Bohemian Rhapsody: Hollywood biopics of era-defining musicians, from Ray to Straight Outta Compton
Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody is finally released on 24 October and Rami Malek‘s central performance as frontman Freddie Mercury is set to be a major talking point.
Impersonating so eccentric and larger-than-life a character as Mercury is no easy feat for any actor and Malek certainly has a job on his hands.
Biopics of era-defining musicians have been a part of cinema since at least James Stewart in The Glenn Miller Story (1954), with some interesting recent examples including Andy Serkis as Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (2010), Outkast singer Andre Benjamin as Jimi Hendrix in Jimi: All is By My Side (2013) and Don Cheadle as Miles Davis in Miles Ahead (2015).
Click through the gallery below to see our 10 favourite examples from a rich and varied genre.
10. I’m Not There (2007)
Todd Haynes followed his glam rock pseudo-biopic Velvet Goldmine (1998) with this inventive exploration of the many sides of Bob Dylan.
Six actors – Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale and Ben Whishaw among them – portrayed Dylan at different stages of his career as part of an appropriately freewheelin’ approach to narrative.
9. The Doors (1991)
To convince director Oliver Stone to give him the part of Jim Morrison, Val Kilmer undertook hours of extensive research into his hero, learning 50 songs to mimic his singing voice. When the surviving members of the Doors assembled to hear a recording of Kilmer, none could tell which was the impersonation and which the real Morrison.
The Doors was not loved by all but the great Kyle MacLachlan and Meg Ryan were memorable in supporting roles as keyboardist Ray Manzarek and Morrison's girlfriend Pamela Courson respectively.
8. Sid & Nancy (1986)
Gary Oldman was a dead-ringer for the late Sex Pistols guitarist Sid Vicious in director Alex Cox’s appropriately grotty account of the punk star’s pointless death from heroin following the overdose of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb) in New York’s Hotel Chelsea.
Bandmate Johnny Rotten was predictably dismissive of the project but understandably annoyed that Joe Strummer of The Clash had been consulted but not him.
7. Get on Up (2014)
Like Rami Malek, Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman faced a seemingly impossible task in portraying soul superstar James Brown, “Mr Dynamite” himself.
He acquitted himself well, however, in a film that largely conformed to genre formula but offered strength in depth with Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James and Octavia Spencer among the supporting cast.
6. What’s Love Got to Do with It? (1993)
Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne were superbly matched as Tina and Ike Turner in Brian Gibson’s unflinching account of their rise to fame and abusive marriage.
Adapted from Tina’s memoir I, Tina, the movie follows Ike’s violent attempts to dominate her before a conversion to Buddhism gives the soul star the strength to break free and go it alone.
5. Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Depicting the rise of game-changing LA rappers NWA in the late 1980s, Straight Outta Compton appeared in 2015 and was a smash hit, making $200m (£153m) at the box office on a $50m (£38m) budget.
While F Gary Gray's film lost its way in its second half, becoming bogged down in contract disputes, overall it did a superb job of capturing the vitality and righteous anger of the album of the same name. O'Shea Jackson Jr's performance as his own real-life father, Ice Cube, was a revelation.
4. Ray (2004)
Jamie Foxx was ideally cast as Ray Charles in Taylor Hackford’s telling of the life of the blind soul star, charting his rise from poverty in rural Florida to worldwide acclaim.
A sample of Foxx singing “I Got a Woman” provided the unlikely basis for Kanye West’s huge hit “Gold Digger” in 2005.
3. Walk the Line (2005)
James Mangold’s film, in which Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon excelled as Johnny Cash and June Carter, was a highly accomplished period piece and swept up its fair share of awards.
Admittedly conventional - containing at least three eureka moments in which the leads are inspired to write their best known songs - this is solid and fair-minded stuff.
2. La Vie en Rose (2007)
Marion Cotillard became an international star and was named Best Actress at the Oscars for her incredibly emotional turn as tragic French chanteuse Edith Piaf in Olivier Dahan’s 2007 film.
Covering the central events of her life from childhood to middle age, the biopic captured the defiant, uncompromising character of its subject, as expressed by her signature song “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”.
1. Control (2007)
The directorial debut of Anton Corbijn, who had photographed Joy Division in their prime, Control married the British kitchen sink realism of the 1960s with the doom-laden atmosphere of Ingmar Bergman to appropriately eerie effect.
Sam Riley was mesmeric as Ian Curtis, a jittery, haunted presence in a film that could not have been more different from Michael Winterbottom's 24 Hour Party People (2002), covering some of the same territory.
Bohemian Rhapsody – directed by Bryan Singer and starring Malek, Lucy Boynton and Gwilym Lee – reaches UK cinemas on 24 October.