Glamour, glitz, and a healthy dose of gossip served with champagne wishes and caviar dreams. But amidst the starlets and moguls, one man reigned supreme in the realm of shadows, Alfred Hitchcock.

"Hitchcock," peeks behind the curtain of this cinematic magician. We see the man who birthed the iconic scenes like Marion Crane's shower in "Psycho" and Cary Grant's chase for a plane in "North by Northwest." We also witness his battles with studio censors, his love-hate relationship with his leading ladies (Grace Kelly, anyone?), and his obsession with, well, blondes.

But fear not, dear reader, this won't be a dry documentary. "Hitchcock" promises humor, suspense, and a whole lot of macaroons. We'll see the man who brought us nightmares also had a wicked wit, a twinkle in his eye even as he dreamt up our darkest fears. We'll laugh with him, cringe with him, and ultimately, be left in awe of the man who redefined suspense, one blonde, one bird, one shower at a time. Every scene is a masterpiece and every moment is a delightful shiver down your spine.

3. The Artist (2011)

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Rotten tomatoes95%
iMBD89
Metacritic7.9
Jean Dujardin

Jean Dujardin

Bérénice Bejo

Bérénice Bejo

John Goodman

John Goodman

James Cromwell

James Cromwell

Penelope Ann Miller

Penelope Ann Miller

Missi Pyle

Missi Pyle

Beth Grant

Beth Grant

Ed Lauter

Ed Lauter

Joel Murray

Joel Murray

Elizabeth Tulloch

Elizabeth Tulloch

Ken Davitian

Ken Davitian

Malcolm McDowell

Malcolm McDowell

Directed by Michel Hazanavicius

This silent black-and-white film pays homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood. While not a direct biopic, it captures the essence of the era and the challenges faced by actors with the transition to sound cinema.

Jean Dujardin takes center stage as George Valentin, a suave silent film star navigating the tumultuous waters of the industry's transition to talkies. His expressive face becomes the dialogue, and the absence of words transforms every scene into a visual symphony.

Bérénice Bejo, as the rising star Peppy Miller, adds a delightful touch of charisma to the mix. Their on-screen chemistry is a dance, a graceful waltz through the challenges of an evolving industry. You can almost hear the imaginary music playing as they navigate the highs and lows of fame.

The silent era may have faded, but "The Artist" resurrects it with a flair that's as bold as it is endearing. Every frame feels like a stroke of a paintbrush on a canvas, creating a masterpiece that doesn't rely on spoken words to resonate.

"I won't talk! I won't say a word!!!"

4. Ed Wood (1994)

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Rotten tomatoes92%
iMBD70
Metacritic7.8

Low budgets, big dreams, and laughter in Hollywood's spotlight.

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp

Martin Landau

Martin Landau

Sarah Jessica Parker

Sarah Jessica Parker

Patricia Arquette

Patricia Arquette

Jeffrey Jones

Jeffrey Jones

Bill Murray

Bill Murray

Lisa Marie

Lisa Marie

Jim Myers

Jim Myers

G. D. Spradlin

G. D. Spradlin

Vincent D'Onofrio

Vincent D'Onofrio

Mike Starr

Mike Starr

Max Casella

Max Casella

Directed by Tim Burton

In the gilded halls of Hollywood's Golden Age, amidst legends there scurried a little man with dreams bigger than his budget. Edward D. Wood Jr., or "Ed" to his friends, a filmmaker whose name isn't etched on stars, but plastered in glorious B-movie infamy.

The film introduces us to a motley crew of characters, including Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau. Lugosi, past his prime, becomes an unexpected ally in Wood's quest for cinematic greatness. The chemistry between Depp and Landau is like a cinematic bromance that adds heart to the laughter.

Ed Wood is a reminder that sometimes, the most beautiful stories aren't about the Oscars, but about the guy with the duct tape script and a heart full of angora. Because in the end, it's not about the budget, the special effects, or even the flying saucers. It's about the magic of believing, the joy of creation, and the sheer, unadulterated fun of making a movie.

5. Sunset Boulevard (1950)

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Rotten tomatoes98%
iMBD94
Metacritic8.4
William Holden

William Holden

Gloria Swanson

Gloria Swanson

Erich von Stroheim

Erich von Stroheim

Nancy Olson

Nancy Olson

Fred Clark

Fred Clark

Lloyd Gough

Lloyd Gough

Jack Webb

Jack Webb

Franklyn Farnum

Franklyn Farnum

Larry J. Blake

Larry J. Blake

Charles Dayton

Hedda Hopper

Hedda Hopper

Directed by Billy Wilder

The narrative unfolds through the eyes of Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, a struggling screenwriter who stumbles into the world of the reclusive Norma. What follows is a noir-ish dance between ambition, fame, and the haunting shadows of the past. Wilder's script is a witty masterpiece, blending drama with a touch of dark humor that keeps you hooked from start to finish.

Swanson's portrayal of Norma Desmond is a tour de force, a performance that echoes the melancholy of silent film stars grappling with the advent of talkies. Every expression, every calculated movement paints a vivid picture of a woman trapped in the memories of her glory days.

This film creates an atmosphere that's both nostalgic and chilling. Each frame is a snapshot of a bygone era, where glamour and tragedy share the same stage.

6. The Jazz Singer (1927)

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iMBD66
Metacritic6.4
Al Jolson

Al Jolson

May McAvoy

May McAvoy

Warner Oland

Warner Oland

Eugenie Besserer

Eugenie Besserer

Otto Lederer

Otto Lederer

Richard Tucker

Richard Tucker

William Demarest

William Demarest

John Miljan

John Miljan

Roscoe Karns

Roscoe Karns

Anders Randolf

Anders Randolf

Walter Rodgers

Walter Rodgers

Directed by Alan Crosland

The year is 1927, silent films reign supreme, their silver screens silent except for the dramatic score and the popcorn munching in the audience. Then, BAM! A revolution explodes onto the scene, not with guns but with a single word: "Mama!

Considered the first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences, "The Jazz Singer" starring Al Jolson marks the beginning of the transition from silent to sound cinema.

The film weaves through Jakie's journey like a swinging melody. We see him struggle with his identity, torn between filial duty and artistic passion. We see him light up the vaudeville stage, his voice a siren song that hypnotizes audiences. We even see him, in a groundbreaking moment, sing directly to the camera, his emotions pouring out in a way never before captured on film.

7. Stan & Ollie (2018)

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Rotten tomatoes92%
iMBD75
Metacritic7.2

Comedy icons navigate fame's challenges, showcasing enduring friendship with laughter and heartwarming moments.

Steve Coogan

Steve Coogan

John C. Reilly

John C. Reilly

Shirley Henderson

Shirley Henderson

Nina Arianda

Nina Arianda

Rufus Jones

Rufus Jones

Danny Huston

Danny Huston

Joseph Balderrama

Joseph Balderrama

John Henshaw

John Henshaw

Keith MacPherson

Richard Cant

Richard Cant

Susy Kane

Susy Kane

Josh Alexander

Josh Alexander

Directed by Jon S. Baird

Stepping into the shoes of these comedy icons are Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, channeling the essence of the duo with uncanny precision. Coogan captures Stan's wide-eyed innocence and penchant for bewildered stammering, while Reilly embodies Ollie's dry wit and exasperated sighs with masterful subtlety.

But "Stan & Hardy" isn't just a laugh-a-minute reel. We see their creative clashes, their struggles with fame, and the bittersweet twilight of their careers. It's a reminder that even the most rib-tickling comedians are human, with vulnerabilities and insecurities lurking beneath the slapstick surface.

Yet, the film ultimately celebrates the enduring power of their friendship. Through thick and thin, Stan and Ollie remain tethered by an invisible thread of mutual respect and affection. Their bond transcends professional rivalry and personal demons, a testament to the magic that blooms when two comedic minds collide.

8. Dolemite Is my Name (2019)

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Rotten tomatoes97%
iMBD76
Metacritic7.2
Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy

Wesley Snipes

Wesley Snipes

Da'Vine Joy Randolph

Da'Vine Joy Randolph

Keegan-Michael Key

Keegan-Michael Key

Mike Epps

Mike Epps

Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson

Tituss Burgess

Tituss Burgess

Kodi Smit-McPhee

Kodi Smit-McPhee

Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg

Ron Cephas Jones

Ron Cephas Jones

Barry Shabaka Henley

Barry Shabaka Henley

T.I.

T.I.

Directed by Craig Brewer

Rudy Ray Moore, the rhyme-slinging, Kung-Fu kicking star of "Dolemite Is My Name." Eddie Murphy channels Moore with the kind of infectious swagger that can melt polyester suits and cure writer's block. He's a record store clerk by day, spinning raunchy rhymes about a pimp named Dolemite by night.

When his comedy record becomes an underground sensation, Rudy decides to take his Dolemite to the silver screen, Hollywood be damned. What follows is a hilarious, underdog journey, think Rocky with rhymes and roundhouse kicks.

Rudy scribbles the script himself, recruits a ragtag crew of actors and musicians (including a scene-stealing Wesley Snipes as a D'Urville), and battles studio execs who scoff at his ghetto superhero.

But beneath the glitz and the giggles, "Dolemite Is My Name" has a soul. It's about defying the odds, about believing in your own damn story, and about carving your own path in a world that might not see you. It's a testament to the power of audacity, of laughter in the face of adversity, and of a man who refused to let anyone dim his Dolemite shine.

"Wayyy down in the Jungle deep..."

