Mis à jour le 25 October 2022.
Elvis, Charlie Parker, Serge Gainsbourg, Sid Vicious, Django Reinhardt, The Runaways, Céline Dion, Mozart, Kurt Cobain, Eminem and Queen… Many artists and bands have inspired movie producers and directors. Whether it’s their private lives, the challenges they have faced or simply their talent, these movies offer a fresh look at musical virtuouses. For this first installment, discover 10 of the best music biopics to watch on repeat on your TV or with your projector paired with an HD Blu-ray player or AV network player.
With the release of the Elvis musical drama co-produced and directed by Baz Luhrmann, let’s take a look back at some of the greatest music biopics that explore the lives of famous artists or bands.
Bird, by Clint Eastwood (1988)
Directed by famous actor and director Clint Eastwood, Bird retells the highs and lows of visionary jazz musician Charlie Parker, aka Bird, who died at the young age of 35 in 1955. The movie brilliantly depicts the career of this extraordinary saxophonist, but also his personal hardships and his love for drugs, alcohol and women.
One of the highlights of this biopic is the excellent performance from the leading actors. Forest Whitaker is incredible in the role of Parker, and won the Best Actor Award at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival. Diane Venora’s interpretation of Chan, the musician’s caring common-law wife, earned the actress a nomination at the Golden Globes.
Clint Eastwood, a jazz fan since his childhood, discovered Charlie Parker at an Oakland concert in 1945 and has been spellbound ever since. Before shooting the film, he met with Chan Richardson, whose memoir served as a foundation for the scenario. She gave Eastwood a collection of recordings that she had been keeping in a bank deposit box. A sound engineer managed to isolate Parker’s solos, which were then combined with backing tracks recorded on modern equipment by musicians such as Ray Brown, Walter Davis Jr, Ron Carter, Barry Harris, Pete Jolly and Red Rodney. This painstaking work earned Bird the Technical Grand Prize for “the quality of the soundtrack” at Cannes, and the Oscar for best sound.
Available on DVD and Canal VOD
Dolby Digital 5.1
Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, by Joann Sfar (2010)
A far cry from classic biopics, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life by comic book author Joann Sfar provides a unique look at the life of enigmatic French singer Serge Gainsbourg. The film is based on the life of Gainsbourg, played by Eric Elmosnino, from his childhood in Nazi occupied Paris in the 1940s to his time as a world-famous singer and songwriter. Gainsbourg explores most of the artist’s career and tumultuous love affairs chronologically, and is punctuated by reworked versions of his songs.
While Joann Sfar was sometimes inspired by true events to create Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, the author also wanted to include an imaginative element in this biography. “I love Gainsbourg too much to bring him back to reality. It’s not Gainsbourg’s truths that interest me, it’s his lies.” This fantastical aspect is embodied by “The Mug” (La Gueule in French), an animated character with a huge nose and spindly fingers that is supposed to represent a malevolent and more audacious double of the artist that haunts him at crucial moments of his life. If only for this uniquely poetic and artistic aspect, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life is worth a watch.
Available on Blu-ray (1080p HD), DVD, Canal VOD and UniversCiné
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
Sid and Nancy, by Alex Cox (1986)
Directed by Alex Cox, Sid and Nancy is a flamboyant and visceral retelling of the intense, destructive relationship between the Sex Pistols’ legendary bass player Sid Vicious and his beloved groupie, Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). In this biopic that offers a glimpse into the British punk scene of the 1970s, Gary Oldman rises to the challenge, completely transforming himself into a troubled punk bass player and drug addict. For this role, Oldman interviewed the mother of the late Sid Vicious and even ended up in the hospital after going on a draconian diet to lose over 25 pounds.
Rather surprisingly, the official soundtrack doesn’t feature any Sex Pistol or Sid Vicous songs. It was largely composed by Dan Wool (Pray for Rain), Joe Strummer (The Clash), and celtic punk rock band The Pogues. Although it wasn’t a box-office success at its release in 1986, Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy has become a poignant cult movie about sex, drugs, love and death.
Available on Blu-ray (1080p HD), DVD and Canal VOD
DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
Django, by Étienne Comar (2016)
Django Reinhardt was one of the most talented pioneers of European jazz and is considered to be the first “guitar hero”. Étienne Comar’s film Django, which opened the 67th Berlin film festival, beautifully depicts a pivotal chapter in the musician’s turbulent life and is a poignant tale of survival.
