For music fans it can be fascinating to delve deep into the background of their favourite artists. Be it through documentaries, the music itself or even autobiographies. But for the casual film-goer who just wants some straight-forward entertainment, they want to see their favourite stars putting themselves into the shoes of legendary entertainers. And being such a popular trend it still continues as news of upcoming biographies about Tupac Shakur and Janis Joplin have emerged, it’s a format that will continue to prosper in the future. Now that Don Cheadle has released his Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead, let’s see what other stars have made musical/film history.
10. The Doors (1991)
One of Oliver Stone’s several biographies starts off the list with Val Kilmer taking the role of “The Lizard King” Jim Morrison. Although I will mention again throughout the list, a lot of moments in the film have been dubbed inaccurate. Most of these allegations coming from those close to Morrison, including his bandmates. However it is still quite an interesting look and perspective from Stone focusing on Morrison’s obsession with death. And could they have really gotten anybody else to look like him?
9. Elvis (1979)
A brilliant look at the “King of Rock & Roll”, Elvis Presley. Some importance surrounds this production itself as it was directed by Horror legend John Carpenter after his success with Halloween (1978). And was his first collaboration with Kurt Russell as the two worked on several films together afterwards. However, Russell kills it as the “King”. The film itself has now become of legendary status, and its relevance can still be felt to this day. Good job lads. Good Job indeed.
8. I’m Not There (2007)
An interesting concept here, having the role of legendary folk musician Bob Dylan performed by six top notch actors. Following its own narrative and having each actor provide a different persona of Dylan’s character throughout his career, it’s a unique spin on the biopic genre. And another noteworthy entry in director Todd Haynes brilliant (albeit controversial) filmography. Also being Heath Ledgers final film to be released, it just adds a special something to an already special film.
7. The Buddy Holly Story (1978)
Like a lot of biographical films, the truth will more than likely get muddled up for the sake of drama. So there were several points of inaccuracies to be spotted in this telling of the late musician Buddy Holly. Historical point’s aside, it is still to this day a very entertaining movie. And a great Oscar-Nominated performance by leading man Gary Busey, before he became known as that Gary Busey (and no that was not a mistake). Good old-school rockabilly, what more could you ask for?
6. Ray (2004)
A great performance here by Jamie Foxx playing legendary rhythm and blues artist Ray Charles. Spanning over thirty years of the singers life, from his early beginnings, marriage and drug problems, Foxx received an academy award for his performance. And rightly so seeing as he got Charles’s characteristics right down to a tee. It is really a great depiction and one worthy of such accolades.
5. What’s Love Got to Do with it (1993)
A much more heart-breaking turn now compared to the other biographies on this list, as Angela Bassett plays the role of Tina Turner. Heart-breaking in the sense of showcasing the tumultuous marriage between Tina and her former husband Ike Turner. He beat and rapes her several times which is quite a harrowing depiction. Again, although both Ike and Tina have come out and said that several of these moments are inaccurate, it is still a tragic case of events, and a story that was badly needed to be told.
4. Bessie (2015)
A great television film starring Queen Latifah as the great blues singer Bessie Smith. Chronicling her beginnings on the early stage performances with her brother Clarence (Tory kittles), and the struggles of performing in most stage productions due to the colour of her skin. It also touches on several themes of Smiths sexuality and troublesome marriage to Jack Gee (Michael K. Williams). Although the film avoids the controversy surrounding Smiths death, it’s a fascinating look at a troubled individual. Who overcomes racism and her many personal issues, perfectly portrayed by Latifah herself.
3. Sid & Nancy (1986)
It seems to be a common thing in these biographies, with most of these musicians, that most of the troubles in their lives were the cause of their relationships with their spouse or partner. None of them compare however with Gary Oldman’s brilliant portrayal of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, and his dangerous relationship with the crazed Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). The film itself is a perfect metaphor for doomed love. And although the film culminates in the tragic demise of both figures, the build-up as to how this relationship was bad from the beginning, shows how both of these young people were on a path to destruction from the out-set.
2. Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Following the early days of notorious and controversial rap group N.W.A, this nearly three hour epic is definitely deserving of that word alone, epic. Using Ice Cubes own son to play the role of his father was a genius stroke, as you genuinely feel you are in the same world as these people depicted back in 1986. With stellar performances all around, it is fantastic in its depiction of police brutality and racial profiling, band jealousy, and the controversy and violence which surrounded “The World’s Most Dangerous Group”.
1. Walk the Line (2005)
And quite frankly one of the quintessential music biographies ever. Joaquin Phoenix stars as the great “Man in Black” and Reese Witherspoon plays the woman he fell for, June Carter Cash. One of the reasons the film works so well is the great casting of Phoenix. Not only does he look like Cash, but even sings like him too. One look no further than the brilliant scene where he introduces Folsom Prison Blues in a failed audition. With appearances from legendary artists at the time including Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, Roy Orbison and Waylon Jennings, it is just a perfect movie for lovers of music. And should continue to be appreciated for years to come.