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16 Actors Who Dared to Play Historical Roles, and We Can’t Decide Who Impressed Us More

The next year promises to be rich with exciting premiers involving both top-ranking actors and fresh young talent. For example, it was announced that Kristen Stewart would play Princess Diana in a biographical movie called Spencer. People’s opinions have been split — some are expecting an ingenious performance from Stewart, while others are sure that the movie will fail because of the actress’s controversial past. We, however, are not going to make any assumptions — instead, we’ll just patiently wait for the movie’s release and judge the actress’s performance for ourselves.

We at Bright Side don’t like to jump to conclusions. That’s why while everyone is busy debating over who’d play the role of the famous princess the best, we’re going to show you past controversial portrayals of historical figures that were warmly received by both fans and serious critics.

1. Steve Carell / John du Pont

Steve Carell, the famous comedic actor who many viewers are used to seeing in naive, and even foolish roles, suddenly appeared in the movie Foxcatcher, where he played a reserved and sinister millionaire. When the movie was released in Toronto and gained enthusiastic reviews, Carell told the press why the movie studio chose him. He said, “My public persona is sort of a benign one — as was du Pont’s. It was beneficial to the movie to have someone who you wouldn’t necessarily think could do something horrible, as no one expected du Pont to do the thing that he did.” Both critics and viewers highly regarded the actor’s work. He was nominated for many prestigious awards including an Oscar.

2. Jennifer Lopez / Selena

The biopic about one of the most influential Latin American singers of all time, who tragically died at 23, faced a storm of discontent from the Mexican media over the choice of Jennifer Lopez for the lead role since she wasn’t Mexican American (the actress has Puerto Rican roots). There were even protests that upset the film crew. However, most people from Selena’s motherland supported Lopez and as a result, she brilliantly nailed the role and won one of the Golden Globe nominations in her career.

3. Kristen Stewart / Princess Diana

A Chilean director is going to shoot the movie Spencer, which is dedicated to Princess Diana, and the main role will be played by Kristen Stewart. Written by Steven Knight, the movie is about a turning point that took place over a weekend in the early ’90s, when Diana decided that her marriage to Prince Charles was essentially ruined and that she needed to diverge from that path.

The drama unfolds within 3 days, during her last Christmas vacation in the Sandringham mansion. It’s expected that the production of the movie will start at the beginning of 2021. Stewart, in her right, has proven herself to be a versatile actress after starring in the Twilight franchise. That’s why, despite the dissatisfaction of the princess’s fans, we are expecting an interesting portrayal of Diana.

4. Val Kilmer / Jim Morrison

Initially, fans suggested tons of rock star candidates from the ’80s and ’90s for the movie about the cult frontman of the band, The Doors. But the studio unexpectedly chose an unknown actor named Val Kilmer for that role. The movie was considered to be a failure before its release because people thought the idea of that actor playing Morrison was a joke. But Kilmer was inimitable and critics still call this role the best in his carrier.

5. Angelina Jolie / Mariane Pearl

The screen adaption of the French journalist Mariane Pearl’s memoirs, known as A Mighty Heart, has encountered many unpleasant situations. Opting for Angelina Jolie as the main role left the public confused as the real Pearl is half-Dutch and half-Cuban, and Jolie didn’t look like her at all. But Pearl herself confirmed that Jolie was her top choice for the role, saying: “I have heard some criticism about her casting, but it is not about the color of your skin. It is about who you are. I asked her to play the role — even though she is way more beautiful than I am—because I felt a real kinship to her.” Jolie repaid the trust that was put in her. Though the movie itself was widely criticized, the acting was highly regarded. The actress was even nominated for a Golden Globe for “Best Female Role.”

6. Christopher Eccleston / John Lennon

The biographical movie, Lennon Naked, tells the story of John Lennon’s life in the period of 1967 to 1971. Christopher Eccleston played the role of The Beatles’ frontman and his acting was accepted quite ambiguously. Some of Lennon’s and Eccleston’s fans believed that the movie had too much of naked Lennon but the actor answered, “It’s a version for the late-night audience. I think you just have to look at him as a human being, as a character, and not worry too much about the fact he’s a godhead.”

7. Robert Downey, Jr. / Charlie Chaplin

Robert Downey, Jr. was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Actor” for his role in the movie, but it was Al Pacino who outpaced him that year. The British Movie Academy, BAFTA, decided that the actor deserved awards in the same category. Later, Downey said that copying “The Tramp” (Chaplin’s best-known on-screen persona) was his biggest challenge. It was also his most impressive accomplishment. Chaplin’s image came out true and touching, despite the fact that he got a lot of criticism for it.

8. Alberto Testone / Michelangelo

It was quite a difficult task to choose the actor for this role, but the director of the movie, Andrei Konchalovsky, said, “Regarding the casting process: there were some difficulties, we have seen many actors and could hardly find the one for the leading role.” They needed an actor with a broken nose like Michelangelo’s. Due to this fact, most Italian actors failed to be considered for the main role right off the bat, and the studio had to search for the main actor among boxers. However, they managed to find a dental technician, Alberto Testone. He perfectly succeeded in fulfilling the image of the creative force from the Renaissance who was tormented by the confrontation of influential families, among other things.

9. Nicholas Hoult / John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

The release of the biopic Tolkien started with a scandal. J.R.R. Tolkien’s family and the Tolkien estate said they wished to “make clear that they did not approve of, authorize, or participate in the making of the film. They do not endorse it or its content in any way.” This statement was published in the British press several days prior to the premiere. Furthermore, the movie wasn’t very well received by critics, but audiences turned out to be more supportive and even outlined that “Nicholas Hoult seems the most wise option for the roles of real, real special writers.”

10. Taron Egerton / Michael Edwards

The movie Eddie the Eagle got mostly positive reviews from critics and Taron Egerton’s acting was received warmly. Some reviews read: “Taron Egerton plays Eddie with just the right mix of dork, daredevil, and dreamer,” while others said: " Meanwhile, Egerton’s shticky, stylized performance grows on us; we appreciate the character’s delusion and determination." Indeed, the chemistry between Egerton and the venerable Hugh Jackman gave audiences a lot of cheerful and happy emotions.

11. Michael Keaton / Ray Kroc

The movie The Founder, which was released in 2016 and directed by John Lee Hancock, tells the story about the life of American businessman, Ray Kroc, who founded one of the most famous world brands: McDonald’s. The Metacritic site gives 66 out of 100 points to this movie. The movie was warmly received by viewers and Michael Keaton’s acting was highly regarded. The movie even made it to the top 10 at the box office for the Christmas break week.

12. Rupert Everett / Oscar Wilde

The Happy Prince movie talks about the last days of Oscar Wilde’s life. Rupert Everett managed to show viewers the ironic way in which his character was looking at the difficulties he had to go through. Additionally, Rupert Everett was also the director and scriptwriter for this movie. He had already played Wilde on the theatre stage and didn’t disappoint as Wilde on the big screen either.

13. Andy Serkis / Albert Einstein

The British movie about 2 geniuses, Einstein and Eddington, got a high rating but it wasn’t that popular with the general public. However, Andy Serkis’s acting and the direction from Philip Martin, who had worked on the movie Hawking, are gorgeous together and the movie is definitely worth watching.

14. Jennifer Hudson / Aretha Franklin

Jennifer Hudson was considered for the role of the famous American soul singer from the very beginning and Aretha Franklin herself approved of the actress and the movie. The premiere of the movie Respect is expected to hit theaters at the beginning of 2021. Franklin’s son has called on boycotting the movie, but made it clear that it was his mother’s choice to cast Hudson. The movie’s official teaser promises a lot of pleasant emotions and beautiful music.

15. Austin Butler / Elvis Presley

Ansel Elgort, Miles Teller, and Harry Styles were also among the candidates for the main role in the upcoming movie Elvis. It was not an easy choice for movie director, Baz Luhrmann to make. But eventually, he made his choice, assuring himself that Butler was ready for the role. He reportedly said in an interview with Deadline: “Throughout the casting process, it was an honor for me to encounter such a vast array of talent. I had heard about Austin Butler from his stand-out role opposite Denzel Washington in The Iceman Cometh on Broadway.” In Elvis, the young actor is going to co-star with the world-famous celebrity, Tom Hanks.

16. Lady Gaga / Patrizia Reggiani

Ridley Scott decided to make a movie about the famous fashion dynasty, the Gucci family, or to be more specific — the demise of founder Guccio Gucci’s grandson, Maurizio Gucci. Lady Gaga was invited to play the main role of Patrizia Reggiani, Maurizio Gucci’s ex-wife, who was convicted for the organization of his murder in 1995. This is the first big screen project that Lady Gaga has agreed to take part in since the release of the hit movie, A Star is Born. The movie was announced in November 2019 and the release date remains unknown.

What biopic movies have you remembered more than others? What famous person would you make a movie about?