Hollywood loves a good biopic. But many of the same stories get told over and over again - think of Henry VIII or Abraham Lincoln - even though there are plenty of lesser-known, unsung historical figures who deserve a movie about their lives, too.
Just because a historical figure may not be widely known doesn't mean their story isn't worth telling. In fact, films are a great - if not strictly accurate - way to introduce people to lesser-known figures. That's certainly true of movies like Hidden Figures, Ammonite, and The Imitation Game, which helped 21st-century folks get to know historical figures Katherine Johnson, Mary Anning, and Alan Turing.
Similarly, the people on this list should have their stories told, too. From soldiers who exemplified military chutzpah to writers who demonstrated that the pen is mightier than the sword, these historical figures lived epic lives that would be compelling fodder for biopics.
Who Was She? Lyudmila Pavlichenko was a Soviet sniper during WWII.
When And Where: 1940s in the Soviet Union
Notable Achievements: One of the most valuable weapons in the Soviet Union's arsenal during WWII was Lyudmila Pavlichenko.
A sharpshooter from a young age, Pavlichenko became a sniper for the Soviet army in 1941. Her aim was extremely accurate: She fatally shot no less than 309 Nazi soldiers and earned the nickname "Lady Death." Her success came at a cost, however: Her battle experience gave her PTSD.
The Soviet Union also used Pavlichenko as a propaganda tool. Officials sent her on a publicity tour in the United States, where she befriended First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and brushed off the press's sexist questions.
Title Of Her Biopic: Lady Death
- 21,631 VOTES
Joe Medicine Crow Became A War Chief While Fighting The Third Reich
Who Was He? Joe Medicine Crow, a decorated veteran and revered elder among the Crow, became his community's last war chief during World War II.
When And Where: 1920s-2010s in the United States and Europe
Notable Achievements: Joe Medicine Crow's exploits during WWII earned him the status of "War Chief," making him the last Crow to achieve that honor. Medicine Crow earned the title because he completed specific tasks while fighting Nazis in the European theater of war: He touched an enemy, robbed an enemy of his weapon, stole horses, and led a group of fighters.
His war exploits were just part of his incredible story. Though the war interrupted his studies, Medicine Crow continued documenting and preserving Crow heritage and history after the war ended in 1945.
Title Of His Biopic: A Valorous Heart
- 31,228 VOTES
Who Was He? A politician from Kentucky, Cassius Clay was an abolitionist and duelist.
When And Where: 1800s in the United States and Russia
Notable Achievements: Cassius Marcellus Clay was born into privilege in 19th-century Kentucky. Though Clay and his family owned enslaved workers, he ultimately freed them and became an outspoken abolitionist who served as a politician in the Blue Grass State.
Clay's bold abolitionism made him a target of pro-slavery Americans, and he survived attacks on his life. Armed with a Bowie knife, Clay defended himself by stabbing would-be assassins on multiple occasions.
Clay never shied from violence, as he participated in many duels. In fact, The New York Times credits him with having "slain more men in duels than anyone else in the country."
His beliefs and fiery reputation won him the nickname the "lion of White Hall."
Title Of His Biopic: Lion of White Hall
- 41,410 VOTES
Who Was He? Jonas Salk was a scientist who helped develop a vaccine for polio.
When And Where: 1950s in the United States
Notable Achievements: At the beginning of the 20th century, polio was one of the most feared diseases. By the end of the century, it had been "eliminated" in the United States - all thanks to a vaccine.
Jonas Salk, a scientist based at the University of Pittsburgh, led a team of scientists who developed the vaccine. Even more impressive, Salk opted not to patent the vaccine. When famed journalist Edward R. Murrow questioned Salk's decision, the scientist replied, "Could you patent the sun?"
Title Of His Biopic: Salk
Who Was She? Ida B. Wells was a fearless journalist and suffragist.
When And Where: 1890s-1920s in Memphis and Chicago
Notable Achievements: Ida B. Wells was one of the most notable journalists in American history. After living through tragedy as a child, Wells turned her pen to the plight of Black Americans in the era of Jim Crow, when segregation and discrimination plagued the country. She risked her life to publish exposés on the lynchings of Black Americans and helped establish the NAACP. Her writings earned her a posthumous Pulitzer Prize decades after her passing.
But Wells wasn't just a successful journalist and activist for racial justice. She was also an ardent suffragist who worked to get all women - regardless of the color of their skin - the right to vote.
That was no easy task. Activists in the American suffragist movement routinely ignored, dismissed, and discounted their Black sisters. During a suffrage parade in 1913, for example, she was exasperated when fellow suffragist Alice Paul tried to have Wells march in the back of the procession. Wells refused and retorted, "Either I go with you or not at all." Sounds like the beginning of a speech that would win someone an Oscar.
Title Of Her Biopic: The Right Side of Justice
Who Was She? Ching Shih was a prolific pirate who ruled the waves in China.
When And Where: Late 18th to early 19th century in China
Notable Achievements: Move over, Jack Sparrow - Ching Shih is regarded as the most successful pirate in history.
Ching Shih is the ultimate rags-to-riches story, with an epic Black Sails twist. Ching Shih got her start as a sex worker before marrying a pirate lord. After her husband passed in 1807, she claimed his ships as her own. In total, she commanded the loyalty of tens of thousands of pirates.
Title Of Her Biopic: Pirate Queen