Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the greatest actors of this generation, and what makes him so distinctive in the movie industry is his capability to tap into characters from other generations. Whether he’s playing an evil slave owner in the 1800s or a World War I veteran in the early 1900s, he’s so great in period dramas that it’s almost jarring when he stars in a movie set in the modern day.
However, it’s his ability to play completely different real-life historical figures that earned him most of his accolades. Between crawling through the wilderness as a fabled frontiersman and impersonating the cleverest imposter the FBI has ever seen, there’s barely a dud among them.
8 J. Edgar (2011) – 6.5
It seems as if DiCaprio chooses to only work with the most respected and visionary directors, whether it’s Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, or his long-running collaborator, Martin Scorsese. And J. Edgar is no different, as the biopic is directed by celebrated filmmaker Clint Eastwood, one of the best directors DiCaprio has worked with. Unfortunately, the 2011 movie was Eastwood’s bad day at the office, as it’s his only critically scathed release.
J. Edgar was criticized for its unbelievable make-up, bad lighting, and uneventful premise, especially given that it’s about J. Edgar Hoover establishing the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, even in a movie as panned as J. Edgar, DiCaprio’s performance as the director of the FBI was still as powerful as any of his other roles. And he could have even been nominated for an Oscar for the role if the movie wasn’t so underwhelming.
7 This Boy’s Life (1993) – 7.3
While DiCaprio is known for collaborating with Scorsese just as many times as Robert De Niro, it was the two actors who worked together first. DiCaprio and De Niro star alongside each other in This Boy’s Life. The film is based on the memoir by Tobias Wolff, as it follows a mother and son (DiCaprio) who move to Seattle, and the mother then marries a mechanic (De Niro) who is revealed to be an abusive alcoholic.
This Boy’s Life is a dramatic and forgotten but great DiCaprio movie. And at the young age of 19, he was already becoming more prolific than other actors and showing how much range he really has. 1993 was a huge year for the actor, as not only did the year see the release of This Boy’s Life, but also What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, for which he was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
6 The Basketball Diaries (1995) – 7.3
DiCaprio took himself seriously as an actor from such a young age, and his performance in The Basketball Diaries is another example of that. DiCaprio plays Jim Caroll, a real-life former basketball player who suffered through drug addiction in his teenage years.
In the movie, Caroll goes on a downward spiral that includes heroin abuse, and it was the first example of DiCaprio throwing himself into such a harrowing role. Though the film was received negatively by critics due to its muddled message of a cautionary tale, it was received much more positively by general audiences.
5 The Aviator (2004) – 7.5
The Aviator might not be the first Martin Scorsese-directed movie that fans of the director flock to, and it isn’t the typical gangster epic that audiences would expect from the filmmaker. The film is a profanity-free biopic with a death count of zero, but it’s still massively entertaining and gives audiences a glimpse at the life of one of the greatest innovators the world has ever seen.
The film follows Howard Hughes, the legendary movie director, but the bulk of the movie focuses on his work on designing aircraft. The 2004 movie features the best Scorsese-directed DiCaprio performance, and the actor was once again nominated for an Academy Award, but he lost to Jamie Foxx for his role in Ray.
4 Titanic (1997) – 7.8
Titanic took the world by storm, and it was the highest-grossing movie ever made for 12 years until it was eventually dethroned by Avatar. The movie is equal parts romance, disaster movie, and period drama, and being shot on such an epic scale, there’s no way it could have possibly failed.
Titanic is a historical biopic even if the movie mixes fictional characters and real-life people to the point where it’s indistinguishable. However, Jack Dawson is loosely based on the real-life person Jack Thayer, but there are some major differences between the two. with the most obvious being that Thayer never actually died during the sinking of the Titanic.
3 The Revenant (2015) – 8.0
After being nominated for an Academy Award five times by this point in his career, it was The Revenant that finally helped DiCaprio win the Oscar. The movie follows Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) in 1823, who must use survival skills in the wilderness after suffering a devastating bear attack. But while Glass was a real-life frontiersman and fur trapper, a lot of the contents in the movie have been called into question.
For as great as the movie is, there were a lot of liberties taken with the source material and loads of historical inaccuracies. For instance, according to The Guardian, a lot of accounts claim that Glass never had a Pawnee wife. And as a lot of the 2015 movie is about Glass getting revenge on John Fitzgerald, that’s all a work of fiction and nobody was ever actually murdered.
2 Catch Me If You Can (2002) – 8.1
Before finally winning one in 2015, there were many times when DiCaprio deserved an Academy Award but didn’t win it, and there’s no better example of that than in Catch Me If You Can. Interestingly, where J. Edgar saw DiCaprio as the director of the FBI, the 2002 Spielberg-directed movie sees the actor portraying the very opposite.
The film follows the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., an imposter who impersonated a pilot, a lawyer, and a doctor without anybody batting an eyelid. Everything in the movie in terms of what Abagnale Jr. schemed is all true, and the only inaccuracy is when Frank meets up with his father after running away. The book of the same name, written by the real-life Abagnale Jr., explains that he never saw his father again after he ran away from home.
1 The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013) – 8.2
The Wolf of Wall Street blurs the line between satire and glorifying bad behavior, as it depicts the horrific actions of Wall Street fraudster Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio,) but it also details the outrageous parties he frequented too. It’s hard to believe some of the things that happen in the 2013 biopic, whether it’s the helicopter getting struck by lightning or the quaalude-filled mile-high parties, but it’s all true, and it’s equally entertaining and vulgar.
The movie has a bitter end, as Belfort never really gets the comeuppance he deserves. He might have lost his mansion and helicopter, but he mostly gets away scot-free, and in real life, according to Bloomberg, he still hasn’t paid back the people he stole millions from. So while the film is so much fun, it’s still so unsettling.
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Every Leonardo DiCaprio Biopic, Ranked According To IMDb