A recent phenomenon has stormed Hollywood, paying homage to countless musicians that have shaped not only their respective genres, but generation after generation of music fans. The latest to be in the spotlight is none other than the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll himself, Elvis Presley. “Elvis,” with Austin Butler as the King, shares the story of the popular icon with a brand-new generation.
Not a lot is known yet about the film outside of the recent trailer that dropped in February and its June release. It is assumed to be a traditional biography, covering Presley’s life, starting from boyhood, followed by his early fascination with music, and then the start, middle and end of his illustrious career. Joining Butler are Tom Hanks, who plays Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker, and Olivia DeJonge, who is Presley’s young wife, Priscilla. Those who grew up listening to his music on the radio or even saw him in the flesh on stage will appreciate a rewind to simpler times.
While “Elvis” is sure to amaze fans and remind older folks of the good old days, the movie is yet another installment in the new music-biopic phase in the film industry. Presley’s biographical drama was preceded by a recent collection of similar films, which hoped to enchant audiences with stories of other famous musicians that heavily impacted rock ‘n’ roll. While there have been a few similar biopics released in the early 2000s — such as “Michael Jackson’s This is It,” “8Mile” for Eminem and “Walk the Line” for Johnny Cash — the theme has had an intense resurgence with multiple releases since 2018.
The past five years have seen an increase in the number of biopics and drama/documentaries through “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Rocketman” and “Yesterday.” “Bohemian Rhapsody” showcased the beloved rock band Queen but paid special respect to musician Freddie Mercury, the trailblazer who defied gender norms in his music and performances.
“Rocketman” was similar, as it focused solely on Elton John’s life, starting career and partnership with songwriter Bernie Taupin. While depicting the exciting lifestyle John had in the beginning days, it also revealed the devastating effects addiction had on John’s life and what recovery looked like when he finally decided to get help.
“Yesterday” was completely different; while the Beatles’ music had a huge influence on the plot, the film actually featured a universe where the Beatles didn’t exist and protagonist Jack Malik, a frustrated musician trying to make it big, was the only one who remembered their songs — and for a time, passed them off as his own.
There’s something refreshing about these types of films. Older generations can relive history, such as Freddie Mercury’s performance at Live-Aid in “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “Elvis” will likely capture Elvis’ unique dancing, which at the time both thrilled and shocked crowds. And, since a musicians’ life isn’t always entirely public, these biographies may capture the origin stories longtime fans knew nothing about. “Rocketman,” for instance, allowed fans to see John’s journey from the beginning: struggling with his sexuality while finding a place in music, trying to become a true musician and how he grew up in a distant and unsupportive family. “Yesterday” presents a new space for fans to think about the Beatles; what would happen if they hadn’t existed at all?
Though these films may be aimed at older generations, the younger demographic will also likely be pulled into the stories, whether they’re already fans or not. Whether they’re brought along to the films with parents or go of their own volition (perhaps because one of the actors is attractive, which may happen for “Elvis”), they are still bound to walk away with a deeper appreciation and understanding of the musicians and their music. What’s most exciting about this new wave of films is the way that it passes down good music, keeping those wonderful artists remembered as they should be for the contributions they’ve made.
Beyond keeping the memories alive, it is also inspiring to see artists like Elton John struggle and overcome addiction, or as audiences will probably see, the difficulty Elvis Presley faced at the beginning of his career before he became a household name. For future musicians in the audience, seeing their idols overcome these insecurities or triumph over the people who doubted them will be a point of comfort — and a pertinent reminder that it’s possible to succeed.
When thinking about other musical figures, one can assume films about David Bowie or Prince may also be coming. There have already been talks about a movie for the rock band KISS, mentioned by an article on Society of Rock, a website that declares: “our mission is to bring you the best rock content on the web.” No matter what rumors circulate, it is safe to assume more and more music biopics will make their way to our screens, and for good reason, as each film in the genre has done extremely well at the box office. These films serve as testaments to the groups and performers that had sweeping impacts on the music industry. While one can always sing aloud to the timeless albums, to the radio, to a record, or to a Spotify playlist, it’s powerful to see the stories of these musicians rendered on the screen. With so many wonderful artists and groups, there could be hundreds of these films for directors out there willing to take the chance. Since music is such a versatile entity, with categories to please every listener, there are endless figures to applaud, therefore endless stories that could be captured in the future.
While these films are a celebration, and are also new and exciting, it is disappointing to see the lack of representation for women. Many powerful female performers have impacted the music industry, such as Dolly Parton, Stevie Nicks, Beyoncé, Madonna, The Chicks (formally the Dixie Chicks), The Spice Girls and, of course, many, many more. Hopefully, there will be an upcoming wave of these stories, as these women all contributed to the music industry and changed music forever with their distinct styles.
Until then, audiences will have to see if they “can’t help falling in love” with the latest biopic, “Elvis,” and hopefully in the future, we’ll see more female artists tackle the silver screen.