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A man on stage performs in front of his band in this image from Warner Bros. Pictures.
Movies like “Elvis” showcase the story and music of our most beloved artists. (Image: Warner Bros. Pictures)

I don’t believe historical accuracy is the most important thing in a biopic, especially those about musicians. While I want to have at least a basic understanding of the events in a person’s life after watching a movie about them, how musicians in the movie capture the essence of them and their music is more important to me. Take the upcoming “Bob Marley: One Love,” for example. Based on the trailers, it looks like the film nails the juxtaposition of Marley’s devotion to peace and the violent realities of the world around him. Something like that is what makes a music biopic work.

“Bob Marley: One Love” opens in theaters on Feb. 14 and doesn't have a streaming release date yet. Thankfully, there are plenty of other music biopics currently streaming that capture the spirit of their subject. Here are nine of the best to keep you engaged and singing along.

‘Amadeus’ (1984)

A composer plays up his performance to the crowd in this image from The Saul Zaentz Company.
Mozart’s whimsical nature is key to the conflict in “Amadeus.” (Image: The Saul Zaentz Company)

It’s not only modern musicians who can get biopics! “Amadeus” is one of the most lauded biopics ever, and it follows the rivalry between 18th-century composers Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart before the latter’s death. It’s a mammoth film, in everything from its three-hour run time to its towering musical score and gorgeous set and costume design.

F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce give two of my favorite acting performances as the leads, respectively capturing Salieri’s increasing bitterness and Mozart’s childlike wonder and antics perfectly. Watching “Amadeus” is an undertaking I would recommend to anyone interested in music history. It even won Best Picture at the Oscars, while Abraham was named Best Actor.

The director's cut of “Amadeus” is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

‘Selena’ (1997)

A woman belts out singing on stage in this image from Q-Productions.
Selena, played here by Jennifer Lopez, remains a huge part of Latin music to this day. (Image: Q-Productions)

It’s hard to overstate how popular Selena was at the height of her career. Still the face of Tejano music for many, she was one of the most beloved musicians alive before her tragic murder at only 23 years old. The 1997 biopic sharing her name does a great job showing that fame, especially amongst the working class where she came from and always remained connected.

This movie, which won Outstanding Feature Film at the ALMA Awards, was an acting breakthrough for Jennifer Lopez, who really captured the effortless charm and sensitivity that made Selena so endearing and took home Outstanding Actress in a Feature Film at the same ceremony. Now Lopez has her own music-infused movie, “This Is Me…Now: A Love Story,” hitting Amazon Prime Video on Feb. 16.

“Selena” is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

‘Walk the Line’ (2005)

A man and woman sing together at a microphone in this image from Fox 2000 Pictures.
The magnetism between Cash and his wife June, depicted here by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon, can be felt through the screen in “Walk the Line.” (Image: Fox 2000 Pictures)


Few figures loom larger in country music than Johnny Cash. A rebel through and through, Cash lived a tumultuous life involving addiction, multiple marriages, and arrests. “Walk the Line” doesn’t avoid the grimy details of Cash’s life, the natural result of a man who lived according to his passions in all aspects of his being.

The movie presents a quintessential Joaquin Phoenix performance, showing Cash’s steady rise and how he struggles to balance his various loves and desires, including his second wife June Carter (Reese Witherspoon in an Oscar-winning role). With five Oscar nominations and a Grammy win for its soundtrack, “Walk the Line” is one of the most successful music biopics of the early 2000s and a must-see for any fan of Cash or country music as a whole.

“Walk the Line” is available to stream on Max.

‘I’m Not There’ (2007)

A performer sits at a piano singing in this image from Endgame Entertainment
Cate Blanchett is just one of the actors who portrays the many facets of Bob Dylan in “I'm Not There.” (Image: Endgame Entertainment)

“I’m Not There” is one of the most unusual films on this list, so naturally it’s one of my favorites. I love when a film tries something out of the ordinary, and this biopic takes that to the extreme. Bob Dylan is a larger-than-life figure with an absolutely massive catalog of dozens of albums. It would be hard for any one person to capture him in a performance, so “I’m Not There” doesn’t feature just one person doing so.

Throughout the film, Dylan is played by Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, and Ben Whishaw. Each actor gives an incredible performance, and in turn, this depiction gives the viewer the feeling they’re watching different sides of the same person — which, to me, is the only possible way to capture the magnitude of Dylan’s work. Blanchett even won a Golden Globe for her part.

