The Best Music Biopics Of All Time - The Delite

The Best Music Biopics Of All Time, According To Critics And Viewers

Biopics — movies that tell the true story of a real person’s life — have been around since the earliest days of cinema and, these days, it’s the ones about beloved musicians that seem to do best. In the past 15 years alone, we’ve seen biopics about wide-ranging musicians and groups like Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, N.W.A. and Queen become major hits, likely opening the gates for plenty more of these types of movies in the coming years.

Using a combined average score pulled from top critics at Rotten Tomatoes and users of IMDb, we ranked the highest-rated music biopics ever made. For ties, we went with which movie had the higher Rotten Tomatoes score.

The final list includes box-office smashes and ones you may have missed when they were first out. No matter which genre of music you love most, there’s something for you on this list!

#25 — ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ (2016)

Average Rating: 78/100

Who says a great music biopic has to be about a great musician? This funny film tells the true story of a rich woman in 1940s New York who became a professional singer despite having a terrible voice. “Florence Foster Jenkins” gave Meryl Streep the chance to play one of her most lively characters and she nailed it, landing her nominations for best actress at both the Oscars and Golden Globes.

Sadly, the real Florence Foster Jenkins died about 70 years before the film was made, so she never got to see her entertaining story on the big screen.

#24 — ‘Bessie’ (2015)

Average Rating: 78/100

No movie on this list managed to split top critics and regular viewers more than 2015’s “Bessie.” This biopic of blues singer Bessie Smith drew the lowest average IMDb score of any film on the list (6.6/10) but drew one of the highest scores from Rotten Tomatoes critics (89/100).

The made-for-HBO film was nominated for a slew of Emmy Awards — including for the performances of Queen Latifah, Michael K. Williams and Mo’Nique — and won four of them, including outstanding television movie.

#23 — ‘Ray’ (2004)

Average Rating: 79/100

It can be argued that when “Ray” skyrocketed to success in 2004, it led to the boom of music biopics that’s still ongoing. This musical biography of Ray Charles earned more than $124 million at the global box office — the most ever for a music biopic at the time — and plenty of awards. Jamie Foxx won an Oscar and Golden Globe for his lead performance, which was an uncanny imitation of the real icon.

The most unfortunate part of this film’s story is that Charles himself died just months before its premiere.

#22 — ‘Bound for Glory’ (1976)

Average Rating: 79/100

The oldest movie on this list, “Bound for Glory” told the true-ish story of legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, based on the musician’s own 1943 autobiography of the same title. The film included a performance of Guthrie’s classic song, “This Land is Your Land,” which became its signature moment.

“Bound for Glory” was acclaimed across the board when it came out, being nominated for best picture and winning two Oscars, including one for best music. “Kill Bill” star David Carradine played Guthrie.

#21 — ’24 Hour Party People’ (2002)

Average Rating: 80/100

Featuring an outstanding cast of British actors, “24 Hour Party People” is certainly one of the most lively music biopics ever made. It tells the story of Factory Records, a popular English record label that was founded in the late 1970s and produced acts like Joy Division and New Order. Steve Coogan stars as Tony Wilson, the real-life founder of the label.

“24 Hour Party People” was nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Of course, not everything portrayed in the movie was 100% factual but much of it is, making this a must-watch for lovers of electronic, ’80s pop music.

#20 — ‘Sid and Nancy’ (1986)

Average Rating: 80/100

Far from a box-office smash when it was released, “Sid and Nancy” was acclaimed by critics and has become a favorite of rock lovers. Gary Oldman stars as Sid Vicious, the infamous bass player for the British punk icons the Sex Pistols, and the film tells the tragic story of his doomed relationship with girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

It’s far from a feel-good affair that will leave you humming tunes after it’s over but “Sid and Nancy” is a great example of a biopic that shows its subject’s warts for all to see.

#19 — ‘Green Book’ (2018)

Average Rating: 81/100

A music movie that resonated with audiences and critics, “Green Book” has an average rating of 8.3/10 from IMDb users, which is tied for the highest mark of any movie on this list. Critics were a little cooler on it but it delighted enough people in Hollywood to win the coveted best picture trophy at the Oscars.

This movie tells the true story of pianist Don Shirley and a tour he took across the American South in 1962. Mahershala Ali won an Oscar for his performance as Shirley — although the actual man’s family had problems with the film’s accuracy.