9. La La Land (2016)

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Rotten tomatoes91%
iMBD94
Metacritic8
Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling

Emma Stone

Emma Stone

John Legend

John Legend

Rosemarie DeWitt

Rosemarie DeWitt

J.K. Simmons

J.K. Simmons

Amiée Conn

Amiée Conn

Terry Walters

Terry Walters

Thom Shelton

Thom Shelton

Cinda Adams

Cinda Adams

Callie Hernandez

Callie Hernandez

Jessica Rothe

Jessica Rothe

Sonoya Mizuno

Sonoya Mizuno

Directed by Damien Chazelle

This film is a masterclass in visual storytelling, with vibrant hues and mesmerizing choreography breathing life into the narrative. Director Damien Chazelle crafts a whimsical world where reality and fantasy engage in a dance of their own.

At the heart of "La La Land" are Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, a dynamic duo that infuses the film with undeniable chemistry. Gosling, playing a jazz musician, and Stone, an aspiring actress, embark on a love story that unfolds against the backdrop of Los Angeles.

La La Land isn't a fairy tale ending. Dreams, like love, sometimes take unexpected turns. But even in the bittersweet ache of unfulfilled ambitions, the film celebrates the journey itself, the beauty of striving, the magic of finding your own melody in the cacophony of life. It's a reminder that sometimes, the greatest reward is not the spotlight, but the fire that burns within, the music that only you can hear.

10. Birdman (2014)

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Rotten tomatoes91%
iMBD87
Metacritic7.7
Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton

Emma Stone

Emma Stone

Zach Galifianakis

Zach Galifianakis

Edward Norton

Edward Norton

Andrea Riseborough

Andrea Riseborough

Amy Ryan

Amy Ryan

Naomi Watts

Naomi Watts

Lindsay Duncan

Lindsay Duncan

Merritt Wever

Merritt Wever

Jeremy Shamos

Jeremy Shamos

Damian Young

Damian Young

Bill Camp

Bill Camp

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Michael Keaton, in a career-defining performance, channels Riggan Thomson, a faded actor best known for his winged alter ego, Birdman. Now, years past his prime, Riggan's drowning in instant ramen and self-loathing, haunted by the ghost of his superhero fame and the ever-present, winged persona that mocks him from the shadows.

Desperate to prove his artistic merit, Riggan pours his heart (and every last penny) into directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." Cue the chaos.

Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu masterfully blurs the lines between stage and reality, crafting a film that feels as if it's unfolding in a single, breathless take. The camerawork is a marvel, gliding through cramped dressing rooms and soaring above the stage, immersing us in Riggan's frenetic world.

11. Cinema Paradiso (1988)

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Rotten tomatoes90%
iMBD80
Metacritic8.5
Philippe Noiret

Philippe Noiret

Jacques Perrin

Jacques Perrin

Marco Leonardi

Marco Leonardi

Salvatore Cascio

Salvatore Cascio

Agnese Nano

Agnese Nano

Antonella Attili

Antonella Attili

Enzo Cannavale

Enzo Cannavale

Isa Danieli

Isa Danieli

Leo Gullotta

Leo Gullotta

Pupella Maggio

Pupella Maggio

Leopoldo Trieste

Leopoldo Trieste

Tano Cimarosa

Tano Cimarosa

Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore

"Cinema Paradiso" transports us to a time when the local movie theatre was the heart of a community. Giuseppe Tornatore's masterpiece unfolds through the eyes of a young boy named Salvatore, whose passion for films is ignited by the charismatic projectionist Alfredo.

The heartwarming narrative unfolds against the backdrop of a small Sicilian village, adding a touch of Italian charm. As the reels of film roll and flicker on the screen, "Cinema Paradiso" becomes a celebration of the transformative power of movies.

Just remember, as Alfredo whispers to Salvatore, "Every film contains a hidden truth."

Alfredo snips away kissing scenes, preserving innocence, as Totò playfully pesters him.

12. Mank (2020)

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Rotten tomatoes83%
iMBD79
Metacritic6.8
Gary Oldman

Gary Oldman

Amanda Seyfried

Amanda Seyfried

Lily Collins

Lily Collins

Arliss Howard

Arliss Howard

Tom Pelphrey

Tom Pelphrey

Sam Troughton

Sam Troughton

Ferdinand Kingsley

Ferdinand Kingsley

Tuppence Middleton

Tuppence Middleton

Tom Burke

Tom Burke

Joseph Cross

Joseph Cross

Jamie McShane

Jamie McShane

Toby Leonard Moore

Toby Leonard Moore

Directed by David Fincher

Gary Oldman dons the persona of Mankiewicz, a screenwriter with a penchant for quick comebacks and an uncanny ability to navigate the intricacies of 1930s Hollywood.

