Critic's Picks: 10 Best Musician Biopics

5:03 PM 3/25/2016

by Stephen Dalton

In honor of a trio of buzzy new releases — 'Miles Ahead' (about Miles Davis), 'Born to be Blue' (about Chet Baker) and 'I Saw the Light' (about Hank Williams) — THR film critic Stephen Dalton ranks his favorite biopics of musicians from Loretta Lynn to Sid Vicious.

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  1. 10
    10

    Sid and Nancy

    1985

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    Starring Gary Oldman as doomed Sex Pistols bass guitarist Sid Vicious, director Alex Cox's grungy, druggy, tragic love story stiffed at the box office but later acquired a cult following. Various Pistols insiders praised the accuracy of Cox's punk post-mortem, although singer John Lydon branded it "squalid" and "loathsome."

  2. 9
    10

    Nowhere Boy

    2009

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    John Lennon's pre-Beatles formative years make for a touching, tender coming-of-age story in this assured debut feature by artist turned filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson. Aaron Johnson is well cast as the sharp-witted, emotionally raw young wannabe rocker. Director and star announced their engagement at the film's premiere.

  3. 8
    10

    Bird

    1988

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    Clint Eastwood parlayed his lifelong love of jazz into this elegant, freewheeling homage to ill-fated saxophone legend Charlie Parker, which features a prize-winning star turn by Forest Whitaker. Comedy icon Richard Pryor was initially attached to star, but later lost interest.

  4. 7
    10

    Ray

    2004

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    The dramatic early career of pioneering R&B maestro Ray Charles lends itself well to this splashy, life-affirming biopic from director Taylor Hackford. Jamie Foxx gives an uncanny, Oscar-winning impersonation as the wayward soulman who battles to overcome blindness, heroin addiction and music industry racism. Charles personally endorsed the film but died shortly before its release.

  5. 6
    10

    Straight Outta Compton

    2015

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    The rise and fall of South Central LA's most notorious rap stars, NWA, provides strong dramatic material for director F. Gary Gray's hugely lucrative hip-hop history lesson. Although its selective portrait of contentious events proved controversial, Straight Outta Compton quickly surpassed Walk The Line as the highest-grossing music biopic to date.

  6. 5
    10

    I'm Not There

    2007

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    An audacious experimental biopic by Carol director Todd Haynes, I'm Not There is inspired by the many lives and career chapters of Bob Dylan, with six different actors playing fictional versions of the legendary rocker. Dylan himself praised the "incredible" cast, which includes Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Michelle Williams and an Oscar-nominated Cate Blanchett.

  7. 4
    10

    What's Love Got to Do With It

    1993

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    Angela Bassett earned a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for her wrenching portrayal of Tina Turner in Brian Gibson's torrid biopic, which depicted the R&B queen's early years, turbulent marriage to her violent husband Ike, and subsequent rebirth as a multi-platinum rock superstar.

  8. 3
    10

    Walk the Line

    2005

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    Focused on a key decade in country music outlaw Johnny Cash's life, James Mangold's film chronicles how the Man in Black pulled himself back from drug addiction and won the heart of his second wife, June Carter. A brooding Joaquin Phoenix impresses on both screen and microphone, but Reese Witherspoon steals the glory (and won an Oscar) as June.

  9. 2
    10

    Control

    2007

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    Shot in sumptuously bleak monochrome, Dutch rock photographer Anton Corbijn's stylish debut feature pays homage to Ian Curtis, the troubled singer with cult English post-punk band Joy Division, who committed suicide in 1980 on the verge of major success. Sam Riley is persuasively intense as Curtis, with Samantha Morton as his wife Deborah.

  10. 1
    10

    Coal Miner's Daughter

    1980

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    Sissy Spacek gives a sensational, Oscar-winning performance as country icon Loretta Lynn in director Michael Apted's rags-to-riches classic, a thoughtful and moving portrait which remains the gold standard for musical biopics. Tommy Lee Jones co-stars as Lynn's husband Mooney while several Nashville icons cameo as themselves.

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