The music industry is a glamorous one—at least that’s how it seems from the outside. But there’s a lot of things the fans don’t see, which is exactly why the music biopic genre is so successful. Not only is the film full of great music, but it gives fans a peek into the lives of their favourite artists. In fifty years, we might be watching biopics about Drake and Lady Gaga, but so far, here are some of the best music biopics out there.
This film focusing on 30 years in the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles won Jamie Foxx an Oscar for Best Actor. The film follows Charles from the age of seven when he first went blind through his rise as a star in the music industry when he started incorporating rhythm and blues, rock and roll, gospel, country, jazz and orchestral influences into his music style. In his role as Charles, Foxx performs classic songs like “Every Day I Have the Blues”, “Mess Around” and “Hit the Road Jack”
Walk the Line
The lives and relationship of June Carter and Johnny Cash were rocky to say the least. In Walk the Line, Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix play the country music couple portraying their passionate but strained relationship, the struggle with addiction and the ups and downs of the music industry. The soundtrack, which won the Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack for a Motion Picture includes performances of “Ring of Fire”, “I Walk the Line” and “It Ain’t Me Babe”.
Straight Outta Compton
N.W.A. was one of the earliest and most significant popularizers of the gangsta rap subgenre. They’re lyrics and views were controversial for glorifying crime and violence and the group was banned from many mainstream American radio stations. But that only made them more popular. Straight Outta Compton depicts a young Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy E as they form the group, produce its most well-known songs (like “F*ck tha Police”) and navigate their own personal and professional lives. It’s a must-watch for any hip-hop fan, just like the upcoming Tupac biopic, All Eyez On Me will be.
I’m Not There
A musician as iconic as Bob Dylan needs an equally iconic biopic. In I’m Not There, Dylan’s many public personas are portrayed by six different actors, including Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett and Heath Ledger in one of his final roles. Dylan is only mentioned in a caption in the beginning of the film that says it is “inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan”. The soundtrack includes songs like “Goin’ to Acapulco” and “Pressing On”.
The tragic story of Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla-Perez follows the young singer’s childhood and adolescence as she performs as part of a band with her father and sister. She career is just starting to take off when she is murdered at the age of 23 by the president of her fan club over a money dispute. Response by the Hispanic community to her death has been compared to the responses to the deaths of Elvis Presley and John Lennon. Selena’s father decided to produce a film to tell her story and “put an end to all the false rumours” making the film an important part of Mexican-American music history.
What’s Love Got To Do With It
Loosely based on the life of Tina Turner, What’s Love Got to Do With It is a must-watch for it’s depiction of domestic violence and Tuner’s hard-earned success after breaking free of an abusive marriage. Both Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne were nominated for Oscars for their portrayals of Tina Turner and Ike Turner, respectively. All the songs in the film, including “Proud Mary” and “River Deep – Mountain High” were re-recorded versions featuring Turner covering her own songs.
Love & Mercy
Focusing on Brian Wilson, co-founder of the Beach Boys, Love & Mercy jumps back and forth from the 1960s to the 1980s in a non-linear narrative style. Paul Dano portrays a young Wilson in the 60s when he was working on new and innovative song writing and recording techniques but also suffering from anxiety. John Cusack plays an older Wilson when he’s heavily medicated and being influenced by his therapist and legal guardian, Dr. Eugene Landy (played by Paul Giamatti). The film includes recordings of Beach Boys songs like “California Girls”, “Don’t Worry Baby” and “Wendy”.