DAR Films: 15 Of The Best And Worst Music Biopics

By @TrueGodImmortal and @SpeedOnTheBeat

Over the years, films depicting the greatest artists of our time (and some not so great) have become a big deal over the year. From the TV Miniseries to the straight to TV films to the theater releases, we've seen some great music biopics. We have seen some good ones. We've also seen some absolute horrible ones as well. Today, we look at a bit of all three. From the best music biopics to the worst and to the good ones (the non classics), we take a moment to look at 15 of them. Let's start with some of the worst shall we?

The Bad
-While some people may not agree on some of these choices from Speed and True, it's their choices and opinions. Some will shock you and some will not surprise you I'm sure. There are many missing from our list, but we kept it to 2 choices a piece here. Let's get into that.

*Notorious (2009) 
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-The only thing this film had going for it is that Gravy looks like Biggie. That’s what you’re expecting me to say, right? Well, truth be told, with a better script, this could’ve been a better film. However, the script, with its stilted dialogue and borderline Superstar treatment of everyone without “Wallace” as a last name, it falters to give us the greatest Biggie Smalls story. Aside from some sex scenes and some F-bombs, it feels more like a made-for-TV biopic than what Biggie deserves. Now, that’s not to say that all made-for-TV biopics are bad. I mean, look at some of the others that will make this list later. However, another horrid one comes from True.... and boy... is it bad.

*Man In The Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story (2004)
By @TrueGodImmortal

-Made for TV movies could NOT get any worse than this. When I say this was BAD, this was BAD. And that's not Michael Jackson version of BAD, but BAD like this was the most disrespectful film I've ever had the displeasure of sitting and watching. And you know what made it even worse??? The performance from Flex Alexander was NOMINATED FOR A NAACP IMAGE AWARD FOR MOST OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE IN A TELEVISION MOVIE OR DRAMATIC MINISERIES. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? They colored Flex with some form of whitening makeup, but forgot to color his hands, so as Flex got lighter in the face as Michael, he also kept his hands the same exact color as they were. The voice from Flex was hilarious and beyond embarrassing, and his portrayal of Michael was ridiculous. They painted Michael as something that a majority of people who knew him said he wasn't, and it was just a terrible executed film. WHO THE FUCK HAD THE IDEA TO MAKE FLEX INTO MICHAEL JACKSON????? THAT NIGGA SHOULD STICK TO TV SHOWS ALONGSIDE KYLA PRATT!! No lie. Seriously. This might be the worst music biopic ever in the history of film. Oh, add to the fact that none of MJ's music was authorized for the film. A disaster.

*Little Richard (2000)
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-You’d think that a reteaming of Leon and Robert Townsend would create another musical masterpiece. Eh, not exactly. I feel that Leon, while a great actor, was a bit miscast as Little Richard. Did he still do the thing? Oh, yeah. But, I don’t know. It was something about the film that never caught my eye the way The Five Heartbeats or The Temptations did. Maybe it was the writing. Maybe it was because we still had some stuff we could’ve covered. I’m not sure. But, at least Jenifer Lewis, as Richard’s mom, was great. Then again, it’s Jenifer Friggin’ Lewis. When is she not great?!

*The Doors (1991)
By @TrueGodImmortal

-The legacy of Jim Morrison is something that I have always loved and cherished. Morrison was a true rock star, one of the real legends in rock and at first glance, Val Kilmer looked like the best option to play him and while Kilmer didn't necessarily have a bad performance here, the movie itself fell very flat. A lot of inaccuracies in the story and the way they present Morrison is less than flattering. The movie pacing isn't horrible so to speak, but I definitely think it left a lot to be desired and the depiction of Morrison leaves a sour taste.

The Good
-These are the movies that weren't necessarily timeless and classic, but were still solid films nonetheless, with either a few missteps or just some moments that fell flat, but still overall a good watch. Let's get into those.

*Selena (1997)
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-If Superstar (more about this later) played its biopic nature with a sympathetic heart of parody, Selena just played it straight. Sure, we can get into the dynamics of having a Puerto Rican actress (J. Lo) play a Mexican musical legend. But, let’s not and say we did. I’m not here to debate schematics. I’m here to just talk the films themselves…today. At least J. Lo looked enough like, and could perform enough like, Selena that it wasn’t like having Alex Shipp play Aaliyah (yeah, I said it).

