Hollywood views celebrity biopics as box office gold

Oscar worthy? Timothee Chalamet on the set of the Bob Dylan biopic in New York.

Oscar worthy? Timothee Chalamet on the set of the Bob Dylan biopic in New York. Photo: Getty

As the success of Christopher Nolan’s formidable biographical drama, Oppenheimer, continues to resonate, big name studios are going all out to cash in on the “biopic genre”.

Worldwide, the three-hour movie about the theoretical physicist and father of the atomic bomb J. Robert Oppenheimer played by Cillian Murphy has so far grossed almost $US1 billion ($1.54 billion), and claimed the holy grail with best film and best actor at the Oscars in March.

“The genre can be a box office goldmine, and it can also be an awards season juggernaut,” says Variety.

Right now, there are 15 feature films in either production or in the hands of editors classified as a celebrity biopic, many with a strategic plan to launch this year at international film festivals and in cinemas to qualify for nomination.

At the top of the biopic list is the world’s hottest celebrity, 28-year-old Dune and Wonka A-lister, Timotheé Chalamet, who was spotted for the first time last week on the set of the Bob Dylan musical biopic, A Complete Unknown.

Chalamet signed a contract in 2020 to play the iconic US singer-songwriter – who is now 82 years old and on a tour of his own – and revealed in a recent GQ interview the one thing he’s going to need to nail.


Timotheé Chalamet is in the process of becoming Bob Dylan. Photo: Getty

The voice

Chalamet employed the entire vocal and movement team used by fellow actor Austin Butler on Baz Luhrmann’s Oscar-nominated biopic Elvis, who didn’t impersonate the 1960s legend, but virtually became him.

“I just saw the way [Butler] committed to it all – and realised I needed to step it up,” Chalamet said.

He’s just one Hollywood celebrity prepared to bravely re-imagine another person’s life on the big screen.

Sebastian Stan is playing Donald Trump. Photo: TND

Sebastian Stan plays Donald Trump

Romanian-born US-based actor Sebastian Stan, 41, is best known for playing Bucky Barnes in the 2014 Marvel Universe film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

He’s worked on other projects including Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, but this film, currently in post-production, will be his biggest challenge to date … playing a former living American president in The Apprentice.

Especially one not afraid to either be flattered, or bag it endlessly on his social media networks.

Iranian filmmaker Ali Abbasi (The Last of Us) has also cast Jeremy Strong (Succession) as Roy Cohn and Maria Bakalova (Borat 2) as Ivana Trump.

IMDb says it’s “the story of how a young Donald Trump started his real estate business in New York during the 1970s and ’80s”.

White excelled in tap, jazz and ballet dancing before becoming an actor. Photo: TND

Jeremy Allen White as Bruce Springsteen

The Bear’s Jeremy Allen White, 34, scooped the awards pool this season and is in talks to play US rocker Bruce Springsteen, according to Variety, “in a movie about the making of Nebraska, the stripped-down 1982 album that marked a new artistic direction for the Boss”.

Can he sing?

He is a trained dancer, and if his vocal range gets some attention, he might just perform Born in the USA at the same chilling level Rami Malek did in the Live Aid We Are the Champions scene for the 2018 film, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Malek won best acting in a leading role for playing Freddie Mercury at the 91st Academy Awards.

The untitled musical biopic is in pre-production. Photo: TND

Selena Gomez plays singer Linda Ronstadt

Both of Mexican descent, the former Disney actress and pop singer Gomez, 31, won’t have any trouble with the song list, but it will be how she performs such classics as Blue Bayou.

Gomez previously posted an Instagram story of Ronstadt’s 2013 memoir Simple Dreams, which has led to speculation of the yet untitled film.

John Lennon Paul McCartney

Four biopics of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison are in the works. Photo: Getty

Celebrity biopic spin-off

Depictions of musicians can often trigger a whole new fandom, as was the case with Queen, and with Elton John playlists after Taron Egerton’s portrayal of the living legend in Rocketman in 2019.

Johnny Cash’s albums got a 50 to 80 per cent lift in downloads after the release of the 2015 biopic, Walk the Line, according to CNN Business, as did the Straight Outta Compton biopic, where downloads of the rap group’s music went up 200 per cent on Spotify.

Other biopics include:

  • Director Sam Mendes is making four separate biopics about each of the Beatles, set for release in 2027
  • Spiderman’s Tom Holland is set to play American Fred Astaire, regarded as the greatest popular music dancer of all time
  • Angelina Jolie returns to the big screen in Maria, playing opera diva Maria Callas [in post-production]
  • Jaafar Jackson is portraying his uncle Michael Jackson in Michael
  • Marisa Abela plays Amy Winehouse in music biopic Back to Black.
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