Films and biopics (biographical pictures) are an excellent way to learn about the people who have shaped our past and who continue to shape our future.
Biopics are a great way to teach the extraordinary power of what one person can accomplish. In learning about their lives, we can use their example to help us mold our own lives. Here is a list of 50+ of the Best Character-Building Biopics.
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50+ of the Best Character-Building Biopics
In the midst of a racially divided high school, teacher Erin Gruwell inspires her “unteachable” students to break down the barriers that divide them. Using the Holocaust, she encourages her students to rise above their circumstances and intolerances. It’s based on the student’s real-life The Freedom Writers Diary.
The Imitation Game
Alan Turing is a socially awkward mathematician. During World War II, he helped the British break a German code called Enigma, which became vital in helping the Allies win the war. Turing wasn’t perfect, but his story teaches the importance of creativity, thinking big, courage, good work, and the importance of people.
The Ron Clark Story
Ron Clark leaves his small hometown to teach in a rough neighborhood in Harlem, NY. Today, he serves as an inspiration to teachers with his unique approaches to education that create a culture of respect and a willingness to learn.
The Man Who Knew Infinity
Srinivasa Ramanujan is a brilliant mathematician growing up in rural India. During World War I, he is given the chance to study at Cambridge University. With help from a mentor, Ramanujan makes incredible strides in the mathematics field.
Louie Zamperini’s story is a riveting tale of survival, resilience, and redemption. As a young boy, he often found himself getting into trouble. With help from his brother, Louie channels his spunk into running and ends up at the 1936 Nazi Olympics. Later, he uses his resilience and spirit to survive 47 days at sea stranded, and 2 years in a Japanese POW camp.
Front of the Class
This Hallmark Hall of Fame film shows it IS possible to overcome disabilities! Adam Cohen has Tourette syndrome. With love and support from his mother, Cohen strives to become “the teacher he never had.”
The Zookeeper’s Wife
During the Holocaust, Jan and Antonina Zabinski helped shelter 300 Jews and resistance members in their zoo over the course of the war. This is their incredible story filled with bravery and sacrifice. See: The Zookeeper’s Wife Movie Study
The Sound of Music
Maria von Trapp leaves life at the abbey to become a nanny to seven children in the midst of pre-WWII Austria. This based-on-a-true-story musical is a must-watch classic for every age range! It emphasizes the importance of trying something new, family, and facing your fears. See: The Sound of Music Movie Study
Loosely based on the true story of Joy Mangano, Joy is a rags-to-riches story of a divorced mom who grows a business enterprise. It’s more fiction than fact, but is still an entertaining film with great lessons on facing challenges. See: Joy Movie Study
Stand and Deliver
Jaime Escalante is a high school teacher who inspires his students in a low-performing high school to learn calculus. Using Advanced Placement tests, he shows that time and encouragement to encourage academic success.
Walt Before Mickey
Walt Disney wasn’t always a success! Here’s his story of his rise to fame and the creation of the beloved character Mickey Mouse. It’s a family-friendly movie that emphasizes the importance of perseverance and hard work.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, this is the story of Abraham Lincoln’s last four months in 1865. It’s more of a political drama than a war film, but focuses on Lincoln’s desire to work to abolish slavery and reunite America.
Claus von Stauffenberg and other members of the July 20th plot were involved in the last assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life.
Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story
Dr. Ben Carson grew up in poverty with a single mom. Through the help of his mother and older brother, Carson graduated from Yale University and became the first neurosurgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins. His story is filled with lessons on rising about circumstances, the importance of education, perseverance, working hard, and dreaming big.
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
A British maid becomes a missionary to China, caring for orphans and adopting several. In the months before the Japanese invaded China during WWII, she led over 100 orphans to safety over the mountains.
The Railway Man (R)
Eric Lomax was captured by the Japanese during WWII, and suffered severe torture in a POW camp. Decades later, his past continues to haunt him. When he and his wife discover his torturer is still alive, Lomax sets out for justice. What unfolds is a stunning lesson of forgiveness, humanity, and redemption.
Catch Me If You Can
This is the true story of a real fake. Frank Abagnale Jr. posed as a doctor, pilot, and lawyer and embezzled millions of dollars – all before turing 18. Part comedy, part drama, Abagnale isn’t the ideal role model, but his story is filled with creativity and ingenuity. It also emphasizes the importance of second chances.
During the Rwandan Genocide, around 500,000-1,000,000 Rwandans, mainly of the minority Tutsi, were murdered over a hundred day period. Hailed the African Schindler, a hotel owner shelters around 1,200 during the bloodshed. It’s a great film sparking discussion on genocide, racism, and courage.
Run Boy Run
Run, Boy, Run is incredibly hard to watch at times, but is an incredible story of courage, compassion and survival. An eight year old Jewish boy must figure out how to survive WWII in war-torn Poland. From battling the elements to losing his arm, he uses his wit and bravery in order to achieve the impossible.
A Beautiful Mind
John Forbes is a mathematical genius. He is also battling schizophrenia. Despite this, he works through his struggles and goes on to win a Nobel Laureate in Economics. It’s a story filled with perseverance and hope in the midst of struggling circumstances. This film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
The Great Debaters
Denzel Washington stars in this film about a professor in the 1930s. He inspires his students to form the school’s first debate team that eventually goes on to challenge Harvard.
Hidden in Silence
During the Holocaust, teenager Stefania Podgorska and her sister shelter thirteen Jews in their home for over two and a half years. It’s a memorable story filled with love, courage, and faith.
