Mis à jour le 26 January 2023.
Bob Dylan, N.W.A, James Brown, The Beach Boys, The Beatles and Barbara… Many artists have inspired directors and movie producers. Whether it’s their private lives, the challenges they have faced or simply their talent, music biopics offer a fresh look at these musical virtuosos.
In the best music biopics (part 1) selection, we mentioned iconic artists like Elvis, Gainsbourg, Django Reinhardt and Céline Dion, as well as Ray Charles, Dalida and Claude François in the second part, and Édith Piaf, Beethoven and Johnny Cash in the third installment. In this fourth chapter, discover 10 of the best music biopics to watch on repeat on your TV or, even better, on a big screen using a projector and HD Blu-ray player or AV network player.
I’m Not There, de Todd Haynes (2007)
Released in 2007, I’m Not There is a rather unique biopic inspired by the life and the music of the legendary Bob Dylan. For this movie, director Todd Haynes used unconventional narrative techniques and chose to cast several actors to play the different personas of the singer-songwriter: poet, prophet, outlaw, impostor, actor, martyr…
I’m Not There tells the story of the young guitarist “Guthrie” (Marcus Carl Franklin) who is traveling on the railroads, a man named Jack (Christian Bale) who appears in New York’s Greenwich Village, Robbie (Heath Ledger), Jude (Cate Blanchett) and many more characters. At the beginning of the movie, a caption states that I’m Not There is “inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan.” This is the only mention of the musician in the film, apart from a 1966 concert sequence seen right at the end.
Bob Dylan’s shape-shifting character was excellently portrayed by the various actors, notably Cate Blanchett. Her very passionate performance as the androgynous Jude Quinn won her the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival, the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress, and an Oscar nomination in the same category.
The biopic I’m Not There is the perfect opportunity to rediscover the great Bob Dylan’s music, through songs performed by the actors in front of the camera and used in the background to accompany the action. This feature film offers a unique cinematographic and musical experience, illustrating the multiple facets of the brilliant artist and the unique figure that is Bob Dylan.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Picture: HD, 16/9 anamorphic, 2.35 cinema format
Audio: Dolby Digital
Straight Outta Compton, by Gary Gray (2015)
Taking its title from the album Straight Outta Compton released in 1988, Gary Gray’s feature film is a biopic about the career of N.W.A., one of the most influential groups in the history of American hip-hop and rap.
The movie takes place in Compton, a ghetto of Los Angeles that has become a symbol of despair due to street gangs, drug traffickers and police brutality. In 1986, Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) narrowly escapes the police after a bust at a dealer’s home. At the same time, Ice Cube (played by O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ice Cube’s son) is a high school student dreaming of becoming a rapper. Impressed by Cube’s lyrics, Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) convinces Eazy to finance a new record label with Dre as productor. When their song Boyz-n-the-Hood is rejected by a band from New York, Dre asks Eazy to perform it himself. The song is a hit, and Eazy, Cube, Dre, DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.) and MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) decide to create the group N.W.A. to expose the reality of their neighborhood.
On August 27, 2015, Straight Outta Compton became the highest grossing music biopic ever in the United States, until it was surpassed by Bohemian Rhapsody in 2018. It has been praised for its entertaining yet honest portrayal of the group and for the actors’ excellent performance. As a producer of the project, Dr. Dre recorded an album inspired by the film. “During the filming of Straight Outta Compton, I found myself in the studio and was so inspired by the movie that I started recording an album.”
The Straight Outta Compton biopic is full of oppositions: struggle and triumph, division and conquest, group and individual. It tells not only the story of these five rebels, armed with their lyrics and raw talent, but also that of the Gangsta rap genre, from its birth to its golden age. A must-see movie for all fans of the genre.
Available on 4K Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, Netflix and Prime Video
Picture: 4K, 16/9 anamorphic, 2.4 cinema format
Audio: DTS HD 5.1 Surround
Get on Up, by Tate Taylor (2014)
Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help) and released in 2014, Get on Up is a biopic about the singer James Brown. Like Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There, the construction of this film is surprising. The non-linear structure follows Brown’s thoughts as he recalls events in his life through flashbacks. This intriguing storytelling style takes viewers on a journey through time to show the different facets of the Godfather of Soul.
