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12 People From History That Made It to Hollywood

We are used to seeing historical people being portrayed in epic films or biopics. However, there are other kinds of art pieces that depict some of them.

5-Minute Crafts has prepared some significant comparisons of the portrayal of historical figures in paintings and films.

Vincent Van Gogh

© Self-Portrait (1887) / Vincent van Gogh / Artvee.com, Courtesy Everett Collection / East News

Vincent Van Gogh, one of the crucial figures of Post-Impressionism, needed to practice painting portraits, but didn’t have enough money to hire models. This is why he chose to paint himself. He made more than 35 self-portraits.

Van Gogh’s life was brought to movie screens in the 1956 American film titled Lust for Life. It is based on a fictionalized biography by Irving Stone. Kirk Douglas received an Oscar nomination for his leading role.


Cleopatra was an Egyptian queen who lived from 51-30 BCE, famous for her love life. She has been an inspiration for numerous art pieces.

The epic film Cleopatra was released in 1963 and became renowned worldwide. It shows the romances between Cleopatra and her suitors from Rome, Mark Antony and Julius Caesar. This high-budgeted movie became a hit and the role of Cleopatra was played by Elizabeth Taylor.

Napoleon Bonaparte

The French statesman, Napoleon Bonaparte, who lived at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, is known as one of the greatest military generals in history. Hundreds of his images were commissioned by the French state in order to emphasize his significance and political power.

Napoleon was played by Marlon Brando in the 1954 drama Désirée by Henry Koster.

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) is a historical figure famous for his transatlantic voyages and as the “discoverer” of the New World because he opened up the American continent to European exploration and colonization.

Columbus was portrayed by French actor Gérard Depardieu in the film 1492: Conquest of Paradise that was released in 1992.


Although we are quite sure that William Shakespeare needs no introduction, we’ll just say that he was an English poet and dramatist whose fame has transcended barriers that no other writers have in terms of world literature.

Joseph Fiennes was selected for the role of Shakespeare in the iconic Oscar-winning 1998 film Shakespeare in Love where he played alongside Gwyneth Paltrow, Judi Dench, and Colin Firth.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc is known in history as the French army’s leader in the victory of Orléans in 1429. This battle helped France not get defeated by the English oppressors during the Hundred Years’ War. She is considered a national heroine of France.

Milla Jovovich’s most important role in her career was precisely the one of Joan of Arc in Luc Besson’s 1999 film The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven is often regarded as the greatest composer ever. He used music as a tool to vividly convey a philosophy of life and to strongly assert the human will, while encompassing the new spirit of humanism and expressing concern for the freedom of the individual.

This prominent musical figure was played onscreen by Ed Harris in the 2006 film Copying Beethoven.


Aristotle is the founder of formal logic, the philosopher who built a philosophical and scientific system that remains a strong influence in Western thinking. Mostly known for his work in the areas of ethics, political theory, philosophy of science, and metaphysics, he is widely regarded as one of the most relevant intellectual figures in history.

Here you can see the portrait of Aristotle by Luca Giordano, as compared with his portrayal by Christopher Plummer in the 2004 movie Alexander.

Michelangelo Buonarotti

Michelangelo Buonarotti was certainly one of the most prominent figures in Renaissance art and is even nowadays considered one of the greatest artists of all time, considering the unparalleled influence his work had on the development of art in Western countries. Here, you can see the portrait of Michelangelo painted by Daniele da Volterra.

Another biopic, based on a novel by Irving Stone, is the 1965 film The Agony and The Ecstasy where Charlton Heston plays the protagonist Michelangelo while painting the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria lived in the 19th century and is one of the few monarchs with one of the longest reigns in British history. She was not only the queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, but also the empress of India. The Victorian age owes its name to her.

Judi Dench plays the role of Queen Victoria in the 2017 film titled Victoria and Abdul, about the unexpected friendship of the empress with a young Indian clerk.

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE), the Roman statesman and general, began implementing a series of social and political reforms in Roman society and changed Rome irreversibly. His life came to end due to a plot organized by the Roman Senate House.

This well-known Roman emperor was depicted by Louis Calhern in the MGM film Julius Caesar, released in 1953. Caesar is assassinated by the conspirators Brutus and Cassius and the film shows the battle for power that occurred between them and Mark Antony.

King Arthur

According to a cycle of medieval romances, King Arthur is a British king of the knightly fellowship of the Round Table. Nonetheless, it remains unknown whether his character was based on a historical person.

In the picture First Knight, released in 1995, we can see Sir Sean Connery in the role of King Arthur in this romantic flick.

Preview photo credit Self-Portrait (1887) / Vincent van Gogh / Artvee.com, Courtesy Everett Collection / East News
5-Minute Crafts/World/12 People From History That Made It to Hollywood
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