Getting a glimpse into an artist's life is rare. To see how they grew up, what made them the way they are, and how they create is extremely personal and usually very private. This is why music biopics are always such a treat. They give us a snapshot of the lives of our favorite musicians, helping us understand how their lives were shaped. Many of the best music biopics are about genius musicians or music groups, their hardships, and their triumphs. These are the kinds of groundbreaking artists that change the landscape of music forever, so it makes total sense that we'd want to know as much as possible about the lives of these musicians!
Music biopics can be a tough order, though. Finding the right person to play a famous musician can prove difficult. You don't want someone to just mimic the star, but you also don't want to them to seem fake. There's also the question of how to do the music. Do you have your stars lip-sync or hire musically-inclined actors to make it more genuine? Every music biopic does it differently and usually finds the perfect way to depict the artist or artists they're personifying. Here are some of the best music biopics that give incredible glimpses into your fave performers lives!
Bristol Bay Productions
Ray Charles is an R&B icon, so of course, a movie about his life would be just as iconic. Jamie Foxx plays Charles in the film that spans 30 years of the artist's life. The movie begins with Charles's younger years and descent into blindness and leads all the way up to one of his songs becoming the state song of Georgia. This is a biopic that tries to do it all and does it well. It tackles the early life of the star as well as the not-so-great aspects of the artist, like his heroin addiction and philandering. The film was widely praised, as was Foxx's performance as he did the impossible: filled the shoes of a legend.
A Loretta Lynn biopic may not seem like your cup of tea, but hear us out on this one. Coal Miner's Daughter, based on Lynn's biography and a song by the same name, tells the story of the troubled country singers life from her poor upbringing to superstardom. Sissy Spacek plays Lynn, handpicked by the artist herself, and wowed audiences so well she won an Academy Award for the role! Country music can be an acquired taste, but this film isn't just for country fans. Lynn's life was one of triumph despite her circumstances. Her constant overcoming of hardships is inspiring to anyone — whether they love honky tonk or not!
This is by far one of the most inventive music biopics of all time. A music God like Bob Dylan deserves more than a bland, regular old biopic and that's what he got. The film has six different actors portraying Dylan during different eras of his life. Each actor plays a different character that is indicative of different facts of Dylan's personality — from his acoustic phase to his contentious divorce. The actors that played the many shifting ideals of Dylan are Christian Bale, Cate Blanchette, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw. Dylan has always been a hard-to-capture figure, constantly changing and reinventing himself. This type of narrative is the only way it makes sense to portray the legend.
Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett. Need I say more? This biopic covers the rise and fall of the all-girl rock group The Runaways. Based on a book (as many great biopics are), the film shows the dissolution of Currie's relationship with the band and the breakup that led to Joan Jett's solo career. Currie herself praised Fanning's performance and Jett said that the film really nailed the 1970s rock 'n roll vibe in L.A. No higher praise than that of the movie's subjects!
Bill Graham Films
This film should probably just be called "The Jim Morrison Movie" because that's what it is. Not that that's a bad thing — Val Kilmer delivers an eccentric performance as the wild rocker, depicting the good and bad aspects of his life. The movie shows how The Doors formed and then carries through with Morrison stealing the show, much as he did in real life, all the way up to his death at the tender age of 27. While fans and critics enjoyed the film, many members of The Doors, as well as friends and family of Morrison's, did not approve of his depiction.
Liberace had a long, fascinating life and this music biopic captures the last ten years of it. Based on the memoir Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace, by the artist's love Scott Thorson, the film gives lots of insight into the relationship between the two and Liberace's private life. Matt Damon plays Thorson and Michael Douglas in a transformative role plays the flamboyant pianist. The biopic may have been a made-for-TV movie from HBO but that didn't stop the accolades from rolling in. It won several Emmys and a Golden Globe during the 2013 awards season. Even those who don't know much about Liberace's life will find this biopic fantastically dramatic and entertaining.
The story of Jerry Lee Lewis is a complicated one and this music biopic tends to lean more towards the positive. Lewis is portrayed as a bumbling yet skilled piano man just trying to make it big. The film touches on his marriage with his 13-year-old cousin (uh, yeah, you read that right) and even dives into the career hit he took when that was revealed. Through it all, Lewis is just seen as a man who loves music and even declares at the end of the film that he may be going to hell, but at least he'll be playing the piano! Lewis himself approved of the film, and Dennis Quaid's depiction of him.
