From 'Selena' to 'Walk the Line': 15 Notable Music Biopics

8:30 AM 6/15/2017

by Lexy Perez

With the Tupac movie 'All Eyez on Me' set to hit theaters June 16, THR takes a look at the ways in which filmmakers have depicted the life stories of some of the industry's most acclaimed musicians.

Selena_Walk the Line_Still_Split - Photofest - H 2017
Courtesy of Photofest

John Lennon once said that “Music is everybody's possession,” and for Hollywood filmmakers, they have taken that "ownership" to portray the stories of some of the recording industry's most renowned musicians.

Whether it be the rise and fall of one of Tejano music’s most noteworthy stars, or depicting the different facets of singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, many of the actors' portrayals have been recognized as prominent roles in their careers (some even earning Oscars along the way).

With the Tupac Shakur movie All Eyez on Me set to hit theaters June 16, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at 15 of the films — from Selena to Walk the Line — depicting the lives of music legends. 

  • 'The Buddy Holly Story'

    Gary Busey takes on the role of Buddy Holly in the '70s biopic of the Texas rock star who tragically died in a plane crash at age 22. Receiving an Oscar nomination for his portrayal, Busey’s role reintroduced Buddy’s music to audiences, for the film was released during the disco era. The film's acclaimed success ultimately led to the Buddy Holly Lives greatest hits collection to rank at No. 55 on the Billboard album charts. The movie raked in $54.3 million (adjusted for inflation) at the domestic box office.

  • 'Coal Miner’s Daughter'

    Receiving an Academy Award for best actress for her role as country icon Loretta Lynn, Sissy Spacek delivers an exceptional performance as she depicts Lynn’s journey to music stardom. Apart from portraying the singer during her early life in Kentucky and immediate success as a country star, Spacek also lends her vocals to the film. Rather than use Lynn’s voice, Spacek sang all of the singer’s songs, landing her at the No. 2 on the country charts. Tommy Lee Jones, Beverly D’Angelo and Levon Helm also star in the film, which raked in $220.8 million domestically at the box office (adjusted for inflation).

  • 'La Bamba'

    Lou Diamond Phillips was praised for his portrayal of the late Richie Valens, who was killed in a plane crash at the young age of 17. The biopic details the last eight months of the teen’s life as he transforms from being a high school student to a music sensation after releasing his hit single "La Bamba." The film also highlights how Valens' musical success affected the lives of his troubled half-brother Bob (Esai Morales), mother (Rosanna DeSoto) and his girlfriend Donna (Danielle von Zerneck). Phillips earned high remarks for his performance, and the film was later nominated for a Golden Globe for best motion picture, drama in 1988. It earned $122.6 million (adjusted for inflation) domestically.

  • 'The Jacksons: An American Dream'

    Based on Katherine Jackson’s 1990 autobiography, My Family, the miniseries chronicles the rise of one of music’s most infamous families. From their early days of "ABC" to the solo career of Michael and shocking allegations against the King of Pop, the two-part mini, which aired on ABC, attempts to unveil the unknown story of the musical family. 

  • 'What’s Love Got to Do With It'

    The 1993 film adapts Tina Turner’s best-selling autobiography, I, Tina: My Story. The film stars Angela Bassett in the title role and Laurence Fishburne as Ike Turner. Although chronicling Turner’s journey into music stardom, the film centers on the singer’s violent marriage with Ike, who physically abused her. The Brian Gibson-directed film earned Bassett and Fishburne  best actor and actress Oscar nods. Bassett won a Golden Globe for best actress and the film was praised by critics. The film grossed $83.5 million at the domestic box office (adjusted).

  • 'Selena'

    Gregory Nava writes and directs the biographical film about the late Tejano singer Selena, who was fatally shot and killed by her fan club president, Yolnda Saldivar. The film marked Jennifer Lopez’s breakout role as the Mexican American singer, as she starred alongside co-stars Edward James Olmos as Selena’s father, Abraham, and Constance Marie, who portrays Selena’s mother, Marcella. The Quintanilla family worked closely with Lopez as she prepared for her role, by offering to let the actress (making her film debut) to stay in their home. Abraham Quintanilla served as producer of the film and aimed for the film to immortalize his late daughter. The film received high praise and earned $68 million at the domestic box office (adjusted for inflation).

  • '8 Mile'

    Inspired by Marshall Mathers' (aka Eminem) journey from being a struggling rapper in Detroit to a music sensation, the film stars the rapper himself as Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith in his first leading role. Directed by Curtis Hanson, the film doesn’t refrain from detailing the gruesome hardships and struggles the rapper faced that would ultimately inspire his edgy music. Alongside Eminem are co-stars Mekhi Phifer, Kim Basinger and the late Brittany Murphy. The underdog story received praise from critics and audiences, earning $177.5 million at the domestic box office (adjusted for inflation). Eminem won an Academy Award for best original song for "Lose Yourself."

