10 essential music biopics

From Piaf to Jim Morrison

10 essential music biopics

Biopics are a great way to get injected with some general and pop culture. In this list we pick 10 of the best music related biopics, from the wild life of Rock Star Jim Morrison to the tortured French Chanson singer Édith Piaf.

“The Doors”

Loosely based on the Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman biography “No One Here Gets Out Alive” Oliver Stone’s controversial take on Jim Morrison’s life during his time with The Doors it’s one of the best rock biopics of all time. Stone dramatized Morrison’s life and events to fit a 6 year period on a little bit over 2 hours movie, which sparkled criticism from the survivor Doors members back then, specially keyboardist Ray Manzarek, for the use of non factual events in order to emphasize the drama in the movie, touching deeply the Morrison addiction problems and spiritual beliefs and less deeply The Doors music and career. In it’s defense, it did helped a new generation getting introduced to The Doors. It’s the ultimate tale of the typical rock star life, filled with excess, debauchery and culminating in an early death at 27. Val Kilmer has one of his most memorable roles here as he embodies Morrison to the point of singing some of the songs vocals.. Kilmer’s Morrison persona is well crafted helped by the look and wardrobe carefully put together to get as close as the actual Morrison. The cast includes names such as Meg Ryan, Kyle MacLachlan and even Billy Idol appearing as a Morrison drinking buddy. Special cameo appearances from The Doors members John Densmore and Robby Krieger aswell as the band’s producer Paul A. Rothschild. If you’re a Doors fan you have probably watched it, if you’re not, this is still a very good way to get introduced to The Doors, the soundtrack is literally filled with iconic Doors songs, if you like it you can take it from there.

Year: 1991
Origin: U.S.A
Directed by: Oliver Stone
Starring: Val Kilmer, Meg Ryan, Kyle MacLachlan, Kevin Dillon, Frank Whaley,Michael Wincott


“La Bamba”

One of the 1980’s blockbusters, “La Bamba” takes you through the short life of Rock N’ Roller Ritchie Valens. The movie explores the late 1950’s american Rock N’ Roll boom, when musicians were turning into what would later be called Rock Stars. Historically it shows a niche of the American society by exploring the lives of Mexican-Americans in California, among those was Ritchie Valens, 17 years old that in less than a year went from an anonymous aspiring Rock guitarist to a performer on Dick Clark’s nation wide TV Show “American Bandstand”. Tragically, with a row of 3 smash hits produced in a few months “C’mon Let’s Go”, “Donna” and “La Bamba”, his life and career were cut short in 1959 on the infamous plane crash that killed him, Buddy Holy and The Big Booper. Great performances by Lou Diamond Philips and Esai Morales portraying Valen’s older and unstable brother Bob Morales. A nice glimpse of a period in time and rock n’ roll history.

Year: 1987
Origin: U.S.A
Directed by: Luis Valdez
Starring: Lou Diamond Phillips, Esai Morales, Rosanna DeSoto, Elizabeth Peña


It’s hard to find a decent biopic that dramatizes actual events of a band that are still around like The Rolling Stones, specially the Stones. All though focused on the late Stones founder and guitarist Brian Jones, “Stoned” follows the band’s early years through flashbacks that Jones has during his last days. In 1969, self-exiled on his mansion, with addiction problems and increasingly depressed, Jones reflects back on his life and the events that brought him to where he is, the rise to fame, the problematic relationship with his former girlfriend Anita Palemberg and the excessive drug use . Through out the movie the flashbacks are mixed with scenes of The Stones from their early days as a club band sharing a small apartment together in London to an established millionaire rock band spending vacations in Morocco. It ends with Jones alienated from the rest of the band and the world. dead in mysterious circumstances on his swimming pool at 27. Although not a big production and not very popular, this is a good rock biopic to watch, the acting is good, it’s well directed and the soundtrack get’s over the problem of not using original Rolling Stones songs, it uses some of their most famous covers though and some of Jones own compositions.

Year: 2005
Origin: U.K
Directed by: Stephen Woolley
Starring: Leo Gregory, Paddy Considine, David Morrissey,Ben Whishaw

“Great Balls Of Fire”

Jerry Lee Lewis will always be considered the father of all Rock N’ Roll wild men, a pioneer in Rock extravaganza and attitude, Jerry loved the shock and controversy from an early age. This movie dramatizes his life during his golden years and focus on his rise to fame and the controversial stage act and marriage to his underage cousin. Dennis Quaid plays a convincing Jerry Lee Lewis.

Year: 1989
Origin: U.S.A
Directed by: Jim McBride
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Winona Ryder, John Doe

“Lennon Naked”

A TV Movie, “Lennon Naked” it’s a good take on John Lennon’s late 60’s life and the beginning of his relationship to Yoko Ono. This British production focuses on Lennon’s distancing himself from The Beatles and from his early Beatles persona, his relationship with Yoko Ono that changes his life perspectives and culminates on the pursuing of a solo career. It goes deep into his personal life, inner demons, such as the death of his mother as a teenager and the strained relationship with his father. There are many of Lennon’s famous moments dramatized here such as his first meeting with Yoko during her art exposition, the recording sessions for their albums “Two Virgins” and “Unfinished Music”, the naked self-photo shoot, his divorce to Cynthia, the distant father to son relationship with Julian, the end of The Beatles, his tense relationship with McCartney towards the end of the 60’s and his departure to the United States in the early 70’s among others. Good acting overall, a well done movie that you’ll enjoy if you can get over the fact that there aren’t any Beatles music and that the actors aren’t physically very close to the actual real life persons they interpret.

