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Here Are 9 Mesmerizing Biopics to Watch After Oppenheimer

Settle in with this must-watch list of biopics — from classics to new releases, these movies are essential.

By Grace Jidoun

People who changed the world aren’t always who you’d expect. Whether they’re a shy and awkward physicist or a Star Trek actress, moviegoers love to learn about influential people who made a mark on history. The best biopics don’t just hold a mirror up to these larger-than-life characters; they show us a different, often hidden side of them.

Christopher Nolan’s historical epic, Oppenheimer, does precisely this. The movie chronicles the life of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb.” Oppenheimer was the leader of The Manhattan Project, the team in charge of nuclear weapons development in World War II. An enigmatic man, he won several Nobel Prizes but was often caught up in his troublesome communist past and several scandalous love affairs. Through the film, we learn how his decisions and philosophies drove him to unimaginable heights and some unbelievable lows.

WATCH NBC Web Exclusive: "It is the Biggest Story of the Last 100 Years:" Matt Damon and Emily Blunt Talk Oppenheimer

Shot in IMAX format with the highest resolution cameras, everything about this movie is giant, from the awe-inspiring scenes and poignant topic to top-tier cast including Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey, Jr., Florence Pugh, Matt Damon, Rami Malek, and more.

We searched for equally impactful movies and rounded up the top nine biopics to shock, entertain, and inspire. From classics to new releases, here are our picks for the best biopics to watch after Oppenheimer.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

This 1962 classic is a shining example of the best qualities of visual storytelling. Earning seven Oscars, director David Lean transports you to the Arabian desert and inside the world of T. E. Lawrence, a British military officer and diplomat who fought against the Ottoman Empire in the Arab Revolt, resulting in the capture of Damascus in 1918.

Peter O’Toole is larger than life as Lawrence, riding gloriously into battle on the back of a camel against a backdrop of dramatic desert vistas. Also starring Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, and Sir Alec Guinness, it is widely regarded as a masterpiece and one of Hollywood's best war epics.

Be prepared: It's 4 hours long, but the spectacle will keep you riveted.

Gorillas in the Mist (1988)

No one can forget the heart-melting scene in which Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver) lies on the jungle floor and a 500-pound gorilla gently reaches out to hold her hand. This biopic is based on the life and work of Fossey, who saved mountain gorillas from extinction in the ‘70s and ‘80s. She studied them daily in the Rwandan jungles from 1966 until her murder at a remote rainforest camp in 1985. As with many great biopics, the film doesn’t gloss over controversial aspects of her life, from aggressive tactics with poachers (she set fire to one poacher's home) to her affair with married cameraman Bob Campbell.

In director Michael Apted's hands, we get an intriguing, multifaceted picture of Fossey. Maurice Jarre’s Oscar-winning soundtrack is particularly memorable, which moves from quiet and thoughtful to pulse-pounding extravagance throughout the film (he won the Oscar for Lawrence of Arabia, too).

Schindler’s List (1993)

The famous violin solo alone will bring you to tears. This biopic tells the story of German businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) and his accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), who together saved the lives of more than 1,000 Jewish refugees during the Holocaust by giving them factory jobs to avoid a horrible fate. One of the most chilling characters ever appearing on screen must be Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes), a sadistic Nazi officer and the movie’s central villain.

Heralded as one of Speilberg’s best films, he took a documentary approach with handheld cameras and black-and-white footage, which gave the film emotional depth and the urgency of a newsreel. Released 25 years ago, it’s still culturally relevant today. In fact, Spielberg asked that all royalties and residuals be given to the Shoah Foundation, the non-profit he founded to collect testimonies from genocide survivors. 

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

There is a fine line between genius and madness. Ron Howard’s biopic is more than 20 years old but just as gripping and heart-wrenching now as when it came out.

A Beautiful Mind tells the story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russell Crowe), a brilliant mathematician who suffered from bouts of paranoid schizophrenia for 30 years. At the age of 21, Nash laid the foundations of game theory (which still impacts us today), ultimately winning a Nobel Prize in Economics in 1994. Under Howard's guidance, Crowe embodied the role, bringing us along as he transitioned from eccentricity to insanity.

The Aviator (2004)

Another biopic focusing on a mad genius (we see a theme here), The Aviator is the life story of famous eccentric Howard Hughes. Rather than taking the typical route of so many Howard Hughes depictions — showing him with crazy hair, long fingernails, and Kleenex boxes on his feet — director Martin Scorsese rolls back to the early glory years of this great American innovator. Period lighting techniques and beautifully detailed recreations of Old Hollywood haunts such as the Coconut Grove Club draw the viewer into the frenetic and magical world of the jet age.

Three hours seems barely enough to cover the accomplishments of this fearless pilot, obsessive businessman, and Hollywood producer — once the world's wealthiest and most influential man.

Lincoln (2012)

What would a list of biopics be without one starring Daniel Day-Lewis? He is clearly fond of the genre, and Lincoln was perhaps his biggest star turn; it earned him a third Oscar for Best Actor, the only person ever to have achieved this incredible feat.

This Spielberg film spotlighted President Lincoln in the final months of his life when he struggled to draw the Civil War to a close and abolish slavery. Rather than portraying Lincoln as the powerful icon we learn about in history books, Lewis played him with hunched shoulders, a pensive look in his eyes, and a high-pitched voice. He reportedly lost 25 pounds for the role. Presented in muted earth tones, we see the human side of President Lincoln: Someone who is down-to-earth, self-educated, witty, and often conflicted about the choices he makes. 

The Theory of Everything (2014)

The Theory of Everything features another theoretical physicist but brings a touch of romance to this list. The biopic explores Stephen Hawking’s early years at Cambridge, where he met and fell in love with his future wife, Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), not long before he was diagnosed with ALS. The disease rendered him unable to move, swallow, or breathe. Still, Jane stayed by his side as he developed his ground-breaking theories on space-time singularities and exploding black holes.

Released four years before his death, Hawking praised the performance of Eddie Redmayne, who played Hawking and swept the awards that year, garnering an Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA. That unforgettable scene when Redmayne's Hawking says, “Where there is life, there is hope,” still gives us chills.

Woman In Motion (2019) - Peacock

The story of a Star Trek actress who challenged NASA to bring more diversity to the Space Shuttle Program is a film about everything that is right and wrong with the American space program. Before tackling NASA, Nichelle Nichols blazed a trail on TV, playing Lt. Uhura on Star Trek to become the first Black woman featured in a major series.

After Star Trek was canceled, she turned her attention to the Space Shuttle Program as a volunteer to help remedy its diversity problem Before Nichols' advocacy work, NASA had no women or people of color in their pilot classes or programs. Between 1981 and 2011, Nichols recruited 8,000 female and minority engineers, astronauts, and scientists. Though all the biopics on this list are inspiring, this is an uplifting watch that's good for the whole family. 

Shooting Stars (2023) - Peacock

Shooting Stars, streaming now on Peacock, is a biographical sports drama and epic right out of the gate. This is the origin story of LeBron James, the superstar forward of the Los Angeles Lakers and one of the greatest basketball players of all time. What makes it so powerful is the angle director Chris Robinson took, showing how LeBron rose above the struggles of a difficult childhood in Akron, Ohio, to reach the pinnacle of professional sports. Instead of taking the obvious route, showing him at his peak, the movie ends before he even reaches the NBA. The focus is on the strong male friendships of his high school crew (The Fab Five), showing how the support of a few key people made a difference.

Oppenheimer is now playing exclusively in theaters.

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