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Film

Nina Simone, David Bowie and more: The 10 worst music biopics of all time

Filling the boots of an icon is no easy task, just ask Naomi Watts, Leonardo DiCaprio or Ashton Kutcher, whose interpretations of Princess Diana, J. Edgar Hoover and Steve Jobs, respectively, didn’t go down too favourably. Though, whilst these aforementioned actors at least tried to make their performances decent in otherwise poor movies, there are those biopics that crumble in both form and content. 

Looking specifically at the realm of music biopics, there are some that shine above the pack and some that truly sink to the bottom of the pile. From modern superstars to classic music icons, cinema has always been obsessed with honouring some of the industry’s most glittering stars. Though, indeed, for every Walk the Line there’s a Great Balls of Fire!, with filmmakers more than capable of tainting the legacy of a musician with a poor-quality biopic. 

Exploring the true depths of the music biopic subgenre of cinema, we’ve taken the liberty to break down the very worst movies, helping you avoid such tragic depictions in the future. Failing to capture the legacy of John Lennon, Nina Simone, the Rolling Stones and many more, take a look at our list of the ten worst music biopics, below. 

The 10 worst music biopics:

10. I Saw The Light (Marc Abraham, 2015)

Attempting to tell the story of the wild life of the country music icon Hank Williams, the two-hour bore of I Saw The Light by Marc Abraham is an utter failure of what should’ve been a riveting watch. Based on the award-winning biography, Hank Williams: The Biography, as well as having Tom Hiddlestone in the lead role, it’s a wonder why this film is so bad, but just trust us; it is. 

Dull and clumsy, the film fails to highlight the drama and struggle of Williams’ tumultuous life, coming off as a truly soulless, boring affair that isn’t even funny to laugh at. 

9. CBGB (Randall Miller, 2013)

So, this one’s a little contentious as it’s not about one singular musician, but rather a group of them, with CBGB exploring the music scene of the 1970s in the venerable nightclub that shares its name with the film’s title. Standing for ‘Country, BlueGrass, and Blues by the club’s owner Hilly Kristal, the iconic venue was used to elevate such bands as the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads and Television.

Then what’s the problem with CBGB? Well, despite it being based on an inspirational story of a vibrant music venue, the film is totally without soul, a cardinal sin for any music biopic. What’s more, the whole thing just seems like one big karaoke performance, with the acting and singing being just as bad as the dress-up-quality costumes.

8. Great Balls of Fire! (Jim McBride, 1989)

Though it might be named after one of the many songs of Jerry Lee Lewis, the title of the 1989 flop Great Balls of Fire! makes the movie sound more like a shoddy interactive DVD, rather than a serious biopic. Starring the likes of Dennis Quaid, Winona Ryder and Alec Baldwin, the film attempts to retell the story and career of the controversial rock ‘n’ roll star who released such tunes as ‘High School Confidential’ and ‘Wild One’. 

Getting the energetic performances of the musicians right, the issue with this 1989 movie is the casting of Quaid in the lead role who feels totally out of place. It doesn’t help that the script is so unimpressive that the actor has nothing to work with either.

7. All Eyez on Me (Benny Boom, 2017)

What a truly peculiar movie Benny Boom’s All Eyez on Me is, with the director attempting to tell the true story and tragic death of the prolific rapper, actor, poet and activist Tupac Shakur. Carried out with shockingly little conviction, despite the surprisingly compelling performance of Demetrius Shipp Jr in the lead role, All Eyez on Me is a surface exploration of an icon who deserves far more attention than Boom gives him. 

Merely skimming the surface of Tupac’s life, All Eyez on Me is a painfully average movie that is almost a total waste of time.

6. Stoned (Stephen Woolley, 2005)

Stephen Woolley’s 2005 movie Stoned was a bad idea from its very inception, particularly as it was written by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who had only previously helmed James Bond movies, and action parodies. As a result, this biopic of Rolling Stones co-founder Brian Jones is poorly constructed from the very bottom, with little attention given to the screenplay or production. 

Featuring the worst ensemble cast on this list, Stoned stars  Leo Gregory as Brian Jones, David Morrissey as Tom Keylock and Ben Whishaw as Keith Richards, with each actor feeling truly uncomfortable under their makeup.

5. Beyond the Sea (Kevin Spacey, 2004)

The disgraced Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey writes, directs and stars in this 2004 car crash of a biopic, making the whole disaster taste that much more bitter. Exploring the life of Bobby Darin and his relationship with his wife Sandra Dee, this peculiar half-baked failure of a biopic makes for a depressing legacy of one of the finest singers of the mid-20th century. 

Featuring the likes of Kate Bosworth, Bob Hoskins, John Goodman and Brenda Blethyn alongside Spacey, it feels as though the lead actor simply made this film for his own self-indulgence, and it shows.

4. Stardust (Gabriel Range, 2020)

Doing a biopic of David Bowie? You better be very, very careful. Not only is Bowie a beloved figure of musical innovation around the world but he is also one of the most vibrant characters the industry has ever seen. This is what made Gabriel Range’s 2020 movie such a colossal failure, with Stardust attempting to tell the story of the British musician whilst injecting absolutely no character, charm or pizzazz.  

Played with little enthusiasm from Johnny Flynn, it’s hard to blame the actor when the screenwriters Christopher Bell and Gabriel Range failed so desperately to capture the icon’s maverick spirit.

3. John & Yoko: A Love Story (Sandor Stern, 1985)

This biopic of John Lennon, Yoko Ono and the rest of The Beatles would be a hilariously bad TV movie, if it wasn’t so tediously long, clocking in at three unbearable hours. Peculiarly cast, the film features Mark McGann as Lennon and a young Peter Capaldi as George Harrison, with the whole film looking and feeling so poor that it feels like a badly-acted porn movie that might kick off into an orgy at any moment. 

Seeing as it was made for TV, you have to give this 1985 effort some slack, but you have to ask yourself, ‘if they couldn’t do it right, why do it at all?’.

2. Man In The Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story (Allan Moyle, 2004)

Talking of TV movies, this one’s a peach, being not only tremendously bad but also undeniably hilarious. Without the proper rights to Michael Jackson’s music, Allan Moyle goes ahead and tries to make a biopic as best he can, tracking the life of the icon, from a thriving young musician to a troubled older gentleman. How well does it carry this out? Feast your eyes on the trailer, below, and see for yourself.

Whilst poor, there’s not much Moyle could’ve done with the resources available to him, particularly with the lead actor, Flex Alexander, looking absolutely nothing like the superstar. 

1. Nina (Cynthia Mort, 2016)

Cynthia Mort’s Nina was a car crash for more reasons than one. Attempting to tell the life story of Nina Simone, the first cardinal sin of Mort’s film is that she did not have the rights to the music of the songwriter, meaning none of the tracks that made her such an icon could even be used in the film. What’s more, the family of the late Simone was opposed to the movie and so was the lead actor, Zoe Saldana

The result is an utter disaster, that you can’t wait to be ever the moment it’s started. Ridden with cliche and generic characterisation, Nina is dull to the core. What’s more, Simone’s estate would later call the whole nightmare, “gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating [and] soul-crushing”.