20 Great Movies About Music and Musicians
There are some wonderful cinematic adaptations of the lives of musicians and bands, both on and off the stage. Some of these movies help you discover the events and struggles that brought forth the famous songs we all adore.
While some are based on real-life events, others are fictional pieces based strongly on the topic of music throughout the movie. Whichever one you pick, you’re in for a treat with these movies.
1. Walk the Line (2005)
“Aw, June, love’s more important than the tour”
A film about one of the most influential country singers of all time – Johnny Cash. Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny Cash and Reese Witherspoon plays his wife, June Carter Cash. The James Mangold-directed romantic melody depicts the biopic of the famous singer and songwriter.
Walk the Line is an excellent movie, with fantastic performances by both Phoenix and Witherspoon. It was nominated for numerous awards, receiving positive reviews, and not only that, but it features a soundtrack packed with amazing tunes sung by Joaquin, Reese, and many famous musicians.
2. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
“We’re playing for the other misfits.”
As the name suggests, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a biopic based on the rise and struggles of Queens’ lead singer. The movie revolves around the real music rhapsody of Freddie Mercury. Bryan Singer directed this charged biopic following Mercury’s own life.
While many do know Freddie Mercury, not a lot know about his life and his struggles. This movie truly depicts what it was like for the lead singer and shows a side of the character audiences haven’t seen. Rami Malek won an Oscar for his performance, and for good reason.
3. A Star is Born (2018)
“Music is essentially 12 notes between any octave. Twelve notes and the octave repeats. It’s the same story told over and over. All the artist can offer the world is how they see those 12 notes.”
“A Star is Born” is an Oscar-nominated movie with a hit song up its sleeve. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga play the lead roles in this critically acclaimed movie. Cooper plays a character that is actively helping an up-and-coming singer (played by Lady Gaga) on the path to success while struggling with his own life and career.
While this is a fictional story, it truly shows the side of the music industry and how many things can happen. It is a real rollercoaster of a film with beautiful music throughout.
4. Once (2007)
“During the daytime, people would want to hear songs that they know, just songs that they recognize. I play these songs at night or I wouldn’t make any money. People wouldn’t listen.”
John Carney’s direction put forth a fictional movie set in Dublin between a guy (played by Glen Hansard) and a girl (Markéta Irglová). “Once” is a beautiful movie, with great acting, and a raw and fantastic soundtrack.
Its main song, “Falling Slowly” won the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 80th Academy Awards. This was a tremendous achievement for a small-budget movie.
5. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
“These go to eleven”
“This is Spinal Tap” is an American film chronicled by Rob Reiner about a fictional band known to be England’s loudest. It satirizes the band’s journey to tour America and is a mock documentary of the band’s journey amongst its profound music and pivotal lyrics and how it all comes to a crisis.
This is truly a relatable story about childhood friends on a path to success through music. If you want something fun to watch or at least see an amp with a volume meter that goes up to 11, this is a great experience.
6. Rocketman (2019)
“People don’t pay to see Reg Dwight! They pay to see Elton John!”
The biopic outlines Elton John’s charged-up life and dramatic chords making the audience gawk & gasp in amazement. The keen direction of Dexter Fletcher depicts Elton’s strained relationship with his father.
Taron Egerton plays the great Elton John in this beautiful musical, and to great success. The movie has seen great reviews, and what’s more interesting, the recreation of some legendary moments of Elton’s life and music is something to applaud.
7. Notorious (2009)
“I’m just a guy trying to make you laugh.”
George Tillman Jr. directs a thrilling biopic based on the renowned rapper Christopher Wallace a.k.a the Notorious B.I.G and his short journey to fame starring the talented Jamal Woolard.
His life story ended in contrast to the dialogue. The film opens with a tragic incident of B.I.G’s death, then flashes back to his childhood. A rather rough upbringing, the movie follows his life and how he eventually started rapping.
8. The Runaways (2010)
“In rock ‘n’ roll, there’s a first time for everything”
“The Runaways” is a movie about random five teenage females hurdled together into a band. The movie plays on the eccentricities of subjects such as feminism and morals. Director Floria Sigismondi portrays the pioneering days of rock and roll culture.
Following the life of Joan Jett and Currie, the movie shows the band’s inception and how they maneuvered their way into the history books. With great music throughout, the movie is a great watch.
9. Straight Outta Compton’ (2015)
“Speak a little truth and people lose their minds”.
The iconic film is based on the rap group N.W.A and its members Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre. Remember the ‘La-da-da-da-dahh…Snoop Dogg’s voice on every other ringtone or playback? The hit song also belongs to the movie “Straight Outta Compton“.
This movie portrays truth wrapped in thorns with profound dialogues. If you’re in the dark about one of the best hip-hop groups to ever do it, then this will be a real treat, accompanied by an amazing plot and acting.
10. Selena (1997)
“They can’t make food hot enough for me.”
Jennifer Lopez starred in the movie “Selena” and earned a Golden Globe nomination for it. Based on the American singer Tejano, the movie was released two years after the star’s tragic murder.
Following the tragically-short life and career of the late singer, the movie shows her struggles and rise to fame, though it may have been short. Many artists collaborated on the music for the movie, while the original pieces were by Selena herself.
