Hollywood films love to inspire awe and encourage viewers to pursue their dreams—because, after all, anything is possible! Who knows which viewer might become the next Elvis or Madonna?
And Hollywood loves to do that by featuring successful musicians, bands, and singers as the protagonists of their movies. Sometimes they’re based on real people. Sometimes they’re made up.
From obsessed artists to inspirational biopics, here are some of the best films about musicians, bands, and singers. (That doesn’t mean these are all musicals!)
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We saw a flurry of musical film releases in 2018 and 2019, with a big trend in biopics. After the success of Bohemian Rhapsody, Hollywood took to telling another whimsical celebrity’s story: Elton John.
Dexter Fetcher directs this glitzy, sequin-studded drama that stars Taron Egerton as the androgynous British pop star.
Rocketman opens with Elton’s childhood and very quickly breaks out into flashy musical numbers. It follows Elton’s rise into the glamorous world of fame, where the singer-songwriter’s homosexuality is thrown into the limelight… all the while he battles alcoholism.
Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t without its flaws. That said, the huge box office hit is sure to get viewers nostalgically singing along—and what else could you ask for from a musical movie?
Rami Malek gives a glittering performance as the late Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the iconic rock band Queen. Bohemian Rhapsody is an explosive celebration of Mercury’s talent, who tragically died due to AIDS complications at just 45.
Malek’s incredible performance is at the heart of this movie, taking us through Mercury’s journey from a baggage handler still living with his parents to egotistical pop sensation.
Coming to terms with his sexuality and fatal illness, Mercury’s experience of fame isn’t always a positive one.
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There are few movies with a plot as bold and original as Yesterday. Auteur director Danny Boyle poses the question: What if there was no such thing as The Beatles?
The British rock band had one of the biggest impacts on the music industry, with Beatlemania sending shock waves throughout the UK and US during the 1960s. But what would happen if one day you woke up and, suddenly, they never existed?
Well, that’s exactly what happens to wannabe musician Jack Malik, played by Himesh Patel. As the only person who remembers the legendary band, Jack decides to use their songs as a way of claiming their forgotten fame for himself.
Yesterday is a funny, heart-warming tale that showcases the spirit and influence of The Beatles on the world.
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It’s public knowledge that Judy Garland—Hollywood’s number one starlet of the Golden Age—had a less-than-easy life. Myriad conspiracy theories and YouTube documentaries have explored the dark underside to the production of The Wizard of Oz.
However, the extent of Judy Garland’s trauma comes as a tragic surprise in Rupert Goold’s biopic Judy. Renee Zellweger gives an unrecognizably stellar performance as the troubled singer, winning the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.
Taking place near the end of her life at the young age of 47, Garland reminisces on her career through a series of heart-breaking flashbacks. Despite her immense talent, Garland struggles to keep performances going due to sheer exhaustion and alcoholism.
8. Love & Mercy
John Cusack and Paul Dano both star as Brian Wilson, lead singer of the surfer-pop band The Beach Boys.
When young Wilson (Dano) begins to suffer early stages of schizophrenia, he’s forced to put his passion project Smile on hold. Director Bill Pohlad jumps between timelines, where 20 years later Wilson (Cusack) is controlled by his therapist and legal guardian.
The main plot of Love & Mercy is centered around Wilson’s battle with mental illness—worsened by his repeated use of LSD during the 1960s—and the manipulation he suffered as a result.
That said, Pohlad doesn’t forget to pay tribute to the visionary artist who paved the way for new experimental sounds.
Another in a long list of music-related biopics (because who doesn’t love a true story?), Walk the Line tells the surprisingly sad story of American country singer Johnny Cash.
The movie begins with the devastating death of Cash’s brother during their childhood on a cotton farm, and his father furious that Satan “took the wrong son.” From there, Cash enlists in the US Air Force, writing acoustic blues songs and eventually making a name for himself.
Joaquin Phoenix delivers a beautiful performance as the damaged and erratic singer, who became hooked on amphetamines and alcohol. Reese Witherspoon is equally wonderful as the bubbly June Carter, Cash’s second wife.
James Mangold’s drama is a searing portrait of the legendary 20th century musician, grappling with themes of faith and self-destruction.
A family film that’s just as much for adults as it is kids, School of Rock is now a cultural icon.
Jack Black gives an unforgettable performance as Dewey Finn, a failing rock artist who steals his best friend’s identity. Kicked out of his band and unable to make rent, Dewey pretends to be a substitute teacher.
However, his plans to sit back and skive off soon turns into a unique opportunity to cash in: Dewey decides to secretly turn the class into one big rock band and enter them into Battle of the Bands. Of course, this is easier said than done.
School of Rock is a hilariously entertaining classic with a rocking soundtrack. You can tell how much fun the cast had making this movie!
Black-and-white indie flick Control follows the rise and fall of Ian Curtis—singer of New Wave band Joy Division—who tragically committed suicide at just 23. A pioneering icon of post-punk rock, Joy Division remains one of the most influential English rock bands to date.
Sam Riley gives a brooding performance as the enigmatic singer suffering with both depression and epilepsy.
Control doesn’t harbor the sort of flamboyant screen spectacle that Hollywood biopics use. Instead, it offers a quietly desperate glimpse into the troubled mind of a musical legend.
4. Wild Rose
Wild Rose follows Rose-Lynn Harlan, a Scottish single mum who’s fresh out of prison. Fed up with her demoralizing cleaning job, she decides to pursue her dream of becoming a country singer.
Jessie Buckley shines and inspires as the lead of Tom Harper’s musical drama. Wild Rose is more grounded than some of our other showy Hollywood picks on this list, adopting a (much needed) female focus in a male-dominated industry.
Frank ranks so highly on our list because, well, there’s really no other film like it. Lenny Abrahamson’s indie musical tells the bizarre tale of an obscure pop group, whose lead singer wears a papier-mâché head.
Aspiring songwriter Jon joins the group and spends a month in an isolated cabin in Ireland, preparing an album. Though things start off well, tensions soon begin to buckle.
Frank is a black-comedy like no other. It’s eccentric, it’s fun, and it’s surprisingly heartfelt—prepare to shed some tears. Domhnall Gleeson and Maggie Gyllenhaal star, alongside (a mostly hidden yet still electrifying) Michael Fassbender.
It’s important to understand the context of A Star Is Born, which is the third edition in a cycle of remakes.
The original A Star Is Born from 1937 features Judy Garland. Then, Barbra Streisand stepped in for the 1976 version. This time around, it’s Lady Gaga who comes in with incredible chemistry with co-star Bradley Cooper, who also directs the film.
Each installment reflects not only the music industry at the time, but greater society as a whole. It’s become a sort of endearing Hollywood tradition to tell this story every 40 years or so.
The story follows wannabe artist Ally, who falls for alt-country star Jackson Maine and subsequently rockets to fame. However, Jackson’s inner demons puts a strain on their relationship and her career.
Academy Award-winning psychological drama Whiplash started life as a short film in 2013 that examined the dark side of musical obsession. Damien Chazelle then turned it into a full-length movie featuring knockout performances from Miles Teller and J. K. Simmons.
Young drummer Andrew enrolls in a New York music school, where he’s tutored (or should we say, abused) into greatness by ruthless jazz conductor Terence Fletcher.
In Whiplash, the stage isn’t a means of artistic self-expression—it’s a battlefield for perfection, where student and teacher lock horns in a spectacular head-to-head finale.