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.
If you’re looking for somebody to play Hank Williams, the haunted, skeletal composer of such heartbreak classics as this 1964 movie’s title track, “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” George Hamilton is not exactly the guy who first springs to mind.
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 1972's “Lady Sings the Blues.”
Director Ken Russell’s thesis in 1975's “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.
“Bound for Glory,” a lavishly fictionalized 1976 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.
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 1978's “The Buddy Holly Story,” a biopic of the ‘50s rock star whose life ended early.
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 1979 TV miniseries “Elvis.”
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.
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.
“Amadeus” (1984) 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.
Par for the course in musical biopics, 1985's “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.
has said he doesn’t like his haunted and ferocious performance as the self-destructive and ill-fated Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious in 1986's “Sid & Nancy,” but most would disagree with him.
Lou Diamond Phillips, meanwhile, burst onto the scene in 1987's “La Bamba” as Richie Valens, another rocker who died in the same plane crash that killed Holly.
Decades before Clint Eastwood
’s so-so “Jersey Boys,” he hit the right notes with 1988's “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.
T Bone Burnett, who worked on 1989's "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.”
Perhaps the excesses of Oliver Stone
’s 1991 film “The Doors” aren’t far removed from the excesses of its subject, Jim Morrison. Val Kilmer
embraces them all with deranged gusto.
The character is identified as “Mentor” in the credits of Quentin Tarantino's 1993 film "True Romance," but we all know (and love) the apparition, played by Val Kilmer, who pushes Christian Slater
to stand up to Gary Oldman
’s dreadlocked pimp: It's the ghost of Elvis, of course.
was so impressive as original Beatles bassist Stu Sutcliffe in 1994's “Backbeat” that no less an authority than Paul McCartney, who otherwise hated the film, called him “astonishing.”
From a Sex Pistol to classical icon Ludwig Van Beethoven in 1994's “Immortal Beloved,” Oldman shows the broadest range of anybody on this list. But his randy Ludwig Van isn’t one of his best showcases.
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 1997's “Selena” – but J-Lo’s star-making performance silenced most of the critics.
In 2002's wondrously weird rock ‘n’ roll mummy movie "Bubba Ho-Tep," Bruce Campbell
gives us an aging, decrepit Elvis who can still gloriously kick butt.
OK, we admit it: We haven’t seen 2003's “The Night We Called It a Day.” But Dennis Hopper
as Frank Sinatra? The prospect is too weird, and too delicious, to ignore.
directed, co-wrote and co-produced 2004 “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.
’s career-making, Oscar-winning performance as Ray Charles in 2004's "Ray" launched the former “In Living Color” performer to a whole new level of stardom.
didn’t exactly sing like Johnny Cash in 2005's "Walk the Line" (no one can), but he captured some man-in-blackish essence, and Reese Witherspoon
won the Oscar as June Carter
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.
Photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn's moody black-and-white touch was just right for 2007's "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.
survives 2013's “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.
won kudos from theater fans for tapping Broadway stars for his movie adaptation of 2014's "Jersey Boys," but John Lloyd Young
was a better singer and stage performer than actor in his performance as Frankie Valli
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.
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.
stars in another adventurous film about a jazz legend, the Chet Baker fantasia “Born to Be Blue.” Like Baker’s music, the film (and Hawke’s performance) is dreamy, ethereal and heartbreaking.
Sony Pictures Classics
Haunted-looking and skeletal, Tom Hiddleston
makes a convincing Hank Williams (and a creditable country singer) in “I Saw the Light,” but the conventional film is far more interested in drugs and booze than in Williams' brilliant music.
Sony Pictures Classics
“Miles Ahead,” actor-director Don Cheadle
’s unconventional film about the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, is odd and audacious – in other words, the kind of movie you should make if you’re going to make a movie about the revolutionary and unconventional musician.
is a light-skinned woman of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent, which has made her casting as the dark-skinned African American singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone a highly controversial one.
Tribeca Film Festival
plays the king of rock ‘n’ roll in the upcoming “Elvis & Nixon,” a comedic look at the 1970 meeting between Elvis Presley and U.S. President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey
), at which Presley badgered Nixon into giving him a Drug Enforcement Administration badge.