The Best Music Biopics Ever Made

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

It’s always incredible to see a great actor transform into another person. It’s especially amazing when that actor transforms into a musician, when he or she learns to play an instrument or mimics the musician’s voice so expertly that you can’t tell where the actor ends and the musician begins.

But which music biopics are the best of the best, cream of the crop? We’re glad you asked! Because here we’re going to investigate the best of all time. So, buckle up, and fire up the Netflix account (or whatever streaming service you prefer), and let’s enjoy the Venn Diagram of where music and Hollywood coincide.

Walk The Line (Johnny Cash)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: The rise of country music legend Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) begins with his days as a boy growing up on the family farm, where he struggles under the scorn of his father (Robert Patrick). As the years pass, Cash ends up in Memphis, Tenn., with his wife, Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), and breaks into the music scene after finding his trademark sound. While on tour, Cash meets the love of his life, singer June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), but Cash’s volatile lifestyle threatens to keep them apart.

Respect (Aretha Franklin)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: Following the rise of Aretha Franklin’s career—from a child singing in her father’s church choir to her international superstardom—it’s the remarkable true story of the music icon’s journey to find her voice.

Ray (Ray Charles)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: Legendary soul musician Ray Charles is portrayed by Jamie Foxx in this Oscar-winning biopic. Young Ray watches his 7-year-old brother drown at age seven. When he loses his sight at the age of 9, his hardworking mother (Sharon Warren) urges him not to feel sorry for himself. He rises through the ranks of the Seattle jazz scene, struggling with drug addiction and infidelity while on the road. Supported by his wife (Kerry Washington), Ray Charles redefines soul music and inspires a generation.

The United States Vs. Billie Holiday (Billie Holiday)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: The legendary Billie Holiday, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, spent much of her career being adored by fans across the globe, all while the Federal Department of Narcotics targeted her with an undercover sting operation led by black Federal Agent Jimmy Fletcher, with whom she had a tumultuous affair. Inspired by her life story, THE UNITED STATES VS. BILLIE HOLIDAY intimately examines her struggles with addiction, fame, and heartbreaking love.

Get On Up (James Brown)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) was born in extreme poverty in 1933 South Carolina and survived abandonment, abuse, and jail to become one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. He joined a gospel group as a teenager, but the jazz and blues along the “chitlin’ circuit” became his springboard to fame. Although his backup musicians came and went, Brown retained the ability to mesmerize audiences with his music, signature moves, and sexual energy.

I’m Not There (Bob Dylan)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: Several actors portray legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan at different stages in his personal life and career. In 1959 a guitar-strumming youth (Marcus Carl Franklin) rides the rails, calling himself “Guthrie.” Then a man named Jack (Christian Bale) emerges in New York’s Greenwich Village, followed by “Robbie (Heath Ledger),” Jude (Cate Blanchett), and other personalities.

The Doors (The Doors)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: After a psychedelic experience in the California desert, Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer), lead singer of The Doors, and his bandmates begin performing in Los Angeles and quickly become a sensation. However, when Jim begins ditching his musical responsibilities and his girlfriend, Pamela (Meg Ryan), in favor of his dangerous addictions and the affections of the seductive, occult-obsessed Patricia (Kathleen Quinlan), the band starts to worry about their leader.

Amadeus (Amadeus Mozart)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Tom Hulce) is a remarkably talented young Viennese composer who unwittingly finds a fierce rival in the disciplined and determined Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham). Resenting Mozart for both his hedonistic lifestyle and his undeniable talent, the highly religious Salieri is gradually consumed by his jealousy and becomes obsessed with Mozart’s downfall, leading to a devious scheme that has dire consequences for both men.

Bohemian Rhapsody (Freddie Mercury, Queen)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: Freddie Mercury—the lead singer of Queen—defies stereotypes and convention to become one of history’s most beloved entertainers. The band’s revolutionary sound and popular songs lead to Queen’s meteoric rise in the 1970s. After leaving the group to pursue a solo career, Mercury reunites with Queen for the benefit concert Live Aid — resulting in one of the greatest performances in rock ‘n’ roll history.

Rocket Man (Elton John)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: Young Reginald Dwight changes his name to Elton John and collaborates with singer-songwriter Bernie Taupin to become one of the most iconic figures in pop history. Set to his most beloved songs, it’s the epic musical story of Elton John, his breakthrough years in the 1970s, and his fantastical transformation from shy piano prodigy to international superstar.

Straight Outta Compton (N.W.A.)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: In 1988, a groundbreaking new group revolutionizes music and pop culture, changing and influencing hip-hop forever. N.W.A’s first studio album, “Straight Outta Compton,” stirs controversy with its brutally honest depiction of life in Southern Los Angeles. With guidance from veteran manager Jerry Heller, band members Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Ren navigate their way through the industry, acquiring fame, fortune and a place in history.

La Bamba (Richie Valens)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: Los Angeles teenager Ritchie Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips) becomes an overnight rock ‘n’ roll success in 1958, thanks to a love ballad called “Donna” that he wrote for his girlfriend (Danielle von Zerneck) whose parents didn’t want her to date a Latino boy. But as his star rises, Valens has conflicts with his jealous brother, Bob (Esai Morales), and becomes haunted by a recurring nightmare of a plane crash just as he begins his first national tour alongside Buddy Holly (Marshall Crenshaw).

Miles Ahead (Miles Davis)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: In the 1970s, down-and-out jazz trumpeter Miles Davis (Don Cheadle) tries to recover his new session tape from music producers.

Judy (Judy Garland)

Rotten Tomatoes Synopsis: Thirty years after starring in “The Wizard of Oz,” beloved actress and singer Judy Garland arrives in London to perform sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town nightclub. While there, she reminisces with friends and fans and begins a whirlwind romance with musician Mickey Deans, her soon-to-be fifth husband.

Jennifer Hudson in Respect Photo by Quantrell D. Colbert

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  1. Coal Miners Daughter & The Buddy Holly Story both deserve mention & high praise, with both lead actors convincingly using their own voices, adding texture and credibility.
    Bohemian Rhapsody portrays Freddie Mercury as creepily melodramatic, not the robust, energetic Freddie I grew up with in the 70’s. And while the Live Aid scene mimics the original, like all other performance scenes it lacks the joyousness of Freddie’s stage persona..
    Rocket Man takes Elton John’s story and portrays as campy Broadway musical..

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