During the Nazi occupation in 1943, Reinhardt, charismatically portrayed by Reda Kateb, is at the top of his game and entertains Parisians at the Folies Bergères with his swing music. When German forces invite him to do a concert tour in Germany, the Romani guitarist tries to escape through Switzerland via Thonon-les-Bains, where he discovers the terrible conditions that his fellow Romani are subjected to. During this dark time, Django Reinhardt chose to resist with his music and his humor, all whilst seeking musical perfection.
With excellent musical scenes performed by the gypsy jazz band The Rosenberg Trio as well as an impressive performance from actor Reda Kateb, who learnt to play the guitar for his role, this somewhat conventional biopic provides a moving portrait of the legendary figure.
Available on Blu-ray (Full HD), DVD, Canal VOD and Arte Boutique
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DD 2.0
The Runaways, by Floria Sigismondi (2010)
Based on singer Cherie Currie’s autobiography and directed by Floria Sigismondi, The Runaways follows the somewhat chaotic journey of the young members of the band of the same name. Starring Dakota Fanning as Currie, Kristen Stewert as guitarist and singer Joan Jett, and Michael Shannon as the exuberant producer Kim Fowley, the movie chronicles the beginnings of the band in 1975 and focuses on the relationship between Currie and Jett.
The Runaways is the first feature film from director Floria Sigismondi, who is well-known for her many music videos (for The Cure, Christina Aguilera, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, among others). She explained that she “wanted to make it a coming-of-age story and not a biopic” and that she “wanted to capture what it was like to be super-young and thrown in this rock ‘n’ roll world at a time when girls are just trying to figure out their bodies and create their identities”. To develop the visual style of the film, Sigismondi watched movies from the 1970s and decided to shoot in Super 16mm. She chose a bright color palette, which gradually becomes more raw and harsh to accentuate the tension within the group.
With an excellent soundtrack that includes David Bowie’s Lady Grinning Soul, Gary Glitter’s Do You Wanna Touch Me, Iggy and The Stooges’ Gimme Danger, and several Joan Jett songs, The Runaways doesn’t always tell the exact truth about the band, but it accurately portrays what it was like to be a young person in the 1970s and it effectively conveys the feelings of frustration, despair, and raw energy experienced by the five girls.
Available on Blu-ray (1080p HD) and DVD
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Aline, by Valérie Lemercier (2020)
Under the name Aline Dieu, Valérie Lemercier, director and lead actress, takes on the role of one of the most talented artists of her generation: Céline Dion. The youngest of 14 children, Aline shows real talent for singing. From the unwavering support of her parents and producer to her physical transformation, the film Aline traces the tumultuous journey of an artist with an incredible voice.
Valérie Lemercier has confided in the fact that she has “a somewhat troubling fascination” with the Canadian diva. As a result, Aline is a compassionate movie that shows the director’s respect and love for the singer. The love story between her and her agent, 26 years her senior, is portrayed with tolerance and empathy, and breaks a number of taboos in the process. A mixture of comedy and drama, this film which has been described as a “fake biopic” takes viewers on an emotional ride, which earned it a dozen nominations, including the César for Best Actress 2022 for Valérie Lemercier and the Daniel Toscan du Plantier Prize for Edouard Weil’s portrayal of René.
Available on Blu-ray (1080p HD), DVD and Canal VOD
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0
Read the Aline Blu-ray review
Amadeus, by Miloš Forman (1984)
Incredibly devout, courteous and respectful, Antonio Salieri works tirelessly to achieve his goal: become the court composer for music-loving emperor Joseph II. Considered to be a masterpiece, Miloš Forman’s Amadeus starts with the intense scene of Antonio Salieri’s suicide attempt due to being racked by the guilt of having killed Mozart. “Mozart! Mozart, forgive your assassin!”
In 1781, Salieri meets Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a renowned and talented composer… who is deemed to be a little too arrogant by the pious Salieri. In search of glory, Salieri finds himself at a loss when faced with a greater talent than his own. Between admiration and rivalry, the film is presented through the eyes of Salieri, envious of the young prodigy’s gift.
It should be pointed out that Miloš Forman takes many liberties regarding what really happened. The antagonism between these two composers was apparently more benevolent than the film suggests. An adaptation of a play of the same name by Peter Shaffer and of Mozart and Salieri by Pushkin, this film won 40 awards. Considered to be one of the greatest films of all time, Amadeus notably received eight Oscars, four BAFTAs, four Golden Globes and a DGA Award.
