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The Best Music Biopics

Photograph of the blog post author, Georgia Carter

Georgia Carter

23.11.2022

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Have you always wondered what are the best music biopic movies and wouldn’t it be even easier if they were all written in one list for you to read about? Well you are in luck, because today’s blog will do just that. These 10 films – there could have been many more, but I had to limit myself – are firm favorites that deserve a mention. Are they the best biopics music-wise? Do you agree with me? I will let you decide, but let’s dive in!

What Is A Musical Biopic?

There have been many musical public figures that deserve their own story, and this is exactly what biopics do. They portray the life of a non-fictional or historical figure. There is some subjectivity to which have been successful and those which were failures, and it does depend on the writing and production as a whole. The story may be made to look more dramatic to appeal to audiences, however as long as the main theme of the film – the person’s life – is put front and centre, then there is a high chance of success. We want to be given an intimate insight into the life of this figure and if done right, can be inspirational to emerging / more developed artists within the music industry. The main criteria for a music biopic – or biopic in general is that it will not be written by the person who the film is depicting themselves. 

Walk The Line

Director – James Mangold 

Producer – James Keach, Cathy Konrad

Date Of Release – 2005

Cast – Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon

Synopsis – Walk the Line is a 2005 American biographical musical romantic drama film directed by James Mangold. The screenplay, written by Mangold and Gill Dennis, is based on two autobiographies authored by singer-songwriter Johnny Cash, 1975’s Man in Black: His Own Story in His Own Words and 1997’s Cash: The Autobiography. The film follows Cash’s early life, his romance with June Carter, his ascent in the country music scene, and his struggle with drug addiction. It stars Joaquin Phoenix as Cash, Reese Witherspoon as Carter, Ginnifer Goodwin as Cash’s first wife Vivian Liberto, and Robert Patrick as Cash’s father.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Director – Bryan Singer

Date Of Release – 2018

Cast – Rami Malek, Brian May, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joe Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers,

Synopsis – Bohemian Rhapsody is a 2018 biographical musical drama film directed by Bryan Singer[a] from a screenplay by Anthony McCarten, and produced by Graham King and Queen manager Jim Beach. It focuses on the life of Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the British rock band Queen, from the formation of the band in 1970 to their 1985 Live Aid performance at the original Wembley Stadium. 

Rocketman

Director – Dexter Fletcher 

Date Of Release – 2019

Cast – Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Kit Connor   

Synopsis Rocketman is a 2019 biographical musical drama film based on the life and career of British musician Elton John. Directed by Dexter Fletcher and written by Lee Hall, the film tells the story of John in his early days in England as a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music through his musical partnership with Bernie Taupin, and is titled after John’s 1972 song “Rocket Man”. 

Nowhere Boy

Director – Sam Taylor-Wood 

Date Of Release – 2009

Cast – Aaron Johnson, Anne-Marie Duff, Kristin Scott Thomas, David Threlfall, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, David Morrissey

Synopsis – Nowhere Boy is a 2009 British biographical drama film, directed by Sam Taylor-Wood in her directorial debut. Written by Matt Greenhalgh, it is based on Julia Baird’s biography of her half-brother, the musician John Lennon. Nowhere Boy is about the teenage years of Lennon, his relationships with his aunt Mimi Smith and his mother Julia Lennon, the creation of his first band, the Quarrymen, and its evolution into the Beatles.

Respect 

Director – Liesl Tommy

Date Of Release – 2021

Cast – Jennifer Hudson, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Mary J. Blige, Forest Whitaker  

Synopsis – The film follows the first three decades of Franklin’s life, from being born as a musical prodigy in an affluent African-American family, the repercussions of losing her mother at age 10 to her arduous rise to international musical stardom, while enduring an abusive marriage, ultimately concluding with the recording of her influential live album Amazing Grace (1972).

