When Hollywood goes looking for a captivating story to tell, they need not look any further than real women. From inspiring tales about how a single mom became a household name for her cleaning products to a story of three mathematicians who changed the course of NASA forever, the stories of fearless women are everywhere. And something about the phrase “inspired by a true story” adds a whole new level of intrigue to a film.
Some biographical movies are meant to make us think, while others make us feel things we never knew were waiting to surface. But, no matter which category these 16 films fall into, they all motivate, inspire and stick with us long after the credits start rolling.
1. Freedom Writers
Fresh out of grad school, real-life rookie teacher Erin Gruwell was tasked with “educating” a class of at-risk teenagers deemed to be incapable learners. But because of her nurturing spirit, she desired to help the students defy the odds they were given. She encouraged the class to keep journals of their daily experiences to improve their writing skills and found a way to make learning fun for them again, helping them all graduate and many became the first in their family to go to college.
2. Erin Brockovich
Playing a down-on-her-luck single mom turned paralegal earned Julia Roberts an Oscar. After a traffic accident and a series of subsequent events land her a job at her former attorney’s office, Brockovich began looking into a case involving a community that was horribly affected by the presence of a multi-million dollar power company. From there, she single-handedly led an investigation and earned settlements for the victims.
3. Coco Chanel
Before Chanel came to exist, Coco worked as a cabaret singer at a bar. In the meantime, she also found employment as a seamstress before transforming into the fashion maven we all remember her for today. And of course, her character wears a string of pearls the whole movie! This is the film that brings the icon to life.
If you love to clean then surely you’ve heard of Joy Mangano. This film tells the real-life empowering story of one of the country’s biggest self-made businesswomen. She invented the self-wringing Miracle Mop and Huggable Hangers, among other things. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy after this came out.
5. Battle of the Sexes
Anything a man can do, a woman can do better. Right, ladies?! Just ask tennis player, Bobby Riggs. In the rise of the women’s movement, a 1973 tennis match between women’s world champion, Billie Jean King, and former men’s champ Riggs was billed as the Battle of the Sexes and became one of the most watched sports events of all time. And who won? Billie of course!
6. The Blind Side
What would you do if you had the opportunity to change someone’s life? That’s exactly what Southern mama, Leigh Anne Tuohy did. She and her family took in a homeless teenager with little formal education named Michael Oher. After earning his trust, Leigh Anne takes charge and gets Michael playing football at school, in addition to helping him bring his grades up. All of her hard work paid off as Michael graduated and was the first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2009 NFL draft.
7. The Color of Friendship
Skin color doesn’t define anyone. That’s a lesson Piper Dellums quickly learned growing up. In The Color of Friendship, we see the true story of a developing friendship between two girls in 1977 Washington, DC. Piper, a black teen from Washington, DC, and Mahree, a wealthy white teen from apartheid South Africa discover that they have more in common than they initially thought. Plus, it’s a Disney Channel Original Movie which basically guarantees it to be a classic.
Selena tells the true story of famed Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla. The Texas native began singing in a family band featuring her brother and sister at the push of their father, who was once in a band of his own. As she grew older and more talented, the singer rose to fame before her life was tragically cut short. The Grammy-winner was not only a songstress, but also the founder of her own clothing line, boutique, and beauty salon. Truly an inspiration to all young women.
9. Eat, Pray, Love
Ever feel like you want to escape to another country and rediscover yourself? That’s exactly what author Elizabeth Gilbert did. Her best-selling memoir detailing her journey of self-discovery post-divorce took her to Italy, India, and Bali. Talk about wanderlust!
Telling the true story of legendary painter Frida Kahlo, this film follows the love and life challenges Frida faced to become the most acclaimed artist in Mexican history. And even through her tumultuous love affair with Diego and a battle with polio, Frida stayed committed to making art and completely true to herself. There’s a reason she’s one of the most iconic people in history.
11. Introducing Dorothy Dandridge
Working as a nightclub singer before breaking into Hollywood, Dorothy Dandridge went on to become the first black woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. Actress Halle Berry pulled out all the stops to portray the confidence Dorothy has throughout everything. Halle, as well as the character, is completely awe-inspiring.
Talk about a survival story! Driven to life on the edge after the loss of her mother and the ending of her marriage, Cheryl Strayed made the decision to try to turn around her bad luck and set out to put her life back together. Without a lick of outdoor experience and a heavy backpack, Cheryl (played by Reese Witherspoon) traveled alone to explore the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the longest and toughest trails to hike. Based on a phenomenal novel written by Strayed herself, there’s a reason this film had a ton of buzz when it came out.
13. The Iron Lady
Who runs the world? Girls! Literally. The Iron Lady chronicles the life and career of the first and only female Prime Minister of The United Kingdom. Despite plenty of sexism, she transformed from a suburban mama into a parliamentary powerhouse. She was given the nickname of “Iron Lady,” from a Soviet journalist because of her stern leadership style. Plus, getting played by Meryl Streep in the film adaptation of your life, talk about a compliment!
14. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
The film tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose cancerous cells were used without her consent to create the first immortal human cell line. An uncredited pioneer in the medical world, it’s completely absurd that not only wasn’t she asked if they could take her cells, but also that she and her family weren’t compensated for the extraction. Highlighting some pretty awful wrongs in history, but at least the film gives some exposure to Henrietta’s story.
15. A League of Their Own
Who says a woman’s place is in the kitchen? When it comes to the Rockford Peaches, the baseball field is where they belong. In this biographical movie, two sisters join an all-female baseball league formed when World War II brings professional baseball to a standstill. Their inspiring display of athleticism makes us want to grab a baseball bat just for fun. Did we mention that they did this all in skirts? YEP.
16. Hidden Figures
Three African-American female mathematicians served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in U.S. history: putting astronaut John Glenn into orbit. As America raced against Russia to get into space, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson, known as “human computers,” were tasked with making it happen and fought plenty of racism and sexism along the way. What’s even crazier is that many people never knew their story until the 2016 film came out.