Best Music Biographies When Elvis Hits Theaters

Best Music Biographies When Elvis Hits Theaters

Straight Outta Compton, Walk The Line and Bohemian Rhapsody all hit the right notes.  (Universal / 20th Century Fox)

Straight Outta Compton, Walk The Line and Bohemian Rhapsody all hit the right notes. (Universal / 20th Century Fox)

Elvis has returned to the building.

The King returns to the big screen this week in the form of director Baz Luhrmann’s musical biopic, simply titled The King. elvis.

Given the topic and with Luhrmann at the helm, elvis The film was intended to be a cheeky weave of razzmatazz and good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll.

Continue reading: Baz Luhrman calls elvis the apocalypse now from musicals

Austin Butler, fresh off the role of a member of the Manson family in Quentin Tarantino’s Once upon a time in Hollywoodsteps into the king’s blue suede shoes while Tom Hanks is his notoriously controlling manager, Colonel Tom Parker.


Austin Butler stars in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic. (Warner Bros)

So, to paraphrase it with the superlative music biography parody Go Hard: The Dewey Cox StoryElvis Presley has to think about his whole life before he plays…

But will this version of the Elvis story (Kurt Russell wore the famous white jumpsuit in a 1979 TV movie) stand the test of time and earn his place in the star lineup of the best music biopics?

Continue reading: Are you a music biopic expert?

Let’s look at the movies that need to match to make this list.

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Gwilym Lee as Brian May and Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody.  (Image credit: fox)

Gwilym Lee as Brian May and Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody. (Fox)

No one can ever compare to Freddie Mercury, but Rami Malek does it really well, bagging an Oscar for best actor in the process.

The film contains a collection of historical inaccuracies longer than any Live Aid setlist, but is at its best when it analyzes how Queen’s most famous songs came to life.

control (2007)

Sam Riley as Ian Curtis in Control.  (Momentum pictures)

Sam Riley as Ian Curtis in Control. (Momentum images)

Sam Riley plays Joy Division singer Ian Curtis in Anton Corbijn’s first foray behind the camera.

Dark, beautiful, uplifting and tragic, it made perfect sense to print the film in black and white to capture late 70’s Britain and the life of a singer who left us far too soon.

Behind the candelabra (2013)


Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Behind the Candelabra. (HBO)

Michael Douglas has always been known for playing anti-heroes (falling down, Fateful attraction, primal instinct, Wall Street), but none quite as stylish as Liberace, the acclaimed American pianist who is the focus of prolific director Steven Soderbergh’s HBO biopic.

Matt Damon, a regular Soderbergh collaborator, plays Liberace’s lover, and the two actors playfully disappear into the footage, which ends as an unflinching look at the life of a Las Vegas legend.

Direct from Compton (2015)


The story of NWA is told in Straight Outta Compton. (Universal)

Has a music biopic ever squeezed as much performance out of the song that inspired its title?

The NWA big-screen story features the LA rappers’ signature tune almost as often as That what you do! appears in the fictional story of The Wonders.

But replays only emphasize its power in director F. Gary Gray’s film, which has a super (South) Central performance by O’Shea Jackson Jr., who plays his father, rapper Ice Cube.

rocket Man (2019)

Reg Dwight transforms into Elton John.  (parent)

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman. (parent)

If you really want to learn about the life of Elton John, you’ve come to the wrong place. For example, the artist formerly known as Reginald Dwight took his stage name not from Beatle John Lennon, as the film suggests, but from his old mentor, Long John Baldry.

But apart from historical inaccuracies, rocket Man shoots through the hits that made Elton a star. Thanks also to actor Taron Egerton for belting out these hits with his own voice.

The Buddy Holly Story (1978)


Gary Busey in The Buddy Holly Story. (Columbia)

Forty years before Egerton achieved fame for rattling his own larynx through Elton John’s back catalogue, Gary Busey (yes, Gary Busey) broke with form by doing the same for his portrayal of Buddy Holly.

The live scenes, thanks to Busey and the other actors performing themselves, have such a raw energy that puts the film above your average biopic. It also helps that the tragic Holly’s songs still sound phenomenal 60 years after they were recorded.

Sex & Drugs & Rock’n’Roll (2010)


Andy Serkis as Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. (entertainment film)

Rightly celebrated for his amazing work as Gollum Lord of the Rings films and as Caesar in the planet of monkeys reboot trilogy, Andy Serkis also has this little-seen gem in his back catalogue.

He’s terrific in this biopic from singer-songwriter Ian Dury, who has released hits like “Hit me with your rhythm stick‘, ‘Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3‘ and the song that gives the film its title.

The film captures the mix of joy and anger that has made Dury’s music so memorable, and Serkis is joined by a range of well-known British talent including Ray Winstone, Naomie Harris, Olivia Williams, Toby Jones, Ralph Ineson, Mackenzie Crook and Luke Evans .

Good mood (2013)


Richard Dormer, left, as Terri Hooley in Good Vibrations. (The works)

No, this isn’t another Beach Boys biopic (you can check out the overlooked one Love & Mercy for something close) but somewhere far away from the California sun – Northern Ireland.

The title derives from the name of the Belfast record label and shop run by Terri Hooley, played beautifully by Richard Dormer, during the Troubles.

The moment a hooley listens with headphones ‘teen kicks by The Undertones for the first time, a music biopic scene without any music whatsoever, is as mind-blowing as any pyrotechnic performance.

Walk the line (2007)

Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix as June and Johnny Cash in Walk The Line (Credit: Fox)

Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Walk The Line. (Fox)

It’s, em, hard to separate now Walk the line from his parody-in-chief, Go Hard: The Dewey Cox Storey, which followed it to the cinemas two years later, but Hollywood doesn’t parody box-office bombs either.

Perhaps the modern blueprint for the genre, the Johnny Cash biopic ticks all the boxes, but it’s allowed to happen as it invented most of them. James Mangold’s film is enhanced by its two pivotal performances of Joaquin Phoenix as Cash and Reese Witherspoon as June Carter.

amadeus (1984)


Tom Hulce as Mozart in Amadeus. (Orion)

They don’t do them like that anymore. But musicians like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart don’t make them anymore.

Milos Forman’s Oscar-packed biopic runs for two hours and 40 minutes, but not a second of this classic performance is wasted.

It may be Mozart’s name on the film, but this is also The Antonio Salieri Show, underscored by the fact that F. Murray beat Abraham Tom Hulce for the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the envious Italian composer.

An exquisite showcase for all that is great about music and movies, and audiences will likely never see it again.

The best biopic of all time? Rock me Amadeus.

elvis will be released on IMAX and in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on June 24th.

Watch the trailer for Elvis

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