There's nothing worse than wanting to watch one of the best movies about music but all you can find is the same old films. There are so many "decent" music movies out there that the great ones can get lost in all of the noise.
So what we're doing here is giving you the top 10, then five runner's up if you've seen all the best ones, and then we quickly reel off a bunch of honorable mentions. You'll undoubtedly find something new to watch here.
But what we aren't going to do is list any of the best music documentaries or best musicals. We have separate lists for those. This is specifically for the best movies about music that contain real actors and storylines. Let's do this...
#10 - The Doors
Starring: Val Kilmer & Meg Ryan
The Doors was directed by Oliver Stone and released in 1991 to mixed reviews. As time has gone by, those critics are probably regretting those silly opinions. I still remember the scene where the synthesizer player can't relax on the beach until he has a breakthrough on the melody he'd been wracking his brain over. That's how it is for me. All work and no play!
Brian De Palma, William Friedkin, and Martin Scorsese all toyed with the idea of making this film, but the band strictly wanted Oliver Stone to do it after seeing his success with Platoon. It ended up going through nearly a decade of development hell while courting huge actors to play Morrison. Val Kilmer ended up being the perfect choice.
Trivia Facts: The bandmates and family of Jim Morrison were unhappy with the film, saying it's depiction of him was inaccurate and damaging. It only made $34 million globally but costed $38 million. It's since broken even now that it's a cult film with a huge following. If you pay attention you'll notice Billy Idol in a role.
#9 - Walk the Line
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix & Reese Witherspoon
Director James Mangold's 2005 romantic drama Walk the Line tells the story of the life of country star Johnny Cash. What's really enjoyable about this one beyond the rise to stardom and the romance is the insight you gain into what it's like to hit the big time before you've fully realized it: hanging out with the top stars, driving fancy cars, getting backstage to mega star concerts.
Both stars won Oscars for their performances, and the film itself scooped up tons of accolades from the BAFTA Awards, Golden Globe Awards, and Academy Awards. Joaquin Phoenix even re-recorded Cash's songs for the film, singing and playing them. This was a huge hit, regardless if it's about music or not.
Trivia Facts: Big film companies resisted making Walk the Line for almost a decade. It turned out to be the highest-grossing music biopic of all time until Straight Outta Compton came out ten years later.
#8 - This is Spinal Tap
Starring: Christopher Guest & Michael McKean
This is Spinal Tap is a mockumentary co-written and directed by Rob Reiner in 1984. While it's making a mockery of the gargantuan rock star ego, it's still pretty accurate. You get to see musicians and managers alike complain about tiny things on riders, the mechanics of big concerts, and other nonsense.
The band Spinal Tap is a fake British rock band, but they recorded a full album's worth of material and performed it live, with hits such as "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" and "Gimme Some Money." It's one of the best films of 1984 and all of the critics loved it, which is rare since at least one tends to want attention by being contrary. Big rock stars loved it too.
Trivia Facts: The Library of Congress has preserved this movie in the National Film Registry as culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant. Almost all of the dialogue is improvised and there was no script, just scene outlines. Rock bands that take themselves too seriously are called "Spinal Tap" nowadays.
#7 - Love & Mercy
Starring: John Cusack, Paul Dano, & Paul Gamatti
Directed by Bill Pohlad, Love & Mercy was released in 2014 and introduced a new generation to the story of The Beach Boys and the genius of Brian Wilson. The film bounces back and forth in time between the 1960's when The Beach Boys were recording the ground-breaking Pet Sounds album, and the 1980's when Brian Wilson began having mental illness struggles.
Brian Wilson has called the movie "very factual." It was nominated for two Golden Globes, including best original song, among many other award companies and film festivals. This was another one critics loved though it didn't receive a widespread audience initially.
Trivia Facts: The movie is named after Brian Wilson's 1988 single of the same name. The movie almost starred Jeff Bridges as Wilson. The original script was titled "Heroes and Villains." The credits roll while Wilson plays his titular song live.
#6 - Almost Famous
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, & Frances McDormand
Almost Famous has a star studded cast including more actors that listed above, like Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Anna Paquin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jimmy Fallon, Jason Lee, Jay Baruchel, Rainn Wilson, and so many more. It's a comedy-drama written and directed by Cameron Crowe and released in 2000.
It's about Cameron Crowe's time as a Rolling Stone journalist (as a teenager) who shadows a 1970's rock band as they tour around. Crowe actually did this with the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The film won a Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack. It's pretty darn fun.
Trivia Facts: The band in the film is a fake called Stillwater, but during the creation of the movie a real band named Stillwater signed to Capricorn Records and they had to obtain permission to continue. For having critical acclaim, the movie actually lost almost $10 million.
#5 - Hustle & Flow
Starring: Terrence Howard, & Anthony Anderson
Hustle & Flow came out in 2005, billed as a drama film directed by Craig Brewer. It has a great cast, including Taraji P. Henson, Ludacris, Isaac Hayes, Haystack, Juicy J, and so many more actors and rappers. It had great reception and won so many awards and nominations they can't be listed, including Best Actor.