  • 'The Pianist'

    Adapted from Jewish musician Wladyslaw Sziplman’s autobiography, Adrien Brody steps into the pianist’s shoes for an acclaimed performance. The biographical film depicts Sziplman’s survival from the Holocaust in the Warsaw ghetto. Directed by Roman Polanski, the film earned critical acclaim and was awarded the Palme d’Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. The film also proved to be victorious at the Academy Awards, with two wins and Brody winning the award for best actor. The film also starred Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay and Maureen Lipman. It earned $47.8 million domestically (adjusted for inflation).

  • 'Ray'

    Jamie Foxx stars as the rhythm and blues pianist Ray Charles in the biographical film based on the famed musician. Directed by Taylor Hackford, the film chronicles Charles’s life from becoming blind at age 7 to growing into a musical protégé. Apart from Foxx, the film also stars Sharon Warren, Kerry Washington and Regina King. The film grossed $107.1 million at the domestic box office (adjusted for inflation) and earned Foxx rave reviews over his leading performance. Foxx won an Academy Award for best actor, as well as a Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild Award. Foxx became the second actor to win in the same category for all five awards. Charles died of liver disease a few months prior to the film’s premiere. 

  • 'Walk the Line'

    Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny Cash in the 2005 biopic of the late country star. The film chronicles Cash’s early life and entry into the country music scene, along with his struggles with drug addiction. Much of the film also centers on Johnny and June Carter’s (portrayed by Reese Witherspoon) relationship. The film received critical acclaim and was nominated for five Academy Awards including best actor and actress nods for Phoenix and Witherspoon. The film grossed $163.9 million domestically (adjusted for inflation). 

  • 'I'm Not There'

    Paying homage to Bob Dylan, the Todd Haynes-directed biopic features an eclectic cast of Hollywood stars who each portray a different aspect of Dylan’s life. From Dylan’s youth (portrayed by Marcus Carl Franklin) to his emergence in New York (Christian Bale), the unconventional telling of the various facets of the singer-songwriter is captured for the biographical drama. The film also stars Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett and Ben Whishaw. Blanchett earned a Golden Globe Award best supporting actress and was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress. 

  • 'The Runaways'

    Making a departure from her famous role in the Twilight franchise, Kristen Stewart portrays rocker Joan Jett of  famous 1970s-era band The Runaways. The Floria Sigismondi-directed film was based on Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, a biography penned by the band’s former lead vocalist, Cherie Currie (portrayed by Dakota Fanning). The rocker film details the early inception of the band to the stress that ultimately led to Currie’s departure. Currie praised Fanning’s portrayal of her, but noted that the film didn’t include everything in her book. Jett believed the film captured the time well, but said she saw it as more of a narrative rather than a biopic. The film grossed close to $4 million domestically (adjusted for inflation).

  • 'Get on Up'

    Although the James Brown biopic did not have massive box office returns, earning $33.6 million domestically (adjusted for inflation), Chadwick Boseman’s performance of the late singer received praise from critics. The Tate Taylor-directed film chronicles the entertainer’s life, from the 1930s to the 1980s. The film, which highlights Brown’s passionate work ethic and eccentric cadence onstage, also stars Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd and Viola Davis. 

  • 'Straight Outta Compton'

    Three decades later, NWA members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre return to their early beginnings in the hip-hop biopic they produced. Offering an authorized biography of the successful hip-hop group, Cube and Dre detail their journey from being aspiring teens to passionately working to make it in the then-white dominant industry. From Eazy-E’s struggle with HIV to their falling-out with their former manager, the film chronicles the trailblazing story of what would be the most successful hip-hop group in the music industry. The film stars Cube’s son, O'Shea Jackson Jr. portraying his father, Corey Hawkins as Dre and Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E. The film grossed $172.6 million domestically (adjusted for inflation) and earned an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay. 

  • 'All Eyez On Me'

    Twenty-one years after the death of the rapper comes the big-screen telling of Tupac Shakur's story starring Demetrius Shipp Jr., who bears a striking resemblance to Shakur. Apart from their similar looks, Shipp has a personal connection with the late rapper, as his father produced "Toss It Up" for 2Pac's The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory album. As reported on Billboard, Shipp and Jamal Woolard, who will be playing Notorious B.I.G., will wear actual replicas of the East Coast/West Coast rappers' clothes. Woolard reprises his role as B.I.G. after first portraying the rapper in the 2009 biopic Notorious. The Benny Boom-directed film will also star Danai Gurira, Kat Graham and Dominic L. Santana. The film will be released June 16.