Two of the most popular forms of entertainment are music and movies and both are combined in the musical biopic.
The first such example – of sorts – is a short film released by the Edison Company in 1909 with the explicit title “The Origin of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata”, which describes the moment when the great composer was inspired to create this famous piece. Other classical composers and musicians including Mozart, Schubert, Liszt, Puccini and Paganini were the subject of biopics in the early part of the 20th century, as were big band and jazz legends like Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey , Red Nichols and Gene. Krupa.
More recently, many country, rock and rap stars have been given the film biography treatment. To identify the most successful musical biopics of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the domestic box office raw numbers – not adjusted for inflation – of rotten tomatoesan online movie and TV review aggregator, for the more than 20,000 movies in our database identified as “Music”, “Music” and “Biography” on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon. Films about fictional musicians were excluded from consideration. (Plot and star information is from IMDb.)
Click here to see the top-grossing musical biopics, from Tupac’s “All Eyez on Me” to Elton John’s “Rocketman.”
The five best musical biopics are “Bohemian Rhapsody,” in which Rami Malek plays Queen singer Freddie Mercury; “Walk the Line”, with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny and June Carter Cash; “Rocketman,” starring Taron Egerton as Elton John; “Ray,” for which Jamie Foxx won an Oscar playing Ray Charles; and “La Bamba,” featuring Lou Diamond Phillips as pioneering Chicano rock star Ritchie Valens. (These are best movies for country music fans.)
Several of the films on our list are about artists who died tragically young. Valens was only 17 when he died in a plane crash. Tejano music star Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was 23 and rapper Tupac Shakur was 25 when they were shot. Jim Morrison, the main subject of ‘The Doors’, has died aged 27. (Those are 30 famous musicians murdered.)
On the other hand, “Rocketman” Elton John continues to make hits after six decades in the music industry.