Two of the most popular forms of entertainment are music and movies and the two are combined in the music biopic.
The earliest example of the genre – sort of – is a short released by the Edison Company in 1909 with the self-explanatory title “The Origin of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata,” which depicts the moment the great composer was inspired to create that famous piece. Other classical composers and musicians, including Mozart, Schubert, Liszt, Puccini, and Paganini were the subject of biopics in the first part of the 20th century, as were big band and jazz legends like Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Red Nichols, and Gene Krupa.
More recently, numerous country, rock, and rap stars have received the filmed biography treatment. To identify the most successful music biopics of all time, 24/7 Tempo reviewed gross domestic box office figures – not adjusted for inflation – from Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, for the 20,000+ movies in our database identified as “musical,” “music,” and “biography” on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon. Movies about fictional musicians were excluded from consideration. (Information on plot and stars is from IMDb.)
The top five music biopics are “Bohemian Rhapsody,” in which Rami Malek plays Queen frontman 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 the pioneering Chicano rock star Ritchie Valens. (These are the best movies for country music fans.)
Several of the movies on our list are about performers who died tragically young. Valens, the 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 to death. Jim Morrison, the main subject of “The Doors,” died at the age of 27. (These are 30 famous musicians who were murdered.)
By contrast, “Rocketman” Elton John is still making hits after six decades in the music business.
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