Available on Blu-ray (Director’s Cut edition), DVD and Canal VOD
Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Last Days, by Gus Van Sant (2005)
Inspired by the final days of Nirvana’s frontman, Gus Van Sant’s Last Days is a moving and poignant movie. Blake, played by Michael Pitt, represents a Kurt Cobain torn between success, isolation and addiction. Taking place inside a house in the heart of the woods, the artist’s need to escape is perfectly transcribed. The director combines long shots with shorter ones, highlighting his increased sense of solitude. Last Days is ultimately a story of escape, escaping from loved ones, responsibilities, and life.
Like his most recent films, Gus Van Sant’s Last Days is an intelligent movie, with a very slow plot and a lack of dialogue that intensifies each emotion. The director also confided that he could understand Kurt Cobain’s feeling of loneliness, as he was living in a house that was “too big”, simply to display his “social success”. Wanting to make a realistic movie, he read a lot about Cobain’s death, including a detective’s report and police investigations. He therefore highlights various, sometimes insignificant details, such as his last meal, the clothes he wore or the last song he listened to. As for the soundtrack, Gus Van Sant chose, like his movie, tracks inspired by Kurt Cobain’s music, without ever using Nirvana’s songs.
Available on DVD, myCanal, Prime Video, Molotov and OCS
Dolby Digital 2.0
8 Mile, by Curtis Hanson (2002)
No list of the best musical biopics would be complete without 8 Mile, a movie that is heavily inspired by the life of Eminem. Director Curtis Hanson created a film that depicts both hip-hop culture and inequalities. Starting with the title of the biopic, which refers to the 8 Mile Road located in Detroit, a dividing line between white suburbs and black neighborhoods. Jimmy Smith Jr., the main character played by the author of Rap God himself, participates in a battle and must face off against Papa Doc. Despite being motivated to achieve his dreams, he can’t get his words out and has to leave the stage whilst being booed by the audience. The young rapper will have to redouble his efforts to become a performer.
More than just a story about the rap scene, 8 Mile is a representation of American society, where the disadvantaged must work even harder to achieve their goals. The director managed to find the right balance between the eulogistic and a more sentimental approach. Eminem delivers a remarkable performance in this semi-autobiographical role. Moreover, the soundtrack is an integral part of the movie’s success, especially with the track Lose Yourself which won the Oscar for best song.
Packed with authenticity, each of the characters really existed, and the actors were cast from the heart of the city. Only the names were changed. Curtis Hanson also shot scenes in original locations, giving 8 Mile even more credibility. Whether you are a rap fan or not, this film is a true cinematic gem.
Available on Blu-ray (1080p HD), DVD, Netflix, Canal VOD and Molotov TV
Dolby Digital 2.0
Bohemian Rhapsody, by Bryan Singer (2018)
An extraordinary artist, an outstanding band, an exceptional story… Bryan Singer, director of several X-Men movies, had all the ingredients for a very successful movie. Bohemian Rhapsody is a fictionalized portrayal of Freddie Mercury and his band Queen.
Played by the excellent Rami Malek, we discover an authentic and charismatic Farrokh Bulsara, aka Freddie Mercury, who overcomes stereotypes and revolutionizes music. The film covers all the successes and disappointments of the band. Freddie Mercury’s excesses, his love story with his wife, his doubts, his homosexuality, loneliness, his illness… All the major events of his life are told with sensitivity and kindness. Bryan Singer has created a fascinating portrait of the band’s near-implosion, right up to its triumphant return to the stage during the Live Aid concert. This performance is still considered one of the “best live performances of all time”.
It is no surprise that the movie achieved record success: it became the highest-grossing musical biopic in history and the 3rd biggest hit for 20th Century Fox. It was also nominated 7 times at the 72nd British Academy Film Awards and 5 times at the Academy Awards. Recounting the rise of the legendary band Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody thrills audiences with its music, but also with its fascinating story. A look back at an exceptional showman, a fantastic band and an even more legendary story.
Available on 4K Blu-ray, DVD, Amazon Prime, Canal VOD and Apple TV
4/3 compatible 16/9 aspect ratio, image format: 2.35
DTS Audio 5.1 and 2.0