Biopics trashed by families, friends and fans – ranked!

JRR Tolkien’s family have disowned the forthcoming biopic, starring Nicholas Hoult, but they are far from the only clan disenchanted with films about their loved ones

15. The Fifth Estate (2013)

Julian Assange wrote a letter to Benedict Cumberbatch urging the actor not to play him in this WikiLeaks origin story, arguing that the project was “a work of political opportunism, influence, revenge and, above all, cowardice”. If only it had been that interesting.

14. Patch Adams (1998)

Not merely the nadir in the work of Robin Williams, this was publicly disparaged by its real-life subject, Dr Hunter “Patch” Adams, who regretted the omission of his activism and his attempts to build a free hospital in favour of the saccharine and the sentimental.

13. The Late Shift (1996)

This HBO film about the late-night talk-show wars prompted David Letterman to criticise the portrayal of him by John Michael Higgins. “His interpretation seems to be that I’m, well, a circus chimp. He looks like he’s insane, like he’s a budding psychopath.” Higgins confessed that he took the part to pay for the steering column on his Subaru. “I needed $300 or I wouldn’t have a steering wheel.”

12. Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)

Not strictly a biopic, but close enough to make Hunter S Thompson shudder. He was fine with Bill Murray’s performance as him but called the film “horrible” and “a cartoon”. It followed him around like a bad smell. “It’s like go into a bar somewhere and people start to giggle and you don’t know why, and they’re all watching that fucking movie.”

Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as Stephen and Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything.
Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as Stephen and Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Photograph: Allstar/Working Title/Sportsphoto Ltd

11. The Theory of Everything (2014)

Jane Hawking’s memoir Travelling to Infinity was the basis for this acclaimed film, but she accused it of misrepresenting several elements of her relationship with Stephen Hawking, from their first meeting through to the logistics of their marriage together. She also noted that her on-screen self, played by Felicity Jones, “didn’t seem to have any friends or relations at all”.

10. The Social Network (2010)

One of the finest films of this century gets even better once you know that it irritated Mark Zuckerberg, played here by Jesse Eisenberg. The Facebook founder commended it on its sartorial authenticity – he owned up to every single T-shirt worn on-screen by Eisenberg, not to mention the sandals – but queried factual inaccuracies that made him appear monstrously flawed. To which his detractors can only say: bring on the sequel. Please.

9. The Blind Side (2009)

Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for playing the adoptive mother of Michael Oher, a homeless teenager who made it to the NFL and the Super Bowl. Oher himself became disenchanted with the picture’s portrayal of him as a know-nothing tutored in the ways of the football field by Bullock. “Sports is all I had growing up, and the movie made me look like I didn’t know anything,” he complained.

Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.
Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side. Photograph: Warner Bros/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

8. Nina (2016)

Zoe Saldana, cast as Nina Simone, later admitted: “I didn’t think I was right for the role.” She wasn’t the only one. Controversy raged over the physical disparity between actor and subject (Saldana wore skin-darkening makeup for the role), but the singer’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, blamed the movie rather than Saldana. “She brought her best to this project, but … she’s not responsible for any of the writing or the lies” – lies that, according to Kelly, included a romantic relationship between Simone and her (gay) manager.

7. Grace of Monaco (2014)

Full of pricelessly kitsch moments, this biopic of Grace Kelly starring Nicole Kidman was rounded on by Monaco’s royal family. Responding to the trailer rather than the full movie, the palace said in an official statement that “history has been misappropriated for purely commercial purposes” and concluded that it “appears to be a farce”. How right they were.

6. Wired (1989)

Friends and relatives of the comic John Belushi, who died of a drugs overdose in 1982, were vitriolic in their condemnation of Bob Woodward’s 1984 biographical book, so they were hardly likely to provide poster quotes for the film version. John Landis, director of The Blues Brothers and Animal House, threatened to sue for invasion of privacy, while Dan Aykroyd got the great JT Walsh sacked from a comedy they were making together for the crime of having played Woodward in Wired.

Chloe Webb, Gary Oldman and Kathy Burke in Sid and Nancy.
Chloe Webb, Gary Oldman and Kathy Burke in Sid and Nancy. Photograph: Everett/REX/Shutterstock

5. Sid and Nancy (1986)

Alex Cox’s inventive punk biopic is one of the finest British films of the 1980s, but John Lydon had serious problems with its integrity. He had encouraged Cox to stray extravagantly far from the truth – for example, suggesting Cox make the Johnny Rotten character a scouser – but later mourned the lack of squalor in the finished picture. Lydon alleged that it glamorised drug addiction “with that stupid riding-off-to-heaven-at-the-end stuff”, a reference to the final shot of Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) and Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb) sharing a taxi to the afterlife.

4. England Is Mine (2017)

Or Morrissey: The Prequel. Those close to the singer (played by Jack Lowden) in the pre-Smiths years took umbrage at this listless and cursory before-he-was-famous biopic. Morrissey’s childhood friend James Maker, ex-frontman of Raymonde, rejected the depiction of the singer as “an autistic, retiring creature … who had to be physically pushed into becoming a singer by a well-meaning friend”, and called the film “disingenuous” and “insulting” on the basis of the trailer alone. Morrissey’s sister, Jacqueline, described it as “a lie” and “a shambles”. Had she and Maker bothered to see the picture, they would have found it to be far worse than that, although still nowhere near as damaging to the Morrissey legend as everything the singer has said and done in the past decade.

3. The End of the Tour (2015)

Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky spent five days with the novelist David Foster Wallace on his Infinite Jest book tour, then wrote up the result as his own book, Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, in 2010. The resulting film, with Jesse Eisenberg as Lipsky and Jason Segel as Wallace, was pilloried by all who knew the late writer. Lawyers for Wallace’s family and literary trust said they “neither endorsed nor support” the film. “David would have howled the idea for it out of the room had it been suggested while he was living,” claimed his editor, Michael Pietsch, while his friend Glenn Kenny called it “risible” and discerned in Segel’s work a “ghoulish self-aggrandisement”.

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book.
‘A symphony of lies’ ... Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book. Photograph: Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

2. Green Book (2018)

For the relatives of Don Shirley, Green Book was in their bad books. They were less than thrilled about the script’s portrayal of the pianist (played by Mahershala Ali) in this Oscar-winning road movie, branding it “a symphony of lies”. They claimed the central friendship with his driver, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen), was exaggerated (“It was an employer-employee relationship,” said Shirley’s sister-in-law Patricia), and disputed the notion that the Italian-American driver taught his African-American passenger how to be black. “No one, EVER, had to teach my brother how to eat fried chicken,” complained Shirley’s brother Maurice.

1. Diana (2013)

The romance between Diana, Princess of Wales, played with misguided, simpering conviction by Naomi Watts, and the heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), is rendered in gloriously bad dialogue that threatens at every point to turn the picture into Carry On Princess. Here’s Khan to Diana in a lift: “Are you going down?” Or her to him: “At the palace, we stay open very late.” Or him on her cooking: “Pretty hot stuff.” Khan himself was unimpressed by what he had glimpsed of the film, accusing it of being based on “hypotheses and gossip”. One still image was enough to convince him something was awry — “I could tell immediately those were never our mannerisms at all.” He vowed not to see the movie, missing out in the process on the comedy of the decade.


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