The best music biopics to binge on while in isolation
Let's be honest, we've got a lot of time on our hands at the moment. So what better way to while away a few hours than watching the lives of some of music's greatest ever talents unfold on the big screen (well, your TV at home).
Last updated: 8th Apr 2020
With the release in recent years of two heavyweight music biopics, Rocketman (Elton John) and Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen but primarily Freddie Mercury), our hunger for juicy, no-holds-barred tales of music, sex and drugs (there's nearly always sex and drugs) has returned with bells on... or in Elton's case, with bells, a feather boa and tasseled knee-high boots on.
Having recently published a list of our favourite music docs, and with us all still shut up at home on Coronavirus lockdown, we thought it as good a time as any to publish the best in music biopics.
Don't like our picks? Please do shout at us on social media. There's always room for part two...
Control is a stark, stunning and unforgettable film based on the life of legendary Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. Directed by Anton Corbijn (who worked with the band as a photographer), the screenplay was based on Touching from a Distance, the biography written by Curtis's widow Deborah, who also co-produced the film. Reportedly filmed in colour and then printed to black-and-white (to reflect the way Corbijn shot the band), each and every scene is a dramatic and drawn out account of Curtis' dour life in Macclesfield, his blossoming career and the fallout of fame, as well as his ongoing struggles with epilepsy and medication.
Elton John's life during the peak of his powers and height of his fame was a typically wild sex, drugs and roll & roll tale. In big screen format, 2019's Rocketman was a bit too much for some countries, with Russia, Malaysia, Samoa and Egypt either cutting some scenes or banning the film entirely (due in large part to the film's depiction of gay male sex). Taron Egerton triumphantly harnesses the charisma, star power and ego of Sir Elton (aka Reginald Kenneth Dwight) in this part biopic, part musical fantasy.
Walk The Line (2005)
Easily one of the most famous and successful portrayals of a musician to grace the big screen, Joaquin Phoenix taking on the life of Johnny Cash proved an irresistible proposition. The film follow's Cash's early life, his hard-earned breakthrough, the breakdown of his marriage and subsequent romance with June Carter, as well as his well-documented issues with drink and drugs. While Phoenix put in the performance of a lifetime (well, until Joker that is), it was Witherspoon who scooped a heap of awards, being named Best Actress at not only the Oscars but also the BAFTAs and Golden Globes.
The Runaways (2010)
This absolute blast of a movie centres on all-girl teen rock band The Runaways during their rise to fame in the 1970s, and stars Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart and Michael Shannon. Music video director Floria Sigismondi made her feature film directorial debut with The Runaways, and supposedly established early in development that she "wanted to make it a coming-of-age story and not a biopic" (but that's not stopping us from including it here). The film also boasts a killer soundtrack, featuring the likes of The Sex Pistols, David Bowie, The Stooges, Joan Jett and The Runaways too, of course, but also tracks sung by Fanning and Stewart themselves.
Nowhere Boy (2009)
Sam Taylor Wood's directing debut saw her team up with acclaimed screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh (who was also on board for Control) to portray the adolescence of John Lennon between the years of 1955 and 1960. Nowhere Boy focuses on Lennon's strained relations with his ruthlessly strict Aunt Mimi, who whom he lived with after being separated from his mother aged just five, and follows the formation of early Beatles incarnation The Quarrymen, as well as Lennon's relationship with his mum, who he visits on occasions. The film is an emotional rollercoaster and is important in explaining Lennon's widely portrayed bitterness and anger.
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Straight Outta Compton follows the successes and struggles of Ice Cube, Eazy E, Dr Dre, MC Ren and DJ Yella as members of the world's most notorious rap troupe, N.W.A. From battles with the police, as well as those with songwriting legalities, to the death of Eazy E and all that came in between. What takes this film to another level is that it also takes into account the solo careers of the group's most famous members, with Dr Dre's career and his relationships with Snoop Dogg and Tupac highlighted in particular.
What's Love Got To Do With It? (1993)
With a fascinating life story and career, and, of course, a back catalogue of classic anthems, a biopic centring on Tina Turner (real name Anna Mae Bullock) always seemed destined to deliver a stunning movie - and that it did. This is a warts-and-all account of her journey from time spent singing in a Baptist church choir to becoming a fully blown R&B legend, via her famously abusive marriage to Ike Turner. With a 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes it's most definitely a must watch.
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010)
As well as boasting incredible tunes and a plot so bizarre you'll barely believe it's true, this film boasts one of the finest acting performances you're ever likely to see in a musician biopic, courtesy of Andy Serkis. Delivering the brash, beguiling and brilliant character of Ian Dury in such a starkly convincing manner that it's worth watching on account of that alone, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll tells the Dury story brilliantly through tempestuous relationships and stories so scandalous you'll feel compelled to invest more time into the life and work of the new wave genius.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
There are very few greater British rock and roll bands than Queen; bold, unique, uncompromising and led by the late and great Freddie Mercury, one of the finest frontmen to ever set foot on stage. This biopic sees Rami Malek putting in the performance of a lifetime, which lead to a trio of awards in 2019, scooping Best Leading Actor at the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs.