The Top 40 Best and Worst Actors Playing Musicians Before ‘Get On Up’ (Photos)

In the new James Brown biopic “Get On Up,” Chadwick Boseman follows hundreds of actors who've tried the tricky task of playing musicians. Here's TheWrap's Top 40, for better and for worse

Chadwick Boseman James Brown Universal
Chadwick Boseman has the moves and the hair to play James Brown in "Get On Up" – and when you’re playing the Godfather of Soul, those two things will take you all the way to funkytown.
Andre Benjamin Jimi Hendrix Open Road
In "Jimi: All Is By My Side," John Ridley’s upcoming, unorthodox year-in-the-life Jimi Hendrix story, former Outkast singer Andre Benjamin captures the spacey, dreamy side of a rock icon who lived in a purple haze.
Warner Bros.
Clint Eastwood won kudos from theater fans for tapping Broadway stars for his movie adaptation of "Jersey Boys," but John Lloyd Young was a better singer and stage performer than actor in his performance as Frankie Valli.
Jamie Foxx’s career-making, Oscar-winning performance as Ray Charles in "Ray" launched the former “In Living Color” performer to a whole new level of stardom.
Joaquin Phoenix didn’t exactly sing like Johnny Cash in "Walk the Line" (no one can), but he captured some man-in-blackish essence, and Reese Witherspoon won the Oscar as June Carter.
Weinstein Company
Cate Blanchett plays one of Bob Dylan’s personas in Todd Haynes’ fascinating fantasia "I'm Not There," while the likes of Richard Gere, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale and Heath Ledger play other sides of the elusive singer-songwriter.
Paramount Pictures
We knew Diana Ross could sing after her string of hits in the ‘60s, but we didn’t know she could act until she made an astounding film debut as the tortured Billie Holiday in “Lady Sings the Blues.”
Forest Whitaker Charlie Parker Warner Bros.
Decades before Clint Eastwood’s so-so “Jersey Boys,” he hit the right notes with “Bird,” his look at jazz titan Charlie Parker – and Forest Whitaker’s quiet but towering performance won him the Best Actor award at Cannes in 1988.
Samuel Goldwyn
Gary Oldman has said he doesn’t like his haunted and ferocious performance as the self-destructive and ill-fated Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious in “Sid & Nancy,” but most would disagree with him.
Gary Oldman Ludwig van Beethoven Sony/Columbia
From a Sex Pistol to classical icon Ludwig Van Beethoven in “Immortal Beloved,” Oldman shows the broadest range of anybody on this list. But his randy Ludwig Van isn’t one of his best showcases.
Orion Pictures
“Amadeus” took its title from Mozart’s middle name, and Tom Hulce was just fine as the bratty prodigy – but this is Salieri’s story, and F. Murray Abraham’s movie.
Marion Cotillard Edith Piaf Picturehouse
Marion Cotillard won the Oscar for "La Vie en Rose," the first movie in which many Stateside viewers saw her – not that they’d recognize her under the makeup that transformed her into tiny, tortured chanteuse Edith Piaf.
Dennis Quaid Jerry Lee Lewis Orion Picutres
T Bone Burnett, who worked on "Great Balls of Fire," which starred an over-the-top Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis, once lamented that this cartoonish romp “made it look like the Dukes of Hazzard invented rock ‘n’ roll.”
The Beatles Walk Hard Sony/Columbia
In "Walk Hard," a comedy studded with cameos, the brief appearance of Jack Black, Paul Rudd, Justin Long and Jason Schwartzman as John, Paul, George and Ringo was a highlight.
Stephen Dorff Stu Sutcliffe Gramercy
Stephen Dorff was so impressive as original Beatles bassist Stu Sutcliffe in “Backbeat” that no less an authority than Paul McCartney, who otherwise hated the film, called him “astonishing.”
Michael Shannon’s performance as Sunset Strip Svengali Kim Fowley is the standout in the middling “The Runaways”; Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning didn’t particularly stand out as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie, respectively.
Before he was a made-for-TV wacko, Gary Busey was a pretty fine actor – and never better than when he played the title role in “The Buddy Holly Story,” a biopic of the ‘50s rock star whose life ended early.
