There's nothing like experiencing the most iconic moments in music on the big screen — from Queen's Live Aid performance to the creation of the Beach Boys' magnum opus "Pet Sounds." In honor of the Aug. 13, 2021, debut of "Respect" — which sees Jennifer Hudson bringing to life the late, great Aretha Franklin — Wonderwall.com is taking a look back at the all-time greatest music biopics.
Keep reading to see if your favorite made the cut…
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Rami Malek won the Oscar for best actor for his performance as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in 2018's "Bohemian Rhapsody." The film — which claimed three additional Academy Awards and also won the Golden Globe for best picture — explores the band's early years through their memorable performance at the 1985 Live Aid benefit concert, which took place six years before Freddie died from AIDS-related pneumonia. "Bohemian Rhapsody" grossed more than $903 million at the global box office.
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Taron Egerton won a Golden Globe for his performance as Elton John in 2019's "Rocketman," a musical fantasy about the chart-topping superstar's life and career. The musical biopic — which Elton executive produced — charmed critics and racked up awards while making a killing at the box office. Elton even won an Oscar for the new song he wrote for the film, "I'm Gonna Love Me Again."
RELATED: Elton's life and career in photos
Paul Dano scored a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as a young Brian Wilson in 2015's "Love & Mercy, which was a huge hit with critics. The film alternates between the genius musician's life in the '60s (when he created the Beach Boys' magnum opus "Pet Sounds" amid a mental health crisis) and the '80s (when he met and fell in love with his second wife, Melinda Ledbetter, who helped him win back control of his life and career from his exploitative caretakers).
The 1993 Tina Turner biopic "What's Love Got to Do With It," which is based on the singer's bestselling autobiography, earned critical acclaim for its phenomenal acting and no-holds-barred depiction of domestic violence. Angela Bassett, who played the "Proud Mary" chart-topper, and Laurence Fishburne, who starred as her husband Ike Turner, both earned Academy Award nominations for their work in the film.
The 2005 biopic "Walk the Line" depicted not only the life of Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) but also his relationship with wife June Carter Cash (Reese Witherspoon). It featured sizzling chemistry between its two leads and a detailed look at Johnny's iconic career and issues with addiction. The film, which grossed more than $186 million worldwide, scored five Academy Award nominations. (Reese ultimately won the Oscar for best lead actress.)
The 2014 James Brown biopic "Get On Up" helped to solidify Chadwick Boseman's status as an acting powerhouse. He starred as the Godfather of Soul alongside Viola Davis as the iconic musician's mother, Craig Robinson as saxophonist Maceo Parker, the late Nelsan Ellis as singer Bobby Byrd and Octavia Spencer as James's aunt.
"Selena" — which was released just two years after the shooting death of its subject, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez — is a portrayal of the Queen of Tejano's rise to stardom. Jennifer Lopez, who was then a little-known actress and dancer, starred as the "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" singer in what many consider to be her breakout role. The 1997 film went on to cement Selena's status as a celebrated music icon that we lost far too soon.
"Straight Outta Compton" was a surprise mega-hit in 2015: It made more than $200 million on a budget of around $50 million and scored an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay. The biopic — which depicts the rise and fall of iconic hip-hop group N.W.A. — stars O'Shea Jackson Jr. as his real-life dad, Ice Cube, plus Corey Hawkins as Dr. Dre, Jason Mitchell as Eazy-E, Aldis Hodge as MC Ren and Lakeith Stanfield as Snoop Dogg.
Jamie Foxx won an Oscar for his performance as Ray Charles in the 2004 biopic "Ray," which is considered by many to be the best biopic of all time. The multi-talented performer also earned Golden Globe, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild and Critics' Choice awards for his work in the film, making him only the second actor ever to win all five major awards for best lead actor for the same performance. (Several more actors have accomplished the feat since then.) The real-life Ray was scheduled to attend the film's premiere but passed away from liver disease a few months before its debut.
Val Kilmer gave one of his most memorable performances ever as rock icon Jim Morrison in the 1991 film "The Doors." Perfectly showcasing the wild, free-loving, drug-using world of a 1960s rock superstar, this biopic shows all the ups and downs of Jim's short life. Meg Ryan also shines as Jim's girlfriend, Pamela Courson
"Notorious," which was produced by Bad Boy Records founder Diddy, also tells the story of a music legend whose life was taken too soon. The 2009 biopic depicts the life of Brooklyn rapper and Bad Boy artist Biggie Smalls — aka The Notorious B.I.G. (real name: Christopher Wallace). The movie stars acting phenom Angela Bassett as Voletta Wallace and then-newcomer Jamal Woolard as Biggie in a widely praised performance. "The movie's a mother's story," Diddy told MTV News before the film's release. "[Biggie's] mother is the driving force of the movie getting done. I wanted the movie to speak for itself, so I haven't been out there overhyping it. But truth be told, I was blown away by the movie."
Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning delivered strong performances as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie in 2010's "The Runaways," which (cherry) bombed at the box office in spite of decent reviews from critics. The biopic is based on the "Cherry Bomb" singer's memoir "Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway" and traces the titular all-female rock band's formation, rise to fame and eventual issues with substance abuse and infighting.
"Jersey Boys," which centers around the music group The Four Seasons, grossed more than $67 million worldwide. Directed and produced by Clint Eastwood, the 2014 musical biopic stars acting legend Christopher Walken and Broadway star John Lloyd Young. In a surprising twist, the film's actors recorded all the music live. "While keeping the stage-show feel, having live vocals and music also raises the emotional performances in the scenes," re-recording mixer John Reitz told The Hollywood Reporter. "'Jersey Boys' is a story about four guys, and the songs are a part of their journey. The live performances only added to the realism."
"The Sound of Music" is definitely one of our favorite things! Julie Andrews starred as Maria Von Trapp opposite Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp in the 1965 musical, which is inspired by the real-life Trapp Family band, a group of singing siblings and their parents who famously fled Austria after it was annexed into Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. The film won five Academy Awards including best picture and best director. By 1966, it had become the highest grossing film of all time — a distinction it held for five years. Now considered a true classic, "The Sound of Music" was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2001.
The 2007 drama "I'm Not There" — which is inspired by the life and music of Bob Dylan — stands out for its creativity and storytelling. It stars multiple actors including the late Heath Ledger (pictured), Richard Gere, Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett as the iconic musician in different phases of his life. The film — for which Cate earner an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress — emphasizes the ways in which the singer-songwriter reinvented himself throughout his career.
It's one of the most heart-wrenching, tragic and powerful films of all time. Adrien Brody stars in 2002's "The Pianist" as Polish musician Władysław Szpilman, a composer and pianist who survived the Holocaust. The film won Oscars for best director (Roman Polanski) and best adapted screenplay and was nominated for four other awards including best picture. The biopic also garnered Adrien a best actor Oscar at 29, making him the youngest actor to win in that category.
The majority of celebrated music biopics are about present-day artists, but this excellent biopic tells the story of an 18th century composer… Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart! "Amadeus," which debuted in 1984, chronicles Mozart's life through the words of his rival Antonio Salieri. The film won eight Oscars including best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay and best lead actor for F. Murray Abraham, who portrayed Salieri. (He actually won over co-star Tom Hulce, who portrayed Mozart, in the same category.)
A young Dennis Quaid stars in "Great Balls of Fire!" as Jerry Lee Lewis in the heyday of his career and amid his eventual downfall after marrying his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown (Winona Ryder). Dennis earned raves for his performance in the 1989 biopic — which is based on Myra's autobiography and was loathed by her ex-husband — though it ultimately failed to make an impression at the box office.
Sissy Spacek won an Oscar for her performance as Loretta Lynn in "Coal Miner's Daughter." The 1980 biopic was adapted from the country music singer's 1976 autobiography and also stars Tommy Lee Jones as Loretta's husband, Mooney Lynn. The film showcases all the ups and downs of Loretta's life, from being a married mother of four at age 19 to the release of her first hit, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl."
Clint Eastwood won a Golden Globe for best director for "Bird," which chronicles the life of jazz saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker. A young Forest Whitaker stars as the titular musician in the 1988 biopic, which focuses on Bird's career, his relationship with his common-law wife, Chan Parker, and his early death at 34. Dream-like scenes and sequences dominate the film, making it one of the most unique movies on this list. It also won an Oscar for best sound.
Gary Busey earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as the titular musician in "The Buddy Holly Story," which also won the Academy Award for best adapted score. The 1978 biopic — which traces the singer-songwriter's rise to fame during the early days of rock 'n' roll — was a huge hit with critics: It has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes… more than four decades after its debut! It was also a moderate success as the box office — especially for the time.
This music biopic only graced the small screen, but that doesn't make it any less entertaining… "CrazySexyCool: The TLC Story" centers around one of the most popular and successful girl groups of all time: TLC. The VH1 made-for-TV movie, which debuted in 2013, features Keke Palmer as Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas, Drew Sidora as Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Lil Mama as Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes. Chilli and T-Boz actually served as producers on the project, which traces the trio's rise to fame and the issues in their relationships leading up to Lisa's untimely death in a 2002 car accident.
"8 Mile," which debuted in 2002, is loosely inspired by Eminem's life growing up in Detroit. The chart-topper stars as aspiring rapper Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith Jr. as he juggles his dysfunctional family, pursues his musical ambitions and escapes his trailer park upbringing. (Sound familiar?) The gritty film was an unexpected hit with critics and at the box office. Em even won an Oscar for best original song for "Lose Yourself, his hit track from the film.