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Rocketman's Elton John and 6 other music icons immortalised on the big screen

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Cher. Justin Timberlake. Whitney Houston. All musicians who've turned to acting on the big screen.

Jeff Goldblum. Ryan Gosling. Jeff Bridges. All big name actors who've combined music with the day job.

Both camps have a list of names as long as your arm, so it's no surprise that the music biopic is an established genre favourite with audiences and film makers alike.

Just over a year ago, one of the biggest names in music moved onto the big screen. Admittedly, Elton John was playing himself – after a fashion – in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, but it hinted at what was to come.

His very own biopic Rocketman arrives in May and sees him portrayed by no less than his Kingsman co-star, Taron Egerton.

Elton John's colourful life is just one of many that have been turned into movies - here's another six music icons who have been given the big screen treatment, plus a wild card choice without which no music biopic list is complete.

1. Sid Vicious – Sid And Nancy (1986)

By today's standards, Alex Cox's account of Sex Pistol Sid Vicious' relationship with girlfriend Nancy Spungen is surprisingly conventional and romanticised. Theirs was a brief affair, fuelled by drugs, culminating with Vicious murdering Nancy and dying from a heroin overdose some four months later.

But it was Gary Oldman as Vicious (apparently he pipped some guy called Daniel Day-Lewis to the role) and Chloe Webb as Nancy who made the film so compelling.

Oldman was extraordinary in his breakout role, magnetic and malevolent all at the same time and even The Pistols' John Lydon – who, after seeing the film, reputedly told director Alex Cox that he ought to be shot – was moved to praise his performance.

Webb was Oldman's perfect foil and, even if they both played Sid and Nancy as more sympathetic than they actually were, it was a partnership made in heaven. Or hell.


2. Jim Morrison – The Doors (1991)

Controversial director Oliver Stone was in the middle of a purple patch when he brought the hedonistic, excessive lifestyle of '60s icon Jim Morrison to the screen. And while the film wasn't to everybody's taste at the time of release, there's no denying that Stone's celebration of The Doors' lead singer was one heck of a ride.

It was also one of Val Kilmer's finest hours (the other being as Doc Holliday in Western epic Tombstone two years later), ridiculous and admirable at the same time. The director passed no judgement on his charismatic central character, leaving that to the audience as they experienced the psychedelia of the period and witnessed how drugs and over-the-top egos can inspire and destroy in quick succession.




3. Johnny Cash – Walk The Line (2005)

James Mangold's classy drama concentrated on country singer Johnny Cash's earlier years, putting his creative and personal relationship with June Carter at the heart of the movie. It also cast both roles to perfection, the dark, brooding Joaquin Phoenix eliciting terrific chemistry with the vivacious, sparkling Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon – and they both did their own singing.

On balance, Phoenix had the tougher job, portraying the hugely influential musical icon as a tightly-wound mixture of talent and torment, but both he and the film delivered on all fronts, showing the many sides of the legendary Man In Black.


4. Ian Curtis – Control (2007)

Before taking up the director's chair, Anton Corbijn was an accomplished photographer, working with bands such as U2, R.E.M and Depeche Mode. In fact, it was the music of Joy Division that first inspired him to pick up a camera and work for the New Musical Express in the late '70s.

Unsurprisingly, his first feature film was about the same band, but focused on the life of its lead singer, Ian Curtis, played with great empathy by Sam Riley. Control depicts a sad tale: Curtis committed suicide at the age of just 23, when the band was on the verge of international success.

This was no rags-to-riches biopic but one that addressed the pain that the deeply troubled Curtis turned into music until he could take it no more. Rather like Joy Division itself, it's a bleak experience, but refreshingly honest.




5. Brian Wilson – Love And Mercy (2014)

This dual portrait, set in both the '60s and '80s, of Beach Boys mastermind Brian Wilson is a must-watch for fans of the band and Wilson himself. It follows him as a young man (played by Paul Dano) as he records the legendary album, Pet Sounds, and then moves forward to the 80s when he (now portrayed by John Cusack) struggles to pull himself out of depression and break away from his controlling therapist.

Director Bill Pohlad creates a portrait of the musical genius which is both challenging and touching, created from a series of events and reinforced by two excellent interpretations of Wilson - the sweet, likeable Dano and the sombre, haunted Cusack.


6. Freddie Mercury – Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Officially the highest grossing music biopic of all time, the story of Queen and their flamboyant front man Freddie Mercury divided critics and the public. The critical reception was, at best, lukewarm but audiences flocked to it, making it the fifth most popular film at the UK box office last year – no mean feat, considering it was only released at the end of October.

What everybody agreed on, however, was that Rami Malek was electric as Mercury, completely inhabiting the man on the big screen. So, even if everything else paled in comparison to him – with the possible exception of the Live Aid sequence – all was forgiven. With a couple of Golden Globes and a clutch of BAFTA nominations in its pocket (and possible Oscar nominations in the offing), it seems the critics may have forgiven it as well.




And our wild card choice: Spinal Tap from This is Spinal Tap (1984)

The words 'musical biopic' and 'This Is Spinal Tap' go together like... anything you care to mention.

No list of the music biopic genre has any credibility without Rob Reiner's one-off comedy classic from 1984. OK, so Spinal Tap are a fictional band and the film is a mockumentary, but it felt and looked so real that, back when it was released, many people thought it was a genuine movie about an actual group.

After all, you couldn't make it up... could you?

Where will Rocketman place on the list of greatest-ever music biopics? With the movie due for release on 24th May, tweet us your thoughts @Cineworld.

Freda Cooper is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.