Anyway, the film itself is pretty by the numbers. It gives us a look at Selena’s upbringing, her meteoric rise to success and her tragic death. It’s a great introduction to Selena if you’re not all that familiar with her story or music. If you’re looking for something a bit more in-depth/intricate aside from a paint-by-numbers retelling of her life, I’d recommend checking out her Behind the Music episodes and other biographical programs on her. If you want the basics, check out Selena.

*8 Mile (2002)
By @TrueGodImmortal 

-If there was ever a biopic that was slightly overrated, this is it. While this is still a good film, it definitely doesn't have a place on the great list and it narrowly escapes being on the bad list. It's a good movie and the rap battles add an element, but the story itself is just a bit corny, and some moments are extremely embellished. Add to that, some of the acting performances aren't the greatest, this movie has some negatives working against it honestly. Eminem and his coming of age story isn't that bad, it just doesn't always seem or sound realistic, like the Papa Doc battle and how it turns out or Eminem standing up to an entire crew all of a sudden and getting jumped. It's definitely not realistic there, but the scenes where we see Eminem in deep thought working on rhymes or in battle make it almost worth it. A good film, but as time has gone by, it is definitely not as great as once thought.

*The Temptations (1998)
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-The Temptations, along with The Jacksons: An American Dream, is one of those made-for-TV musical biopics that expands beyond its made-for-commercial breaks format. Taking the group from its humble beginnings in the 1950s through the death of Melvin “Blue” Franklin, it was one of those movies that the whole family would sit down, watch, and get educated by. It wasn’t a perfect film. But, the actors made this film memorable, taking somewhat weird lines and making them believable. On top of that, Leon’s performance as David Ruffin is the stuff legends are made of. Leon, as referenced earlier, didn’t always hit gold with his biopics, but this was a very good film.

*The Jacksons: An American Dream (1992)
By @TrueGodImmortal

-This is one of my personal favorite music biopics for multiple reasons. I can acknowledge that it's not the greatest overall of course, and it misses the great list just by a little, but this is a truly amazing Miniseries that I could watch over and over again. I think what made it so amazing to me at the time it debuted was that it told the story of the Jacksons. It's like watching the Victory Tour as it happened, along with every detail of the entire career of each brother from the estrangement of Jermaine to Michael needing to go off and do his own thing, no stone is left unturned in this Miniseries. Angela Bassett as Katherine Jackson was extremely well played, and Lawrence Hilton Jacobs as Joe Jackson was a bit over the top, but worked well. The best performance of Michael over the years comes from Jason Weaver as young Michael, as he perfectly played the role. I wasn't sold on Holly Robinson as Diana Ross or Vanessa Williams as Susan De Passe, but Wylie Draper as Michael in his late teen and adult years was definitely a good choice. Overall, this biopic miniseries doesn't disappoint, and has so many great moments. It just misses the great list.

*Why Do Fools Fall In Love (1998)
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-This one is kind of on the scale of Superstar (wait for it), except Frankie Lymon isn’t really painted as being all that sympathetic of a character. In fact, he’s seen as a womanizing ass. But, what saves this movie from being a completely wacky adventure is that it, like Superstar, knows it’s meant to be a bit of a dark comedy melodrama parodying the fallout from Lymon’s estate hearings. We got to see where Frankie came from, where he went after he hit puberty, and how hard he crashed. We also got to see Larenz Tate prove/remind us that he’s an actor you still need to watch out for. It's definitely a really good film.

The Great
These are the upper echelon of the music biopic genre. Close to perfection, or the epitome of perfection in the film. The best of the best in music biopics. Some of the greatest of all time without a doubt, and one or two that might surprise you by being on the list. Let's get into this final portion.

*Ray (2004)
By @TrueGodImmortal

-The movie itself isn't a 5 star film, but it's elevated to greatness just because of the immaculate performance from Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles. From his darkest issues to his most prized moments, Jamie became Ray and it was hard to tell otherwise. I loved every moment of his performance and while the supporting characters weren't always as good as Jamie, they were able to still complement his acting and stellar depiction of Ray. If you've not revisited or missed this film, watch the brilliance of Jamie Foxx and Ray Charles come together in this film.

