There have been dozens of films over the years that chronicle the lives of musicians, as moviegoers seem to devour the true or semi-true stories of their favorite artists, and even more than that, they love stars playing stars.
Something about seeing behind the curtain of the music legend the public often holds in such high regard is both thrilling and at times devastating, leaving audiences always hungry for more. Perhaps this is because it brings these ‘gods’ back down to Earth, allowing viewers to share a sense of humanity with their idols, or maybe it’s because of what I said before – they love to see their idols taking on the role of other idols.
Either way, the musical biopic has given us an inside look at the rises and falls of these musicians – how they got to where they are, who helped them get there, who tried to stop them, and how many of these heroes met tragic ends – and viewers can’t get enough. So Hollywood produces more and more, year after year.
You’d be surprised just how many of these music dramas exist, and how few of them have been as culturally impactful as the filmmakers had hoped. Take the hip-hop arena, for example: films about rap icons The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur exist, but did not yield the acclaim from critics nor audiences to be meaningful and effective at remembering these incredibly influential stars. “Straight Outta Compton,” (2017) however, might have been the saving grace that the hip-hop biopic needed, presenting an emotional (and political) portrait of the formation and swift rise to prominence of N.W.A. Come for your favorite hits, stay for O’Shea Jackson Jr. playing his father, Ice Cube.
There is a film for nearly every famous artist you can think of, but a shortlist of those that ‘mattered’ in the film and broader cultural sphere.
In the 80s, we got “Amadeus,” following (arguably) one of the first truly famous musicians, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and “Bird,” a Clint Eastwood-directed, Oscar-winning feature about jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, which took a much darker look at Parker’s history of mental illness and drug abuse. And let’s not forget “La Bamba,” in which Lou Diamond Phillips takes on the role of Chicano singer Ritchie Valens.
The 90s brought “Evita” and “Selena,” with actor-singers Madonna and Jennifer Lopez taking center stage as Evita Duarte and Selena Quintanilla-Perez, respectively, and Val Kilmer in “The Doors” as frontrunner Jim Morisson. The 2000s saw “8 Mile,” (Eminem!), “Ray” (Ray Charles), “Walk the Line” (Johnny Cash and June Carter), “I’m Not There,” (Bob Dylan), “La Vie En Rose,” (Edith Piaf), and “Nowhere Boy” (John Lennon).
And as we reach the present day, we have “Get on Up,” which starred a pre-Black Panther Chadwick Boseman as James Brown, “Behind the Candelabra,” and major box-office hits like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “Rocketman.”
Who’s the next subject of the ever-popular musical biopic? The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, played by Jennifer Hudson in “Respect,” coming to a theater with social-distancing measures near you this December.