It's no wonder that 'The King's Speech' (opening Nov. 26) is generating a lot of Oscar talk. Besides boasting an acclaimed lead performance by Colin Firth, the movie tells the true story of a person who overcame long odds and personal obstacles to do something extraordinary In other words, it's a classic biopic, and the Academy loves those.
But then, so do we all. We're fascinated by larger-than-life tales of real-world heroes (or villains). In fact, at Moviefone, so many of our favorite movies are biopics that we had a hard time whittling down a list to just 25 favorites. (If we omitted one of yours, tell us below.) Check out the following list, see 'The King's Speech,' and let us know if you think it deserves a spot on the list as well.
25. 'Patton' (1970). Everyone remembers George C. Scott's iconic, stirring speech in front of a giant American flag at the opening of the movie. But the rest of Scott's Oscar-winning turn is iconic as well, revealing what made George S. Patton such a fearsome general on the field and such a terror off the field. Future 'Godfather' director Francis Ford Coppola won his first Oscar (shared with Edmund H. North) for the screenplay.
24. 'Persepolis' (2007). The only cartoon on this list, based on Marjane Satrapi's graphic-novel memoir, tells the story of the author's girlhood in revolutionary Iran and her adolescence in Europe, and how neither place felt like home. The simple black-and-white animation renders warm and humane the events that might otherwise be terrifying or absurd.
23. 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' (1942). Who says a biopic can't come in the form of a musical? But then, what would have been more fitting for the life of George M. Cohan, the Broadway performer and composer? James Cagney sings, dances and showboats his way through this rousing, patriotic spectacle; his Oscar-winning performance is an exhausting marvel.
22. '24 Hour Party People' (2002). Maybe the most irreverent film on this list, both toward its subject (Factory Records label founder Tony Wilson) and toward movie convention. Star Steve Coogan proves, like Wilson himself, to be a supreme put-on artist, full of asides to the camera, jokes, and baldfaced lies. Still, with this nose-thumbing narrative, director Michael Winterbottom seems to have found just the right tone with which to capture the influential Manchester music scene of the early New Wave era.
21. 'Napoleon' (1927). Incredibly, Abel Gance's massive epic (some cuts run as long as six hours) was meant to be only the first installment of a multi-part Bonaparte bio, but the French filmmaker never raised the funds for the rest. Still, this astonishing feature traces the Corsican general's rise to power, revealing his character through his formative years and capturing the spectacular military victories, via pioneering use of hand-held cameras, rapid-fire editing, widescreen compositions and split-screen photography.
20. 'Amadeus' (1984). Milos Forman's bio of Mozart (Tom Hulce), based on Peter Shaffer's play, is mostly highbrow hogwash, with it's lethal rivaly between Mozart and Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) largely invented for dramatic purposes. Still, the film is a brilliant pageant of color and music, as well as a sly meditation on the nature of genius and the mystery of creativity.
19. 'Downfall' (2004). This account of Adolf Hitler's final days, based on the recollections of his secretary, unwittingly became the source of a thousand YouTube parodies, subtitled with deliberate mistranslations of the Fuhrer's furious rage. Still, Bruno Ganz proved with his riveting performance to be the definitive movie Hitler.
18. 'The People vs. Larry Flynt'(1996). Another Milos Forman biopic, this one stands as a bawdy celebration of the freedom of expression he was often denied in his native Czechoslovakia but which has been guaranteed to him by law in America. After all, as Hustler magazine founder Flynt says late in the film, if the First Amendment protects a scumbag like himself, it'll protect us all. Woody Harrelson delivers a comic tour-de-force as the gleeful smut peddler, and Courtney Love is surprisingly good as his wife, Althea.
17. 'Gandhi' (1982). Richard Attenborough's retelling of the Mahatma's life can get a bit dry, but fortunately, there's Ben Kingsley, in a performance full of wit as well as serenity, to make the Indian leader seem a well-rounded man and not just a two-dimensional saint. Along the way, there's eye-filling spectacle, as if India were a sleeping giant slowly stirring to unruly life.
16. 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' (2007). Mathieu Amalric is simply amazing as Jean-Dominique Bauby, the French magazine editor paralyzed by a stroke, able to move only his left eye. Just as the real Bauby managed to communicate enough with that eye to dictate the memoir that inspired this movie, so too does Amalric prove unexpectedly expressive as a man with a vital mind trapped in an immobile shell.
15. 'Ray' (2004). Jamie Foxx won every award under the sun, and deservedly so, for his uncanny performance as Ray Charles. He doesn't just mimic Charles' performing style, he gets inside the character to reveal the stubborn will of a man who, in his music and his life, kept doing what others told him he could not.
14. 'Boys Don't Cry' (1999). There's nothing so all-American as reinventing yourself, as petty criminal Teena Brandon proves when she moves to a Nebraska town and lives as a man named Brandon Teena. Her act of deception proves fatally untenable, but Hilary Swank's remarkable performance (which made her a star and won her an Oscar) makes Teena's transformation seem perfectly natural.
13. 'Young Mr. Lincoln' (1939). No doubt Daniel Day-Lewis will do his usual incredible job when he plays Honest Abe in Steven Spielberg's upcoming biopic, but until then, the premier screen Lincoln is Henry Fonda. Though much of this story, set during Lincoln's early legal career, is fictional, Fonda manages to capture the folksiness, shyness, brilliance, courage and grief that will mark the future president.
