The biopic is one of Hollywood’s oldest genres, going back to early-20th century movies about historical figures like Beethoven, Cleopatra, and General Custer. As time went on, biopics began to tackle more recent subjects, sometimes being based on events that happened only a few years prior to the release of the film.
In fact, there are even a few unique cases where people had the opportunity to just go ahead and play themselves in movies based on their lives, such as Howard Stern (Private Parts), Muhammad Ali (The Greatest), and Audie Murphy (To Hell and Back).
Not surprisingly, as actors started playing real life people that were still around and could weigh in on how they were being portrayed by Hollywood, the reaction wasn’t always positive. Very few of us will ever know what it’s like to see an actor play us in a movie and watch them going through fictionalized versions of significant events in our lives, so it’s tough to find fault with people criticizing actors and movies that don’t get things quite right.
Unfortunately, that sometimes goes with the territory of being a public figure, and you don’t always get much– if any– say in who is going to play you, how they’re going to play you, or what Hollywood liberties are going to be taken with events that you actually lived through.
Here are 15 Biopics That Were Hated By Their Subject.
15. All Eyez On Me – Jada Pinkett-Smith
All Eyez on Me, the biopic about the life and career of late rapper Tupac Shakur, was a troubled production that saw many issues on its journey to theaters– including the highly publicized exit of original director John Singleton. Post-release, the movie was met with mostly negative reviews and a fairly tepid box office performance.
It wasn’t just critics who disliked the film, though. Jada Pinkett-Smith, who was a lifelong friend of Shakur going back to the days before he was famous, took to Twitter to express her disappointment in how the movie depicted her and her relationship with the rapper. Beyond taking issue with the movie completely changing key moments between the pair, including manufacturing a dramatic goodbye that Smith says never happened, Smith called the entire portrayal of their friendship in the film “deeply hurtful.”
However, Smith also made sure to point out that she harbors no ill will toward the actress who played her in the movie (Kat Graham), praising her performance and saying she did the best job she could’ve done with the material she was given.
14. Catch Me If You Can – Frank Abagnale
Sometimes the subject of a biopic can change their mind about their movie after a few years of reflection. Such is the case of Frank Abagnale, whose incredible story of fun, fraud, and forgery in the ’60s was turned into the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Initially, Abagnale had a positive reaction to the film, even praising some of the changes that were made– for instance, in real life, Abagnale never saw his father again after running away from home as a teenager. But the movie depicts Abagnale continuing to have a relationship with his father throughout his capers and frames his desire to please his father as the catalyst for much of his adventurers. Abagnale loved the idea, admitting that he thought about his parents daily and would’ve loved to reconnect with his father.
As time went on, though, Abagnale began to sour on the movie. A few years ago, he began to publicly express regret about the film being made, saying that he isn’t proud of the things he did during those years and hates that they have been immortalized– and glamorized– in movie form.
13. Patch Adams – Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams
While a box office success, critics were very hard on the Robin Williams comedy Patch Adams, which told the story of a real-life doctor who uses humor and clown costumes to help ease the suffering of his patients. Reviews used words like “dopey,” “shameless,” and “obnoxious” to describe not only the movie itself, but Williams’ performance as the titular physician.
But nobody was harder on Patch Adams than the real “Patch” Adams, who was angry at how the film only focused on the comedic elements of his practice and didn’t spend much time on more important things like his activism work or struggle to build a free hospital. Adams also went in on Williams in particular, blasting the actor for making $21 million playing him for only a few months and not giving any of that money back to the hospital depicted in the film.
After Williams died in 2014, Adams’ opinions of the actor softened considerably. He recalled Williams’ kindness, both to the cast and crew of the film and to Adams and his family, and acknowledged that the movie did help to bring awareness to his work.
12. The Blind Side – Michael Oher
On its surface, The Blind Side tells an uplifting real-life story about a troubled African American youth (Michael Oher) who was rescued from a potential life of crime by a generous family and was eventually drafted by the NFL. It even earned Sandra Bullock an Oscar for her portrayal of Oher’s adoptive mother.
However, many people accused the movie of perpetuating the “white savior” trope, in which it is implied that a black person would never be able to make it without the help of a saintly white person.
Oher himself has also expressed his displeasure with the film and the way it portrays him, taking issue with how “simple” the movie makes him seem. The NFL linebacker, who currently plays for the Carolina Panthers and has a Super Bowl win under his belt, has also complained the the movie has complicated his career, causing people to scrutinize him far more closely than other players simply because the film brought him extra attention and recognition.
11. Notorious – Lil’ Kim
Notorious, the biopic made about rapper Christopher Wallace– aka The Notorious B.I.G.– has among its producers mother Voletta Wallace, and longtime friend and collaborator Sean “Diddy” Combs. So it might seem as though the movie is a lot more honest and accurate than it might have been had it had little to no involvement from some of the people who knew him best. As it turns out, the film does completely misrepresent one of the people in Wallace’s life, at least according to that person– rapper Lil’ Kim.