#18 — ‘Hilary and Jackie’ (1998)

Average Rating: 81/100

You may have missed this British gem when it was first out but “Hilary and Jackie” is a must-see, especially for classical music lovers. This one recounts the real story of sisters Hilary and Jacqueline du Pré, each renowned classical musicians. Their story is full of triumph, betrayal and tragedy, making it perfect for the big screen.

Stars Rachel Griffith and Emily Watson each earned Oscar nominations for their work in the film. Like some others on this list, “Hilary and Jackie” attracted controversy from friends and relatives of Jacqueline du Pré, who objected to how she was portrayed.

#17 — ‘Sweet Dreams’ (1985)

Average Rating: 81/100

An early country music biopic, “Sweet Dreams” saw Jessica Lange bring singer Patsy Cline to life on the screen. Ed Harris played Cline’s husband, Charlie Dick, giving this movie a very strong cast at the top. Lange opted to lip-sync to Cline’s actual recordings rather than sing them herself and her performance was hailed as brilliant, earning her an Oscar nomination. Among the songs performed in the biopic are Cline favorites like “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy.”

#16 — ‘The Sapphires’ (2013)

Average Rating: 81/100

One of two Australian movies on this list, “The Sapphires” was the semi-true story of a group of indigenous Aussie women who formed a soul group in the 1960s. The film was compared to “Dreamgirls,” but “The Sapphires” has earned much better scores from IMDb users and Rotten Tomatoes critics than that more well-known title.

“Bridesmaids” actor Chris O’Dowd played the talent scout who discovered the group, but the women who played the singers were the real stars — Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell — all four of whom are indigenous Australians themselves. “The Sapphires” won an incredible 11 AACTA awards, which is Australia’s version of the Oscars.

#15 — ‘Blaze’ (2018)

Average Rating: 81/100

This was another one that severely divided critics and mainstream audiences. “Blaze,” which is about late Texas country music hero Blaze Foley, earned a paltry 6.7/10 score from IMDb users but a near-perfect 95/100 from Rotten Tomatoes critics. Actor Ethan Hawke directed “Blaze” and had a small role in its solid cast, which includes Sam Rockwell, Alia Shawkat and real-life country icon Kris Kristofferson.

#14 — ‘Walk The Line’ (2005)

Average Rating: 82/100

One of the most acclaimed and popular music biopics ever, “Walk the Line” told the story of country music icon Johnny Cash and his relationship with wife and musical partner June Carter. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon brought the two characters to life and were both heavily praised for their performances, with each winning a Golden Globe and Witherspoon also winning an Oscar. Audiences loved it, turning “Walk the Line” into the highest-grossing music biopic ever at the time, a mark it would hold for nearly 10 years.

#13 — ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ (1980)

Average Rating: 82/100

Country music clearly makes for some compelling biopics — and they can all be traced back to 1980’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” This acclaimed movie tells the life story of Loretta Lynn, who rose from extreme poverty to becoming one of the biggest stars in country music history. Lynn was played by Sissy Spacek, who sang all the movie’s songs herself and won an Oscar for the performance. The stellar cast also includes Tommy Lee Jones, who played Lynn’s husband/manager and Beverly D’Angelo, who played Patsy Cline.

#12 — ‘Topsy-Turvy’ (1999)

Average Rating: 82/100

Although it was considered a box-office failure when it was released, “Topsy-Turvy” won two Oscars and has been universally acclaimed by viewers and critics. This imaginative film tells the story behind the many collaborations between musical theater icons W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, who were behind classic operas like “The Pirates of Penzance” and “H.M.S. Pinafore.” The Oscars it won were for its costume design and makeup, which help make “Topsy-Turvy” a spectacle to behold for theater lovers.

#11 — ‘Love & Mercy’ (2014)

Average Rating: 82/100

It’s hard to find a more gifted — and troubled — talent in pop music history than Brian Wilson, and this movie really lets viewers get to know the leader of the Beach Boys. Paul Dano and John Cusack each play the mercurial singer-songwriter as the story shifts back and forth between Wilson’s work on the legendary “Pet Sounds” album in the 1960s and his later mental health struggles in the 1980s. The film is tough to watch in parts but is more revealing than many on this list and the musical moments will be thrilling for lovers of classic pop.

#10 — ‘Control’ (2007)

Average Rating: 83/100

It makes sense that a great music video director would be able to craft a great music biopic. That’s what Anton Corbijn did with “Control,” which is based on the life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. The movie was widely acclaimed on the independent and festival circuits, being praised for its depth and the performances of Sam Riley and Samantha Morton, who played Curtis and his wife. Not merely a surface look at its subject, “Control” especially examined Curtis’s struggle with epilepsy and an affair he had with a journalist.