Year: 2010
Origin: U.K
Directed by: Edmund Coulthard
Starring: Christopher Eccleston, Christopher Fairbank, Allan Corduner

“La Vie en Rose”

The dramatic life of french singer Édith Piaf, this is one of the most critically acclaimed music biopics. Wonderfully shot, with top class acting and soundtrack, a wonderful work of the actress Marion Cotillard that portrays Piaf so accurate, to the point where you really start seeing her as the real Piaf and not a role. The movie follows her both tragic and successful life, from a child in the poor streets of Paris that was raised in a brothel until her rise to fame and her struggles with love and loneliness that leads her deeper into depression and mental illness, but always with glorious scenes of her performances and success. Even if you’re not into French music or culture, this a beautiful movie to watch, definitively worth the time you’ll spend on it.

Year: 2007
Origin: France,U.K. Czech Republic
Directed by: Olivier Dahan
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory

“What’s Love Got to Do With It”

Based on Tina Turner’s auto biography, this is a a well accomplished job on accurately dramatizing Tina Turner’s fantastic troubled and successful life. Angela Basset embodies Tina throughout the movie brilliantly, it follows Tina rise to success at the same time she suffers abuse from her husband Ike. This movie shows a strong Tina struggling through several decades to release herself from Ike Turner. Very good reenactments of recording sessions including the ones with Phil Spector as well as of live shows. Tina Turner is one of the Rock’s strongest women and this movie does her justice.

Year: 1993
Origin: U.S.A
Directed by: Brian Gibson
Starring: Angela Bassett, Laurence Fishburne, RaéVen Kelly


Directed by Anton Corbjin, which is more famous for his works as a photographer and video director for names such as U2, Depeche Mode, Nirvana and also Ian Curtis and Joy Division among many others.The movie is in black and white, monochromatic as Corbjin most famous works are, which fits perfectly into the whole dark story that is the disturbing and paradoxical life of Curtis that decided to end his life hours before embarking on a Joy Division U.S tour that would bring the band the much desirable success. The actor Sam Riley does a good job in channeling Curtis including the dramatic epilepsy attack scenes. There are a lot of Joy Division music and their influences (David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop, Roxy Music etc. ) to be enjoyed as a soundtrack throughout the movie.

Year: 2007
Origin: U.K, U.S.A, Australia, Japan
Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Sam Riley, Samantha Morton, Craig Parkinson

“Sid and Nancy”

The wild and short life of Sid Vicious put on film by Alex Cox in this now 1980’s classic starring Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious it’s another movie on this list that you should watch if you’re a fan of the genre. It dramatizes mainly the period from 1977 to 1979 of The Sex Pistols, pretty much starting when Sid joins the band until his death in 1979. The acting is decent, but Oldman is probably the one doing the best job at it. To simplify it, this is a tale about a young 21 year old junkie that rises to fame quickly after he is hired as a bass player for his favorite band, The Sex Pistols,. What follows is a downward spiral together with his older American girlfriend Nancy Spungen, his fast rise as head of the Punk Rock movement that culminates in her murder while on an heroin binge and Viciou’s deadly overdose. The conflicts between the band and the break up in the middle of their only U.S tour are subjects also focused on the movie. As a “bonus” you get to watch a young pre-grunge Courtney Love on a small role trying to make it as an actress.

Year: 1986
Origin: U.K
Directed by: Alex Cox
Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, David Hayman

“Little Richard”

A TV movie that is a somehow obscure biopic of Little Richard, but the best one focusing on the life of this Rock N’ Roll legend. This movie follows Richard since he was a child with a taste for crossdressing. It’s an accurate document on the 1950’s American conservative society which Little Richard defied, being by the way he played his music and the subjects he wrote about or his controversial sexuality and interracial relationships. By the 1960’s he became a born again Christian but couldn’t stay quiet for too long. Actor Leon embraces this role fully, this movie is a celebration of Little Richard life, music and must watch for a rock or pop culture fan.

Year: 2000
Origin: U.S.A
Directed by: Robert Townsend
Starring: Leon, Jenifer Lewis, Carl Lumbly

Special Mention:

“Velvet Goldmine”

Velvet Goldmine” is a movie that uses fictional characters to romanticize mainly the lives and friendship of David Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop during the crazy 1970’s Glam Rock movement. Although not authorized by neither one of them, the movie uses general references to their career and mashes up Iggy Pop with Lou Reed creating the Rock Star character Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor). Bowie’s life is fictionalized through the character Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a once daring bisexual rock star (based on Ziggy Stardust) that with the coming of the 1980’s mainstreams himself on purpose, just like Bowie did. No Bowie original music was allowed to be featured in the movie, however the soundtrack features songs by Brian Eno,Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Placebo, Thom York and many others (Placebo have a special appearance as Glam band doing T.Rex’s “20th Century Boy”) The title of the movie itself is based on a Bowie song called “Velvet Goldmine”.

Year: 1998
Origin: U.K, U.S.A
Directed by: Todd Haynes
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Christian Bale, Toni Collette, Eddie Izzard

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