Rocketmen and stardust: why music biopics dominate the film industry

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Pop star glamour is an increasingly bankable asset for movie producers, with biopics of David Bowie, Keith Moon and others coming in the wake of Bohemian Rhapsody

One of the success stories of this year’s Sundance festival is Gurinder Chadha’s film Blinded By the Light. The adaptation of Sarfraz Manzoor’s memoir, Greetings from Bury Park, tells the story of his teenage awakening via Bruce Springsteen’s music, and the global rights have just been picked up for $15m. It is the film’s second coup – the first was securing Springsteen’s blessing and permission to use 16 of his songs on the soundtrack, without which the film would not have been made. “It was quite simple,” said Manzoor. “Bruce loved my book and trusted me and Gurinder.”

It used to be hard for film-makers to get major artists to give them permission to use their catalogues. But following the enormous success of Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody and the impending arrival of the Elton John film Rocketman, it seems like artists have realised that backing biopics and celebratory movies is a way of reaffirming their cultural relevance and opening new revenue streams as traditional incomes from record sales are on the wane. Although the forthcoming Bowie biopic Stardust – starring Johnny Flynn – has been made without the involvement of the late star’s estate, there’s a Mötley Crüe biopic out on Netflix in March, featuring the no-longer-touring band’s old music and four new songs written for the film. Also on the way is a Céline Dion movie, The Power of Love, while the Who’s Roger Daltrey recently suggested that his long-mooted biopic of drummer Keith Moon is finally in the offing.

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