With the release of Rocketman – the re-telling of Elton John’s rise to fame (and subsequent battle with addiction) – the “Classic Rock” film is having a moment.
After the impressive response to Bohemian Rhapsody and its lead actor Rami Malek’s Oscar win, Hollywood execs backed Rocketman with considerable resources. Star Taron Egerton is generating equal buzz for both his acting as well as his singing (Elton himself is said to be impressed at Egerton’s authentic take on his music).
Of course, music biopics have always had an appeal for niche audiences. In 1986, Sid and Nancy captured the violent relationship (and end) of the First Couple of Punk. In 1991, Val Kilmer took on the role of Jim Morrison in The Doors. However, the pace at which movies built around music legends, especially as it relates to Classic Rock, has been increasing.
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Rock biopics are not always met with rave reviews. Love & Mercy, the telling of the troubled life of Brian Wilson, passed with little fanfare despite a compelling story. And while a well-done movie can further help a career, a poor one can cause division, as in the case of Hysteria – The Def Leppard Story, which was disowned by the band and fans alike. That made-for-television film is a black eye for the group, and they’re currently hoping for another more accurate and higher-produced retelling of their impressive career. Netflix recently released The Dirt based on the wild backstory of Motley Crue. While generally considered a kitschy snapshot of the 80s “hair metal” heyday, it by no means carried any kind of musical gravitas. As the saying goes, “Maybe you had to be there.”
So what’s ahead for music icons on the Big Screen? There are a handful of Prince movies in the works, from biographies to more creative storytelling similar to Yesterday and Across the Universe, both fictional treatments using elements of various Beatles songs. The tragic story of the plane crash that killed three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd was completed in 2017 (Street Survivors) but is awaiting an official release date after family members of the deceased attempted unsuccessfully to block the movie. Roger Daltrey has been working on a movie about the late Keith Moon since 2013 but has yet to find the actor who can capture the manic energy of The Who’s drummer.
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With the rapidly increasing popularity of the Classic Rock movie, the powers that be may eventually turn to newer genres. Maybe “Grunge” will be the next rich vein that the movie world mines. After all, seminal bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Stone Temple Pilots each lost a key member to a tragic end.
Despite no lack of legends, the question remains, what stories would work as a theatrical production, retain the integrity of story and music, and yet still manage to entertain? Stay tuned for the “coming attractions.”
Photo Credit: Elton John performs in concert circa 1975 in London, England. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
Just a few of my faves…