The real Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen were one of the wildest punk rock couples in history. Their relationship only lasted a little bit over a year before Spungen's death but at that time they became one of the most iconic couples in music history. Gary Oldman plays rocker Sid while Chloe Webb plays heroin-addicted Nancy. Their relationship ignites quickly and the film nails every detail of their self-destructive ways. The film has become a cult hit and Oldman's performance is recognized as one of the greatest in music biopic history!
I'm sure you're already singing Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do with It" in your head as you read that movie title. Turner has created such amazing little earworms that embed themselves in your head and the pop music charts. That's probably why she got her own biopic starring Angela Bassett. The film is based on her autobiography, "I, Tina," and follows the singer's rise to fame as well as her toxic relationship with Ike Turner. The film received high praise and Bassett even won a Golden Globe for her performance. The only person who didn't like it? Ike Turner, of course.
Lou Diamond Phillips plays the Chicano rocker Ritchie Valens in this heartfelt portrayal of the famed crossover artist. The film isn't a straight depiction of his life, though, and shows how his fame impacted everyone around him. The movie begins with Valens's rise to superstardom as a teen sensation — a 1950s Justin Bieber, if you will. It ends with the fateful flight that took his life, along with those of Buddy Holly and "The Big Bopper.". He may have died in a famous way but his life is what's on full display here.
This music biopic has pretty much the same ending as La Bamba: the fated plane crash that took both Holly and Valens out of the world. But the lead up to that point in time was much different for Holly. The film follows Holly's life from a teen rocker in Texas to worldwide success with his band The Crickets. Eventually, his persona begins to overshadow the band and leads to their breakup. Holly's solo career lends itself to tons of touring, which in the end becomes the death of him. The 1978 film is still praised as one of the best music biopics and holds a 100% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes!
Bad Boy Films
This film follows the entire life of rapper The Notorious B.I.G. or, as known to many, Biggie. It hits all the big moments in Biggie's life including his rise to fame with the help of Puffy, his relationship with Faith Evans, and the escalating tensions between the East Coast and West Coast rappers at the time. The film culminates in the deaths of Biggie and Tupac, since the two homicides have always been closely intertwined and speculated on. Biggie's legacy will always be wrapped up with Tupac's, but this film doesn't linger on their supposed feud. Biggie was his own person aside from a silly rap feud and this music biopic dives right into what made him who he was.
Forest Whitaker plays jazz sensation Charlie "Bird" Parker in a film that depicts the very difficult and storied life of a musician who was almost the biggest one in the world. He battled drug addiction, the death of his child, and a heart attack before his early death at the age of 34. He also became the proprietor of the jazz style "bebop" and was a New York City icon. The film is told in a montage fashion, cycling through the big parts of Bird's life. The story was brought to life by Clint Eastwood, who also produced and directed the passion project.
This is a very loose retelling of Marshall Mathers a.k.a Eminem's life story, but much of it is rooted in fact so it still counts as a music biopic. Mathers stars in the movie as B-Rabbit, a rapper who is a facsimile of his own rapper persona. The story is clearly very dramatized but still shows the broad strokes of Eminem's life as an up-and-coming white rapper in Detroit. The film was also accompanied by an autobiographical song about Em's life, "Lose Yourself," which won him an Oscar!
Rap biopics tend to be some of the best when it comes to this genre of films. Straight Outta Compton is no different, telling the story of the gangsta rap group N.W.A.. The surviving members of the group were all involved in the making of the film and ensured that an accurate story was told — at least in their perspective. They were so committed to accuracy that Ice Cube was played in the film by his real-life son O'Shea Jackson Jr.! The film was a huge critical and commercial success, garnering tons of awards nominations and wins. Dr. Dre even recorded an album named Compton inspired by watching the film.
The story of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez's life also launched Jennifer Lopez's career. J. Lo plays the singer from a child with talent to pop sensation. Selena was rising to prominence in Mexico and the United States when she was murdered by the president of her fan club at only 23. Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., served as a producer and consultant for Selena to maintain accuracy about and respect to his daughter's life. Lopez earned praise and several awards for her portrayal of the songstress.
Fox 2000 Pictures
This Johnny Cash biopic is in a class all its own. The movie bounces along Cash's life, showing his ascent in country music and his relationship with June Carter. Walk the Line doesn't shy away from the difficult points of Cash's life, showing all of the highs and lows as he gains fame and fortune. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon received high praise for their roles as Johnny and June, respectively. Witherspoon even earned an Academy Award for her role in the film! The inspiration for the biopic came from two documentaries about the singer that were morphed together and dramatized a bit for audiences. It's a deep dive into the light and dark aspects of a musical artist put on display for the world to see.