It’s sometimes okay for movies to rely on tropes or formulas a little here and there, so long as it’s not overdone or executed in ways that prove distracting. It’s pretty easy to turn on a movie that gets too formulaic, though, and no genre seems to have a higher percentage of films where such a thing happens than the humble biographical film. Well-known life stories are already predictable, on account of being well-documented before a film can even get made, but adding familiar tropes and narrative beats to the proceedings only heightens this feeling.

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Biopics about musicians seem to get hit even more than normal biopics, or it could be the case that there seem to be more music biopics than non-music-related biopics. Some of the worst, corniest, and most derivative are ranked below, starting with divisive biographical movies that may appeal to fans of the artist(s) in question, and ending with the particularly infamous ones that seemed incapable of pleasing anyone.

10 ‘Beyond the Sea’ (2004)

Director: Kevin Spacey

Beyond the Sea 20040
Image via Lionsgate

Not to be mixed up with the solid but overlong Black Mirror episode of the same name, Beyond the Sea is a music biopic that’s now more than two decades old, and has kind of been forgotten to time. That might be one of the nicest things that can be said about it: it’s a film that just sort of existed but proved forgettable, rather than being outwardly terrible in a way that made people remember it for the wrong reasons.

Also, elephant in the room kind of thing incoming, but it is also a film that starred and was directed by Kevin Spacey, which might well make it harder for many to watch the film today. It goes over the life of times of American musician Bobby Darin in a thoroughly formulaic way, and underperformed, grossing only about one-third of its budget (and it’s not like its budget wasn’t ridiculously high or anything).

Beyond the Sea

Release Date
November 16, 2004

Runtime
118

Main Genre
Biography

Rent on Apple TV

9 ‘Judy’ (2019)

Director: Rupert Goold

Judy - 2019
Image via 20th Century Fox

To be fair, Judy is the sort of biopic that’s probably more definable as bland, rather than outwardly terrible, but it’s so aggressively bland that it eventually tips over into bad territory or, at the very least, approaches it. The film’s all about singer/actress Judy Garland, mostly centering on the final stages of her life, battling personal demons while continuing to express herself musically to the best of her ability.

It’s a movie that existed solely for the purpose of getting Renée Zellweger an Oscar for playing Garland, which she did, and then Judy was subsequently forgotten about by most. It’s a tedious and formulaic (to a fault) film, and not even the fact that it focuses on a less well-known part of Judy Garland’s life can make it interesting. All in all, it’s probably only recommendable to particularly big fans of Zellweger as an actress (just rewatch Chicago again; at least that music-heavy movie has a pulse).

Judy

Release Date
September 27, 2019

Director
Rupert Goold

Runtime
118

Main Genre
Drama

Watch on Amazon

8 ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (2018)

Director: Bryan Singer

Rami Malek as Freddy Mercury singing live in Bohemian Rhapsody.
Image via 20th Century Studios

Hey look, it’s the movie people like because Queen was a band that made good music. Make no mistake: Queen was great, but Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t really do them justice, and it certainly dulled down the dramatic life story of frontman Freddie Mercury. Like the following year’s Judy, Bohemian Rhapsody sometimes feels like it’s come into existence to give Rami Malek an opportunity to win an Oscar.

Like Zellweger, he was also successful in this regard, but it’s more of an impression than a performance; there are Mercury mannerisms on offer, but both Malek and the script fail to make him feel like a real person. Don’t let the understandably good music and Live Aid recreation fool you: Bohemian Rhapsody is shamefully bland, and the fact it kept things PG-13 is arguably more gross than any crude moments or debauchery that would’ve been presented in the film had it been R-rated, and more accurate a representation of Mercury’s actual life.

Watch on Apple TV

7 ‘England Is Mine’ (2017)

Director: Mark Gill

If you wanted to make a genuinely great biopic about Morrissey, you’d have a severe challenge ahead of you, as he’s a talented artist who was the lead singer for the short-lived but amazing band The Smiths, but he’s also a complex, sometimes frustrating, and oftentimes controversial figure. England Is Mine got around this by focusing on a pre-Smiths Morrissey, growing up in the 1970s in the years before his band was founded.

It’s a bit like the John Lennon film Nowhere Boy, in that regard, but not quite as good (and that’s a problem, given that movie itself is kind of aggressively average). England Is Mine is just sort of there and then it’s gone, offering a tiny amount of insight into a less well-explored part of Morrissey’s life, but ultimately not giving enough to feel meaningful or substantial.

Watch on Tubi

6 ‘Nina’ (2016)

Director: Cynthia Mort

Nina - 2016
Image via Londinium Films

It’s a shame that Nina wasn’t the best of music biopics (by a long shot) because both the figure at its center – legendary singer/songwriter Nina Simone – and the lead actress – Zoe Saldaña – deserved better film-wise. That being said, part of the reason Nina wasn’t well-received had to do with that casting choice, as even though Saldana’s a talented actress, she’s of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, and Simone was a Black woman.

Beyond the casting being questionable, Nina also doesn’t do much as a biopic, with relatively flat filmmaking and pacing, covering a tumultuous period in the singer’s career. Those wanting to see Nina Simone well-represented in a movie might be better off seeking out a documentary, or at least checking out Summer of Soul, a 2021 music documentary/concert movie where Simone’s one of the many musical performers featured.

Nina (2016)

The story of the late jazz musician and classical pianist Nina Simone including her rise to fame and relationship with her manager Clifton Henderson.

Rent on Apple TV​​​​

5 ‘Back to Black’ (2024)

Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson

Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse with her full hair while singing with her eyes closed in Black to Black
Image via Focus Features

15 years after directing Nowhere Boy, Sam Taylor-Johnson returned to the world of directing less-than-amazing music biopics, though 2024’s Back to Black is considerably less than amazing compared to Nowhere Boy, which is passable if you squint your eyes and also spend some of the movie looking at your phone. Like Nowhere Boy, Back to Black is about a sometimes controversial musician who died tragically young, here centering onAmy Winehouse.

Now, any movie about Winehouse that comes out in the wake of the excellent 2015 documentaryAmy has a great deal to live up to, because that’s pretty much the definitive film about the singer’s rise to fame, personal demons, tragic passing, and horrible mistreatment at the hands of the media and the public at large. Back to Black kind of tackles some of those things, but with kid gloves, making for a weak and clichéd look at one of the 21st century’s most singular musicians so far, in turn not doing Winehouse justice by any means.

Back to Black

Release Date
May 17, 2024

Watch in theaters

4 ‘All Eyez on Me’ (2017)

Director: Benny Boom

All Eyez on me0
Image via Morgan Creek Entertainment

Things start getting pretty terrible here, and it’s not too late to turn around and save yourself from seeing the worst of the worst when it comes to biographical movies about musicians. It’s widely agreed that All Eyez on Me is a bottom-tier kind of music biopic, feeling like a disjointed at best and offensive at worst film about Tupac Shakur, who was one of the most influential rappers of the 1990s, and another musician who died tragically young.

All Eyez on Me doesn’t really capture what made Shakur a big deal, instead just doing the basics as far as biopics go, showing the highs and lows of an artist’s career before a sudden and tragic end (it’s not the way all biopics end, but a noteworthy number do follow this trajectory). Consuming anything else related to Tupac Shakur is advisable over watching this, and you’d learn more about the man from listening to any one of his often introspective albums.

All Eyez on Me

Release Date
June 12, 2017

Director
Benny Boom

Cast
Demetrius Shipp Jr. , Danai Gurira , Katerina Graham , Annie Ilonzeh , Dominic L. Santana , Jamal Woolard

Runtime
139

Main Genre
Biography

Watch on Starz

3 ‘Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B’ (2014)

Director: Bradley Walsh

Aaliyah_ The Princess of R&B - 2014
Image via Lifetime

Aaliyah was a musician/actress whose career was cut particularly short by an early passing, as she died in an airplane accident at only 22 years of age, ultimately only releasing three albums and having two movie credits to her name. Of course, that’s impressive for anyone still in their early 20s, and Aaliyah: The Princess of R&Bseems as though it’s aiming to celebrate the woman’s life while mourning her death and the fact she couldn’t continue making art.

Unfortunately, Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B is also a Lifetime movie, and that’s a company that’s seldom associated with meaningful, thoughtful, or even somewhat respectful entertainment. It all feels a bit cynically made and empty, even though Aaliyah’s tragically short life story is a genuinely emotional one. It’s safe to say that she deserves a proper biopic at some stage, and if capturing her life on film isn’t possible, then this one maybe shouldn’t have been released.

Watch on Lifetime

2 ‘Britney Ever After’ (2017)

Director: Leslie Libman

Britney Ever After - 2017
Image via Lifetime

Lifetime returned with a vengeance in 2017 to produce a biopic perhaps even worse than Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B with the release of a Britney Spears biopic called Britney Ever After. It feels like tabloid cinema; tacky stuff that wants to cash in on all the discourse and conversations around Spears as a person and artist, which has seemingly continued – sometimes intensely, sometimes more subdued – for just about the entire 21st century so far at this point.

To paraphrase the olden days of YouTube, maybe Britney should be left alone. She’s a person, after all, and as Amy (2015) showed, the media’s constant harassment and discussion of Amy Winehouse played some part in her emotional well-being worsening, showing musicians can be vulnerable to that sort of thing. Britney Ever After offers no insight or anything clever, being made because Spears is – and always has been – an unpredictable figure people like to gossip about. Anyone involved with producing this film needs to take a look at themselves in a mirror and/or grow up.

Watch on Tubi

1 ‘Stardust’ (2020)

Director: Gabriel Range

Not to be mixed up with the 2007 film called Stardust, which is actually quite good, 2020’s Stardust is a David Bowie biopic that’s actually quite bad. Infamously, this biopic couldn’t afford the licenses for Bowie’s music, so the resulting film tries to capture a young David Bowie – including his budding musical genius – without being able to feature any of his iconic songs.

You might think Stardust focusing on a young Bowie would be a workaround for a movie where money was tight, but the film depicts the musician on tour for his third album. That means this Bowie has already written songs like “Space Oddity” and “The Man Who Sold the World,” and wasn’t far off from writing all the iconic tunes from 1971’s Hunky Dory. Even with the lack of music, nothing else about Stardust impresses. It doesn’t feel authentic, it’s boring, and it comes across like a David Bowie biopic you’d order from wish.com. It’s ground control to major wrong. If it comes on TV, ch-ch-ch-change the channel. Ashes to ashes, funk to funky, we know that Stardust film is clunky.

Rent on Apple TV

NEXT: The Blandest Biopics, Ranked

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