*Lady Sings The Blues (1972)
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-This is a dark film. It’s beautifully made and beautiful in its darkness. But, it’s a dark film that doesn’t shy away from its darkness. That’s what, for me, makes it one of the greatest music biopics ever made. It doesn’t make light of Billie Holiday’s addiction problems or other issues. It doesn’t play them for laughs. It puts everything about Ms. Holiday out there for us to see, whether we want to or not. Plus, Diana Ross straight-up destroyed this role (in a good way). You never truly forgot she was Diana Ross playing Billie Holiday, but the way she got into this role was commendable. Man, now I want to just go and rewatch this one.

*What's Love Got To Do With It (1993)
By @TrueGodImmortal 

-This was honestly one of my favorites of them all. The movie itself has some weird moments in the story of Tina Turner, but Angela Bassett plays this role flawlessly. She becomes Tina 100%, but the crazy part is that she's not the best part of this film. Not even close actually. Angela was nominated for an Oscar for her performance and rightfully so, but the show stealer is easily Laurence Fishburne, who owns the role of Ike Turner here. Laurence is amazing in this role and when I remember this film, all the scenes and quotes that stand out come from his performance. He embodies Ike Turner, becomes Ike Turner and his performance is equal parts menacing and hilarious and that's what makes this movie a top tier music biopic to be honest. Sure, Angela as Tina is great, but Laurence as Ike makes the entire film worth the watch. Hands down.

*Straight Outta Compton (2015)
By @TrueGodImmortal

-I remember when this film first was announced, I wasn't too sold on it to be honest. I thought they would get it wrong, and while they were some things that weren't too believable in the film, like the depiction of a gangsta Dr. Dre, this was a brilliant movie. The pacing was great and it felt like the movie just flowed perfectly. The performances from all of the actors were great, as the actors who played Cube, Eazy, and Dre did an amazing job bringing the characters to life. We reviewed this movie when it first came out, and gave it a rave review, and that hasn't changed. From the tension between Jerry Heller and Eazy, to the aggression in the group towards the cops, and the eventual breakup, and heartbreaking loss as they saw Eazy slipping away, this movie tells the story of NWA and does it amazingly.

*Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)
By @SpeedOnTheBeat

-Todd Haynes, these days, is probably best known in many music film circles for his gender/time/race-bending epic, I’m Not There. The 2007 film chronicled the life of Bob Dylan through several characters, including a young Black boy. It’s just as beautifully amazing as you’d think. However, back in the 1980s, Haynes was known for another equally twisty film. The art house “biopic” Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is equal parts biopic and parody, blending the two genres together to create a compelling look into the tragic life of Karen Carpenter of The Carpenters. Done mostly with modified Barbie and Ken dolls, the 1987 short film has lived on because of two reasons: its bootleg-aided infamy (Haynes was never “allowed” to make the film because of licensing rights and a lawsuit from the Carpenter family) and the fact that it’s a damned good film.

Is it perfect? Close enough, but not exactly. Richard Carpenter’s presented as a closet homosexual and just about everyone else who isn’t Karen is made out to be unsympathetic assholes. Like, really unsympathetic assholes to the point we’re given some psychological delving into everyone involved. Additionally, the parody of the melodrama many biopics have sometimes becomes less biting and just as melodramatic. There’s a fine line between knowing you’re a parody and becoming the exact thing you’re parodying yourself. The film, mostly, manages to walk that fine line and defiantly dances on it. Mostly. Enough to get into the great category at least.

It’s a film that just has to be seen to be believed.

*The Five Heartbeats (1991)
By @TrueGodImmortal

-The greatest music biopic of all time. Based around the legendary group The Dells, the fictitious group The Five Heartbeats are on top of the world, after they strike it big in the music industry. They go from competing in talent competitions to having no. 1 records in no time. They also experience the ups and downs of the music industry, as they lose members, lose managers, face some shady businessmen, go through changes, make comebacks, and most of all, find ways to preserve their friendships and lives. The best performance comes from Michael Wright as Eddie King Jr, as he carries the group and subsequently the film, as the lead singer that lets fame and all that comes with cloud his brain. This is an all time classic and it is one of my all time favorite movies. I still the "A Heart Is A House For Love" scene is the most iconic music biopic scene ever.


Of course there are some music biopics missing from every list, but we wanted to cover some of the most slept on and some of the most well known with a balance. Walk The Line, Get On Up, and many others could have been listed here, but we'll leave you, the reader, to determine where those films might have ended up. Music biopics are always risky and we are looking at yet another one coming soon with the 2 Pac film "All Eyez On Me" reportedly on the way. Time will tell what category that falls into. For now, revisit these movies and feel free to let us know your opinion below in the comments.



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