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What Real-Life Families Really Thought About These Biopics

While movie trends come and go, there are some genres that will assuredly make their way to theaters and streaming every year. When it comes to biographical dramas, there are bound to be a few hitting theaters at the end of the year just in time for awards season. If there is one given when it comes to acting categories at the Oscars and Golden Globes, it's that they are sure to be filled with A-listers playing historical figures.

Even the greatest biopics cannot avoid running up against the mundanity of reality. Many movies that tell the true story of a famous figure tend to alter the details in order to heighten the drama, and sometimes, these differences can be controversial. The families of the subjects of biopics are often the most vocal about any disappointment in these inaccuracies (and in rare cases, their praise). So, families' reactions to biopics are often newsworthy events, and those responses are well-documented. Here's a look at what some real-life families thought of these famous, and infamous, biopics.


The recently-released Baz Luhrmann "Elvis" biopic is as polarizing as you'd expect from the over-the-top filmmaker behind "Moulin Rouge!" and the 2013 adaptation of "The Great Gatsby." Critics have been mostly positive (Rotten Tomatoes) about the stylish depiction of the King's life and rise to stardom. While it is a seriously wacky ride, Elvis's daughter Lisa Marie Presley finds Austin Butler's portrayal of her father in the movie to be one of the best depictions she's seen of her late father on film.

Presley said in a clip posted to Luhrmann's Instagram that after seeing "one disappointment after the other in terms of people portraying my father in various films or attempts to," Butler's performance was the one that winded up changing her mind. "I tell you this with all my heart, and it's the only reason that I'm here: It's been done right." Presley's mother Priscilla was in agreement and gave complimentary remarks toward Butler's performance after seeing "Elvis" at the film's Cannes Film Festival premiere.


Unlike "Elvis," 2019's "Tolkien" was met with great ire but the subject's estate. "Tolkien," a retelling of the legendary "Lord of the Rings" author's younger years, was directed by Finnish filmmaker Dome Karukoski and starred Nicholas Hoult ("The Great," "X-Men: Apocalypse") as a spry, youthful John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. The film also stars Lily Collins as Tolkien's love interest Edith Bratt. The Tolkien estate disapproved of the movie's depictions of the man and said in a statement provided to The Guardian that they "do not endorse it or its content in any way."

Like most movies in the genre, "Tolkien" makes deviations from the truth. These inaccuracies might lend to the dramatic tension of a film, but they come at the cost of alienating the family on whose lives the story is based upon. In the case of the "Lord of the Rings" author's biopic, the Tolkien estate was not consulted or involved in the creative process. This led the estate to issue the statement prior to the film's release stating they "did not approve of, authorize, or participate in the making of this film."

The Theory of Everything

Before Jane Hawking publicly denounced "The Theory of Everything," the 2014 Stephen Hawking biopic was already a controversial Academy Award nominee. Eddie Redmayne had already been put on blast by critics for his controversial portrayal of Hawking's disability by the time he won the best actor Oscar for the role. It was only years after the movie came out that the late Hawking's first wife told the truth about her issues with the film.

"The Theory of Everything" was based on the biographical book that Jane Hawking wrote in 2007, "Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen." And in the process of turning the book into a movie, Hawking was consulted. However, while speaking at a literary festival (via The Guardian), she revealed that she had concerns about inaccuracy that were not being listened to. "I knew if there were mistakes in the film that they were going to be immortalized, which they have been," she said. "I found that very irritating and I didn't want it to happen. Don't ever believe what you see in films."

Grace of Monaco

The 2014 biopic "Grace of Monaco" stars Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly. The drama chronicles Kelly's life after her Hollywood career, during her marriage to the Prince of Monaco (Tim Roth) to whom she stayed married until she died in 1982. Six years after her marriage, in 1962, Kelly was visited by Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) to discuss a return to Hollywood for his film "Marnie." "Grace of Monaco" tells the story of Kelly's involvement with that movie, as well as the political reasons she eventually had to drop out of the project. "Marine" ended up starring Tippi Hedren, who was notoriously abused by Hitchcock.

The Monaco family did not hold the depiction of history in "Grace of Monaco" in especially high regard. In a press release ahead of the film's Cannes Film Festival premiere in 2014, the royal family called what they had been privy to of the film a "farce" and "totally fictional." The Palace added that the trailers they saw "reinforce the certainty, left after reading the script, that this production, a page of the Principality's history, is based on erroneous and dubious historical references."

The End of the Tour

"The End of the Tour," a well-received biopic about author David Foster Wallace manages to escape many of the cliché trappings of the genre. Despite critical acclaim, though, it didn't escape the wrath of the subject's family.