This survival thriller shows how one captain handled a hijacking by Somali pirates. It was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
The Pursuit of Happyness
Chris Gardner battles a variety of challenges, including homelessness, with his young son before becoming a successful stockbroker and investor. It is a sweet film that can be hard to watch at times, but is filled with so many quality lessons on perseverance, hard work, and family. I cannot recommend this film highly enough! See: The Pursuit of Happyness Movie Guide
Flash of Genius
Patents and contracts are typically boring subjects. In this flick, Robert Kearns takes on the Ford Motor Company after they steal his patents for the intermittent windshield wiper. He becomes obsessed with suing Ford; a lawsuit he later wins. It’s a great flick about our legal system, power, and injustice.
Captain “Sully” Sullenberger saved the lives of 155 passengers on his airplane in a miraculous landing. In the aftermath, Sully must deal with those who questioned his decision. In our age of great digital advancement, this is a story of how human judgement is sometimes necessary for success.
Queen of Katwe
A Ugandan girl’s life is changed drastically when she learns she has a gift for chess. This Disney film can be slow at times (it’s a movie about chess) but is a great family movie with valuable lessons.
Meet Katherine Johnson, a “human computer” who overcomes gender and racial barriers to help take us to the moon and beat the Soviets in the Space Race. This is one of our family’s favorite biopics, is filled with so many great moments and lessons that encourage everyone to pursue the impossible.
With much perseverance, William Wilberforce works to pass a law ending the British slave trade in the 18th century. He and many others worked over two decades to get slavery abolished.
In this court drama, a woman must prove the Holocaust happened in order to win a libel case. It’s a simple film about justice, the (British) legal system, and Holocaust denial.
The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler
Irena Sendler rescued 2,500 Jewish children during the Holocaust. Miraculously, all of the children she aided survived the war. This Hallmark Hall of Fame film is one of my favorite biopics ever. The violence is toned down, making it a solid choice for younger teens.
The Blind Side
Michael Oher was one of twelve children, born to a drug-addicted mother. For most of his life, he had been in and out of foster homes and battling homelessness. Walking home one night, a family, The Tuohy’s, take him in. As much as the Tuohy’s change his life, he changes theres. Michael went on to become a professional NFL football player for the Baltimore Ravens. This is an inspirational must-watch for teens and adults!
Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play major league baseball. Battling much racism in the 1940s, Robinson used his talent and nonviolence to help break racial barriers in the world of baseball.
The Greatest Game Ever Played
This Disney flick tells the story of the early life of golf champion Francis Ouimet who lived in the early 1900s. He is dubbed the “father of amateur golf.” It’s a story of battling fulfilling your dreams and meeting expectations.
Deep in the middle of the Depression, James J. Braddock is losing – both in the boxing and ring and out of it as he works to provide for his wife and three children. Braddock overcame all odds and was nicknamed “Cinderella Man” for his great comeback in this feel-good story about resilience.
Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger dreamed of playing football at the University of Notre Dame. Facing many challenges such as dyslexia along the way, Rudy’s story is filled with “courage, commitment, character, and contribution.”
In the 1936 Nazi Olympics, Jesse Owens defied racial expectations and went on to win four gold medals. The most successful athlete at the games, Owens battled racism at the games and on his home turf.
Chariots of Fire
Christian runner Eric Liddell and Jewish runner Harold Abrahams work to overcome prejudices in their life. Eric won gold at the 1924 Paris Olympics, while keeping to his convictions throughout his journey. After the Olympics, Eric followed the footprints of his parents and became a missionary in Asia. His continued journey is told in the movie On Wings of Eagles.
Bethany Hamilton lives in Hawaii with her great family, and is on her way to becoming a professional surfer. At 13 years old, a shark attack leaves her with one arm. As she learns how to surf with one arm, Bethany perseveres against all odds and achieves the impossible. It’s based on her memoir, Soul Surfer.
Alvin York was the most highly decorated soldier during WWI. This is his story of faith, bravery and heroism. It was made in 1942, so the violence is greatly toned down, making it a solid choice for teens.
Winston Churchill led Britain during World War II and is one of the greatest historical figures in the 20th century. This is his story.
Schindler’s List (R)
Oskar Schindler was a Nazi, womanizer, and a hero. During the Holocaust, he helped save 1,100 Jews by employing them in his ammunitions and enamelware factory. This Academy Award winning biopic is difficult to watch at times, but is an excellent choice for mature teens and adults. It is filled with many thought-provoking lessons on morality, racism, heroism, and courage.
American Sniper (R)
Chris Kyle is a Navy SEAL who is known for being the most lethal sniper in US history. It’s a patriotic film reminding us of courage, self-sacrifice, and PTSD.
Lone Survivor (R)
Lone Survivor is an extraordinary story of courage not only because of the Navy SEALs at its front, but also because of an unlikely man who rescues our protagonist from the Taliban. After committing an act of mercy, four SEALs find themselves under extreme fire against fatal odds. The film is hard to watch at a lot of times, but is a strong reminder of sacrifice and brotherhood.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
This movie is a must-watch for teenagers who ever thought of changing the world. During World War II, a group of German college students worked to create pamphlets spreading anti-Nazi messages. During the course of the war, their group, nicknamed the White Rose, published six leaflets. This incredible
The Hiding Place
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” -Corrie ten Boom
During the Holocaust, Corrie and her family sheltered Jews in their closet. Despite she and her sister facing imprisonment, they hold fast to their faith and refuse to give in to despair.
Hacksaw Ridge (R)
Hacksaw Ridge should be viewed by every American and by every Christian. During WWII, pacifist and medic Desmond Doss finds himself in the bloody Battle of Okinawa. In an astounding act of heroism, Doss saves the lives of 75 men. Doss it the only conscientious objector to have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Purposefully, it doesn’t have any hard language or sexual content. It’s one of the most graphic films I’ve ever seen, but is also one of the most miraculous and noteworthy.
Do you have any movies to add to this list? Comment your recommendations below!