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.