There is something about musical biopics that Hollywood just loves. Seeing the lives of well-known artists depicted up on the big screen accompanied by some of their most famous music can be thrilling and has resulted in some big successes recently, like Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody.
Like any genre, the musical biopics have a number of hits and misses. When the right actors and filmmakers bring a music icon’s story to life, it can be great. But these movies can also feel formulaic and dull when done poorly. Here are some of the best and worst biopics about famous musicians, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
13 Straight Outta Compton (88%)
Few genres of music inspired as much controversy as the gangster rap genre that emerged in the late 80s/early 90s. Straight Outta Compton chronicles the journey of one of the genre’s most influential groups NWA and sheds light on their mission to combat authority with their music.
Director F. Gary Gray was praised for his confident direction and ability to maintain a fun and thrilling energy throughout the story. The young cast also received a lot of praise for successfully portraying these real-life icons.
12 The Dirt (39%)
Mötley Crüe is a band that seemed to live by the phrase “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” so the story of their rise to fame was sure to be an interesting one. The film stars Douglas Booth, Iwan Rheon, Machine Gun Kelly, and Daniel Webber as the misfit bandmembers who formed the popular group and lived a life of excess.
Critics freely admitted that the film successfully captured the wild and hard-partying ways of the band, but they were disappointed that the film didn't seem interested in going any deeper than that. As a result, they felt the movie was a romp that celebrates these irresponsible rockers.
11 Love & Mercy (90%)
The Beach Boys are not always given their due as groundbreaking musicians, but their music remains incredibly influential to this day. Love & Mercy follows the genius behind the music, Brian Wilson. The film jumps between the 1960s as Wilson was battling early psychosis while making experimental music and the 1980s as his life was being overseen by a shady therapist.
Critics found that the film succeeded where other biopics have failed for its willingness to play against convention which is fitting, given the subject of the film. The performances were also praised, especially Paul Dano as Wilson in the 1960s era.
10 I Saw The Light (20%)
Country music is not for everyone, but there are few people that don’t recognize the iconic voice of Hank Williams. Tom Hiddleston stars as the famed country singer who created a stunning body of work in his short career while struggling with the vices that came along with his rise to fame.
Hiddleston and the rest of the cast received positive reactions for their performances, but critics largely agreed that wasn’t enough to elevate the film. They called the film an unfocused look at Williams’ career while never capturing his enduring popularity.
9 Behind The Candelabra (95%)
Liberace was one of the most extravagant performers in the business, but he tried hard to keep his private life a secret. Behind the Candelabra stars Matt Damon as a young man who forms a passionate relationship with Liberace (Michael Douglas) and becomes seduced by his life of luxury.
The sharp direction by Steven Soderberg was pointed at as an unsung hero of the movie, but the real stars were Douglas and Damon. Both actors played off each other so well comedically and dramatically which made for a charming and entertaining film.
7 All Eyez On Me (18%)
Tupac Shakur remains one of the most popular musicians of all time even decades after his death. All Eyes on Me takes a look at Tupac’s troubled early life, his run-ins with the law and his attempts to deliver important messages through his music while dealing with the temptations of fame.
Critics admitted that the performance by newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. was effective but that is pretty much all the positivity they could muster. They maintained the film only skimmed the surface of Tupac’s fascinating story and presented his life in a dull, by-the-numbers way.
5 What’s Love Got To Do With It? (96%)
Tina Turner is a truly powerful performer and the story behind her success is equally powerful. What’s Love Got to Do with It? star Angela Bassett as Tina who finds fame after joining forces with singer Ike Turner (Laurence Fishburne). However, when Ike’s abusive ways push her too far, she sets out to make a name for herself.
The empowering story was something that lifted this biopic above many others in the genre, according to most critics. It made for a powerful and moving real-life tale and the performances from Bassett and Fishburne were praised as brilliant.
4 Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ (16%)
Eminem made a highly praised film debut with 8 Mile which was a semi-biographical tale of his own life. With Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent attempted to do the same in this drama based on his life of crime which led to a near-death experience and his attempt to escape it through his music.
The film did not receive the same acclaim as 8 Mile despite its similarities. Critics acknowledge that the events might be based on the life of its star, but the movie presents them as a too-familiar tale of rags-to-riches while 50 Cent’s acting skills left something to be desired.
2 The Buddy Holly Story (100%)
Buddy Holly is an instantly recognizable musician and one of those great artists whose career was cut short by tragedy. Gary Busey stars in this exploration of Holly’s career from his early days to his meteoric rise to fame to the controversy of his music to his untimely death.
Busey’s performance was highlighted as the real spark behind this movie. Critics were charmed and impressed with the young actor’s sterling work which was backed up by an entertaining story of Holly’s brilliant career.
1 Nina (2%)
Nina Simone might not be as popular as some of the other musicians on this list, but she is one of the most unique and moving performers of all time. Nina stars Zoe Saldana as Simone and took a look at her relationship with her manager who helped to steer her onto a comeback path after her own demons sidelined her career.
Critics pulled no punches in deriding the movie as well below what an artist like Simone deserves. They called the entire project a misguided affair that failed to adequately capture anything that made Simone such a special figure.