The 5 Best and 5 Worst Music Biopic Casting Decisions


We’re a little bit sensitive about our beloved music icons. So when it comes time to make a biopic and Hollywood studios cast A-list actors to fill their glittery shoes, we’re likely to get defensive about their choices. For instance, a recently announced film about Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia has us hoping for lots of tie-dye, illicit substances, and trippy cinematography — but we won’t allow ourselves to get excited about it until we know who’s playing the hippie hero himself. Our trepidation about the Garcia film got us thinking about notable musician biopic casting decisions of the past. Check out the five best and worst after the jump.


1. Amy Adams as Janis Joplin

We recently learned that Amy Adams, whose sweet, girlish film persona could not be farther from the gritty, hard-drinking, raspy-voiced rock legend’s, has landed the role of Janis Joplin in an as yet untitled biopic. Though we’re excited to see a movie about the Texan crooner who died too young, we just can’t picture this doe-eyed leading lady in the starring role.

2. Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire!

Quaid’s over-the-top caricature of The Killer paints broad brush strokes over one of the most complicated and influential musicians to emerge from the 1950s. Cultivating a Southern yokel accent and crazy eyes, Quaid turns Lewis’s devilish mannerisms into a cheap joke.

3. Hayden Christensen as “Musician” (Bob Dylan) in Factory Girl

Though his character is officially known as “Musician,” it’s not hard to deduce that Christensen is supposed to be impersonating Bob Dylan in this Edie Sedgwick biopic. It’s almost painful to watch him fake a raspy voice and speak in heavy-handed jive talk to imitate the folk hero in his prime.

4. Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings The Blues

Portraying one of the most powerful blues singers ever, Ross adds a glossy disco sheen that completely obscures Holiday’s distinctive voice. With Ross’s syrupy voice on the soundtrack, striking Holiday songs like “Strange Fruit” and “The Man I Love” feel lightweight, and the movie amounts to little more than a two-hour karaoke session.

5. Richard Gere as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There

In this postmodern biopic, Bob Dylan’s ever-changing persona is fragmented into seven characters that take on everything from Dylan’s early Woody Guthrie period to his Christian “rebirth” in the ’80s. Richard Gere plays the backwoods, late-’70s Dylan featured on albums like John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline, yet in his performance as Billy the Kid, he’s all Western with little hint of the musician who was supposed to be his inspiration.


1. Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There

Perhaps the highest compliment we can pay to Blanchett’s gender-bending performance as mid-’60s, Don’t Look Back -era Dylan is that it does justice to the classic music he created during that period. In a role that got her nominated for an Oscar, Blanchett embodies Dylan’s gestures and speech patterns so perfectly that it’s easy to forget she’s a woman.

2. Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter

Winning her the Academy Award for best actress in 1980, Spacek’s Loretta Lynn is among the defining roles in music biopic history. Playing the country star from age 14 to her mid 30s, Spacek performs with the same honesty and heartbreak that Lynn injects into her songs.

3. Gary Busey as Buddy Holly in The Buddy Holly Story

In what Busey himself admits was the role of his career, the crazy actor managed to keep it together long enough to turn in an ambitious portrayal of the ’50s rocker. When Busey puts on those thick-rimmed black glasses and sings Holly’s songs with all the signature high-pitched hiccups intact, it’s easy to see what the Academy saw in the performance.

4. Sam Riley as Ian Curtis in Control

Seeming to appear out of nowhere, this model-turned-actor showcased a wide range of talents as Joy Division’s troubled front man Ian Curtis, nailing everything from his tortured personal life to his manic robot dance moves. Riley’s performance in the moody black-and-white film earned him “Most Promising Newcomer” at the British Independent Film Awards.

5. Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray

Another Academy Award winner, Foxx’s portrayal of Charles, who had died shortly before the movie was released, was the dramatic role that made his career to date. From the timbre of his singing voice to Charles’s unmistakable piano sway, Foxx channeled the musician’s soulful spirit with breathtaking fidelity.