HomeOur ObsessionsDreamgirls: The best female-focused music biopics

Dreamgirls: The best female-focused music biopics

For more excellence in the same vein as 'Roxanne Roxanne', here are ten of the best biopics about female musicians ever made. Be sure to play ‘em loud!

Dreamgirls: The best female-focused music biopics

Roxanne Roxanne, Michael Larnell’s critically acclaimed biopic of female emcee Roxanne Shanté premiered last year – one of the finest music biopics in recent years.

Boasting a strong pedigree of actors including Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (House of Cards), Nia Long (The Best Man Holiday), and the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz, as well as a score by RZA and producers including Pharrell Williams and Forest Whitaker, Roxanne Roxanne is definitely appointment viewing.

For more excellence in the same vein, here are ten of the best biopics about female musicians ever made. Be sure to play ‘em loud!

10. The Sound of Music (1965)

Loosely based on Maria von Trapp’s account of the Von Trapp Family Singers, The Sound of Music takes a lot of artistic license with the source material. But isn’t it all worth it to see Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins) howling at the Austrian hills with a gaggle of precocious stage children around her? That might depend on whether the movie sends you hurling off for the hills or singing along with rapt enthusiasm. (We’re definitely the former).

9. Sweet Dreams (1985)

Patsy Cline’s life story is peppered with tragedy all the way through until her shocking death in a 1963 plane crash at the height of her fame. Starring Jessica Lange (Tootsie) as the velvet-voiced country icon, Sweet Dreams brings energy to Cline’s most wounded moments and meditates on the cost of love & success.

8. Bessie (2015)

Dee Rees’s HBO Bessie Smith biopic is a loving tribute to the legendary blues performer and deserves to be celebrated. The director brings out phenomenal performances in a cast including Queen Latifah (Chicago), Mo’Nique (Domino), Oliver Platt (Bicentennial Man), and Michael Kenneth Williams (12 Years a Slave) and showcases Rees’s skill with ensemble casts & music.

7. Selena (1997)

Jennifer Lopez’s performance as record-breaking Tejana singer Selena Quintanilla-Perez is vastly underrated. Selena follows the chanteuse as she spins big dreams into even bigger chart success right up until her tragic murder in 1995.

6. Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

Starring Sissy Spacek (The Help) as legendary country singer Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter explores the icon’s dynamic career from the provincial poverty of her beginnings to the international superstardom that followed.

The movie is an underrated gem (though it made a huge splash at the time) that comes with the added bonus of a young Tommy Lee Jones with a dashing sweep of blonde hair sure to make you wonder, “Wait, do I have a crush on Kay from Men in Black now?” ‘Fraid so, friend.

5. The Runaways (2010)

Floria Sigismondi’s frenetic coming-of-age biopic about a raucous teenage rock band The Runaways is full of youthful energy and painful insight. Exploring the ways the band may have been exploited by the industry alongside the relationship between Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), the movie is as pounding as The Runaways’ hottest tracks.

4. Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

Sidney J. Furie’s biopic of Billie Holiday features Diana Ross (The Wiz) neither looking nor sounding anything like the iconic singer, but if you can get past that, the movie is nothing short of incredible. With stellar performances from Ross and co-stars Billy Dee Williams (Batman) and Richard Pryor (See No Evil, Hear No Evil), the five-time Oscar-nominated movie offers an unflinching look at Holiday’s troubled life and career.

3. Dreamgirls (2006)

Though not a direct biopic, Dreamgirls is loosely based on the story of The Supremes and Motown Records, and that’s good enough for us! Featuring Beyoncé Knowles and Jennifer Hudson acting circles around Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained) and Eddie Murphy (Coming to America), the movie is pure power and deserves to enjoyed with the volume turned up to max.

2. La Vie en Rose (2007)

Marion Cotillard (Ismael’s Ghosts) is staggeringly good as French chanteuse Édith Piaf and rightfully took home the Best Actress statue at the 2008 Oscars for her performance. Piaf’s devastating and often heartbreaking life is laid out alongside some of her most beloved tracks to shattering effect.

1. What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)

Following the career ascension of soul goddess Tina Turner (a formidable Angela Bassett) as she fights to break free of abusive husband Ike (Laurence Fishburne), What’s Love Got to Do with It is one of the greatest musical biopics ever made. The soundtrack is pure fire and the barbed energy between Bassett & Fishburne will have you screaming at the screen for Tina to rise up and succeed.

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Amy Roberts is a freelance writer who occasionally moonlights as a hapless punk musician. She’s written about pop culture for websites like Bustle, i-D, and The Mary Sue, and is the co-creator of Clarissa Explains F*ck All. She likes watching horror movies with her cat and eating too much sugar.

amy@filmdaily.co