Evita

Director – Alan Parker 

Date Of Release – 1996

Cast – Madonna, Antonio Banderas, Jonathan Pryce 

Synopsis – Evita is a 1996 American musical historical drama film based on the 1976 concept album of the same name produced by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, which also inspired a 1978 musical. The film depicts the life of Eva Perón, detailing her beginnings, rise to fame, political career and death at the age of 33. The film follows Eva (née Duarte) from her beginnings as an illegitimate child of a lower-class family to her rise to become First Lady; Ché – a member of the public – assumes many different guises throughout Eva’s story. 

La Vie En Rose

Director – Olivier Dahan

Date Of Release – 2007 

Cast – Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory, Emmanuelle Seigner, Jean-Paul Rouve, Gérard Depardieu, Clotilde Courau, Jean-Pierre Martins, Catherine Allégret, Marc Barbé

Synopsis – La Vie en Rose is a 2007 biographical musical film about the life of French singer Édith Piaf. The film was co-written and directed by Olivier Dahan, and stars Marion Cotillard as Piaf. The film is structured as a largely non-linear series of key events from the life of Édith Piaf. The film begins with elements from her childhood, and at the end with the events prior to and surrounding her death, poignantly juxtaposed by a performance of her song, “Non, je ne regrette rien”. 

Judy

Director – Rupert Goold 

Date Of Release – 2019

Cast – Renée Zellweger, Finn Wittrock, Jessie Buckley, Rufus Sewell, Michael Gambon

Synopsis – Judy is a 2019 biographical drama film based on the life of American actress Judy Garland. Directed by Rupert Goold, it is an adaptation of the Olivier- and Tony-nominated West End and Broadway play End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter. The film follows Garland’s career during the last year of her life, when she relocated her stage career to England, coupled with flashbacks of her childhood, most prominently the filming of her part as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, her most iconic role. After some initial success in a run of sell-out concerts at the Talk of the Town in London, her efforts eventually stop making progress and even start to worsen as her health deteriorates.

The Sapphires 

Director – Wayne Blair

Date Of Release – 2012

Cast – Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens, Miranda Tapsell, Tory Kittles, Eka Darville

Synopsis – The Sapphires is a 2012 Australian musical comedy-drama film based on the 2004 stage play The Sapphires by Tony Briggs, which is loosely based on a real-life 1960s girl group that included Briggs’s mother and aunt. The film is directed by Wayne Blair and written by Keith Thompson and Briggs. The Sapphires is about four Yorta Yorta (Aboriginal Australian) women, Gail, Julie, Kay and Cynthia, who are discovered by a talent scout, and form a music group named The Sapphires, traveling to Vietnam in 1968 to sing for troops during the war.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom 

Director – George C. Wolfe

Date Of Release – 2020

Cast – Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts

Synopsis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a 2020 American drama film directed by George C. Wolfe and written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, based on the 1982 play of the same name by August Wilson. Inspired by the career of Ma Rainey, an influential blues singer and the title character, the film dramatizes a turbulent recording session in 1920s Chicago.

Other Honourable Mentions 

I thought I would mention some other films that could be classed as part of the best music biopics list. They range from a film about the life of Fanny Brice, famed comedienne and entertainer of the early 1900s to a film about the relationship between I Love Lucy stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. You will certainly not run out of film ideas now. Give these a go! 

  • Funny Girl (1968)
  • Control (2007)
  • Ray (2004)
  • Being The Ricardos (2021)
  • Cadillac Records (2008)
  • Amy (2015)
  • Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010)

Closing Thoughts

Are these the best music biopics of all time? Have you seen any of these and do you agree? I’m sure there are biopics we have missed on this list. It is clear that the films on this list however have hit the nail on the head in terms of structure, adaption, synopsis, cast and direction. We need films about prominent figures who made significant impacts on society and culture. The characters depicted in all of the musical biopics, we can see made an impact in the musical world they lived in at that particular time. I will certainly be watching any one of these tonight. What about you?

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