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Documentary vs. Biopic — What's the Difference?

By Fiza Rafique & Maham Liaqat — Updated on March 27, 2024
Documentaries present real events and facts, focusing on truth and information, while biopics dramatize the life of a real person, blending facts with creative liberties.
Documentary vs. Biopic — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Documentary and Biopic


Key Differences

Documentaries aim to present information, real events, and people as they are, often using interviews, archival footage, and voice-over narration to convey facts and truth. They can cover a wide range of topics including nature, history, and social issues, with the intent to educate, inform, or persuade the audience about real-world phenomena. On the other hand, biopics, or biographical pictures, dramatize the life stories of real individuals. While based on true stories, biopics often incorporate dramatic and narrative techniques, including fictionalized dialogues, scenes, and characters, to make the story more engaging and cinematic. The focus is on exploring the personality, achievements, and challenges of the central figure, which can sometimes lead to a blending of fact and fiction for dramatic effect.
While documentaries strive for objectivity and accuracy, presenting facts in a straightforward manner, biopics may prioritize storytelling and character development, which can sometimes lead to historical inaccuracies or exaggeration for emotional impact. Both forms, however, rely on research and real events as their foundation. The choice of subject matter in documentaries is diverse, ranging from wildlife and science to political and cultural issues, reflecting a broad interest in exploring the complexities of the real world. Biopics, however, focus exclusively on the life stories of individuals, often celebrities, historical figures, or other notable personalities, highlighting their contributions, struggles, and the impact they have made on society or a particular field.
The audience for documentaries seeks to gain knowledge, insight, or understanding of the topic at hand, appreciating the factual and educational content. Biopic viewers, meanwhile, might be more interested in the emotional journey and personal experiences of the protagonist, connecting with the human aspects of the story rather than seeking pure information. Documentaries often feature real people, experts, and witnesses sharing their experiences and insights directly to the camera, creating a sense of authenticity and immediacy. Biopics, in contrast, rely on actors to portray historical or real-life figures, using artistic interpretation to bring these characters to life and convey their stories.
In terms of presentation, documentaries may use a variety of styles, including expository, observational, participatory, and reflexive, each offering a different way of engaging with the subject matter. Biopics, while generally following a narrative structure, can vary in their approach to storytelling, from linear chronologies to more creative, non-linear formats, depending on the filmmaker's vision and the story's demands.

Comparison Chart


To inform, educate, or persuade about real-world phenomena.
To dramatize the life story of a real person, blending fact and fiction.


Real events, facts, interviews, and archival footage.
Dramatized events, dialogues, and scenes based on a person's life.


Broad topics including nature, science, history, and culture.
The life, achievements, and challenges of a specific individual.


Seeks knowledge and insight into the topic.
Interested in the emotional journey and story of the protagonist.


Various styles including expository and observational.
Narrative structure, with potential for creative storytelling techniques.

Compare with Definitions


A film or television show presenting real events and facts without fictionalization.
The documentary on climate change featured stunning visuals of melting ice caps.


A cinematic portrayal of a real person's life story, combining fact with creative liberties.
The biopic on the famous musician's life won several awards for its powerful storytelling.


An informative work designed to educate and inform the audience about specific topics.
The wildlife documentary provided rare insights into the behavior of endangered species.


Can dramatize certain events for narrative impact.
The biopic used dramatic reenactments to illustrate the pivotal moments in the protagonist's life.


May utilize archival footage and photographs to support its narrative.
The use of archival footage in the documentary added depth to the historical events discussed.


Focuses on the emotional and personal journey of the subject.
The biopic delved deeply into the scientist's struggles and triumphs, making it an inspiring watch.


Often includes interviews with experts, witnesses, and those directly involved.
The documentary included heartfelt interviews with survivors of the disaster.


Often features actors portraying historical or real-life figures.
The lead actor's portrayal in the biopic was critically acclaimed for its accuracy and depth.


A non-fictional representation aiming for objectivity and factual accuracy.
The documentary's detailed analysis of the political crisis was both enlightening and distressing.


Blends historical accuracy with fiction for entertainment.
While the biopic took creative liberties, it successfully captured the essence of the artist's life.


Consisting of, concerning, or based on documents.


A film or television biography, often with fictionalized scenes.


Presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter, as in a book or film.


(film genre) A motion picture based on the life (or lives) of a real, rather than fictional, person (or people).


A work, such as a film or television program, presenting political, social, or historical subject matter in a factual and informative manner and often consisting of actual news films or interviews accompanied by narration.


Of, related to, or based on documents.


Which serves to document (record and:or illustrate) a subject.


(of a film, book etc) Presented objectively without the insertion of fictional matter.


A film, TV program, publication etc. which presents a social, political, scientific or historical subject in a factual or informative manner.


Pertaining to written evidence; contained or certified in writing.


A film or TV program presenting the facts about a person or event


Relating to or consisting of or derived from documents

Common Curiosities

Can a biopic be considered a documentary if it sticks closely to the facts?

Even if a biopic sticks closely to the facts, it is still considered a drama due to its narrative structure and use of actors to portray real people.

How do documentaries and biopics differ in their portrayal of reality?

Documentaries aim for factual accuracy and objectivity, using real footage and interviews, whereas biopics blend fact with fictional elements for dramatic effect.

What is a documentary?

A documentary is a non-fictional film or television show that presents real events, people, and facts to inform, educate, or persuade its audience.

Do documentaries have to be completely objective?

While documentaries strive for objectivity, the filmmaker's perspective and the way they choose to present the information can introduce elements of subjectivity.

Are all biopics based on famous people?

While many biopics are about famous individuals, some also tell the stories of lesser-known people whose lives offer compelling narratives.

How do audiences benefit from watching documentaries?

Audiences gain knowledge, insights, and awareness about various topics, which can educate, inspire, and sometimes even motivate action.

Why do some documentaries use a narrative structure?

A narrative structure can help organize complex information in a way that's engaging and easier for audiences to understand and follow.

Can documentaries use reenactments?

Yes, some documentaries use reenactments to illustrate events, but these are typically clearly presented as reconstructions rather than factual footage.

How important is the accuracy of events in a biopic?

While factual accuracy is important, biopics often prioritize the emotional truth and essence of the subject's life story over strict adherence to historical details.

What is a biopic?

A biopic, or biographical picture, is a film that dramatizes the life story of a real person, blending factual events with narrative and dramatic elements.

Why do filmmakers choose to make biopics instead of documentaries on the same subject?

Filmmakers might choose to make biopics to explore the emotional and personal aspects of a subject's life in a more narrative and cinematic way, potentially reaching a wider audience.

What makes a biopic successful?

A successful biopic balances factual accuracy with engaging storytelling, compelling character development, and emotional depth.

Can a film be both a documentary and a biopic?

Films that blend documentary techniques with biographical storytelling might blur the lines but are generally categorized based on their primary approach.

What role do interviews play in documentaries?

Interviews provide firsthand accounts, expert insights, and personal perspectives that enrich the documentary's narrative and credibility.

How do filmmakers research for biopics and documentaries?

Filmmakers conduct extensive research, including reviewing historical documents, archives, interviews, and sometimes working with consultants to ensure accuracy and depth in their portrayal.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.
Co-written by
Maham Liaqat

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