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Top 9 Biographical Movies Based on Musicians Lives

by SocialButterfly
fact checked by dickensgirl

I love lists, I love movies and I love music… so for my first list on my favorite website it made sense that I would do a movie list based on musicians. I watch a lot of movies from all different genres and time frames but by pure coincidence almost all 9 of these movies were made in my life time. I had very specific criteria in writing this list including the movie had to have musical performances in it and it had to have the musician’s real name… I did not want anything to be too fictionalized and remain true to the biographical format. In any case I hope you enjoy!


La Bamba (1987)

This movie is based on the story of young Ritchie Valens, the rock and roll pioneer who had a string of hits in his 8 month professional career as a recording artist. Valens career was cut short when he died in a plane crash at the age of 17. Buddy Holly and “The Big Bopper” were also on board this plane as it was traveling to North Dakota on February 3rd 1959, this has become known as the day the music died.

Lou Diamond Philips, was 25 years old when he played the 17 year old Valens. This film is generally regarded as his breakthrough role. The movie was nominated for a 1988 Golden Globe Award for best Motion Picture Drama.


Selena (1997)

Based on the story of Selena Quintanilla-Perez, the Grammy Award winning Mexican American singer, who was killed at the age of 23 by the president of her fan club; Selena was released by her family only 2 years after the tragic murder. I personally first heard of Selena after she had passed away when her English speaking album was released. Selena was extremely popular in the Hispanic community and over 60,000 mourners attended her funeral.

This movie made Jennifer Lopez a star. She beat out over 12,000 actresses to play Selena and was nominated for a Golden Globe for this role.


The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

Based on the life of Buddy Holly the famous rock musician in the 1950’s who died in the same plane crash as Ritchie Valens. Buddy Holly is also known as one of the first Caucasian bands to play at the famous Apollo Theatre.

Although he is known more for his unusual behaviour now than anything else, Gary Busey was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Holly. He was 10 years older than Holly at the time of his death, lost 32 pounds to play the role and along with the other actors did all of his own singing and played his own instruments for the musical numbers in the film.

This clip chronicles the famous Apollo Theatre incident.


What’s Love Got To Do With It (1993)

This is the movie adaptation of Tina Turner’s biography. It is extremely graphic in it’s vivid description of the domestic abuse that Tina endured from her husband Ike Turner during their tumultuous working and personal relationship. Both Laurence Fishburn and Angela Bassett were nominated for Academy Awards for their portrayals of the Turner’s.

Angela Bassett is praised for her role, as well she should be. Ms. Bassett went on a rigorous training schedule to gain Turner’s notoriously well tone figure, not to mention the song lyrics and dance routines she memorized for the musical numbers. Bassett won a Golden Globe for best actress for her portrayal, the first African American female to do so.

This clip shows off exactly why Bassett deserved the win, and although there is not a lot of violence in this clip I would strongly recommend that you be aware that the rest of the movie is extremely graphic.


Ray (2004)

Known as the movie that proved Jamie Foxx was more than just a background comedian, Ray is the story of Ray Charles, legendary pianist who at the age of 7 was blinded in an accident but through perseverance shaped the sound of Rhythm and Blues music as we know it.

This movie was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won two including a Best Actor nod for Jamie Foxx. Foxx wore prosthetics so that he was unable to see and played all the piano scenes in the film himself.


Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

This is one of my favourite films and I think the performances are brilliant. Sissy Spacek was hand picked by Loretta Lynn to star in this movie based on the biography that she co-wrote. Both Spacek and Beverly D’Angelo, who portrayed Patsy Cline in the film, performed all of their own material. The movie follows Lynn’s life from the backwoods of Kentucky to Country Superstardom.

Enclosed is a clip that showcases Spacek and D’Angelo’s friendship but it unfortunately has many of the performances cut out for some reason.


The Pianist (2002)

This movie is based on the true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, an accomplished pianist in 1930’s Poland. When Poland is invaded by the Nazi’s in 1939 Szpilman becomes a prisoner and slave labourer before ultimately being freed after the occupation.

This movie was nominated for and won several awards most notable of which include winning the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes. As well the film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and won 3 including Best Director for Roman Polanski and Best Actor for Adrien Brody in the lead role making him, at age 29, the youngest actor to win the award.

In preparation for this role Brody became a shut in and gave up many of his possessions so that he may understand what it might have been like in the situation. In addition he lost 30 pounds and learned to play Chopin on the piano.


Amadeus (1984)

This movie is based upon the lives of Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the competitive atmosphere surrounding them in 18th Century Austria.

I have not seen the entire movie but I have seen enough to know that the performances were brilliant. This movie is funny, dramatic and sad sometimes within 5 minutes. But We can let the numbers speak for themselves. Amadeus was nominated for 53 separate awards including 11 Oscar nominations. It went on to win 40 of those nominations, 8 of which were Academy Awards. Included in those 8 were Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. In a rare occurrence it should be noted that both actors who portrayed Salieri and Mozart were nominated for Best Actor.


Walk The Line (2005)

This movie is amazing and was the only choice for number one. This movie is based on Johnny Cash’s life, going from his childhood through his drug addiction and exploring his hidden romance and eventual marriage to June Carter Cash. Johnny and June are played by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon respectively and are brilliant in their performances. They both learned to play all their own instruments and performed all of the songs themselves.

Both Phoenix and Witherspoon were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances with Witherspoon winning the Best Actress award. It was rumoured that Phoenix’s subsequent admission to rehab for alcoholism was due in part to the fact that he became addicted while preparing for the part.

Contributor: SocialButterfly

fact checked by dickensgirl