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Top 10 Movie Singers VS the Real Thing

Top 10 Movie Singers VS the Real Thing
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Joe Shetina
Are we seeing and hearing double? Welcome to MsMojo, and today we're looking at performers who embodied famous singers on screen and comparing them to their real-life counterparts. Our countdown includes "Elvis," "Selena," "Walk the Line," and more!

#10: O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Ice Cube
“Straight Outta Compton” (2015)

This 2015 biopic covering the formation and dissolution of the hip hop group N.W.A. got a lot of authenticity points for its casting. O’Shea Jackson Jr. portrayed founding member Ice Cube. In a way, Jackson had his entire life to do research for his role. The real Ice Cube is his father. Critics singled out Jackson’s performance for its intensity and faithfulness to his father’s persona onstage and off. In performance, it’s easy to see the resemblance. From the way he holds the mic to the way he looms over every audience he performs for, he studied his father well.

#9: Taron Egerton as Elton John
“Rocketman” (2019)

As the piano-playing singer and musician who was known for extravagant costumes and timeless hits, Taron Egerton had a big pair of shoes, and pink sunglasses, to fill. This highly-stylized musical biopic recreates some of Elton John’s biggest hits and greatest moments. Even when perched at his piano, the real man is a force of nature. Though we’re not sure the real Elton John ever defied gravity, Egerton nails John’s incredibly animated style of performance. The fact that the actor performed all the songs himself, mimicking John’s phrasing and forceful way of singing, just makes it even more impressive.

#8: Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash
“Walk the Line” (2005)

Longtime film critic and Johnny Cash fan Roger Ebert wrote in his review of this Oscar winning biopic that Joaquin Phoenix must have been lip-syncing to the original tracks. He was shocked when the credits came up and he found out the actor was providing the voice himself. Capturing Johnny Cash’s voice might not be nearly as hard as embodying his trademark brooding persona. On stage, Phoenix deftly recreates Cash’s tics, like the way his mouth hangs open, or that lip-curling smile, or the way he would turn his head upward at the end of a lyric. These all seem like little things, but they all come together to resurrect the man himself.

#7: Jennifer Lopez as Selena Quintanilla-Pérez
“Selena” (1997)

Overseen by the late Tejano music star’s family, this loving and heartbreaking biopic is as in love with its subject as her millions of fans were. If there’s one word that describes the real Selena’s stage presence, it’s effervescent. Jennifer Lopez makes sure to always show us her joy at being on stage, performing for the people. The movie includes faithful recreations of key live performances. Lopez smiles, twirls, and pours her heart out against Selena’s unmistakable vocals on the soundtrack. While true fans will never forget the difference, the movie and its star create an almost hauntingly accurate tribute to her infectious energy and unmatched charisma.

#6: Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury
“Bohemian Rhapsody” (2018)

Wiry, cheeky, and spritely, the Queen frontman had loads of charm and a fierce command of the stage to back up his insanely good voice. “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” climax is a heartstopping restaging of Queen’s legendary appearance at the 1985 Live Aid concert. Oscar winner Rami Malek must command the screen for almost 20 minutes, the length of the real set, and never once break the illusion. His look as Freddie Mercury isn’t as convincing to the naked eye. It’s the gravitas he brings that sells the performance. Just as Mercury’s working the Live Aid crowd, Malek is working the viewer. It’s a dizzying and uncanny experience.

#5: Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison
“The Doors” (1991)

Director Oliver Stone’s biopic is a wild and psychedelic ride through the coolest spaces of the 1960s. Reviews about the movie were pretty mixed. Star Val Kilmer’s transformation into the effortlessly cool frontman of the title band was widely praised though. The Doors’ legions of fans were entranced by Morrison’s poetry and magnetism. Kilmer matches the real artist’s intense passion, somewhat vacant stare, and ethereal connection to the audience. He caresses his mic like a lover’s face. He sways like a man constantly under the influence. The events of the film have been disputed by people who were there, but Kilmer’s performance is dazzling.

#4: Marion Cotillard as Édith Piaf
“La Vie en Rose” (2007)

This biopic follows a singer who underwent massive physical transformations that changed the way they performed. Edith Piaf, the French chanteuse, was known for her slight frame and her big voice. When she donned the distinctive makeup, French actress Marion Cotillard was already astonishingly close to the woman she was playing. However, Piaf’s expressive and melodramatic style of performance was another thing altogether. But that wasn’t a problem. Cotillard won an Oscar for the way she brilliantly echoed Piaf’s desperation and grand gestures. She nailed her powerful stances, standing proudly in place, hands dug into her hips, as she plows through one tragic French ballad after another.

#3: Austin Butler as Elvis Presley
“Elvis” (2022)

Few artists have been as imitated as the King himself. It’d be easy for the actor playing him to rely on clichés. The growl of a voice, the hip-swinging, and the famous “thank you very much” are the old faithfuls for any Elvis impersonator. But Austin Butler is no impersonator. He’s a chameleon. Infusing all the Presley tropes with new life, he doesn’t just make us understand what made Elvis so exciting. He reinvents him for the 21st Century audience. From his younger and more vivacious days to his later life, where just getting through a show is a struggle, Butler isn’t mimicking Presley. He’s channeling him.

#2: Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles
“Ray” (2004)

Famed music writer Robert Christgau called Jamie Foxx’s Academy Award-winning performance in “Ray” an impossible feat. In the 2004 biopic, “Ray,” Foxx was given permission to get so unbelievably close to the real man on-screen by the Genius of Soul himself. Foxx specifically replicated the distinctive way he walked and talked. But it’s the particular way his version of Ray Charles performs that stands out. He copied exactly how the soul singer and pianist’s hands looked as they pounded the keys and the way he rocked side to side in time to the music. Foxx’s impression was so credible, Kanye West featured him on the track “Gold Digger,” which also features a Ray Charles sample and interpolation by Foxx.

#1: Angela Bassett as Tina Turner
“What’s Love Got to Do with It” (1993)

Despite dealing mostly with her tumultuous marriage to Ike Turner, “What’s Love Got to Do with It” is really a testament to Tina Turner’s survival and inner strength. Few artists looked as powerful, as beautiful, and as in control on stage as Turner. She seamlessly blended rock and R&B vocals with spectacular choreography, something that feels commonplace now. Angela Bassett is a revelation as Tina Turner. She moves with all the assurance and strength of a seasoned rock star. The three minute montage of her performing Ike and Tina’s signature song, “Proud Mary,” is almost as electrifying as any performance from Tina herself.

What’s your favorite music biopic performance? Let us know in the comments.