Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and Rocketman (2019) released to thunderous media and audience buzz. The last year has been a landmark one in the music biopic circuit. Despite the controversy surrounding director Bryan Singer and rampant questions concerning the film's accuracy, Bohemian Rhapsody managed to demolish box office records and procure four Oscars (including the highly coveted Oscar for best actor). While it didn't quite measure up to Bohemian Rhapsody's lush box office success, Rocketman held its own, enjoying seemingly boundless praise for its production quality and for Taron Egerton's performance as the force of nature that is Elton John.
With the lofty popularity of both Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman evident in the enormous demand for similar stories, let's take a look back at a few existing biopics that may have been forgotten in the wake of two such tremendous narratives.
Floria Sigismondi's directorial debut The Runaways chronicles the brief gritty success of the iconic 1970s all-female titular rock group. The film stars Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie, and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett, in performances widely heralded as the most redeeming quality of the feature.
Though the film vastly underperformed at the box office (grossing less than $3.6 million nationwide for the film's $10 million budget), it examines the impact such a lifestyle had on these teens during a decade in which rock and roll was at its glamorous, dangerous best.
Anton Corbijn's feature film debut Control recounts the fleeting life of 1970's post-punk band Joy Division, and the bleak existence led by frontman Ian Curtis. Curtis (Sam Riley) lived a notoriously short and desolate life punctuated by his troubled marriage. Despite Joy Division's current widespread popularity, the band was on the brink of stardom (mere days from a tour in the United States) at the time of Curtis's untimely passing at the age of 23.
The film was shot on color stock and then printed to black and white, a relatively uncommon practice in contemporary cinema. Though the film never received a wide release in the United States, director Anton Corbijn had the unique privilege of being personally acquainted with all of the members of Joy Division in their active years, and thus was able to bring an intimately personal touch to the narrative.
From director F. Gary Gray, Straight Outta Compton depicts the emergence, notoriety, and subsequent crumbling of the legendary hip hop group N.W.A., offering a glimpse into the early lives of its founding members. Universally observed as pioneers of gangsta rap, Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) distil their experiences with racism and violence into their music, launching their controversial careers.
The film broke the box-office record and became the highest-grossing music biopic of all time, clearing over $60.2 million in its first weekend (a record not even Bohemian Rhapsody could rival). It was produced by two of the founding members of N.W.A. (Ice Cube and Dr. Dre) and scored an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay.
Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, Nowhere Boy chronicles the adolescence of John Lennon and the formation of the band that evolved into The Beatles. Beginning in the year 1955, the film details Lennon's (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) first encounters with Paul McCartney and George Harrison and the dawn of their wildly successful music careers.
Written by Matt Greenhalgh (the same screenwriter who brought Control to the screen), the film offers a more intimate telling of Lennon's family background. It illustrates his tumultuous relationship with his mother and presents a glimpse of his childhood and teenage years, being brought up by his aunt in a suburb of Liverpool.
Directed by Todd Haynes, I'm Not There is the semi-fictionalized and rather unorthodox telling of the life of Bob Dylan. The film is split into the narratives of six characters: Jude (Cate Blanchett), Arthur (Ben Whishaw), Pastor John (Christian Bale), Billy (Richard Gere), Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin), and Robbie (Heath Ledger). Each is intended to reflect a different facet of Dylan's colorful life.
The result is a braided narrative that lends a vibrancy to the saga of Bob Dylan and brings a unique texture to the more standard form of storytelling typical to music biopics. Though the film was not commercially successful, it scored a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for Cate Blanchett's portrayal of Jude.
Directed by Milos Forman, Amadeus is the fictionalized biographical account of renowned composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Told from the perspective of rival composer Antonio Salieri (F. Murray Abraham), the film illustrates Mozart (Tom Hulce) as obnoxious and foolish but an unprecedented fountain of musical prowess.
A tale wrought with jealousy, betrayal, and absurdity, Amadeus was a creative gamble that yielded eight academy awards (including the Oscars for best picture and best actor), four Golden Globes, and four BAFTAs.
Directed by Alex Cox, Sid and Nancy divulges a partially-fictionalized account of the romance between Sex Pistols star Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) and Nancy Spungen. The film chronicles the turbulent final days of the Sex Pistols, a demise largely credited to Vicious's spiraling relationship with Nancy.
Though the film was not commercially successful and only gained its cult following years later, it illuminated the profound effects of addiction, which ultimately led to Vicious's death at the age of just 21.
Directed by James Mangold, Walk the Line explores the life of famed singer-songwriter Johnny Cash. The film straddles memories of Cash's (Joaquin Phoenix) early childhood, his rise to fame, and his struggles. The film also highlights his relationship with first wife Vivian and his romance with second wife June Carter.
Based upon two of Cash's own autobiographies, the film earned five Oscar nominations (with Reese Witherspoon winning for best actress) and was the highest-grossing music biopic of all time before being eclipsed a decade later by Straight Outta Compton.
Directed by Gregory Nava, Selena is an introspective look at the short life of the titular Mexican-American singer/songwriter. The film spotlights the early childhood of Selena (Jennifer Lopez), her meteoric rise to fame, and her death at the hands of her business partner, Yolanda Saldivar (Lupe Ontiveros).
Selena's living family were integral to the creation of the film, including her father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., who took on the role of producer out of a desire to provide the most accurate narrative of Selena's life. Despite backlash due to her casting, Jennifer Lopez lended a vivacity that was crucial to the role of Selena and helped spotlight the life of the designated "Queen of Tejano."
Directed by Bill Pohlad, Love & Mercy reveals the profound genius of Beach Boys founding member Brian Wilson (Paul Dano/John Cusack). Straddling two different decades, the film examines Wilson's mental state during the recording of The Beach Boys's album Pet Sounds, his treatment by psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), and his relationship with Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks).
Though the film was only moderately commercially successful, it was the intention of Pohlad to ensure that the film was as historically accurate as possible, a fact that is evident in Dano's depiction of Wilson (which earned him a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor).