Some music biopics have caused fierce debates over the years as to whether or not they paint an accurate picture of their respective subjects. There’s also the question of whether they reveal facets of the musician we didn’t already know.
While the music biopic fall might fall below the kind of blockbuster franchise that, as shares trading company IG highlights, boosts the share prices of big studios, it is still a much loved genre that, done right, can earn success in terms of takings as well as among the critics. You don’t even necessarily need to be a fan of the star to appreciate their back story – these are often less about the music and more about the powerful human tales of people blessed with musical talent.
Here’s ten great examples of the genre…
1. Amadeus (1984)
A film about a classical composer might seem an odd choice but this portrayal of Mozart – or rather the effect his genius had on jealous contemporary Antonio Salieri – is the ultimate biopic in so many ways and won eight Oscars to boot.
Amid the sumptuous costumes and perfect period setting we get to see a hugely gifted but boorish musician.
2. 24 Hour Party People (2002)
Starring Steve Coogan as Wilson, the film admits to being a cocktail of real events mixed with urban legends, myths and rumours.
3. Ray (2004)
This hit biopic of singer Ray Charles took 15 years to make, but was worth the wait with an Oscar-winning performance from Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles. Unfortunately, Charles himself died shortly before the premiere but the film helps to spread the word of his remarkable life and career.
4. Walk The Line (2005)
This film focused on the early years of singer Johnny Cash, and featured acclaimed vocal performances from Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter.
5. Nowhere Boy (2009)
Tells the story of John Lennon’s teenage years between 1955 and 1960 before the worldwide fame. This UK-made film received widespread acclaim including the blessing of Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono.
6. I’m Not There (2007)
This used six different actors to portray different phases of Bob Dylan’s life. Intercutting the different strands of the musician’s story as opposed to a straight chronological narrative, it’s a must for Dylan fans.
7. Great Balls of Fire (1989)
Innovative piano player and showman Jerry Lee Lewis, the subject of this biopic, didn’t actually like this film although he praised Dennis Quaid for his portrayal.
The film provides a fascinating insight to the musician who was hit by a scandal that erupted when he married his 13-year-old cousin.
8. What’s Love Got To Do With It (1993)
A commercially and critically successful, yet controversial, film chronicling the life of Tina Turner. Many scenes and storylines were hotly disputed as to their accuracy by the people concerned.
9. Sid and Nancy (1986)
10. Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010)
Featuring a very convincing performance by Andy Serkis as revered songwriter and vocalist Ian Dury, the film portrays him as a hedonistic, foul-mouthed stubborn man possessed of a unique talent.
Dury’s relationship with his son shows the more human and softer side to the late musician.
Other music biopics considered classics of their type are ‘Notorious’ (2009) about rapper Biggie Smalls, ‘Control’ (2007) concerning the brief life of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis and ‘Love & Mercy’ (2014) – a study of Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys.