Americans — and Gen Zers Especially — Want to See the Controversial Michael Jackson Biopic

Meanwhile, U.S. adults ranked “Selena” and “8 Mile” as their favorite music biopics, according to a new Morning Consult survey
February 09, 2023 at 5:00 am UTC

The music biopic has been one of Hollywood’s go-to genres for years, often finding success at both the box office and during awards season. 

In the last two decades alone, Jamie Foxx won the Oscar for best actor in 2005 for his portrayal of Ray Charles, while Rami Malek won the same award for playing Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in 2019 and Renee Zellweger won best actress the following year playing Judy Garland. Next month, Austin Butler is up for best actor for playing the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll in “Elvis.”

The industry’s next major music biopic might be its most controversial to date. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. is developing a film about the life of the late pop star Michael Jackson, who has been accused of sexually abusing children by multiple people, most recently in the 2019 explosive HBO docuseries “Leaving Neverland.” The Antoine Fuqua-directed film will reportedly “not shy away from the controversies of Jackson’s life,” according to Deadline

New Morning Consult data shows that 56% of U.S. adults are interested in watching the Jackson film — the highest share of any of the upcoming biopics included in the survey. Gen Zers were even more interested, with 3 in 4 of the cohort saying they want to see the film.

Interest in the Michael Jackson Biopic Trumps Others

The share of U.S. adults who said they are interested in seeing upcoming biographical films about the following public figures:
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Survey conducted Feb. 3-5, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,213 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Gen Zers are really interested in the Michael Jackson movie

  • More than half of adults (56%) are interested in watching a biopic about Michael Jackson. Among generations, Gen Zers (75%) were most likely to be interested, followed by millennials (67%). A musical about Jackson is currently on Broadway, while many of his songs have been used on TikTok, perhaps boosting awareness among the youngest adult generation. 
  • Jafar Jackson, a nephew of the pop star, was reportedly cast to portray his uncle in the film — about 3 in 10 adults (31%) said they have seen, read, or heard about the casting news.
  • After Jackson, Americans were most interested in a biopic about Bob Marley (54%). Paramount Pictures is developing a biopic with Kingsley Ben-Adir attached to star as the legendary Jamaican singer, who died in 1981.
  • Biopics about Bob Dylan (44%) and Amy Winehouse (41%) followed Marley. Timothée Chalamet was cast as Dylan in “Going Electric,” directed by James Mangold, while the biopic “Back to Black,” starring Marisa Abela as Winehouse, is currently filming. The Winehouse film has sparked backlash on social media from some fans who say Abela does not resemble the late singer-songwriter, though Winehouse’s father defended the casting decision. Nearly a quarter (23%) of adults have seen, read, or heard about the controversy around the Winehouse biopic.

‘8 Mile,’ ‘Selena’ Top List of Americans’ Favorite Music Biopics

The share of U.S. adults who said they have a favorable opinion of the following previously released biographical films about musicians:
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Survey conducted Feb. 3-5, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,213 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

Palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy

  • “Selena” (1997) starring Jennifer Lopez as Selena Quintanilla Pérez and “8 Mile” starring rapper Eminem as a fictionalized version of himself tied as the music biopics with the highest favorability rating (51%) among Americans. 
  • Biopics that came out in the 2000s, such as 2005’s “Walk the Line” (50%), which earned Reese Witherspoon an Oscar for playing June Carter Cash, “Bohemian Rhapsody” (47%) and “Ray” (43%) all ranked high on the list. 
  • When asked which statement they agree with the most, 41% of adults said Hollywood depicts the lives of famous people in film in order to exploit their stories for profit, while 34% said Hollywood depicts the lives of famous people in film in order to honor them and better understand them.

The biopic boom

Following the success of last year’s “Elvis,” which made $151 million at the domestic box office, moviegoers can expect, well, more Elvis: A24’s “Priscilla,” directed by Sofia Coppola and adapted from the 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me,” will focus on the relationship between Priscilla Presley and Elvis with Cailee Spaeny and “Euphoria” actor Jacob Elordi starring as the couple.

Controversy surrounds several other upcoming biopics, namely the Jackson film. “Leaving Neverland” director Dan Reed slammed the upcoming movie in an op-ed for The Guardian, saying it will “glorify a man who abused children,” while others have questioned whether the Jackson estate’s involvement in the film will water down the controversies surrounding the singer.

But Hollywood moves full steam ahead. While Americans are relatively split on the ethics of these biopics, they’re still largely interested in watching them — including the most controversial one above all others.

The Feb. 3-5, 2023, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,213 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

A headshot photograph of Saleah Blancaflor
Saleah Blancaflor
Data Reporter

Saleah Blancaflor previously worked at Morning Consult as a data reporter covering the business of entertainment.

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