Musicians Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) perform in WALK THE LINE.

Musicians Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and June Carter (Reese Witherspoon) perform in WALK THE LINE.

TM & 2005 Twentieth Century Fox/digital file

Love & Mercy, based on the life of musician Brian Wilson, hit theaters over the weekend with Paul Dano and John Cusack in the role of the iconic Beach Boys singer. As musicians are often the subject of biographical films, and in honor of Love & Mercy, here are our top ten musician biopics.

The Doors

Oliver Stone's The Doors is a brilliant deconstruction of the stereotypes of the '60s rock band, with Val Kilmer giving a wild and powerful performance as The Door's lead singer Van Morrison. Stone's film may have drawn controversy due to its historical inaccuracies and excessive drug content, but it works well as a means to tell a story, with the excess being part of a commentary made about the hippie era. The duo of Kilmer and Stone make for one of the most unique rock bios to date, a wild and exhilarating cinematic adventure.

La vie en Rose

Marion Cotillard's Oscar winning role as French singer Edith Piaf is an instrumental aspect of La vie en Rose, a beautiful biography of the singer that uses non-linear storytelling to convey the artist's rise in prominence. Though the film deals with many of the tragic elements of Piaf's life, Cotillard brings a warmth and ferocity to each scene, as well as a haunting look at the effects of popularity and excess. It's a performance based film, and it brilliantly captures both an individual and a culture.

The Pianist

Roman Polanski's film is an essential musician biography, as it perfectly showcases the strength and calming effect of music in the midst of hardship. Adrien Brody gives a commanding performance as a Polish-Jewish man whose skills with the piano and musical composition gain him traction during the midst of a Nazi occupation. Polanski and Brody both received Oscars for their work, and the film itself stands out from other musical films as a much more tragic story, but also a wonderful tale of inspiration and survival.

I'm Not There

Todd Haynes's Bob Dylan biography I'm Not There is a cleverly crafted film that uncovers the multiple facets of the artist's lives and personas by using six different actors to explore his life. Christian Bale, Health Ledger, Cate Blanchett, Ben Whishaw, Richard Gere, and Marcus Carl Franklin each bring something different to the film and the character of Dylan, and the film as a whole stands out as a unique, witty, and odd departure from the standard biographical formula.

Beyond the Sea

Bobby Darin stands out as one of the most iconic singers of his era, and Kevin Spacey does him more than justice in the brilliant Beyond the Sea. As a director and a lead actor, Spacey perfectly captures the charisma and influence of Darin, as well as using his own singing to give a unique spin on Darin's music. Beyond the Sea explores the catalysts of the '50s and '60s that facilitated the rise of the music and film industry, with Darin as a major aspect of each industry's rise.

Love & Mercy

Though it just hits theatres this week, Love & Mercy definitely ranks among the greatest musician biographies with its unique dual storyline that features both John Cusack and Paul Dano as Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson. Both storylines are successful in capturing the persona of Wilson, and the combination of the direction and performances do an excellent job at capturing the character. Though each performance tells the story of a different element of Wilson's career, the actors work together to create a consistent portrayal of the famous musician.

A Hard Day's Night

Though A Hard Day's Night may not technically qualify as a biography, as it features the original members of the Beatles as themselves in an original narrative, the film is a great look at the Beatle's work and influence in modern culture. A Hard Day's Night, as well as its 1965 sequel Help!, do a great job at playing off of the public personas of the Beatles and turning them into fully-fleshed out characters. It's a silly plot that's usually an excuse to show some off the iconic music, but director Richard Lester does a great job at constructing an adventure that's made for fans of the music.


Ray, the biographical film following the life of jazz sensation Ray Charles, is a brilliant story of the American dream, with the character of Ray Charles played by a masterful Jamie Foxx, who commands the screen with his powerfully grounded performance, as well as his mastery of the iconic music. The film doesn't skip out on the reality, and even darkness, of Charles's life, but the message is ultimately a positive one, and Foxx's performance is one for the ages.


Amadeus is an iconic period drama that deals with the life of Amadeus Mozart in his ambitions, triumphs, and eventual murder at the hands of Antonio Salieri. The winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture, the film spans the life of Amadeus Mozart, exploring the price of genius through the torture Mozart faced throughout his years of composing, and the intense conflict with Salieri he would face in their mutual quest for music. A masterpiece exploring intrigue and jealousy, Amadeus is a classic tale of the pursuit of art.

Walk the Line 

Topping our list of the greatest musician biographical films, Walk the Line is the story of Johnny Cash's rise in popularity, romance with June Carter, and eventual drug abuse issues. Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic in the role of Cash, not only capturing the rouge nature of his music, but the inner turmoil he faced throughout his musical career. Phoenix's onscreen chemistry with Reese Witherspoon's June Carter is incredible, and the actors' ability to handle the soulful music is even more impressive. Walk the Line tells the entirety of Cash's life, from childhood tragedies to the perils of aging, succeeding as a dramatic reinterpretation of the singer's life with enough heart and music along the way.

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