Biopics are one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with a musician’s life story and creative output. Not only are these films visually compelling, they often emphasize sound design, giving viewers a treat for the eyes and ears.
Here are 10 of the best music biopics available for streaming. Settle in front of your big screen and crank up your surround sound system or sound bar for a great viewing — and listening — experience.
This 2004 release stars Jamie Foxx as R&B legend Ray Charles in a transcendent performance that would earn Foxx an Oscar® for Best Actor. Charles led a tough but triumphant life, and it’s as if Foxx put that weight on his own shoulders to deliver the most convincing characterization possible. Find out where to stream it here.
For many people, when they think of music biopics, this is one of the first to come to mind — it was a sensation when it hit theaters in 2005, notching $186.8 million versus a mere $28 million budget. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon star as husband-and-wife country superstars Johnny Cash and June Carter, and the chemistry between them is undeniable. Director James Mangold presents everything in a realistic, measured style — just how The Man In Black would have wanted it — and the screenplay is based on Cash’s own autobiography, so he essentially wrote the film himself. Find out where to stream it here.
Dr. Dre and Ice Cube are among the producers of this 2015 movie about the rap group N.W.A., and what they created is arguably the greatest hip-hop film of all time. The individual stories of the members of N.W.A. (which, of course, includes both Dre and Cube) are vivid in their own right, but the biggest takeaway from the movie is the music industry snapshot it provides. From contract disputes to studio sessions, we’re given an inside look at how the industry worked — for better or worse — in the early 1990s. Find out where to stream it here.
Marion Cotillard stars as legendary French singer Édith Piaf in the 2007 release La Vie en rose, named after one of Piaf’s most famous songs. The film is structured non-linearly, exploring different parts of the singer’s life and career, ranging from her greatest heights — enrapturing audiences from the stage — to her tumultuous personal life and addictions. Find out where to stream it here.
Jazz lover Clint Eastwood sat in the director’s chair for this 1988 biopic, which transports the viewer to the smoky nightclubs of the ’40s and ’50s as it follows the life of Charlie “Bird” Parker (Forest Whittaker) — one of the most influential jazz saxophonists of all time, and the main founder of the bebop style. Eastwood does an admirable job of maintaining historical accuracy as he traces Parker’s career from playing small venues in his native Kansas City to his glory days in New York City performing alongside the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and other legends. If you’re a jazz fan, this one is a no-brainer. Find out where to stream it here.
If you want to see how Jim Morrison became The Lizard King, you’ll want to check out this stylish and memorable trip back to the late 1960s, directed by Oliver Stone. Although there were four members in The Doors, the film focuses mainly on Morrison (played brilliantly by Val Kilmer), whose erratic behavior and heavy drinking led to his tragic death at the age of 27. Find out where to stream it here.
Lords of Chaos falls into both the music biopic and true crime categories, following the vitriolic and often violent rise of Norwegian black metal in the early 1990s — specifically the band Mayhem and one-man project Burzum. Mayhem mastermind Euronymous (Rory Culkin) is the de-facto leader of Oslo’s nihilistic black metal scene, holding court at his record store Helvete. From there, the story descends into, well … chaos. This was Hollywood’s first foray into the realms of extreme metal, and it doesn’t disappoint. Find out where to stream it here.
This powerful and moving Freddie Mercury biopic essentially introduced a new generation to the music of Queen. Within weeks of its release, the group’s records couldn’t be found in record stores, and play counts on streaming services went through the roof. It’s a testament to the strength of the film itself and Rami Malek’s jaw-dropping performance as Mercury, which earned him a Best Actor Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards®. It’s as if Queen had time-traveled from the past to perform in glorious 4K. Find out where to stream it here.
Anyone who has read Mötley Crüe’s tell-all biography The Dirt can tell you that the band’s story begged for a film adaptation. Netflix finally filled that void in 2019, presenting a vivid glimpse into the sleazy and excessive ’80s hair metal scene as we follow the band through its wild and hedonistic lifestyle on the Sunset Strip. Of all the biopics on this list, The Dirt is the one best suited for a watch party. You’ll feel like you’re hanging out with the members of Mötley Crüe! Find out where to stream it here.
Produced by Denzel Washington and adapted from the 1982 play of the same name, this film is set in the 1920s and gives the viewer a birds-eye view of a turbulent recording session by diva blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis). Chadwick Boseman plays the ambitious trumpeter Levee Green in what would be his final role, as he tragically died during post-production. The film is dedicated to his memory, and he would receive a posthumous Best Actor nod at the 93rd Academy Awards. Find out where to stream it here.