“I’m Not There” is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

‘Cadillac Records’ (2008)

Two men lean against a car in this image from TriStar Pictures.
The story of Chicago’s music scene isn’t complete without the story showcased in “Cadillac Records.” (Image: TriStar Pictures)

As a Chicago resident, I had to include “Cadillac Records” on this list. The film follows the rise of Chicago-based Chess Records, the record label of Leonard Chess (Adrian Brody) that had a huge part in bringing mainstream popularity to several forms of the blues and rock and roll. Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright), Etta James (Beyoncé), and Chuck Berry (Yasiin Bey) are just a few of the names who came through Chess' doors, and all are played here with care and diligence.

The movie does not shy away from showing the inequity and strain of predominantly Black musicians having their contracts and careers controlled by white record executives. If you want to understand some of the power imbalances that still remain in entertainment today, “Cadillac Records” is a good place to start.

“Cadillac Records” is available to buy or rent on Amazon Prime Video.

‘Love & Mercy’ (2014)

Two men work together inside a recording studio in this image from Battle Mountain Films.
The process of creating “Pet Sounds” nearly destroyed Brian Wilson, as seen in “Love & Mercy,” where he was played by Paul Dano. (Image: Battle Mountain Films)

“Pet Sounds” has a spot among the greatest albums of all time; thus, a movie like “Love & Mercy” is right up my alley. The film delves into the Beach Boys’ seminal album and its repercussions on primary creator and band leader Brian Wilson. John Cusack and Paul Dano are excellent as Wilson in two different decades, with mannerisms in Dano’s award-winning performance appearing again in Cusak’s turn. It’s a very touching look at both the power of art and the mental toll it can take on its creator.

“Love & Mercy” is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

‘Straight Outta Compton’ (2015)

Three men sit in a car at night in this image from Legendary Pictures.
Modern hip-hop would sound radically different if it weren’t for N.W.A., whose story was brought to the big screen via Corey Hawkins, O'Shea Jackson Jr., and Jason Mitchell. (Image: Legendary Pictures)

One benefit of a music biopic is the ability to contextualize an important musical act within history. A prime example is “Straight Outta Compton,” the movie about the influential and controversial rap group N.W.A. The group radically shaped pop culture and hip-hop during their rapid rise and subsequent fallout, and the film does a fantastic job exploring how each member of N.W.A. and their artistry spread into different subgenres and influences.

The film also introduced audiences to Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., who won an NAACP Image Award for playing his famous dad and has become one of my favorite actors in recent years. He's gone on to appear in projects ranging from the “Den of Thieves” movies to the Disney+ series “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

“Straight Outta Compton” is streaming now on Hulu.

‘Rocketman’ (2019)

A man in a baseball uniform plays a piano on stage at a stadium in this image from New Republic Pictures.
“Rocketman” captures just how energetic of a performance Elton John can give. (Image: New Republic Pictures)

An Elton John movie has to be over the top. John has such an incredibly vibrant personality, not to mention the bombastic costumes he’s worn over the years, that any biopic would have to go to great lengths to channel his persona. “Rocketman” delivers on this with absolutely stunning visuals. I’ve watched the film several times and see a new visual flourish each time. The scene where John levitates during one of his first public performances still takes my breath away.

While there’s a lot of fun, “Rocketman” also handles the darker side of John’s life with care and grace, from his struggle to find acceptance as a gay man to his journey to fully embrace himself and gain self-confidence. Taron Egerton, who won a Golden Globe for playing John, gives a tremendous performance, cementing him as one of my favorite young actors today.

“Rocketman” is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

‘Elvis’ (2022)

A man leans back as he performs in this image from Bazmark Films.
There was no era in his career where Elvis — portrayed here by Austin Butler — wasn’t a huge hit. (Image: Bazmark Films)

Yes, the big story coming from “Elvis” is that Golden Globe winner Austin Butler still talked like that for months after playing the titular role. I find that amusing too, but it did obscure a bit the fact that “Elvis” did a fantastic job capturing just how big of a phenomenon Elvis Presley was. He was perhaps the most famous person on the planet for decades, and the film plays up both how magnificent and glamorous that could be and the loneliness and strain it put on Presley and those close to him.

Director Baz Luhrmann has always been big on visuals in his films, which is why I would suggest watching “Elvis” on the biggest, best screen you can find. Be warned: It's going to get loud. All those Elvis fangirls sure can scream!

“Elvis” is streaming now on Netflix.

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