Musicians have always been a favourite subject for movies, since they come with a built-in rise to fame, often turbulent careers and struggles with the sort of personal issues that win major awards for actors. What’s more, the chances are that every actor with even a vague sense of pitch thought about becoming a rock star instead, so it allows them to scratch that itch. With a raft of musical biopics on the way, we thought we’d round up some of the tunesmiths receiving the film treatment...
Who he? He is the Godfather of Soul! Brown was indirectly responsible for many pregnancies thanks to his smooth vocals, towering stage presence and legendary status. After a poor, troubled youth (including a stint in prison), he became a gospel singer and was part of various groups including The Famous Flames before evolving into a solo artist whose live shows are still spoken of in hushed terms. You know he’s good because he appears in The Blues Brothers, where as Reverend Cleophus James he sets the pair on their mission from God.
Name those tunes! So many. ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine’, ‘I Got You’, ‘The Payback’, ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’…
Fun film facts Get On Up, a biopic of Brown starring 42’s Chadwick Boseman, is now in post-production. It will focus on his rise from poverty to superstardom, and his turbulent early family life. Directed by The Help’s Tate Taylor, it also features Nelsan Ellis, Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, Dan Aykroyd and Lennie James.
Who he? Born James Newell Osterberg (we can sort of see why he adopted a nickname partly spawned from his drumming in high school for a blues band The Iguanas), Iggy has been an influential driving force in a variety of music genres, but particularly a version of punk with The Stooges. A wild performer on stage, he’s also been known for his bad behaviour off of it.
Name those tunes! 'Nightclubbing’, ‘The Passenger’, ‘Lust For Life’, ‘Search And Destroy’, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’
Fun film facts Lust For Life is also the title of a planned film about one particular part of Pop’s life: his memorable time in West Berlin with David Bowie when the pair were battling drug use and looking for inspiration. The period helped generate ‘Lust For Life’ and ‘The Idiot’, two of Pop’s most acclaimed albums. The film is still in development with Cuckoo writer Robin French scripting and Death Of A President’s Gabriel Range attached to direct. There’s no cast at this time.
Who she? The songbird that became known for her soulful renditions, Joplin got her start in psychedelic rock/soul and acid rock, but was a proven stage performer who took inspiration from blues singers and beat poets. She also struggled with booze and drugs and ended up dying from a heroin overdose in a Hollywood hotel at the age of 27. She burned brightly, and left too soon.
Name those tunes! ‘Me And Bobby McGee’, ‘Work Me, Lord’, ‘Cry Baby’, ‘Mercedes Benz’, ‘Piece Of My Heart’
Fun film facts Filmmakers have been trying to crack this one for more than a decade, always leading to false starts and development hell. Among those touted as likely Joplins? Zooey Deschanel, Pink, and most, recently, Amy Adams, who is The Butler director Lee Daniels’ choice.
Who he? Miles Davis was a trumpeter and bandleader, and a central figure in jazz music for decades. As well as being a key figure of the age himself, he worked with everyone else you've ever heard of, including greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, and was right in the middle of practically every scene - bebop, cool, fusion - that emerged between the 1940s and 1970s. He won several Grammy awards, including one for Lifetime Achievement in 1990. He died, aged 65, in 1991. There were struggles with addiction and personal demons to face along the way.
Name those tunes! '‘Round Midnight', 'So What', 'On The Corner', 'Right Off', 'All Blues', 'Freddie Freeloader', 'Seven Steps To Heaven'
Fun film facts Don Cheadle has been pushing to make the Davis film he wrote, Kill The Trumpet Player, for a while now. He’s also preparing to direct and star in it. His film aims to be a different take from the standard A-Z biopic, taking a look at Davis’s life and career from different angles.
Who he? Only one of the most influential musicians of the modern era, and one who had a tragically short career. However, in that time, the Seattle-born singer, songwriter and legendary guitarist grew from a backing artist to the spotlight quickly. He turned musical experiments into his own personal playground and spawned a generation willing to break the rules to create new sound. He was also, in his younger days, a prolific car thief, which landed him in the Army at the age of 19. He was found unconscious but breathing in the London flat of Monika Dannemann, and died in hospital on September 18, 1970, aged 27.
Name those tunes! 'Hey Joe', 'Purple Haze', 'The Wind Cries Mary', 'All Along The Watchtower', 'Foxy Lady', 'Red House', 'Voodoo Child'
Fun film facts Various projects based on parts of Hendrix’s life are in the works, including Slide, a fictionalised account of a lost weekend he spent in 1969, and a more traditional biopic by Legendary Pictures, which appears lost in the mire. All Is By My Side, however, starring Andre Benjamin as Jimi alongside Imogen Poots and Hayley Atwell, written and directed by 12 Years A Slave scribe John Ridley is complete, and scheduled for release in August. It’s based on Hendrix’s early years and had to make do without access to his music, because his estate refused permission.
