Musician Biopics at the Oscars

In honor of Elvis releasing over the weekend, we wanted to see how previous musician biopics have performed at the Oscars in recent years. While the way biopics have been received during award season has varied since the expansion of Best Picture, we have seen a pattern in recent years of traditional biopics ranging from 1-2 nominations to upwards of 5 nominations to being completely shut out.

Respect (2021)
When Respect was first announced, most awards enthusiasts assumed Jennifer Hudson was a shoo-in for at the very least a Best Actress Oscar nomination. However, after Hudson received a SAG nomination and the Original Song “Here I Am” was recognized at the Golden Globes, the film was shut out at the Oscars.

Many felt Respect was snubbed in Lead Actress, Original Song and could have been in for Costume Design or Makeup and Hairstyling.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2021)
The Billie Holiday biopic was released in 2021, but part of the 2020-2021 Oscar season. The film did get a bit lost in the “drop on streaming” mess following COVID throughout 2020. The film did get Andra Day a win at the Golden Globes and a Lead Actress nomination at the Oscars.

The film may have had a stronger chance in Hairstyling and Make Up, Costume Design and Original Song if it had a stronger distribution behind it.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)
The film based on a play of the same name is a dramatization of Ma Rainey’s career in 1920’s Chicago, but still a musical biopic. The film received rave reviews by critics and performed well based on provided numbers from Netflix.

While the film did win two Oscars for Costume Design and Production Design, it did not perform as strongly on nomination morning as originally predicted by many. The film received Lead Actor, Lead Actress, and Production Design nominations in addition to the two categories it won for. Many had predicted the film for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and perhaps in Directing.

Rocketman (2019)
Rocketman has a very similar path thus far to Elvis with a Cannes premiere and Summer release date and while Rocketman had its subject matter to promote the film, Elvis has its titular character’s family at most events.

Rocketman did win an Oscar for Original Song (“I’m Gonna Love Me Again”) for Elton John and Bernie Taupin, but that was the film’s only Oscar nomination. Taron Egerton was nominated at SAG, BAFTA, and won the Golden Globe. While Egerton’s snub stings for most, some also feel the film should have been recognized in Costume Design and Makeup and Hairstyling as well.

Judy (2019)
While Judy focuses on one era of Judy Garland’s life, the film still feels very much like a typical biopic. The film picked up an Oscar win for Renée Zellweger and was nominated for Makeup & Hairstyling. The film’s early Fall release date allowed the film to play at most festivals and Zellweger felt to steamroll the season.

The film performed slightly better at precursors with noms for all it received at the Oscars plus Costume Design with various award bodies.

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
The Freddie Mercury biopic was surrounded by controversy ahead of its release and well during its award run, but the film did end up winning the most Oscars at the 2019 ceremony with 4 wins out of its 5 nominations.

Bohemian Rhapsody took home an Oscar for Lead Actor (Rami Malek), Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. It was also nominated for Best Picture. At BAFTA, the film was nominated for Cinematography, Makeup/Hair, and Costume Design as well. The film also won Best Motion Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes.

All Eyez on Me (2017)
A biopic about Tupac Shakur was highly anticipated, but with an early release date and unfavorable reviews, the biopic saw no love come award season. Originally, Antoine Fuqua was set to direct with Tupac’s mother coming on as executive producer. This fell through and then John Singleton signed on to rewrite, direct and produce the film. However, Singleton exited the project due to creative differences.

Looking at all the controversy, including various lawsuits, behind the scenes, this combined with the early release date and less than stellar reviews may have contributed to this biopic not getting any love. In addition, there seems to be a pattern with biopics about Black artists getting shut out come Oscar nomination morning that cannot be ignored.

Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Straight Outta Compton was a highly anticipated film about NWA. The film was a massive success making over $200 million at the box office on a budget reported between $28 – 50 million. The film was received extremely well by both audiences and critics with a CinemaScore of A and an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes from critics.

The film received one Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay. While the film did not hit big with precursors, Straight Outta Compton did receive a SAG nomination for Ensemble as well as a WGA nomination for Original Screenplay.

Get On Up (2014)
The James Brown biopic starring Chadwick Boseman was also a Summer release biopic, but did not ever seem to have any awards conversation other than Boseman’s performance during the film’s release and the coordinating award season.

Since Boseman’s untimely passing, many have regarded this as one of his best performances. Given the film was a traditional biopic with an impressive supporting cast, the shutout at all award shows seems to show the bias with awards bodies acknowledging biopics around Black artists.

The Runaways (2010)
The Floria Sigismondi directed biopic starring Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie in the titular “The Runaways” band, was received with decent reviews but never made an awards play. Many reviews wanted a biopic about one of the film’s lead characters versus a biopic about the band overall.

I’m Not There (2007)
An untraditional biopic with various actors portraying different stages of Bob Dylan’s life co-written and directed by Todd Haynes may scream Oscars Buzz to some, yet the film was only nominated for one Oscar. The film received rave reviews, but Cate Blanchett was the film’s sole Oscar representation.

Throughout the award season, Blanchett was the only part of the film recognized picking up BAFTA, Golden Globe, and SAG nominations. The film did perform well at the Independent Spirit Awards, where Blanchett won for Supporting Female and the film was recognized with the Robert Altman Award. It was also nominated for Best Feature, Supporting Male, and Director at the Independent Spirt Awards.

La Vie en Rose (2007)
The biopic of the iconic French singer Édith Piaf is an early example of a pattern we are seeing today at the Oscars with a biopic winning Lead Actress and Makeup & Hairstyling. The film won both and was also nominated for Costume Design.

The film performed better at the BAFTAs with wins for Actress, Costume Design, and Hair & Makeup as well as nominations for Production Design, Sound, and Film Not in the English Language.

While it is too early to tell how Elvis will be received by the Academy, given it is a biopic about a beloved musician, the team at Oscars Central will be keeping an eye on it in various categories.

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