The scenes where you watch the crew create a song from the ground up, including the beat production, are absolutely awesome. The entire movie is great, and it's even more worth watching just for those scenes, especially if you're a musician or have gone through the process of making rap songs.
Trivia Facts: Terrence Howard turned down the role of DJay at first because he didn't want to be typecasted, but eventually accepted. Major studios and financiers rejected the film, and John Singleton ended up backing it himself.
#4 - Rock Star
Starring: Mark Wahlberg & Jennifer Aniston
Rock Star was directed by Stephen Herek and released in 2001. It's a drama film with comedic moments, though it's pretty serious. We all know of the various older bands that need to find a new vocalist and poach the singer from their best cover band, like Yes, Journey, and Judas Priest. This movie follows one of those singers.
It features quite a few musicians, like Zakk Wylde and Jeff Pilson. Believe it or not, this movie was a severe box office bomb, losing nearly $37 million. The soundtrack features six songs from the band in the movie, Steel Dragon.
Trivia Facts: The movie's first working title was "Metal God," and almost starred Brad Pitt. They felt the original title was too limiting. The concert scene in front of 10,000 people was filmed during a Metallica and Megadeth concert.
#3 - Amadeus
Starring: f. Murray Abraham & Tom Hulce
Amadeus came out in 1984 and is a period piece directed by Milos Forman. Originally a stage play, it tells the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 18th century Vienna, Austria. You'd be surprised to learn this was a box office hit and is considered one of the best films of all time. It was nominated for 53 awards and won 40 of them!
The movie is described as "fantasia on the theme of Mozart and Salieri," between whom the movie documents a feud at the court of Emperor Joseph II. Mark Hamill played Mozart on stage and almost had the role for the film but the director was afraid the fans would just see "Luke Skywalker." It was shot on scenee in Prague and Kromeriz.
Trivia Facts: This is another movie the Library of Congress stuffed into the National Film Registry for preservation. The movie is PG-rated but later an extended version with 20 minutes of extra footage was released that received an R-rating.
#2 - 8 Mile
Starring: Eminem, Brittany Murphy, & Mekhi Phifer
The 2002 film, 8 Mile, directed by Curtis Hanson came out to a great reception and it deserves it. It follows B-Rabbit as he navigates life in Detroit and trying to gain footing in the rap game as a white guy. It centers around his life and that of his crew in general, with the main events being underground rap battles. B-Rabbit is easily the best but has to overcome fear and anxiety while on stage to prove it.
If you're a fan of Detroit and West Coast rap, you'll see a lot of famous rappers in various roles and as battle rappers, who did tryouts and ultimately actual freestyles in front of the crowd for the movie. The most surprising part of all of it is how absolutely convincing of an actor Eminem is.
Trivia Facts: This movie made so much money compared to others on this list, just under $243 million worldwide. Even the soundtrack topped the Billboard Charts and is one of the best movie soundtracks of all time. The movie features rappers such as Proof, Xzibit, Obie Trice, and many more lesser known guys from Detroit.
#1 - The Blues Brothers
Starring: John Belushi & Dan Aykroyd
This 1980 comedy movie directed by John Landis is without a doubt the best movie about music. The Blues Brothers even stars some of the best singers of all time like James Brown, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and more. Lot's of delays caused by incompetent writers and degenerate actors made this one of the most expensive comedies ever.
This movie is about a paroled convict on a "mission from God" to save the orphanage he was raised in. to do it, they reform their R&B band to raise the $5,000 needed. This is the quintessential "getting the band back together" movie, which leads them on a series of adventures culminating in the big moment.
Trivia Facts: The movie was such a financial success despite its huge budget that a sequel was made 18 years later, which was a huge bomb. The movie held the record for the most cars destroyed in a film until its own sequel took the record. The soundtrack is the 2nd album from The Blues Brothers band.
Runners Up: Which Almost Reach the Best Movies About Music List?
At this point in history we can't really stop at just the top 10 best movies about music or we'd be leaving out others that are more than worth your time. So here's five more than are equally good (but we could only choose 10 above) that we're calling runners up.
Starring: Forest Whitaker & Diane Venora
Bird, directed by Clint Eastwood, is a 1988 film about the jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, who's nickname was "Bird." The movie jumps around the timeline of Parker's life with a series of montages showing him as a youth, at age 34 (his age at passing), and all in between, masterfully acted by Forest Whitaker.
A lot of it is about his relationships with his wife, Dizzy Gillespie, and Red Rodney (the latter two being great Bebop trumpet players). All of Parker's music was recorded in mono so they hired session musicians to replay the songs, isolating and re-using Parker's solos.
Trivia Facts: The movie was originally thought up in the 1970's but kept in the vaults by Columbia Pictures. Charlie Parker was going to be played by comedian Richard Pryor but he lost interest over time. It was filmed in 52 days for $14.4 million, but only made $2.2 million back.