As we follow Mankiewicz through the glimmering parties and clandestine dealings, the film captures the essence of an era where every screenplay is a work of art. A standout performance comes from Amanda Seyfried, who embodies the vivacious Marion Davies. The film explores the dynamic relationship between Davies and media mogul William Randolph Hearst, adding layers of complexity to the narrative.

This is a story about the price of genius, the toll ambition takes on a soul, and the bittersweet reality of chasing dreams in a gilded cage. But even in the darkness, "Mank" finds humor in Mank's sardonic barbs, beauty in the flickering film reels, and a surprising spark of humanity in the heart of a man drowning his demons in his own brilliance.

13. The Glenn Miller Story (1954)

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Rotten tomatoes89%
Metacritic7.3
James Stewart

James Stewart

June Allyson

June Allyson

Harry Morgan

Harry Morgan

Charles Drake

Charles Drake

George Tobias

George Tobias

Barton MacLane

Barton MacLane

Sig Ruman

Sig Ruman

Irving Bacon

Irving Bacon

Kathleen Lockhart

Kathleen Lockhart

Kevin Corcoran

Kevin Corcoran

James Bell

James Bell

Katherine Warren

Katherine Warren

Directed by Anthony Mann

In the grand showcase of Hollywood biopics, this gem stands out as a rhythmic journey through the life of one of the era's most iconic musicians.

Jimmy Stewart steps into Miller's shoes, channeling the musician's charm and relentless drive with a twinkle in his eye and a trombone tucked under his arm. We follow his journey from struggling musician to music maestro, witnessing the birth of his signature sound, the formation of his legendary band, and the meteoric rise to stardom that had audiences jitterbugging in the aisles.

Director Anthony Mann doesn't shy away from the challenges Miller faced, from navigating the cutthroat world of the music industry to overcoming personal setbacks. But even in the face of adversity, the film's heart beats with the rhythm of Miller's music, reminding us of the power of passion, perseverance, and a good swing solo to lift our spirits.

14. The Crown (2016-2023)

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Rotten tomatoes81%
iMBD78
Metacritic8.6
Olivia Colman

Olivia Colman

Imelda Staunton

Imelda Staunton

Jonathan Pryce

Jonathan Pryce

Lesley Manville

Lesley Manville

Dominic West

Dominic West

Matt Smith

Matt Smith

Claudia Harrison

Claudia Harrison

Tobias Menzies

Tobias Menzies

Marcia Warren

Marcia Warren

Jonny Lee Miller

Jonny Lee Miller

If Hollywood had a royal family, it would be the cast of "The Crown." This TV series, spanning from 2016 to 2023, reigns supreme as a captivating journey through the lives of iconic figures.

Claire Foy and Olivia Colman take turns channeling Queen Elizabeth II, navigating the choppy waters of her reign from wide-eyed young Queen to seasoned monarch. You'll witness pivotal moments – coronations, Cold War clashes, that awkward family Christmas with Charles and Camilla, all played out in opulent palaces and against the backdrop of a changing world.

This film is a human story, a window into a world of privilege and duty, and a reminder that even the most powerful woman in the world can still feel the weight of a crown.

Elizabeth portrays straight-up badass, reigning with grace and authority.

15. Cleopatra (1963)

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Rotten tomatoes56%
iMBD60
Metacritic7
Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor

Richard Burton

Richard Burton

Rex Harrison

Rex Harrison

Pamela Brown

Pamela Brown

George Cole

George Cole

Hume Cronyn

Hume Cronyn

Cesare Danova

Cesare Danova

Kenneth Haigh

Kenneth Haigh

Andrew Keir

Andrew Keir

Martin Landau

Martin Landau

Roddy McDowall

Roddy McDowall

Robert Stephens

Robert Stephens

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Yes, we're talking about the 1963 epic that nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox, turned Elizabeth Taylor into a violet-eyed goddess, and cemented the legend of Hollywood's most extravagant production.

Amidst the grandeur, "Cleopatra" weaves a tale of political intrigue and forbidden romance. Taylor's portrayal captures the essence of a woman navigating the treacherous waters of power, leaving an indelible mark on history.

The film transports us to a world where every gesture, every glance, is laden with significance. The chemistry between Taylor and Richard Burton, who plays Mark Antony, is palpable, a love affair that mirrors the sweeping sands of the Egyptian desert.

While the film faced challenges during production, its legacy endures as a testament to the audacity of Hollywood's golden era. The on-screen drama is echoed by the behind-the-scenes tales, creating a narrative that mirrors Cleopatra's own resilience in the face of adversity.

A Sparkling Toast to the Real Stars

So there you have it, a spotlight on films that capture the vibrant spirit of Hollywood's Golden Age. But remember, dear reader, that the curtain never truly falls on these stories.

Ultimately, biopics are a portal to a lost era, reminding us that the magic of movies, and the stars who light them up, are timeless.

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