The film was based on unpublished transcripts taken by journalist David Lipsky during a series of interviews with Wallace for an abandoned article about his book "Infinite Jest." Jason Segal played Wallace, while Jesse Eisenberg was Lipsky in this intimate, mostly two-man production. In a statement from the David Foster Wallace Literary Trust (via Los Angeles Times) the family said they "wish to make it clear that they have no connection with, and neither endorse nor support 'The End of the Tour.'"

While this language communicates neutrality to some degree, the family added their dissatisfaction with the source material, saying, "David would never have agreed that those saved transcripts could later be repurposed as the basis of a movie."

Green Book

The controversial 2019 best picture winner "Green Book" ruffled feathers with more than just audiences and critics. The living family members of Dr. Don Shirley were not pleased with the contents of the film, either. Specifically, Shirley's relatives spoke out to condemn the film for its inaccurate representations of the character. The statements the family released even caused actor Mahershala Ali to issue an apology.

Following the accusations launched at the movie by the family, Ali personally reached out and apologized to the family members. Dr. Shirley's nephew, Edwin Shirley III, was one of the fiercest critics of the film but revealed that he and his uncle Maurice Shirley (Dr. Shirley's brother) received a surprising phone call from the actor. "What he said was, 'If I have offended you, I am so, so terribly sorry. I did the best I could with the material I had,'" Edwin Shirley III told Shadow and Act. "'I was not aware that there were close relatives with whom I could have consulted to add some nuance to the character.'"

Lawrence of Arabia

Because of its epic and historical nature, both in terms of its subject matter and place in film history, "Lawrence of Arabia" isn't a movie that comes to mind when you think of a biopic. But the nearly four-hour drama is based on the life of a real man T.E Lawrence, and therefore a biopic. As has been demonstrated, even biopics aiming for accuracy don't always get everything right and even the renowned "Lawrence of Arabia" isn't immune to the inaccuracies that come with the territory.

In particular, it was T.E. Lawrence's brother who objected to the characterization of Lawrence in the film's performance by Peter O'Toole. A.W. Lawrence, a professor in classical archeology, made his opinions on the movie's falsities clear in an interview with the New York Times, saying, "take an ounce of narcissism, a pound of exhibitionism, a pint of sadism, a gallon of blood-lust and a sprinkle of other aberrations and stir well."


To be fair to the royal family, very few people liked "Diana." The biopic starring Naomi Watts as the Princess of Wales was a critical failure that didn't blow up any box office records, not by a long shot (via Box Office Mojo). It's safe to say "Diana" is no "Spencer," but at least it's not the most tasteless retelling of Princess Diana's story (looking at you, "Diana the Musical").

"Diana" focuses on the last years of Diana's life when she began a secret affair with Pakistani heart surgeon Dr. Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). The real Dr. Khan is the one who took the most public objections to the depictions in the film. Speaking to the Daily Mail, he said that the relationship in the film was "all based on hypotheses and gossip." Khan went on to criticize the acting and portrayal of himself and Diana, saying, "it is all just presumed about how we would behave with each other, and they have got it completely wrong."


The 2016 Nina Simone biopic "Nina" is another biographical drama attempt gone rotten. While this wasn't necessarily entirely the fault of lead actress Zoe Saldana, it was Saldana who took a lot of the heat for the failure of the movie. The film digs heavily into Simone's substance abuse and the other darker aspects of the singer's personal life.

In promotion leading up to the film Saldana tweeted out the Simone quote, "I'll tell you what freedom is to me — No Fear... I mean really, no fear." In response, the account representing the late singer's estate wrote back, "Cool story but please take Nina's name out your mouth. For the rest of your life." This pushback was followed by another tweet in which the Nina Simone music account explained how seeing Simone misrepresented on screen was "gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, [and] soul-crushing." Saldana later went on to say she regrets taking the role in the first place (via Entertainment Weekly).

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

What's Love Got to Do With it?

The 1993 Tina Turner musical biopic "What's Love Got To Do With It?" was a hit. With Angela Bassett in the leading role as the R&B icon, the movie is fondly remembered as a high point of the actress' career. The movie chronicles Turner's rise to fame, how she met her husband Ike Turner (an Oscar-nominated Laurence Fishburne), and the ways the relationship between the two went sour. It's that last point, in particular, that was troublesome to the Turner family, specifically Ike Turner's daughter. 

"What's Love Got To Do With It?" depicts a scene of Ike Turner sexually assaulting Tina. While the two did have marital troubles that led to a divorce in 1978, Mia, the daughter of Ike Turner, claimed that he was never sexually violent with her and that the scene in the movie was fictionalized. Regarding the events of the night of the alleged assault, Mia said to the Daily Mail, "'Obviously I wasn't there that night... but after I saw the movie I called Tina's sister Aillene and said: 'What in the world?' She then called Tina and confirmed to me that it never happened."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).