Kim was critical of the movie before filming even began, saying that she was given very little opportunity to give her input on her role in Wallace’s life. After seeing the film, her fears that it would get things all wrong were apparently justified, as the rapper complained that the movie seemed to be based more on her on-stage persona than her as a person, presenting more of a caricature than a fully-developed human being.
Wallace’s mother, Voletta, didn’t take too kindly to Kim’s backlash, saying that the movie isn’t about her. Diddy expressed a similar sentiment, saying that although Kim has a right to be angry, it’s Biggie’s movie, not hers.
10. The Late Shift – David Letterman
Based on the book of the same name, the 1996 HBO film The Late Shift tells the story of longtime Tonight Show host Johnny Carson retiring, and the battle between Jay Leno and David Letterman to take over his spot.
A common criticism of the movie is that it portrays Leno as something of an innocent bystander to his manager Helen Kushnick’s bullying and at times unethical fight on his behalf to get him the coveted hosting gig. The real Helen Kuschnick would go on to bring a libel lawsuit against the movie’s producers.
Kushnick wasn’t the only person who had a problem with the movie, though. David Letterman criticized the film in a way that only he could, saying it was “the biggest waste of film since [his] wedding photos.” He also wasn’t kind to actor Michael Higgins, who portrayed him in the movie, saying that Higgins’ performance made him look like a “psychotic chimp.”
Higgins claimed as recently as 2009 that Letterman still hated him for doing the movie, and in the one time the actor was booked to be on Letterman’s show, he was bumped and not told why– nor was a make up appearance offered.
9. Pain & Gain – Marc Schiller
In one of his breaks between Tranformers movies, Michael Bay produced and directed the 2013 action/comedy Pain & Gain, about a group of bodybuilders who embark on a life of crime. Said bodybuilders are portrayed by charismatic, charming actors Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie, and the movie is set up to make you sympathize with– and even like– these guys, despite the horrible things they end up doing.
Black comedies led by criminals who you reluctantly root for isn’t the worst thing in the world– except when they are based on actual events that led to the gruesome murders of real people. Several of the surviving victims and families of dead victims of the events that inspired Pain & Gain spoke out against the movie, saying that it made a fun action romp out of extremely tragic events.
Marc Schiller in particular, who actor Tony Shalhoub’s character Victor Kershaw was based on, said that the movie showed the perpetrators in a lighthearted, fun manner and him and the other victims in a silly way that intentionally keeps the audience from having sympathy for them. He said the film “made a mockery of [him] and the pain and suffering [he] endured.”
8. Moneyball – Art Howe
There are a lot of little issues with the accuracy of the 2011 baseball movie Moneyball— it features a character singing a song that wouldn’t be released until six years after the events of the movie and it underplays the importance of key players who joined the As.
Former team manager Art Howe was not happy with the liberties taken by the filmmakers. Howe took serious issue with how he was portrayed in the movie, right down to physical appearance– he actually complained about actor Philip Seymour Hoffman’s weight and how he was never as big as the actor. But the criticisms go beyond the superficial.
Howe also said that the movie’s depiction of him being reluctant to use relief pitcher Chad Bradford, and not being supportive of first baseman Scott Hatteberg, is completely inaccurate. Hattberg confirmed this by saying that he never felt like he wasn’t Howe’s first choice.
7. Where the Buffalo Roam – Hunter S. Thompson
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the 1998 film based on the autobiographical works of Hunter S. Thompson, came with the writer’s seal of approval, as he was a big fan of director Terry Gilliam and a personal friend of Johnny Depp, who played him in the film. However, the first completed attempt to depict the writer in movie form wasn’t quite as appreciated by Thompson.
While technically a comedy, Where the Buffalo Roam saw Bill Murray in one of his earliest attempts at meatier acting work. While Thompson spoke highly of Murray and of his performance in the film, the writer pulled no punches with his opinion on the movie itself, calling it a “horrible pile of crap.”
6. Black Mass – Whitey Bulger and Kevin Weeks
In recent years, Johnny Depp has struggled to earn the accolades that used to accompany most of his output 10+ years ago. One of the bright spots was Black Mass, a well-received biopic that has Depp playing gangster Whitey Bulger– also the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed— and joined by Jesse Plemons, playing Bulger associate Kevin Weeks. That positive response certainly wasn’t coming from the real Bulger or Weeks, however.
Currently serving two life sentences for his crimes, Bulger hasn’t seen Black Mass but nevertheless has strong opinions about it. Speaking via a statement from his attorney, Bulger said that the movie unfairly puts all the blame on him for the crimes he was involved in– and that the “real menace” in the Boston mafia scene during that time was the federal government, which the movie glosses over.
