With the announcement of the Weird Al Yankovic biopic starring Daniel Radcliff, we will add yet another biographical drama of a musician to our library. Audiences have always been interested in the fast-paced, drug and alcohol fueled lives of famous rock stars. When we listen to our favorite artists we sometimes wonder, where did this talent come from?
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Biopics provide an in-depth look at how some of our favorite musicians have struggled and toiled over their music until they were finally recognized for their gifts. We can find ways to relate and understand how their lives are not unlike any others, they just had a dream that they wouldn’t let go, one that propelled their lives further than they could imagine.
I’m Not There (2007)
This film sets itself apart from the traditions of biographical movies by indirectly depicting different parts of Bob Dylan’s life. In the opening scene, “Inspired by the music and the many lives of Bob Dylan” is displayed on the screen but is the only mention of Dylan in the entire film.
Instead of utilizing the conventional biopic motif of chronicling the life of a musician from beginning to end, director Todd Haynes uses seven different actors including Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, and Heath Ledger, to portray Dylan-inspired characters as the narrative weaves together their storylines to loosely depict the folk-rocker’s eccentric life.
The Runaways (2010)
Starring Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, The Runaways is about two struggling girls who come together to create a new movement in the ‘70s punk underground. This film goes down as one of Stewart’s most underrated performances, which was praised heavily by Joan Jett.
The Runaways is an emotional ride through the seedy alleys of Los Angeles. Audiences not only get a glimpse of a monumental punk rock band from the ’70s, but the perspective of women in a setting predominately dominated by men in that era and beyond.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
This movie was directed by Bryan Singer who gave us the X-Men films as well as Superman Returns. It’s a biographical drama following the creation of the 1970s rock band Queen, and their rise to fame. Rami Malek depicts Freddie Mercury, or Farrokh Bulsara as he was originally known, and his journey as the lead vocalist of a band that was battling for their big break.
While this is a straightforward biopic about Mercury and his formation of Queen, the film received four Academy Awards in 2018, one going to Malek for best actor. The ambition of Queen and the lives they changed is portrayed masterfully in this must-watch film.
Image via Paramount Pictures
Directed by Bill Condon of the Twilight saga, three struggling singers are approached by a talent agent and given the chance of a lifetime. After some time on the road, they eventually form The Dreams, an R&B sensation of the 1960s and ’70s. Dreamgirls really nails the idea that even when we reach our highest aspirations, there is still so much struggle to prove ourselves.
With an all-star cast featuring Beyoncé Knowles, Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose, Jamie Foxx, and Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls is a musical drama inspired by the history of Motown records and their famous act The Supremes. The film received wide critical acclaim for its dazzling musical performances and won three Academy Awards in 2006.
Image via Paramount Pictures
Drawing inspiration from the success of Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman follows the life of the Rock singer Elton John. The film is told through many flashbacks and jumps around through different eras of John’s life. The nonlinear style is a way of portraying the struggle John went through with drug addiction, his sexuality, and the fast-paced reality of a working musician.
The film stars Welsh actor Taron Egerton, a new face, but some may recognize him from another biopic from 2016 about the ski-jumper Michael David Edwards, Eddie the Eagle.
Walk the Line (2005)
Walk the Line is based on two autobiographies, Man in Black (1975) and Cash: The Autobiography (1997) about the Outlaw Country singer-songwriter Johnny Cash. The film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as his love interest June Carter.
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Walk the Line chronicles the beginning of Cash’s career when he joined the military and bought his first guitar to take his mind off the horrors of war, to when he played at Folsom State Prison which skyrocketed his career into fame. Phoenix does an amazing portrayal of Cash, and even sings every song in the film himself.
The Dirt (2019)
A Netflix original based on a biography chronicling the Rock and Roll band Mötley Crüe, The Dirt is a depiction of how detrimental the music industry can be to beginning artists. It sticks to the biographical drama formula, illustrating each member of the band’s early life as they struggle to find themselves, eventually coming together and realizing they have something special between them.
While the film did not receive a positive critical response, it’s held up as an accurate portrayal of the band’s existence, even though it does withhold from some areas of the band members’ lives. It was directed by the mastermind behind the Jackass movies, Jeff Tremaine.
Nowhere Boy (2009)
Image via The Weinstein Company
Sam Taylor-Wood’s director debut is about a young John Lennon and his early life growing up with his aunt and uncle and realizing his love for music. Aaron Johnson, who played Pietro Maximoff in Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and may come back to portray Kraven the Hunter, depicts a young Lennon and his formation of The Quarrymen, the band that would later become The Beatles.
The film did not break any cinematic barriers, but was praised for its subtle approach at depicting a musical giant. Not just a movie about a legendary guitar player, but also about England in the 1950s and ‘60s, and about how a family isn’t restricted to a mother and father, but to those that accept us for who we are.
Jersey Boys (2014)
Directed by Clint Eastwood, Jersey Boys follows the formation of the 1960s rock band The Four Seasons. While it does come off as just another musician biopic, where Jersey Boys sets itself apart is cataloging every facet of the band’s career. From early life, to formation, to the eventual breakup, Jersey Boys was critically praised for Eastwood’s narrative direction.
The film stars John Lloyd Young as band frontman Frakie Valli, who received a Tony Award for his depiction of the singer in the Broadway production of the same name.
Miles Ahead (2015)
This story doesn’t begin with the early life of Miles Davis but takes place during a five-year period when he took a break from touring due to chronic pain in his hip. It’s during his brief memories does the audience flashback to Davis’ early life, the beginning of his career, and it’s here where we understand just how far he has come and how much he has struggled.
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Don Cheadle directed and starred as the famous jazz musician Miles Davis. The film was praised for its nonlinear narrative, jumping around to different critical moments in Davis’ life. Cheadle was also praised for his ambition and his vision as a director.
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About The Author
(22 Articles Published)
Clayton is an Editor and Writer at Collider. When he isn’t writing, he’s playing music, doodling some pictures, riding the bus, or watching a movie. He loves petting random dogs on the street, feeding chickens, and making a single-pot meal.
From Clayton Curtice
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