Who he? Chalk up another for the list of talented musicians who died at the too-young age of 27. The Seattle lead singer and guitarist of Nirvana never seemed to want the spotlight, but it fell upon him with burning intensity thanks to the raw power of his vocals and his creativity alongside Krist Novoselic and, though he joined later, Dave Grohl. At the forefront of the Seattle grunge scene, Cobain struggled with the idea that his fans misinterpreted his artistic vision. He also battled heroin addiction and depression, and had a tumultuous marriage to fellow musician Courtney Love. Cobain was found dead from a self-inflicted shotgun wound on April 8, 1994.
Name those tunes! 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', 'About A Girl', 'Silver', 'Drain You', 'Lithium', 'All Apologies', 'Heart-Shaped Box'
Fun film facts Documentarian Nick Broomfield investigated the suspicious circumstances of Cobain’s death in 1998’s Kurt And Courtney, and Gus Van Sant loosely based 2005’s Last Days on events in the singer’s final week. There has been more than one biopic of the man in the works since at least 2007, with Game Of Thrones co-showrunner David Benioff writing one for Universal and The Kid Stays In The Picture director Brett Morgan developing another.
Who he? C'mon, he’s The King! You know, the hip-wiggling, blues-appropriating, quiff-sporting, god status-acquiring, bathroom-dying man of legend. Presley kicked off his career in 1954 and from there went on to dominate a fusion of rock, roll, country and rhythm and blues, securing a huge, adoring fan base in the process. He conquered the charts and also carved out a decent career in the movies. He even had time to grow unhappy with his music and stage a comeback in 1968. But fame and fortune took its toll, and he ended up a bloated caricature of his younger self, plagued by paranoia. Presley was found dead in his bathroom on August 16, 1977.
Name those tunes! 'Love Me Tender', 'Heartbreak Hotel', 'That’s All Right', 'Mystery Train', 'Don’t Be Cruel', 'Jailhouse Rock', 'Viva Las Vegas', 'Suspicious Minds', 'Hound Dog'. We could go on…
Fun film facts Despite being perfect fodder for a film, Presley’s life has been portrayed in TV movies and miniseries but has so far evaded capture by the big-screen biopic cameras... which hasn’t stopped companies trying for decades. A recent attempt called Last Train To Memphis boasts Mick Jagger as one of its producers and has Last King Of Scotland director Kevin Macdonald aboard.
Who they? Originally formed in LA in 1981, the Crüe – a line-up that has usually included Vince Neil, Nikki Six, Tommy Lee and Mick Mars – have roared their way across more than 30 years of madness and metal. Possibly better known for their hedonistic lifestyle of booze, drugs, hookers, groupies, more booze, more drugs and other bad behaviour, they still managed to become internationally famous while surviving incredible turmoil and arguments that constantly threatened to tear them apart. They announced this year that they planned to retire after a farewell tour.
Name those tunes! 'Live Wire', 'Looks That Kill', 'Same Ol’ Situation', 'Shout At The Devil', 'Wild Side', 'Dr. Feelgood', 'Girls, Girls, Girls', 'Home Sweet Home'
Fun film facts Given their raucous backstage behaviour, Motley Crüe are naturally a compelling subject, even if they might be challenging to show unvarnished. Still, with a book about their history, The Dirt, long since optioned and currently scheduled for Jackass director Jeff Tremaine, they appear to be headed to the screen a little quicker than some of their fellow musicians.
Who he? Born Farrokh Bulsara in what was then known as Zanzibar, Freddie spent the bulk of his childhood in India and began taking piano lessons at the age of seven. After the family moved to Middlesex when he was 17, he got a job at Heathrow, but showed a driving interest in music. Following a couple of unsuccessful bands, he joined Brian May and Roger Taylor for what would become Queen, and rock history was born. Mercury was an electric performer on stage, a man who could command stadiums and who showed a flair for the dramatic. He was also an accomplished songwriter, penning ten of the 17 songs on the group’s Greatest Hits album. Harangued by the press over his sexuality, Mercury was a shy man when not performing. After contracting HIV and later developing AIDS, he died at the age of 45 in 1991.
Name those tunes! 'Bohemian Rhapsody', 'Killer Queen', 'Somebody To Love', 'Don’t Stop Me Now', 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love', 'We Are The Champions'
Fun film facts Mercury’s life is the subject of a biopic spearheaded by May and Taylor. It's been through no little controversy, with Sacha Baron Cohen departing the lead after a disagreement over tone. Currently, Dexter Fletcher is set to direct, with Ben “Q” Whishaw set as the main man.
Who she? A singing sensation who rocketed to global stardom on the back of Britain’s Got Talent was born in West Lothian, Scotland in 1961. She began warbling at a young age, mostly in pubs and churches, while also auditioning several times for Michael Barrymore’s show My Kind Of People. But in 2008, she auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent and in April 2009, ten million people saw her impress the judges with 'I Dreamed A Dream' from Les Misérables. She became very famous very fast, but found the sudden exposure problematic. Boyle has since tried her hand at acting and has released four albums.
Name those covers! 'I Dreamed A Dream', 'Perfect Day', 'Don’t Dream It’s Over', 'Cry Me A River'
Fun film facts Because of course someone would want to film her surprise success. That someone, in fact, is Fox Searchlight executive Lucas Webb, who is developing I Dreamed A Dream, but there’s no director or star attached yet.