Kevin Weeks, who was able to see the film, had similar sentiments about what he sees as a conspiracy against the men involved that absolves the government of their role in those crimes and murders, calling the movie “pure fiction.” He also criticized Plemons’ portrayal of him, saying it made him look like a “moron” and a “low-life.”
5. What’s Love Got To Do With It – Ike Turner
In the critically-acclaimed biopic What’s Love Got To Do With It, Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne were nominated for Oscars for their portrayals of Tina Turner and Ike Turner, respectively. The movie doesn’t paint a very positive picture of Ike, showing him repeatedly being verbally and physically abusive to Tina, at times resulting in significant cuts and bruises.
While Ike has admitted to hitting Tina, he has vastly downplayed how often and the severity with which he did so. He said that the movie highly exaggerates how brutally he hit Tina, and how often the two got into physical altercations.
Although Ike’s abuse of Tina was fairly common knowledge prior to the film’s 1993 release, it significantly damaged whatever good will the musician still had left, and he spent his remaining years trying to make a case for his legacy being that of a musician rather than a wife beater. And he blames the movie for just how difficult that ultimately losing battle became.
4. Winnie Mandela – Winnie Mandela
When you make a biopic based on a person who is still alive, there tends to be an assumption that you will get creative input from that person, especially if the movie is to be a positive portrayal. Which is exactly what Winnie Mandela, longtime wife of activist and politician Nelson Mandela, found so disappointing when a movie was being made about her– nobody bothered to talk to her about it at all.
Mandela called it “disrespectful” to make a movie about her and not consult her about it in any way– especially because they filmed the movie in South Africa, where she resides. Mandela also took issue with what she felt was the romanticizing of a very tough, very bitter struggle.
Actress Jennifer Hudson, who plays Mandela in the movie, said that she wanted to meet with Mandela after she got the part, but was discouraged from doing so by the producers, worrying it would keep Hudson from accurately portraying the story in the book that the movie was being based on. Mandela has said she doesn’t harbor any resentment toward Hudson for her role in the film.
3. The Fifth Estate – Julian Assange
Everyone has a different opinion on whistleblowing website WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange. Views range from calling Assange a hero, to others– including the United States government– considering him a criminal for the leaking of classified information. It was unclear what stance The Fifth Estate, the biopic about Assange, was going to take on the man– but to hear Assange himself tell it, the movie is a “massive propaganda attack.”
Assange and actor Benedict Cumberbatch– who portrayed Assange in the film– communicated extensively via email during the film’s planning and production. Cumberbatch seemed to lean more on the side of praising Assange for his actions and for helping to expose the public to various truths it deserved to know.
Still, despite having the actor playing him seemingly supportive of his cause, Assange tried to talk Cumberbatch out of taking the role, saying that the movie was a “lie built upon a lie” and called it “a project that vilifies and marginalizes a living political refugee for the benefit of an entrenched, corrupt, and dangerous state.”
2. Game Change – Sarah Palin
No matter what your political affiliations are or how you feel about Sarah Palin, you have to give the politician credit for largely being a good sport about the relentless mocking she received during her vice presidential bid. She was even willing to appear on Saturday Night Live alongside Tina Fey’s parody of her, which is always the sign of a person who can take a joke about themselves.
Apparently, Palin is much more critical of serious portrayals of her, as she was not having any of it when the HBO movie Game Change. The TV movie told the story of the 2008 presidential campaign involving her and John McCain.
Palin– who claimed that she has no plans to ever see the film– said that it was based on a “false narrative” and was highly skeptical that it was on the right track based on the footage she had seen. She would also later go on to have highly-publicized feuds with two of the people who helped lead her campaign after they admitted that much of the film was accurate.
Actress Julianne Moore earned much acclaim for her portrayal of Palin in Game Change, including an Emmy win.
1. The Social Network – Mark Zuckerberg
Just about everyone who was around for the creation of Facebook has expressed how highly-fictionalized The Social Network is, to varying degrees of annoyance. Even screenwriter Aaron Sorkin said of all the criticism, “What is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy’s sake?” But what did the man at the center of it all think of how Facebook’s beginnings were depicted by Hollywood?
Among Mark Zuckerberg’s biggest issues with the movie is that the entire thing is framed around a false premise– that he was motivated by a broken heart and a girl that he longed to impress in order to win her back.
The movie opens with an extremely well-written and acted scene between Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and a girlfriend (Rooney Mara) who is breaking up with him. As it happens, the real Zuckerberg is currently married to the same girl he was dating when he started Facebook, making the entire foundation of the movie essentially a lie– and one that Zuckerberg said was “hurtful.”
While Zuckerberg acknowledges that the actual founding of Facebook was too mundane and unexciting to base a Hollywood movie around, he said that the embellishments “made it pretty hard to take seriously.”
Do you get the complaints these biopic subjects have? Let us know in the comments!
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