A Mighty Wind
Starring: Bob Balaban & Christopher Guest
A Mighty Wind came out in 2003 and is about a folk music reunion concert, where three bands come back together for a live TV performance. It was directed by and stars Christopher Guest, among other actors like Jane Lynch and Catherine O'Hara. It's kind of like This is Spinal Tap but for folk instead of heavy metal with a lot of the same actors and musicians.
It's full of situational humor, such as one of the bands opening with a song another band intended to play, a band member going missing minutes before they're meant to be on stage, etc. To promote the movie they even had a seven-city tour featuring the three bands: The Folksmen, The New Main Street Singers, and Mitch & Mickey.
Trivia Facts: The bands have made other appearances before and after this movie, including The Folksmen opening up for Spinal Tap (same members!) on tour. All of the music in the film was written and performed by the cast and the director's long-term musical collaborator C.J. Vanston.
Straight Outta Compton
Starring: O'Shea Jackson Jr. & Corey Hawkins
To say 2015's Straight Outta Compton only features the two actors above would be silly since N.W.A. had five members. It's about the story of the rap group that launched members like Dr. Dre and Ice Cube to stardom. The real members were actually involved in the movie as producers and creative consultants.
This movie made $201 million on a cost of $50 million! Some members of the group ended up dissatisfied with how their contributions were minimized or ignored altogether. There were a lot of controversies, reactions, and lawsuits surrounding the film and filming, but in the end it won a ton of accolades and money.
Trivia Facts: The success of this movie led to the quick release of a long-awaited third Dr. Dre album called "Compton," which also was released to great acclaim. Dr. Dre, sold his Beats headphones company to Apple in 2014 and is now one of the richest rappers and richest musicians in the world.
Starring: Jennifer Lopez & Edward James Olmos
Selena is a 1997 biographical music movie about the life, success, and passing of the singer Selena as portrayed by Jennifer Lopez. Directed and written by Gregory Nava, the story goes all the way to the point when the president of her fan club took her life at age 23... such a travesty. Even with such an ending, this is a beautiful film that's a fun ride.
Over 21,000 people auditioned for the role of Selena, making it the 2nd largest audition ever (with Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind being the first). Salma Hayek turned down the role, saying it was "too soon" to create the film. Even the soundtrack of Selena songs did well for not being new material.
Trivia Facts: Some scenes were almost left out of the script in order to try to have a broader reach and keep a lighter rating. Others scenes couldn't even get agreement with the family on how it really happened. The movie is the 15th highest-grossing musical biopic of all time.
Starring: Jamie Foxx & Kerry Washington
Ray is a biographical music movie about the life of blind R&B musician and pianist Ray Charles. It was released in 2004 to huge success and was written, produced, and directed by Taylor Hackford. Jamie Foxx won an Oscar for Best Actor as well as from all four other major awards groups, being the 2nd actor ever to pull this off. That's how you know this is a good movie.
Ray Charles was given a Braille copy of the script and allowed to object to a scene that showed him resisting taking up the piano, which isn't how it happened, as well as one more scene I won't mention. The credits do say some of it is fictionalized and dramatized, though.
Trivia Facts: Ray Charles passed away months before the release of the movie, sadly never getting to see it. Ray Charles went blind at age 7 due to glaucoma. The movie was financed entirely by Philip Anschutz with a budget of $40 million. It brought in $125 million for a huge profit.
Honorable Mentions for the Best Movies About Music
Though there's more, we felt that the addition of this one extra section would allow us to cover all of the best music movies you need to know about. If you want more, you can certainly find them but they won't necessarily be worth your time. These, however, all offer something of value.
- Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a 2001 box office bomb that some people really like. It's a bit weird, but won plenty of awards and has a cult following. It's about someone stealing their mentor's music and becoming famous, in a comedy-drama setting.
- The Runaways is a 2010 independent film about the formation and ultimate breakup of a real 1970's rock band called The Runaways.
- Bound for Glory is a 1976 biopic based on the largely fictionalized autobiography of the same name written by Woody Guthrie. It won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, if you're into the directing side of movies.
- Lady Sings the Blues is a 1972 biopic based on the life and career of jazz singer Billie Holiday.
- La Bamba is a fantastic 1987 movie about the life and musical career of Ritchie Valens. It's so good it's also in the National Film Registry for preservation.
- Coal Miner's Daughter was a smash hit in 1980 and tells the life story of country music singer Loretta Lynn.
- A Star is Born has been made four times since 1937. The most recent in 2018 stars Lady Gaga and other large stars. It's about the growing romance between two musicians.
- Sid and Nancy is a 1986 film about the life of Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. It failed to make money but everyone who saw it loved it, and it's now a cult classic.
- What's Love Got to Do With It is a 1993 movie about the life of Tina Turner. It's an emotional rollercoaster and worth a watch if you're hunting for a music movie you haven't seen yet.
- I'm Not There is a 2007 movie about the life and music of Bob Dylan. It's considered one of the best of that year.
There's no way you watch everything in this list, especially our top 10, and not come away with some new favorite movies. These are the best movies about music and straying beyond these can be done with a lessening amount of satisfaction for the most die-hard fans, but not recommended if you haven't seen these first.