• Prince in 'Purple Rain'. (Warner Bros)Source: Warner Bros
From pop to opera, punk to bluegrass, these films cover the entire musical spectrum.
Gavin Scott

18 May 2018 - 10:29 AM  UPDATED 18 May 2018 - 10:55 AM


USA, 2006
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Bill Condon
Starring: Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson 
What's it about?
It's not technically about The Supremes, but this film adaptation of the 1981 Broadway musical is certainly heavily inspired by the rise of the Motown girl group that made a star out of Diana Ross in the 1960s. In Dreamgirls, Ms Ross is called Deena Jones and played by Beyoncé, who's no stranger to standing out in a girl group scenario. But it was supporting actress Jennifer Hudson who ended up stealing the limelight, earning an Academy Award for what was her debut film role. Featuring show-stopping numbers like "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" and original composition "Listen", the film is a classic tale of fame and the problems it causes.

'Purple Rain'

USA, 1984
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Albert Magnoli 
Starring: Prince, Morris Day, Apollonia Kotero 
What's it about?
Another based-on-reality movie musical, Purple Rain took its inspiration from the rise to fame of its lead actor, Prince. The late performer plays a character known as "The Kid", who tries to escape his troubled personal life, only to realise the only way to deal with his demons is to confront them... through song. The accompanying soundtrack album, which features hits "When Doves Cry", "Let's Go Crazy" and the title track, turned Prince from star to superstar, while the project was the best received of the three scripted films in which he appeared during his lifetime.

Purple Rain review

'The Broken Circle Breakdown'

Belgium, 2012
Genre: Drama
Language: English, Flemish
Director: Felix Van Groeningen 
Starring: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh
What's it about?
Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, The Broken Circle Breakdown follows the romance between bluegrass singer Elise (Baetens) and banjo player Didier (Heldenbergh). As the success of their group increases, the pair's relationship is transformed when Elise falls pregnant. Thanks to its non-linear narrative, we know early on that tragedy awaits the couple, as their daughter is diagnosed with cancer at age six. As the movie, which is based on a play, jumps from elation to despair, it is soundtracked by an appropriately varied range of bluegrass tunes that evoke the emotions seen on-screen.

The Broken Circle Breakdown review

The Broken Circle Breakdown at the Ensor Awards

'Good Vibrations'

UK/Ireland, 2012
Genre: English
Language: Biography, Drama
Director: Lisa Barros D'sa, Glenn Leyburn 
Starring: Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker, Dylan Moran
What's it about?
Not a Beach Boys biopic, this 2013 film brings the story of Irish record label owner Terri Hooley to the screen. A major player in the Belfast punk scene during the 1970s, Hooley's record store and label, both called Good Vibrations, introduced the world to Northern Irish bands like Rudi and The Undertones (known for their song "Teenage Kicks" and lead singer Feargal Sharkey). Set in the midst of The Troubles conflict that raged for decades in Northern Ireland, Good Vibrations brings the energy and urgency of the era to life, in no small part due to the vibrant performance by leading man Richard Dormer, who perfectly captures the enthusiasm and single-mindedness of Hooley.

Good Vibrations review

Good Vibrations Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn interview

'God Help the Girl'

UK, 2014
Genre: Drama, Musical, Romance
Language: English
Director: Stuart Murdoch
Starring: Emily Browning, Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray 
What's it about?
Stuart Murdoch from Scottish indie outfit Belle and Sebastian knows a thing or two about putting a band together in Glasgow, which made that the perfect subject of his 2014 directorial debut. The singer/guitarist/keyboard player also wrote the screenplay and songs for sweet coming-of-age story God Help the Girl, which shows three friends trying to break into the music scene. Playing the aspiring musos are Australian actress Emily Browning (American Gods), Game of Thrones's Hannah Murray and the frontman of synthpop group Years & Years, Olly Alexander. 

God Help the Girl review

God Help the Girl Stuart Murdoch and Emily Browning interview


Italy, 1994
Genre: Biography, Musical
Language: Italian, French
Director: Gerard Corbiau 
Starring: Stefano Dionisi, Jeroen Krabbe, Enrico Lo Verso 
What's it about?
He was born Carlo Broschi, but the Italian opera singer was known to his many fans as Farinelli. In this Golden Globe-winning and Oscar-nominated movie (for Best Foreign Language Film), the life of the famous 18th century castrato is depicted. Well, a highly fictionalised version of it. At its core, Farinelli, is the story of two brothers, Carlo and his composer sibling, Riccardo, who share much more than just a passion for music, with their exploits in the bedroom receiving a lot of screen time.


USA, 1988
Genre: Fantasy
Language: English
Director: Jerry Kramer
Starring: Michael Jackson, Joe Pesci
What's it about?
Do you remember the time when Michael Jackson was so massive, he could put together a collection of extended music videos and people would go the cinema to see it? Motion picture project Moonwalker was released during promotion for Bad and featured several of the album's tracks, including "Speed Demon" (for which a claymation segment was made), "Leave Me Alone" (which dealt with all the tabloid rumours about the King of Pop) and "Smooth Criminal". The latter song was the pinnacle of this expensive marketing exercise, with its now iconic dance routine playing out amid a story involving homeless children and gangsters. Needless to say, there's a lot going on. And you know you'll want to rewatch it.


Australia, 1996
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Director: Scott Hicks
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Noah Taylor 
What's it about?
It was the role that thrust Geoffrey Rush onto the world stage and won him an Academy Award for Best Actor in the process — portraying brilliant but mentally ill Australian pianist David Helfgott. From his early years (played by Noah Taylor) as an on-the-rise star of the classical music world who endures a difficult relationship with his father through his years in mental institutions to his eventual return to the outside world and concert comeback, it's a remarkable life story told in one of this country's all-time great feature films.

'Little Shop of Horrors'

USA, 1986
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Director: Frank Oz
Starring: Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, Bill Murray  
What's it about?
It doesn't get much more cult than this — a bizarre film based on an off-Broadway musical, which in turn was based on an obscure, decades-old B movie. In Little Shop of Horrors, Rick Moranis plays florist Seymour Krelborn, who becomes a pawn in the plans of human-eating plant Audrey II to take over the world. Throw in an evil dentist (Steve Martin), a masochist who longs for a root canal (Bill Murray), an awkward love interest (Ellen Greene) and some of the wackiest songs you'll ever hear and you have one of the most original movies of all time. 

'Stories from Norway'

Norway, 2017
Genre: Comedy
Language: Norwegian
Starring: Vegard Ylvisaker, Bard Ylvisaker 
What's it about?
OK, we know this isn't a movie, but it's certainly musical. The brainchild of Norwegian comedy duo YLVIS, Stories from Norway sets key moments from their nation's history to song. Theoretically a documentary series, the pair look at events from the past few decades, including the theft of Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream, the building of a diving tower in Hamar and that time Justin Bieber fled the country after storming offstage. Their coverage of those events is just done through song. 

Stories from Norway review

Browse the full Music in the Movies collection at SBS On Demand.