Everything from rappers and rock ‘n’ roll legends to 18th-century composers

1 / 11

Amadeus (1984)

If you’ve ever taken piano lessons, you’re familiar—painfully perhaps—with the subject of this film. Amadeus takes us back to the 1700s for the life and times of legendary classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The film takes some liberties with the truth, imagining a fictional rivalry between the piano prodigy and an Italian composer, through whom the story is told. Ultimately, however, the movie pieces together a portrait of Mozart’s life, character and death through historical and factual accounts.

2 / 11

La Bamba (1987)

The story of Ritchie Valens is a sad one. Rising to fame in 1958 with hits like Donna, Come On, Let’s Go and La Bamba, teenager “Ritchie” Richard Valenzuela never got to see his career past 1959 after a tragic aeroplane accident. Which is why we’re grateful that a film like La Bamba was made nearly 30 years later for the younger generation to get to know of Valens, who despite his youth and brevity of career, is credited as a rock and roll pioneer and forefather of the Chicano rock movement.

3 / 11

Selena (1997)

Another biopic about a famous American-Latino artist who died too young, Selena, about the life and career of Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla-Perez, is Jennifer Lopez’s breakout performance as an actress and arguably still her best yet (sorry, not sorry). The film functions as both a biopic and coming-of-age film, charting the singer’s rise to fame as well as her struggles growing up in a Latino family in America in the 80s and 90s.

4 / 11

8 Mile (2002)

From the '50s, we jump to the turn of the century for a drama based on the life of controversial American rapper Eminem. 8 Mile follows a young man from a low-income and troubled household as he, against the odds stacked against him, tries to make a name for himself in Detroit’s underground rap scene. It was through this film that we were first introduced to the hit song Lose Yourself, which won Eminem an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

5 / 11

Ray (2004)

One of my favourite musical biopics of all time, Ray is about none other than Ray Charles, who sadly passed away just before the film was released. Responsible for hits like What’d I Say, Georgia On My Mind and Hit The Road Jack, Ray is the embodiment of overcoming obstacles, from his blindness to racial discrimination and his own vices. The film, starring Jamie Foxx, does Ray’s legacy justice and is a great one to watch when feeling down in the dirt. 

6 / 11

Walk The Line (2005)

If you thought Joaquin Phoenix was great in this year’s Joker, his depiction of country music legend Johnny Cash in the 2005 film Walk The Line earned him Oscar nods that year and is definitely worth a revisit in 2019. Phoenix stars alongside Reese Witherspoon, who played June Carter to Oscar victory. The film is an emotional and pitch-perfect reminder of Johnny Cash’s experiences from fame to Folsom and sends a beautiful message of how love can save you.  

7 / 11

Dreamgirls (2006)

A film for fans of Motown (and Beyonce). Dreamgirls is a fictionalised musical drama about The Supremes that is loosely based on fact. What really adds weight to the film, however, are all the nods to Motown beyond just the three main songstresses. Music buffs will recognise James Brown, Marvin Gaye and many other pioneers of American R&B throughout the film. Not to mention, then-newcomer Jennifer Hudson's first step into acting and the movie's incredible original soundtrack, which has been a success in its own right. 

8 / 11

The Polka King (2017)

A comedic biopic, The Polka King stars Jack Black as the infamous Jan Lewan, a happy-go-lucky Polish-American polka band leader who went to jail for committing several counts of fraud. Despite his unapologetic disregard of the law, Jan’s optimism is infectious, and we can understand how he was able to convince so many people to put their money on him.

9 / 11

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

The film which inspired our Tatler Ball this year: Released last year, Freddie Mercury’s feel-good biopic directed by Bryan Singer under the supervision of Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor is an instant crowd-pleaser—especially if you’re an original fan of the band and have memories from the time of the band’s heyday. The movie stars Rami Malek, who won Best Actor for the lead role.

10 / 11

Rocketman (2019)

A biopic overseen by the living Elton John himself, Rocketman is a theatrical portrayal of John’s rise to fame that is full of music and fantasy, not much unlike the man himself. While vibrant and sing-songy, the film discusses the dark side of Elton John’s life, including his struggle with alcoholism, toxic relationships and other addictions.

11 / 11

Notable Mention: Across The Universe (2007)

While not exactly a biopic, Across The Universe weaves together a loose and at times surreal narrative of The Beatles in the 60s and 70s through the band’s greatest hits, which may be the storytelling a band like The Beatles deserves. The film stars Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood as "Jude" and "Lucy" and even features cameos from the likes of Bono and Joe Crocker.  

See also: 5 Movies That Are Surprisingly Inspired By Shakespeare