#9 — ‘Behind The Candelabra’ (2013)

Average Rating: 83/100

Oscar winners Michael Douglas and Matt Damon teamed up for this HBO film that was set during the last years of beloved pianist Liberace’s final years. Douglas played the famously flamboyant performer and Damon played his much younger lover — the real-life version of who wrote the book it was based on.

“Behind the Candelabra” was a huge hit for HBO and won 11 Emmys, including outstanding miniseries or movie.

#8 — ‘La Bamba’ (1987)

Average Rating: 83/100

Another early rock biopic that remains a favorite is this film about the tragically short life of Ritchie Valens. Lou Diamond Phillips played the singer, who was born to Mexican immigrants and became a massive star in the 1950s with songs like “La Bamba” and “Donna.”

The movie has earned a near-unanimous 96-percent Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and it was nominated for best picture at the Golden Globes. The original music, some of which was written by Carlos Santana, has earned particular praise.

#7 — ‘Straight Outta Compton’ (2015)

Average Rating: 84/100

It took almost 10 years, but “Straight Outta Compton” was the movie that finally surpassed “Walk the Line” to become the highest-grossing music biopic ever at the time it was released. This tight biography of the controversial hip-hop group N.W.A. collected more than $200 million worldwide and was a favorite of audiences and critics.

The movie’s cast of mostly unknowns was heavily praised, including O’Shea Jackson Jr., who played his own real-life father, Ice Cube. The screenplay for “Straight Outta Compton” was nominated for an Oscar. This is certainly a must-watch for hip-hop lovers.

#6 — ‘Rocketman’ (2019)

Average Rating: 84/100

The newest movie to crack the list, this rowdy biopic of Elton John has already earned its place as one of the best musical portraits in history. Like “Straight Outta Compton,” this one went an R-rated route in telling its subject’s story and that clearly resonated with audiences and critics, who have both given it high marks.

“Kingsman” star Taron Egerton was praised for his performance as John, which could land him an Oscar nod in 2020. It was directed by Dexter Fletcher, who previously worked on the blockbuster Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

#5 — ‘Shine’ (1996)

Average Rating: 84/100

Yet another biopic that saw its star win an Oscar for portraying a musician was 1996’s “Shine.” This drama is about Australian concert pianist David Helfgott, who suffered a mental breakdown at the peak of his career. Geoffrey Rush played Helfgott as an adult and was universally praised for his lively performance. The scenes of Helfgott performing his piano pieces are some of the most intense musical moments you’ll ever see in a movie.

#4 — ‘Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould’ (1993)

Average Rating: 84/100

Certainly one of the most unique and ambitious biopics ever made, “Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould” is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of shorts celebrating the legendary classical pianist Glenn Gould. The only Canadian film on this list, the movie uses several genres, including animation, dramatic reenactment and documentary, to tell the story behind this amazing musician’s life.

Gould had been dead for more than 10 years before it premiered so, unfortunately, he never saw it but plenty of people did and it won four Genie Awards — the Canadian equivalent to the Oscars — including best motion picture.

#3 — ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ (1993)

Average Rating: 85/100

Music biopics don’t get much more explosive than this one. “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” is based on the life of Tina Turner and especially deals with her abusive relationship with her former husband and musical partner, Ike Turner. Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne played Tina and Ike to perfection, earning each an Oscar nomination and picking up a Golden Globe win for Bassett. The film was based on Tina Turner’s own autobiography, “I, Tina.”

#2 — ‘The Buddy Holly Story’ (1978)

Average Rating: 87/100

Like Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly’s life ended tragically in a plane crash in 1959 — and, also like Valens, his life was recounted in an acclaimed movie. “The Buddy Holly Story” saw a young Gary Busey bring the rock idol to life, earning an Oscar nomination in the process. This movie has the highest Rotten Tomatoes critics score of any on this list, holding down a 100-percent Fresh rating. “The Buddy Holly Story” represents the best of any biopics about modern musicians.

#1 — ‘Amadeus’ (1984)

Average Rating: 88/100

Not only is “Amadeus” the highest-rated music biopic ever, using our system of averaging IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes scores, it’s also the only one to be included on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest movies ever. This one tells the story of an intense rivalry between composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri in the late 1700s. “Amadeus” was a phenomenon, becoming one of the highest-grossing movies of 1984 and winning eight Oscars, including best picture.