Biopics: The Genre Has Had Enough

Lambert AP Macroeconomics teacher and soccer coach Mr. Shroyer watching a movie during some downtime. Photograph by Chitvan Singh, taken on February 13, 2023.

Lambert AP Macroeconomics teacher and soccer coach Mr. Shroyer watching a movie during some downtime. Photograph by Chitvan Singh, taken on February 13, 2023.

When you look at the lineup of big budget Hollywood movies in recent years, there’s one trend that’s almost unmistakable: Biopics. Hollywood slang for “biographical pictures,” biopics are movies that dramatize the life of a historical figure for the purposes of entertainment, resulting in a big-budget production based on real events.

Just this past year, we saw films such as “Blonde” and “Elvis” that offered dramatic recounts about the lives of Marylin Monroe and Elvis Presley. Next year, we’ll see the highly anticipated “Oppenheimer,” a gritty narrative about the man that built the first atomic bomb.

In Hollywood, these movies are an easy way to make money. There’s little need to think of something new, and the nostalgia surrounding these iconic figures practically guarantees a degree of audience appeal. 

However, biopics still face a lot of issues in finding long lasting success. One such is the degree of controversy that surrounds their portrayal of certain figures. In their nature, they warp the stories of real people, inherently misleading the audience to some degree.

“Blonde,” for example, distorts the life of Marilyn Monroe to a laughable degree. While it’s true that the actress was often a victim of the establishment in Hollywood at the time, the film paints her as someone who was forced to endure these conditions without standing up for herself.

In this way, the film neglects the accomplishments of the actress in taking control of her own life. When she was treated unfairly, Marylin Monroe started her own production company. When she was mistreated, she spoke up about it and constantly fought for fair conditions. By reducing her down to nothing but a victim, the film reflects negatively upon her legacy, undermining her achievements. 

“Elvis,” on the other hand, glosses over many of the faults of Elvis Presley. While the film is at least more true to the character than “Blonde,” it avoids a lot of uncomfortable aspects of the late singer’s life. 

For example, the biopic focuses a lot on Elvis’s relationship with his wife, Priscilla Presley. What it avoids, however, is the questionable nature of how their relationship started. They started dating when Priscilla was 14 and Elvis was 21 which opens up some uncomfortable questions regarding Elivis Presley’s character.

By neglecting to mention the disturbing, or sometimes even malicious parts of a historical figure’s personality, biopics present an ethically questionable view of history. It’s wrong to twist someone’s real life and experiences for entertainment. 

Another problem lies simply in their presentation. The way that most biopics visually present stories is through a unique artistic style, customized for the specific protagonist. “Elvis” had a flashy aesthetic, drawing upon the nostalgic colors of the 1960s to showcase Elvis’ stardom. “Blonde,” meanwhile, had a very gritty and dark atmosphere, tying into the struggles of the prejudiced actress. 

However, for audiences, these movies have grown increasingly tiring. The formulaic process of writing a film about a  celebrity’s life is boring. Despite their flair, most biopics follow a fairly basic plot. A character is introduced, faced with hardships as they build their career, and finally they come out stronger. The differences between main characters barely help, only editing minor aspects of this formula.

“While a lot of them have little quirks that differentiate them, the basic structure remains the same,” Advanced Placement Macroeconomics teacher and movie enthusiast Coach Shroyer said. “Pretty much all the movies about rock stars have the same plot.”

Simply put, the flash fails. Biopics provide inaccurate depictions of history, not to mention predictable and bland stories. If Hollywood fails to make new ideas, audiences will undoubtedly get bored of the genre.

Biopics are loaded with issues. It’s clear that Hollywood needs to curate new ideas instead of relying on historical recounts with flashy style. Moving away from the trend of biopics is pretty much the only strategy to prevent the extinction of the entire genre. Sometimes, in order to preserve a good thing, you have to recognize when it’s been enough.