5 Must-See Biopics About Notable Music Figures

The boss from the Hulu TV series The Bear, Jeremy Allen White, is reportedly in line to portray The Boss in the forthcoming music biopic Deliver Me from Nowhere. Director Scott Cooper will focus the film on Bruce Springsteen’s life circa his 1982 album Nebraska.

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Cooper’s film is based on Warren Zanes’s 2023 book Deliver Me from Nowhere: The Making of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.

While the casting has yet to be finalized, here’s a short list of must-see music biopics to keep you amused until White appears on film singing “Atlantic City.”

24 Hour Party People, Directed by Michael Winterbottom (2002)

The British biographical comedy follows the story of Tony Wilson and Factory Records amidst the burgeoning music scene in Manchester, England. In 1976, Wilson, then a TV presenter, saw the Sex Pistols perform live in Manchester, which inspired him to book punk rock shows. Steve Coogan portrays Wilson as he starts Factory Records and signs Joy Division.

Following Ian Curtis’s suicide, Joy Division changed its name to New Order and eventually had a massive hit with “Blue Monday.” Then Wilson opened a legendary nightclub called the Haçienda, which led to drug-fueled rave culture and the Baggy indie dance genre with Happy Mondays.

Wilson’s poor business decisions forced him to sell Factory to London Records. However, without any contracts with its artists, the label didn’t own its catalog, and London walked away from the deal. Wilson’s story culminates in mounting bad decisions, and there’s a scene where God appears as Wilson smokes a joint on the roof of the Haçienda. The club has closed as God promises Wilson a place in history.

8 Mile, Directed by Curtis Hanson (2002)

Using autobiographical elements from Eminem’s life, the film follows an aspiring rapper named Jimmy Smith, Jr. (portrayed by Eminem). Jimmy is a blue-collar worker who lives in a trailer park with his family in Detroit.

Jimmy must overcome the tumult of his home life and self-doubt as he competes in rap battles. Think of 8 Mile as hip-hop’s version of Rocky.

The film featured Eminem’s defining hit “Lose Yourself,” which became his first No. 1 single. Meanwhile, the official soundtrack debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. “Lose Yourself” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and two Grammys for Best Rap Song and Best Male Rap Solo Performance.

La Bamba, Directed by Luis Valdez (1987)

La Bamba follows the story of Ritchie Valens (played by Lou Diamond Phillips). It’s a classic rags-to-riches story that ends tragically in a 1959 plane crash—colloquially known as The Day the Music Died from Don McLean’s famous song, “American Pie.”

In the film, as Valens becomes successful, he overcomes his fear of flying to perform in Philadelphia on American Bandstand. Following his successful hits “La Bamba” and “Donna,” Valens joins a tour with Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper (J. P. Richardson). However, the tour bus breaks down in Iowa, so Valens, Holly, and The Big Bopper charter a flight to the next show. The plane crashes in Iowa, killing everyone on board. Valens was only 17 years old.  

Los Lobos covers six Ritchie Valens songs on the soundtrack, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Their cover of “La Bamba” topped the Billboard Hot 100, transforming the Mexican folk song into a multi-generational hit.

The Doors, Directed by Oliver Stone (1991)

Val Kilmer portrays Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s biopic. The film follows Morrison as he arrives in California and eventually forms The Doors with Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger, and John Densmore.

The Death Valley acid trip scene became iconic, while Stone plays up the myth of Jim Morrison through drugs, debauchery, and pseudo-poetry. The film used original band recordings combined with vocal performances by Kilmer.

Following the recording of L.A. Woman, which includes Morrison’s farewell ode to Los Angeles, the singer moved to Paris, where he’s eventually discovered dead in the bathtub of his girlfriend’s apartment.

The Pianist, Directed by Roman Polanski (2002)

Roman Polanski’s war film is based on the memoir of Polish-Jewish pianist Władysław Szpilman, played by Adrien Brody. In 1939, Szpilman was performing live on Warsaw radio when Nazi Germany invaded Poland.

The poignant film follows Brody, as Szpilman, using music to survive the brutal conditions of the Warsaw Ghetto. Under constant threat from the SS, Szpilman finds work performing in a cafe. He avoids being transported to an extermination camp when a friend recognizes him and separates the pianist from his family.

In a powerful scene, a German officer and captain asks a battered Szpilman to play piano, and he manages to perform Chopin’s “Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23.” The officer lets Szpilman hide in the attic and supplies him with food. After the war, Szpilman returned to performing on Polish radio. He died in 2000 at age 88. The officer, Wilm Hosenfeld, died in Soviet captivity in 1952.

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