After “Bohemian Rhapsody”: Planning the Next Wave of Music Biopics
The Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, despite mostly negative reviews, is a big hit, taking in $50 million domestically and $141.7 million worldwide in its opening weekend.
That strong box office performance, coupled with Hollywood’s never-ending copycat tendencies, indicates that we’re about to get many more music biopics. Already on the way in 2019 is Rocket Man, about Elton John – that film which was directed by Dexter Fletcher, who finished Bohemian Rhapsody. There’s also The Dirt, based on the notorious biography of the ’80s band Motley Crue.
Here are some ideas for music biopics that haven’t happened yet, but should. If and when these movies are made, I hope they can avoid several pitfalls of recent biopics, especially the Queen one. They should not utilize the sort of cliches that Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story was making fun of. They should not allow distracting cameos from Mike Myers. And if the subject was especially known for hedonism, the film should absolutely NOT be rated PG-13. I can’t even imagine a non-R-rated version of Motley Crue’s story.
For the purposes of this exercise, let’s imagine an alternate world in which music rights are no object, nor is the necessary approval or control of surviving band members:
The story of how Fleetwood Mac made their classic 1977 album Rumours, while multiple couples within the band were in the middle of breaking up, has never been told on screen. It should be now – especially as long as Jennifer Lawrence is the right age to play Stevie Nicks.
John and Yoko
Everyone thinks they know the story of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. But how about a revisionist take, one that’s more sympathetic to Yoko and doesn’t give her the blame for breaking up the Beatles? This one could dramatize that breakup, while taking the central couple through the political intrigue of the ’70s, up until Lennon’s death.
There was already a hit movie about NWA, so why not the other incendiary rap group of that time? Chuck D and Flavor Flav both offer potential for highly creative casting.
There are many, many hurdles to a Jackson biopic, starting with his radical changes in appearance that would make it next to impossible for one actor to play Jackson the entire time. So I’m imagining something really experimental, a la Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. How the film would handle the molestation allegations is a whole other matter.
The White Stripes
How about a look back at Jack White and Meg White’s band? Perhaps set in two different, Sliding Doors-like scenarios, one where she’s his ex-wife and the other where she’s his sister.
The Grunge Era
For all the mythology about what took place in Seattle in the early ’90s, during the rise of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and other bands of that era, it’s never quite been immortalized on screen. And no, Singles doesn’t count. Flannel is already back in fashion, so it’s only a matter of time.
This one came close in the late ’90s, but fell apart due to disputes over the music rights. It’s a naturally cinematic tale, especially considering Gaye’s short life and bizarre death. This one could use Gaye’s famous National Anthem performance at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game the way Bohemian Rhapsodyused Live Aid.
The “pope of mope” is for one, too much of an ornery asshole to ever allow this, but let’s see a story about his life and career, from the music to the militant veganism to the weird phenomenon in which he’s loved by Mexican teenagers.
Rage Against the Machine
I’d very interested in the story of how this influential, anarchy-rock band went on a run throughout the ’90s, at a time when that sort of music and cultural attitude was far from in vogue, and then completely disappeared at the dawn of the Bush era.
Of the ones on this list, this is probably the one I’d most want to see. Stevens made several classic albums of folk songs in the ’70s, featured (among other places) in the great film Harold and Maude. Then, Stevens converted to Islam, changed his name, and disappeared from music for more than 30 years, before recently returning.