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Musician biopics can score, but often languish in development

Music biopics often seem ubiquitous, but it's not always easy to drum up movies about famous tune-smiths.

Take Don Cheadle's in-the-making movie about the jazz trumpet player and composer Miles Davis, which he's been trying to get started for years. On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that Cheadle, who is directing the film, will also star in it as Davis, the pioneer behind such classic albums as "Kind of Blue" and "In a Silent Way." 

This comes as a coterie of other movies about high-profile musicians are in various stages of development, including an as-yet unnamed project about Janis Joplin and the upcoming "Get on Up," chronicling the life of James Brown.

PHOTOS: Upcoming and notable music biopics

But music movies can flounder in early stages of development for years as the filmmakers try to deal with their subjects' estates and acquire music rights. Though there are many attempts in progress, there hasn't yet been a theatrically released biopic of Elvis Presley, and the upcoming Jimi Hendrix movie can't use the guitar hero's actual songs, so its star Andre 3000 is covering other musician's works instead.

Despite all the hype behind biopics, their success is far from guaranteed. The genre hasn't produced a major box office triumph since "Walk the Line" (about Johnny Cash) in 2005, the year after "Ray" (about soul singer Ray Charles) came out. But they do tend to grab the Academy Awards' attention.

However, the movies can be boosters for the artists' catalog. VH1's recent made-for-TV feature on the saga of TLC propelled sales of the R&B group's greatest hits album "20."  

Click through our photo gallery for details on some of the biopics of the past, present and future.  


“Kill the Trumpet Player” (Miles Davis)

It looks like Don Cheadle will direct himself in the titular role in this long-gestating project that will focus on jazz trumpet player Davis' return out of retirement from music in 1979. Production is supposed to start in June.

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Untitled Janis Joplin movie

After nearly a decade of speculation and false starts, the long-awaited Janis Joplin film may be beginning to materialize. Lee Daniels, of "The Butler," is set to direct, and he's tapped Amy Adams

“All is By My Side” (Jimi Hendrix)

Andre Benjamin (a.k.a. Andre 3000, from the hip-hop duo Outkast) is playing Hendrix in this film, but he won't be singing or playing the guitar legend's music, because the filmmakers couldn't get the rights. Benjamin will instead cover songs by the likes of the Beatles and Muddy Waters.  

“Get on Up” (James Brown)

Set for release in 2014, this chronicle of the Godfather of Soul stars Chadwick Boseman, who made a splash as Jackie Robinson in "42." Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis are also on board. The movie has been in the works since before the famously combative singer died in 2006. It begins filming this fall.  

Untitled Kurt Cobain project

Not related to the 2005 Gus Van Sant movie "Last Days," which technically wasn't a biopic, though its protagonist closely resembled Cobain. The director for the current project is Brett Morgen, who directed "The Kid Stays in the Picture," a documentary about movie producer Robert Evans.


“I’m Not There” (Bob Dylan)

A twist on the typical, straight-ahead biopic, this 2007 film featured multiple actors, including Christian Bale and Cate Blanchett (in an Oscar-nominated turn), portraying different facets of the singer-songwriter. Domestic gross: $4,017,609. 

“La Vie en Rose” (Edith Piaf)

Marion Cotillard won a best actress Oscar for her portrayal of the troubled French singer. The 2007 film was nominated for a total of three Academy Awards and won two. Domestic gross: $10,301,706.

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“Walk the Line” (Johnny Cash)

Reese Witherspoon's spunky representation of June Carter Cash earned her an Oscar, and the 2005 film was a commercial success. Joaquin Phoenix, who played the Man in Black, was also nominated. Not adjusted for inflation, it is the highest grossing music biopic to date. Domestic gross: $119,519,402.

“Ray” (Ray Charles)

The 2004 depiction of soul music genius Ray Charles resulted in two Oscars, including a best actor honor for Jamie Foxx. Domestic gross: $75,331,600.

“Selena” (Selena)

Jennifer Lopez achieved big screen stardom in the titular role, playing the slain Latin pop star in 1997. Domestic gross: $35,281,794. 

The Doors” (The Doors)

Oliver Stone's unflattering portrait of the band's enigmatic frontman Jim Morrison won critical acclaim for Val Kilmer's performance as the self-destructive protagonist. The 1991 film had a total U.S. box office of $36 million.  

“Coal Miner's Daughter” (Loretta Lynn)

Still the third-highest-gross musician biopic -- behind "Walk the Line" and "Ray" -- the 1980 Sissy Spacek-starring picture earned seven Oscar nominations and one win (for Spacek) in this story of the country music legend Loretta Lynn. Domestic gross: $67,182,787. 


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