Lou Diamond Phillips, meanwhile, burst onto the scene in “La Bamba” as Richie Valens, another rocker who died in the same plane crash that killed Holly.
Jennifer Lopez Selena Warner Bros.
Fans of the Mexican-American singer Selena were upset that a New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent, Jennifer Lopez, was chosen for the title role in “Selena” – but J-Lo’s star-making performance silenced most of the critics.
Val Kilmer Jim Morrison TriStar
Perhaps the excesses of Oliver Stone’s film “The Doors” aren’t far removed from the excesses of its subject, Jim Morrison. Val Kilmer embraces them all with deranged gusto.
Warner Bros.
The character is identified as “Mentor” in the credits, but we all know (and love) the apparition, played by Kilmer, who pushes Christian Slater to stand up to Gary Oldman’s dreadlocked pimp: It's the ghost of Elvis, of course.
Dick Clark Productions
As a kid, Kurt Russell acted alongside Elvis Presley in “It Happened at the World’s Fair.” As an adult, he got to act like the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll in the TV miniseries “Elvis.”
In the wondrously weird rock ‘n’ roll mummy movie "Bubba Ho-Tep," Bruce Campbell gives us an aging, decrepit Elvis who can still gloriously kick butt.
United Artists
“Bound for Glory,” a lavishly fictionalized recounting of the life of troubadour Woody Guthrie was nominated for six Oscars and won two – and it moved David Carradine, briefly, from a TV lead who made B movies to an unconventional movie star.
Sissy Spacek Loretta Lynn Universal
A lot of real country singers appeared in Michael Apted’s 1980 Loretta Lynn biopic “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” but actress Sissy Spacek took the central role (and the Oscar) after being personally chosen by Lynn.
Par for the course in musical biopics, “Sweet Dreams” was attacked for the liberties it took with the true story – but Jessica Lange was persuasive enough to land her fourth Oscar nomination as Patsy Cline.
No, she’s not actually playing Janis Joplin -- but Bette Midler’s powerhouse performance in "The Rose" as a fearsomely talented, self-destructive and very Joplin-esque singer was the closest we’ve gotten to Janis onscreen, despite numerous recent efforts.
Buena Vista
Both Angela Bassett and co-star Laurence Fishburne received Oscar nominations for their roles as Tina Turner and her abusive husband Ike in “What’s Love Got To Do With It,” and Bassett won the Golden Globe for her fierce performance in a role first offered to Whitney Houston.
Lions Gate
Kevin Spacey directed, co-wrote and co-produced “Beyond the Sea,” as well as starring as ‘50s and ‘60s pop singer Bobby Darin – even though Darin died at the age of 37, making the 44-year-old Spacey’s performance problematic at times.
Weinstein Company
Photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn's moody black-and-white touch was just right for "Control," a story of the seminal post-punk band Joy Division starring Sam Riley as Ian Curtis, the singer who struggled to cope with success and with life.
Xlrator Media
Alan Rickman survives “CBGB” relatively intact as the proprietor of a legendary ‘70s punk dive – but the poor actors roped into standing in for the stars of the scene, Malin Akerman as Debbie Harry among them, don’t fare nearly so well.
George Hamilton Hank Williams MGM
If you’re looking for somebody to play Hank Williams, the haunted, skeletal composer of such heartbreak classics as this movie’s title track, “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” George Hamilton is not exactly the guy who first springs to mind.
Warner Bros.
Director Ken Russell’s thesis in “Lisztomania” was that classical composers were the rock stars of their day, so he enlisted real rock star Roger Daltrey to mug his way through an overheated extravaganza about Franz Liszt.
James Stewart Glenn Miller Universal
The 1950s biopic “The Glenn Miller Story” took substantial liberties with the real story, but Jimmy Stewart was persuasive enough as the star bandleader to make the movie a big hit.
Dennis Hopper Frank Sinatra ContentFilm International
OK, we admit it: We haven’t seen “The Night We Called It a Day.” But Dennis Hopper as Frank Sinatra? The prospect is too weird, and too delicious, to ignore.