12. 'Elizabeth' (1998). Director Shekhar Kapur found a new way to dramatize the oft-filmed lives of the Tudor dynasty that rejected the old stuffy, costume-drama approach: He shot the tale of the Virgin Queen as if he were making 'The Godfather,' complete with sex, violence and cross-cut editing. Aptly, Cate Blanchett recalls Al Pacino's Michael Corleone as she effects the chilly transformation from callow girl to ruthless, feared, isolated leader.
11. 'Milk' (2008). Sean Penn won his second Oscar for doing something he rarely does on screen: smiling. As pioneering, openly gay 1970s politician Harvey Milk, Penn plays a fortysomething guy who finally dares to become himself and, in the process, discovers joy. In turn, he does something really radical: he makes community activism and public service seem like fun.
10. 'Spartacus'(1960). Kirk Douglas' most memorable role may have been the rebellious slave leader in this stirring swords-and-sandals epic. Director Stanley Kubrick offers grand battle spectacle and intimate character drama with equal assurance, and he's blessed with a legion of wily, hissable Roman villains (notably, Laurence Olivier and Peter Ustinov). As the film's producer, Douglas proved similarly rebellious behind the scenes as well, hiring pariah screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and effectively ending the decade-long Hollywood blacklist.
9. 'American Splendor' (2003). Harvey Pekar, the cranky Cleveland clerk turned comic-book auteur, proves a heroic figure fit for the full biopic treatment in this splendid, comic-book style account of the author's rise to cult fame. With Paul Giamatti in the role he was born to play and Hope Davis as the fan who becomes Mrs. Pekar, this may be as close as we'll ever get to a film version of 'A Confederacy of Dunces.'
8. 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1928). One of the most intense movies ever made, Carl Theodor Dreyer's biopic of the French martyr is based on actual transcripts from her trial and built around Maria Falconetti's haunting, once-in-a-lifetime performance. (Literally. After this film, she was spent and never acted in another movie.)
7. 'The Elephant Man' (1980). In this Victorian tale, shot in gorgeous, dreamlike black and white by David Lynch, John Hurt plays John Merrick, the thoroughly disfigured man who's rescued from a sideshow by a sympathetic doctor (Anthony Hopkins) and becomes the toast of London society. Hurt completely transforms himself but reveals the sensitive soul hidden beneath layers of misshapen tissue and gnarled bone.
6. 'Coal Miner's Daughter' (1980). Long before 'Walk the Line' or 'Ray,' this Loretta Lynn life story set the standard for all pop-star biopics to come. Sissy Spacek won an Oscar for doing her own singing and for tracing Lynn's journey from child bride to overworked mom to glamorous Opry icon to burned-out wreck and back to devoted wife.
5. 'Malcolm X'(1992). No one but Spike Lee could have made this epic, which follows not just the Black Muslim firebrand's biography but also the history of urban African-American life in the tumultuous middle years of the 20th century. Denzel Washington gives one of his most impassioned performances as he portrays Malcolm X's evolution from zoot-suited street thug to convict to civil rights leader to spiritual pilgrim.
4. 'My Left Foot' (1989). Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar for his thorough immersion into the cerebral palsy-wracked body of Christy Brown, the Irish author and artist who learned to write and paint with the title appendage, the one limb he could control. Day-Lewis deserves credit for bringing Brown to raucous, profane, unsentimental life, but so does Hugh O'Conor, who plays the boy Christie with equally fierce determination.
3. 'Schindler's List' (1993). In the world of near-universal evil, how do you explain the shock of goodness like that of Oskar Schindler, the industrialist who risked his business, his fortune, and his life to save more than a thousand Polish Jews from the Holocaust? Wisely, Liam Neeson doesn't even try to explain it, delivering instead a tricky, close-to-the-vest performance as a con man confident enough to think he could cheat the Devil. Director Steven Spielberg brings all of his formidable gifts to bear on this story, giving it a feverish moral and dramatic intensity he's seldom approached before or since.
2. 'Raging Bull' (1980). If Jake LaMotta hadn't existed, Martin Scorsese might have had to invent him. As portrayed in this film, the Italian-American boxer is a human volcano, erupting with violence, machismo, sexual hangups, guilt, and possible redemption. An archetypal Scorsese anti-hero, he's played with total commitment by Robert De Niro, who popularized here the Method technique of ruining his body, packing on 60 pounds to play the older, heavier LaMotta. Working in silvery black and white and choreographing the boxing matches so that they play like sex scenes, Scorsese and De Niro create a character study that's horrifying, fascinating, and utterly compelling.
1. 'Lawrence of Arabia' (1962). The real T.E. Lawrence was an inscrutable figure, looming like a desert mirage and enshrouded by his own self-mythologizing, but David Lean's sand-swept masterpiece immerses you in its widescreen vistas and makes you feel like you're riding alongside him, charging across the dunes and fighting the Turks. Adding clarity are the piercing blue eyes of the impossibly beautiful young Peter O'Toole (in his first starring role) and a screenplay by Robert Bolt that offers some penetrating insights. Asked why he felt horror over a battlefield massacre, Lawrence hoarsely whispers, "I enjoyed it." So will you; you can't help but be swept along toward glory and annihilation.
•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.