Get on Up tells the story of James Brown’s life, from his traumatic childhood and fame to his darkest moments. Brown was born in South Carolina in 1933. He survived hardship, abandonment, violence and prison to join a gospel group as a teenager. However, it was the jazz and blues scene that catapulted him to fame, allowing him to become one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.
Chadwick Boseman is unforgettable in his role as James Brown and offers a spectacular tribute to the artist. For this feature film, the actor performed several songs and did all the dance scenes himself, working with a choreographer for five to eight hours a day. In addition, he was advised by Rolling Stones singer and producer of the movie Mick Jagger when interacting with the audience on stage.
With reenactments of historic concerts and never-before-seen performances of Brown’s songs, the biopic Get on Up is an opportunity to rediscover the music of “Mr. Dynamite.
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Apple TV and YouTube
Picture: HD, 16/9 Anamorphic, 1.85 cinema format
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Love & Mercy, by Bill Pohlad (2014)
Behind the hits of the Beach Boys is Brian Wilson. This extremely talented man unfortunately experienced a traumatic childhood and suffers from mental health issues. Through this biopic released in 2015, Bill Pohlad wanted to highlight his true story.
Who has never heard of the Beach Boys or hummed a few notes from Wouldn’t It Be Nice or I Get Around? Founded by three brothers, their cousin and a friend, the boy band is led by Brian Wilson, who is the main songwriter and singer. The biopic Love & Mercy looks back at two important periods in his life: the beginning of his psychological problems and when he recovered. We learn about his childhood, his musical genius, the hardships he had to overcome and his famous love affair with Melinda, who saved him.
The film skillfully moves from one period to another with well-structured and easy to understand flashbacks. The artist is interpreted by two actors: John Cusack during his darker period and Paul Dano during his youth. The latter won the 2015 Gotham Award for “Best Actor”.
Naturally, the Beach Boys’ hits are repeated throughout the biopic. We learn more about their creative process in the recording studio, but also about Brian Wilson’s perfectionism. The movie deals with many issues such as abuse, the exploitation of artists and the dangers of fame.
Among the best music documentaries to watch on repeat, we could have mentioned Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (2021), which also discusses the singer’s complex personality and unique career.
Available on Blu-ray and Apple TV
Picture: HD, 16/9, 1.85 cinema format
Audio: DTS-HD 7.1
A Hard Day’s Night, by Richard Lester (1964)
There are many movies and biopics about the Beatles. We already mentioned Nowhere Boy in the second part of the best biopics to watch on repeat and the recent documentary The Beatles: Get Back in The best music documentaries to watch on repeat (part 1).
Taking its name from the Beatles’ third album, A Hard Day’s Night, this biopic is ranked among the 100 best movies of all time by Time Magazine. Directed by Richard Lester, it follows the legendary band during the height of Beatlemania in England. We discover the different obstacles they have to face: hysterical fans, a hyper-anxious manager, Paul’s grandfather who causes trouble…
Released in 1964, this comedy greatly contributed to the advent of the music video. With humor, friendship, talent and passion, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr unveil a feature film about their daily lives, their zest for life, but also their obligations as artists. For the soundtrack of the movie, the band had to create tailor-made songs. Among them, are the famous “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Ringo’s Theme”.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD (2014 remaster)
Picture: black and white, HD, 1.75 cinema format
Audio: DTS-HD 5.1
Barbara, by Mathieu Amalric (2017)
Released in 2017, the feature film Barbara showcases the talents of the eponymous singer with stunning, original and clever direction. The famous performer of “L’Aigle noir” is seen through the eyes of an actress, Brigitte, played by Jeanne Balibar. Brigitte is asked to play the role of Barbara for director Yves Zand’s film. To do this, she studies her personality, her gestures, her intonation, her posture… So much so that she merges with her character, to the point of troubling the director.
The movie is interspersed with the songs by La Dame en noir, which transport the viewer into her world. It was a big success, crowned by several awards, including the César for best actress for Jeanne Balibar and best sound for Olivier Mauvezin, Nicolas Moreau and Stéphane Thiébaut.
Available on Blu-ray, Prime Video and Apple TV
Picture: 16/9 compatible 4/3, 1.77 cinema format, HD
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 (French) and Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)