Owens: Music biopics are great for musicians and Hollywood

Tanner Owens

In the midst of bad reboots, live-action movies and continuation of series’ (i.e. John Wick 3), Hollywood has found a new genre to exploit: music biopics. In addition to making filmmakers boatloads of cash, music biopics positively affect an artist’s chart performance, even decades after an album has been released.

Music biopics find their success in their broad appeal. Although people may not be a fan or follower of someone’s music, it’s always intriguing to see how someone rises to fame and deals with success. Biopics offer a personal connection between viewers and the musicians they once saw as larger than life.

The trend started to take effect after the 2015 release of “Straight Outta Compton,” which detailed the rise and eventual breakup of the revolutionary hip-hop group NWA. In the past, music biopics had been successful for filmmakers, but overall, the artist at the center of the production enjoyed a limited amount of boosted sales.

However, with the advent of streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify, people have access to all kinds of music at any time. The movie “Straight Outta Compton” caused NWA to land its highest-charting placement since 1991, with the album “Straight Outta Compton” rising into the Top 10 of the Billboard 200.

Today, the music biopic business is booming. Late 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” grossed nearly $1 billion and garnered five Oscar nominations, winning four. The latest in Hollywood’s string of music biopics comes in the form of Dexter Fletcher’s “Rocketman.” The movie details the life of pop icon Elton Hercules John, who rose to fame in the late ’60s and early ’70s for a string of hits that included “Crocodile Rock” and “Saturday Nights (Are Alright For Fighting).”

The movie, now in its second week in theaters, has grossed more than $100 million and continues to rise. The appeal of biopics is that they show the other side of artists we think we know, and think we love. “Rocketman” takes a deep dive into the inner workings of John’s home life growing up. A great deal of the movie focuses on his problems with drugs, sex and alcohol addiction.

In most cases, people go to music biopics for the music but stay for the theatrics that fall in-between musical numbers. “Rocketman” has fantastic musical performances and gives fans of John a taste of what his raucous live performances were like. But more than anything, people want to see drama.

The genre isn’t exactly new — music biopics have been box office successes for decades.

“Selena,” which detailed the life and tragic murder of pop star Selena Quintanilla-Pérez, released in 1997 and made $35.5 million against a $20 million budget. In 2005, Johnny Cash’s life graced the silver screen in “Walk the Line,” which grossed over $186 million against a $28 million budget.

As of June 10, 2019, movies are in the works detailing the lives and music of Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, Celine Dion, Boy George, Elvis Presley and Leonard Bernstein.

In addition to biopics, there are also movies coming out that revolve around a singular artist’s music, rather than their life.

“Blinded by the Light” is an upcoming British comedy movie that shows the effect that Bruce Springsteen’s music has on a British-Pakistani student and how it affects his relationship with his traditionally-minded family.

Another music-centric movie slated for a 2019 release is “Yesterday.” The movie’s premise is intriguing enough, with the central character being an average musician who wakes up in a world where only he remembers The Beatles’ music. He becomes a global superstar after taking credit for all of The Beatles’ greatest hits.

The effect that music biopics have on the artists they are centered around is undeniable. Since the release of “Rocketman,” John’s music has only grown in popularity.

John’s greatest hits album, “Diamonds,” currently sits at No. 23 on the Billboard 200.

After the release of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen’s music enjoyed renewed interest, and the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” entered the Billboard Hot 100 for the third time — a rare achievement. The song has now entered the Hot 100 in three different decades.

With the proliferation of reboots and superhero movies, it’s refreshing to see the lives of so many iconic musicians shown on the big screen. Although they fall in the same genre, each story is truly unique and offers an enjoyable movie-going experience.