The Greatest Music Biopics

Inspired by the Adventure Cinema Drive-In shows on the former Filton Airfield, we round up the very best music biopics that capture the legendary stories of John Lennon, NWA, Queen, and many more.

From the 17-20 September, Adventure Cinema, the touring outdoor cinema company, will be hosting a night of movie magic here in Bristol, at Brabazon -the former Filton Airfield. Adventure Drive-In offers a unique cinema experience from the comfort and safety of your car, with everything from Hollywood blockbusters to family-friendly daytime screenings and romantic comedies for the perfect date night. Feeling inspired by these movie nights hosted on the future home of YTL Arena Complex, we’ve decided to round up the very best music biopics which beautifully capture the exciting, but sometimes exhausting road to stardom some of our favourite musicians travelled. With Oscar worthy performances and Grammy winning soundtracks, it’s hard not to enjoy these films.

1. Nowhere Boy, 2009

Director: Sam Taylor Johnson

Nowhere Boy, Sam Taylor-Johnson, Icon Entertainment International, 2009.

Based on a biography written by John Lennon's half-sister Julia Baird, ‘Nowhere Boy’ tells the story of the future Beatle during his rebellious teenage years. Journey back to Liverpool, 1955, as John (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) discovers the enthralling world of rock n’ roll, while his Aunt Mimi clashes with his mother as she attempts to reintroduce herself into his life. The film captures his tumultuous and formative years, giving a glimpse into the making of an icon, almost ready to take over the world.  

2. Selena, 1997

Director: Gregory Nava

Selena, Gregory Nava, Warner Bros, 1997.

Selena Quintanilla (played by Jennifer Lopez) was unstoppable, a Grammy-winning recording artist and a beloved star in the American Southwest and Mexico, on the cusp of mainstream popularity in the US pop charts. Tragically, Selena was murdered in 1995 by the president of her fan club. ‘Selena’ focuses on the singer’s strong relationship with her family and complicated connection to her Tejano roots, her journey to stardom and desire to establish her own musical identity. 

3. Straight Outta Compton, 2015

Director: F. Gary Gray

Straight Outta Compton, F. Gary Gray, Universal Studios, 2015.

In the mid-80’s, Compton, California was one the most dangerous areas to live. With their most powerful weapon being their voices, N.W.A. fought against abusive authority through rap music, igniting a social and musical revolution. The group were heavily involved in the production of the film, and the character of Ice Cube was played by his own son, O'Shea Jackson Jr.

4. Rocketman, 2019

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Rocketman, Dexter Fletcher, Paramount Pictures, 2019.

‘Rocketman’ captures the eccentric, multi-coloured and inspirational life of Elton John in this epic musical fantasy. Set to Elton’s most beloved songs, the film follows the life of shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight (played by Taron Egerton) as he morphs into the international superstar we know today.

5. Bohemian Rhapsody, 2018

Director: Bryan Singer

Bohemian Rhapsody, Bryan Singer, 20th Century Fox, 2018.

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, delving into the life of lead singer Freddie Mercury as he defies stereotypes and expectations. The film follows the band’s rise to seismic levels of fame, implosion and then regrouping for a historic performance at Live Aid 1985. The eccentric costumes, electric soundtrack and Oscar-winning performance from Rami Malek makes this a must see!

6. La Vie En Rose, 2007

Director: Olivier Dahan

La Vie En Rose, Olivier Dahan, Icon Film Distribution, 2007.

The tragic life of French icon Édith Piaf is beautifully captured in the film ‘La Vie En Rose’. Raised by her grandmother in a brothel, she was discovered while singing on a street corner at the age of 19. Despite finding international fame and success, alcoholism and heartache followed Édith throughout her life. The film ends with a beautiful performance of one her most iconic songs, "Non, je ne regrette rien” (“No, I do not regret anything”).

7. Walk the Line, 2005

Director: James Mangold

Walk the Line, James Mangold, 20th Century Fox, 2005.

Joaquin Phoenix gives an outstanding performance as Johnny Cash in ‘Walk the Line’, following the musician’s tumultuous path to fame, set in Great Depression era America. The film looks at Johnny’s on and off again relationship with June Carter, the daughter of country music’s ‘first family’. Johnny walks a thin line between uninhibited creativity and self-destruction, weighed down by his financial instability, substance addictions and romantic entanglements.

8. 8 Mile, 2002

Director: Curtis Hanson

8 Mile, Curtis Hanson, Universal Pictures, 2002.

Set in the Detroit hip-hop scene in 1995, ‘8 Mile’ stars and is loosely based on the early life of rapper Eminem. The city is divided by 8 Mile, a road that splits the town in half and one that young rapper Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith Jr is desperate to cross. Jimmy struggles with a complicated family life, a dead-end job and a dream to finally escape his hometown and become a rap superstar.

9. Sid and Nancy: Love Kills, 1986

Director: Alex Cox

Sid and Nancy: Love Kills, Alex Cox, Palace Picture, 1986.

This cult classic captures the chaotic and toxic relationship between The Sex Pistols’ bassist Sid Vicious (played by Gary Oldman) and full-time Punk groupie Nancy Spungen (played by Chloe Webb). Sid joined The Sex Pistols when they were already established as the most controversial rock band in British history. His time with them was short-lived when, at the end of their over-hyped and turbulent tour of the United States, Johnny Rotten announced the band's break-up after only two and a half years together. With a lack of talent for playing the bass and insatiable appetite for drugs, Sid found it difficult to forge a career on his own and he and Nancy quickly and tragically spiralled out of control.

10. Get On Up, 2014

Director: Tate Taylor

Get On Up, Tate Taylor, Universal Pictures, 2014.

Based on the incredible life story of James Brown, AKA the Godfather of Soul, ‘Get On Up’ offers a glimpse into the life of an icon. From his childhood living in extreme poverty, to finding a creative and emotional release in his music and dealing with the astronomical highs and rock-bottom lows of fame. The film features a stellar line-up of performers, with Viola Davis as James’ mother Susie Brown, Octavia Spencer as Aunt Honey Washington and the late Chadwick Boseman as James Brown.

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