11. Love and Mercy (2014)
“I want you to leave, but I don’t want you to leave me.”
Bill Pohlad’s impeccable directing skills were put to use in “Love and Mercy“; the biopic of Brian Wilson, who is the lead singer of The Beach Boys. The story depicts the rise and fall of Brian’s journey along with the momentous battle with mental health issues.
The movie shows a side of the pioneering singer that audiences have never seen before. While often dark and somewhat disturbing, it realistically depicts his life and what music meant to him.
12. The Pianist (2002)
“You’re an artist, Wladek. You do enough.”
Władysław Szpilman’s rollercoaster life couldn’t be portrayed better than in the movie “The Pianist“. The film shows the concert pianist’s acutely distressing personal life simultaneous to the piano keys.
Roman Polanski directs the pianist’s dark past at the labor camp. This flick earned the protagonist, Adrien Brody an Oscar for ‘Best Actor.’ A harrowing tale with superb acting, this based-on-a-true-story film is a must-watch for any music enthusiast.
13. Last Days (2005)
‘I lost something on my way to wherever I am today’
As the quotes suggest, the movie is a fictional production of Kurt Cobain who is suppressed under isolation and fame. Under the direction of Gus Van Sant, the movie entails the wandering of the star who tries to escape worldly affairs.
With a load of mixed reviews, this film sure does walk the line. The director stated that he was not sure whether to follow along with the movie or not. Wanting to make a Kurt Cobain biopic, he later opted for a fictional story based on the singer’s life.
14. Control (2007)
“A cloud hangs over me, marks every move deep in the memory of what once was love.”
The enigmatic direction of Anton Corbijn shows the fragility of a soul profoundly in Ian Curtis’s biopic, “Control.” The singer’s personal and professional affairs become havoc for him laced with his zestful dreams eventually leading to an early morbid death.
The movie follows the life of post-punk band Joy Division’s lead singer Ian Curtis and his struggles with epilepsy, while he navigates the world of music. Showing the dark side of the band, the film is an educational watch for anyone interested.
15. Behind the Candelabra (2013)
“I love you for closing your eyes to the discords in me, And for adding to the music in me by worshipful listening.”
“Behind the Candelabra” is an American film based on the life of pianist Władziu Valentino Liberace and his relationship with Scott Thorson.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the talented Michael Douglas stars in the film masterfully weaving the dark male-exploiting narcissist side and bright persona of the pianist. Blessed with great reviews and a superb cast, the movie is a great watch.
16. I’m Not There (2007)
“Either be groovy or leave, man”
The movie directed by Todd Haynes is the story of Bob Dylan’s life and his obsession with contradictions. Interestingly, six different actors played the role of Bob Dylan’s public personas. “I’m Not There” received prominence and good ratings.
With a cast like Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw, all playing the same character, you could imagine the outcome. With Dylan’s beautiful music throughout, follow the life of the amazing and truly pioneering singer.
17. Ray (2004)
“Always remember your promise to me. Never let nobody or nothin’ turn you into no cripple.”
The movie is based on Ray Charles and his legendary rhythm. “Ray” portrays the legend’s life in a flashback. It is also about his turbulent childhood and substance abuse battle.
Played by the amazing Jamie Foxx, the movie follows Ray’s life and his journey throughout the music world. Combining for the first time ever, gospel and R&B, playing some of the most memorable tracks we know today, and his devotion to music, all the while struggling with his blindness and troubles.
18. 8 Mile (2002)
“A dope rapper?”
We all know who that dope rapper is. “8 Mile” is mostly based on Eminem’s life. Starting from the day when he was a young boy who had a passion for rap. Amidst his chaotic life, he tries to pursue his passion despite the bullying experience in his life.
What makes this movie so interesting is you get to delve into Em’s mind and how he writes and thinks of Rap. With amazing prowess and superb flow, experience some of the best lines you will ever hear and follow the tragic story of his troubled upbringing.
19. Bound for Glory (1976)
“The human thing is just gone. It’s just gone, cos he’s afraid. Afraid that he’s gonna lose somethin’.”
Hal Bashy’s direction of a partly fiction film based on the book “Bound for Glory.” Starring David Carradine as the legendary singer Woody Guthrie, earned an Oscar for Best Cinematography.
With an early use of the Steadicam, the movie is a slight truth and rest-fictional but follows along a relatable story with amazing music throughout. The film was awarded numerous accolades and nominated for even more which shows the quality of the pic.
20. La Vie En Rose (2007)
“If you were to give advice to a woman, what would it be? Edith Piaf: Love.”
“La Vie En Rose” is a musical biopic of the iconic French singer Édith Piaf directed by Olivier Dahan. The story revolves around the singer’s upbringing in a brothel and its effects on her life.
The movie has won two Oscars including a Best Actress award, among many others. With excellent reviews, worldwide success, and a box office smash, the film is a great watch with a captivating tale and amazing music.
There have been so many great movies about music and musicians that it’s hard to pick out just 20. This is by no means a definitive list as there are countless other great films about music. However, the ones listed above should be more than enough for anyone looking to get an insight into the music industry or the life of some amazing artists that are or were.