2018 was a year filled with biopics about fascinating women. Some biopics featured contemporary subjects; others took a look at historical heroines. To look at it from another perspective, this lineup of biopics included three powerful queens, three very different writers and even a daughter-turned-murderer. These women’s stories are fascinating, especially when great actors like Melissa McCarthy, Felicity Jones and Olivia Colman bring them to life. Some of these female-driven biopics, like Mary Queen of Scots, were meticulously researched, while others, like On the Basis of Sex, relied on interviews with the film’s subject to craft a narrative. That’s the power of the biopic. Filmmakers and audiences get to step into a woman’s shoes using the magic of movies and, hopefully, gain new insight into her journey.
Here are our favorite 2018 biopics about women.
This movie is a rare treat because it’s a period comedy set in the 1700s, when Britain was at war with France and Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) apathetically ruled; she should be focusing on the war, but instead, she plays with her 17 rabbits and sits around drinking hot chocolate. Though her mental stability is deteriorating, she has close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) to run the country for her, and Sarah has her own designs on how to run the nation by controlling her dear friend. Those plans go to the wayside when a new servant, Sarah’s cousin Abigail Masham (Emma Stone) shows up, creating a power struggle as jealousy and bad behavior run rampant.
Mary Queen of Scots
Two queens. One kingdom. This movie is a real-life game of thrones you don’t want to miss. The rivalry of cousins Mary, Queen of Scots (Saoirse Ronan) and Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie) has been dramatized in numerous films, plays and TV shows over the years because it’s just such a powerful and shocking story. Two young female cousins both ascend to their respective thrones in the 16th century in Scotland and England. As they attempt to rule their kingdoms, it becomes clear only one can hold complete power, and neither are willing to give up their position. There’s a lot at stake, and for both of them, it’s a matter of life and death.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Dejected, down-on-her-luck writer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) finds her career as a celebrity biographer is all washed up by the 1970s. When Israel discovers people will pay a pretty penny for (fake) letters from their favorite writers, she sees a way to continue writing (OK, OK, it’s technically forging, but go with it) while making good money again. This movie looks at the tension between what is actually true and what we want to believe is true, with McCarthy giving a stellar dramatic performance.
A Private War
War correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike) is a hard-boiled, eye patch-wearing justice fighter who risks her life to give a voice to the voiceless in Syria. Bold, often impetuous, Colvin is just as comfortable sipping cocktails with the elite as she is on the front lines. But the violence and injustice she’s witnessed begins to take its toll on her with tragic consequences, amplified when she is caught in the line of fire while reporting on a particularly harrowing war story.
On the Basis of Sex
We know her as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but she didn’t always sit on the highest court in our land — she had to fight tooth and nail just to get recognized. Opening Dec. 25, On the Basis of Sex is a coming-of-age story of sorts, showing us the rise of Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) from law student to a mid-20th-century lawyer arguing some of the most important cases facing the nation, all while actively eroding stereotypes about what women can achieve.
We’ve heard this story before — an overbearing husband seeks fame, but with no talent of his own, he takes credit for his wife’s work — but there’s a heartbreaking beauty to the way it is retold in Colette. French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) wrote successful novels while her husband took credit. This movie explores Colette’s struggle to defy gender roles and take ownership of her own intellectual property while living in the Parisian art scene.
Woman Walks Ahead
Moving from Brooklyn all the way out west in the 1890s, Woman Walks Ahead follows Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain), a portrait painter who lands a job painting a portrait of Sitting Bull in Dakota. In the process of painting him, she becomes an activist set to help the Lakota people regain rights to their land during a time when a white woman helping or aligning herself with Native Americans was rare.
This is the shocking story of Lizzie Borden (Chloë Sevigny), the woman who hacked her parents to death with an ax in their home in 1892. Kristen Stewart plays her housemaid and lover, and their on-screen chemistry is smashing.
Dozens of plays, movies, comic books and even a ballet have told the story of the inventive Dr. Victor Frankenstein and his frightening monster. But not many people know the book Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus was written by Mary Shelley (Elle Fanning) when she was just 19 years old and longing to become an author on her own merit. Following her rocky personal life, the growing pains of falling in love with brooding lothario, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the eventual creation of Frankenstein, this female-directed biopic will give you a new appreciation for the woman who is credited with creating the science fiction genre.