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Big Screen Sounds: The Best Music Biopics Ever Made

Elton John wants Justin TImberlake to play him in a biopic based on his life. We take a look at some of the best musical biopics ever made.

Rohan Shah Jan 09, 2012
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Recently, Elton John announced his intention to release a biopic about his long career, expressing a desire for Justin Timberlake to play the title role. With a Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) film in the works about Jazz legend Miles Davis, as well as a biopic about Freddie Mercury set to star Sacha Baron Cohen (Bruno, Borat), fans of the musical biopic can take comfort in the news that producers still have a desire to bring the lives of musicians to the silver screen.

Here are some biopics that both aid in the appreciation of the artist’s work and stand out as films in their own right.

I’m Not There (2007)

How do you portray someone whose public image is multifarious and contrasting, yet who happens to be a cultural icon? Todd Haynes’ film successfully splits Bob Dylan into six characters, who range from an 11-year-old black boy to a fair skinned Australian actress.

Here’s a song from the movie,  ‘G’oin to Acapulco’ performed by Jim James and Calexico with Richard Gere looking on:

 

 

 

Amadeus (1984)

Miloš Forman takes Peter Schaffer’s play about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to the screen, and in doing so, provides us with the ultimate rockstar paradigm in the unlikely form of classical music’s darling.

Check out this overview of the film featuring a medley of Mozart’s three most famous piaono concertos – K482 3rd Movement, K271 2nd Movement and K449 3rd Movement:

 

What’s Love Got To Do With It (1993)

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The film is a compelling take on the life of legendary American singer Tina Turner based on her autobiography I,Tina. What makes the film soar, are the two leading performances. Angela Bassett’s Tina evokes sympathy as the country girl, who gets sucked in by the music industry, and Laurence Fishburne fills the screen as Ike Turner, her abusive and tyrannical husband and fellow performer.

Watch Angela Bassett bring Turner’s Grammy-winning ballad to life:

 

 

Ray (2005)

The film that won Jamie Foxx his Oscar in the Best Actor category and highlighted the pivotal moment in music history when black gospel vocals and melodies made the secular crossover to subjects related to sex and other such lighter issues.

Here’s Jamie Foxx singing ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’:

 

 


Control (2007)

Based on the life of troubled Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, the film gives us an insight into the post-punk movement and the emergence of the Manchester band. The film follows Ian’s life from a working class benefits officer to becoming part of one the most influential bands of the late seventies.

 

 

Walk The Line (2005)

The country music legend, Johnny Cash, is brought to the screen by a convincing Joaquin Phoenix, while Reese Witherspoon gives an Oscar-winning performance as his wife and collaborator June Carter.

Here’s Phoenix doing a rendition of  ‘Cocoaine Blues:

 

 

Sid And Nancy (1986)

Gary Oldman is mesmerizing as the young bassist of The Sex Pistols, in this punk Romeo and Juliet that depicts the tragic love story of Sid Vicious and American groupie Nancy Spungen. The depiction of the original rock ‘n’ roll couple’s self-destructive, drug fuelled life, aims to provide a window into the darker recesses of the punk movement. We are also treated to cameo appearances from Iggy Pop, Courtney Love and Slash among others.

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Cadillac Records (2008)

The film revolves around Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), the son of Jewish immigrants, who co-founded the legendary US label, Chess Records. We bear witness to the burgeoning talents of the ‘crossover’ black acts of the 1950s such as Etta James (Beyonce Knowles), Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright) and Chuck Berry (Mos Def).

 

 

The Doors (1991)

Oliver Stone takes the helm of this biopic about the eponymous band, with Val Kilmer bearing an uncanny resemblance, in both voice and appearance, to the late Jim Morrison.

Here Val Kilmer performs ‘Five To One’:

 

 

Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

The film is a fascinating coming-of-age story about the life of country singer of Loretta Lynn, which earned Sissy Spacek an Oscar in the title role. The film examines how a girl born in abject poverty, a bride at 13, and grandmother by the age of 29 went on to become one of the earliest female country superstars.

Sissy Spacek and Levon Helm perform ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’:

 

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