10 Biopics from the 70s So Bad, They're Actually Good
You know what they say — sometimes, movies can be so bad, they loop back around to being kind of amazing. The '70s gave us a whole heap of these, especially in the biopic genre.
What's great about these movies isn't their quality — let's be real, they're not winning any awards — but their ability to captivate you in spite of their many, many flaws.
1. "Mahler" (1974)
"Mahler" is a head-scratcher that attempts to dissect the life of composer Gustav Mahler through a series of flashbacks. The movie kicks off with Mahler and his wife, Alma, on a train journey, triggering flashbacks to pivotal moments in his life. There's a scene where Mahler converts from Judaism to Catholicism, portrayed as a literal costume change onstage.
Want weird? How about when Alma appears as a reincarnated version of Mahler's younger self?
2. "Lenny" (1974)
Directed by Bob Fosse, this biopic tries to unravel the turbulent life of comedian Lenny Bruce. It toggles between stand-up routines and Bruce's chaotic personal life, which includes drug addiction and a tumultuous relationship with his wife, Honey.
While the film aims for gritty, it often slips into melodrama, like when Honey's stripping career is juxtaposed against Bruce's controversial comedy acts. Bruce's court trials are portrayed almost like a circus, watering down their historical importance.
3. "Gable and Lombard" (1976)
Ever wondered how Clark Gable and Carole Lombard's love story played out? Well, "Gable and Lombard" tries to tell you but fumbles. It's basically a romcom that kicks off when they meet on a film set and then takes us through their rocky relationship. They fight, make up, and fight again — all while both of their careers are taking off.
The film skims over the complexities of their relationship and instead focuses on cliched romantic gestures, like Gable flying a plane to write a love message in the sky.
4. "The Other Side of the Mountain" (1975)
This one's a tearjerker — or at least it tries to be. It's the story of Jill Kinmont, a ski champion who becomes paralyzed. The film delves into her life post-accident, focusing on her relationship with a daredevil named Dick.
There's an awkwardly staged ski accident, scenes of Jill adapting to her new life, and, of course, the romance. But the depiction is often cheesy. The ski scenes look like a low-budget TV special, and Jill's emotional struggle seems more like an afterthought.
5. "The Amazing Howard Hughes" (1977)
TV movies have their own category of 'bad,' and this one is right up there. It's a rushed rundown of the billionaire industrialist Howard Hughes, touching on everything from his aviation exploits to his OCD. We've got scenes of Hughes test-flying planes, producing movies, and slowly retreating into isolation.
Sounds intriguing, right? Nope. The film never delves deep enough into any of these aspects. The aviation scenes feel like a sizzle reel, and the moments detailing his OCD are laughably bad.
6. "Lady Sings the Blues" (1972)
Diana Ross as Billie Holiday? Oh, you bet. Now, while Miss Ross really does her best to capture the essence of the jazz legend, the movie itself is a scattershot. It starts with Holiday's troubled childhood and spirals into her stardom, addiction, and love affairs.
There's a scene where she's actually shooting up in a stairwell before hitting the stage purely for some additional drama, it seems. But the film often confuses 'drama' with 'accuracy,' leading to some pretty over-the-top depictions.
7. "The Great White Hope" (1970)
This one's about Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion, but they call him Jack Jefferson in the movie. Our guy falls for a white woman, and — surprise, surprise — the world isn't happy. Cue fights inside and outside the ring. When Jefferson beats a white boxer, the crowd riots.
But instead of delving into the racial tension, the movie goes full soap opera: big, big mistake.
8. "Bound for Glory" (1976)
"Bound for Glory" offers a highly sanitized version of the folk legend Woody Guthrie's life. Guthrie's riding the rails, singing for labor unions, and fighting for workers' rights. But there's also a huge elephant in the room: the hokey dialogue. At one point, Guthrie's strumming his guitar and someone actually says, "You're gonna be bigger than Bing!"
That's the '70s for you, when cheesy lines passed for plot.
9. "The Buddy Holly Story" (1978)
This one takes us on a whirlwind tour of Buddy Holly's rise to fame. You've got Buddy forming his band, The Crickets, and knocking the socks off a mostly Black audience in Harlem with rock 'n' roll. But the filmmakers clearly took liberties with historical accuracy. I mean, there's a scene where Buddy battles a cartoonishly hostile record producer. C'mon, who are we kidding?
10. "Valentino" (1977)
Disco-era Rudolph Valentino? Absolutely, darling! This biopic is a glammed-up vision of the silent film legend. The film takes us through his discovery, his numerous love affairs, and his rise to stardom. But brace yourself for an overdose of 70s kitsch. The tango scene alone, with its over-the-top choreography, could make a ballroom dancer cringe.