In the world of popular music, the only thing that most people are more captivated by than the melodies and lyrics from the industry’s greatest artists is the stories behind the artists themselves. Whether it is to find a deeper, personal connection to these icons or just to experience a rock star’s storied – and sometimes infamous – lifestyle, moviegoers love musical biopics, such as ELVIS.
Of course, the critical and commercial hit from 2022 about the man referred to as “the King” is just the latest of many films from over the years that make learning about music history fun, thanks to thrilling musical interludes that appear throughout its fascinating, dramatic narrative. The following is a list of our own recommendations of movies from more recent years that fans of music biopics are sure to love.
If there is one name that is most synonymous with rock ‘n roll itself, it has to be Elvis Presley – a native of Memphis, Tennessee, with the voice of an angel, the looks of a devil and a dancing style unparalleled by anyone. Helping the musician achieve this international fame in the 1950s was his longtime manager, Colonel Tom Parker, with whom the musician endured a volatile relationship, as seen in this unique, thought-provoking retelling of his life.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD star Austin Butler embodies the title role of ELVIS alongside two-time Academy AwardⓇ winner Tom Hanks – unrecognizable as Colonel Tom Parker – who also produces. It is a thrilling, hip-swinging, visual masterwork that was brought to life from the mind of MOULIN ROUGE! director Baz Luhrmann.
One musician considered music royalty for many reasons – holding the undisputed titles of both “Queen of Soul” and “Queen of Singers” – is Aretha Franklin, whose iconic, unmistakable voice is behind some of the most beloved pop singles of all time, such as her version of “Respect.” Released in 2021, this film shares its name with the seminal track and gives audiences the chance to “find out what it means" to be Aretha.
As Jennifer Hudson revealed, Aretha Franklin herself picked Hudson to portray her and the late singer could not have chosen anyone better. The Academy AwardⓇ-winning DREAMGIRLS star and former “American Idol” contestant does all her own singing in RESPECT – the star-studded feature film debut of director Liesl Tommy.
A story as rich and legendary as the life of Elton John – who redefined what it meant to be a rock star with piano ballads that fused various styles together like “Tiny Dancer” or “Bennie and the Jets” – could never be told by conventional means. Luckily, this 2019 film from director Dexter Fletcher and also produced by the accomplished singer and pianist goes out of its way to be one of a kind.
While most musical biopics do not definitively fall under the category of “musicals,” that is not the case for ROCKETMAN, which tells Elton John’s story through highly stylized dance sequences set to the icon’s greatest hits. After stealing the show in the animated movie SING with an impassioned rendition of “I’m Still Standing,” British actor Taron Egerton fills the singer’s shoes using his own singing voice and even performs with the legend himself on the OscarⓇ-winning original song, “I’m Gonna Love Me Again.”
Few rock bands have broken ground in the music industry with as much ferocious zeal as Queen and there is not a single frontman in the history of rock music as influential as the group’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury. The story of how the powerhouse singer/songwriter led the band to greatness is reinterpreted into this highly entertaining blockbuster phenomenon from 2019.
While not performing any vocals himself, Rami Malek still completely disappears into the role of Mercury with a performance that earned him a Best Actor OscarⓇ. Outside of the epic finale set during 1985’s Live Aid, perhaps the most thrilling sequence in BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY sees the band’s tireless crusade to perfect the operatic song that the film borrows its title from.
Straight Outta Compton
The birth of hip-hop emergence as an important movement in honest societal commentary and self-expression can be traced back to the debut of NWA. Witness the story of their rap quintet made of California natives Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Easy E, MC Ren and DJ Yella in this brilliant 2015 drama based on their seminal, groundbreaking and often controversial career.
Helmed by FRIDAY director F. Gary Gray, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON – also the name of NWA’s debut album and its stellar title track – was produced by Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, whose son, O’Shea Jackson Jr. bears a striking resemblance to his father while portraying him in the film. He gives a star-making performance alongside the likes of Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Aldis Hodge and Neil Brown Jr.
Get On Up
Before his untimely death in 2020, OscarⓇ nominee Chadwick Boseman played numerous important icons of African-Amercan history, such as Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall. However, he would give, arguably, his most inspired and transformative performance as James Brown in GET ON UP.
In his follow-up to THE HELP, director Tate Taylor tells the story of the Godfather of Soul from his heartbreaking childhood to his troubling elder years and, in between, key moments of his storied, game-changing career that led to the birth of funk. Also starring Dan Aykroyd, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, this 2014 hit will make you “feel good.”
You will never look at your favorite artists the same way again after seeing their lives unfold right in front of your eyes in these classic musical biopics.