1. Martin Luther King Jr.
King’s life has been given the biopic treatment before, most notably in the 2001 HBO movie Boycott with Jeffrey Wright. But there are at least two different big-screen projects about King’s life that still seem to be in the works.
One would be written and directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93) and produced by Scott Rudin (Moonrise Kingdom, Doubt) — as of November 2012, it was reportedly still alive and securing independent financing after Universal passed when King’s family and confidantes raised objections about Greengrass’ script.
DreamWorks Pictures, meanwhile, has secured the life rights to King’s story and tasked playwright and screenwriter Ronald Harwood (The Pianist) to pen the script. BuzzFeed has confirmed the project remains “in development” — which is to say, DreamWorks wants to make it but has not yet green-lit the project nor attached actors or a director. You’ll be seeing that term a lot in this story.
2. Lance Armstrong
The challenge with any biopic about Armstrong would seem to be how to make the disgraced pro cyclist appealing to audiences who are well aware of how much and how often he lied about illegal doping. But that isn’t stopping at least two different studios from trying!
Paramount Pictures and J.J. Abrams’ production company are still developing a script based on a book proposal by New York Times reporter Juliet Macur. Bradley Cooper, however, is not attached to play Armstrong, which is too bad, because he may be one of the only actors who could pull off making Armstrong a convincing jackass while still somehow appealing.
Meanwhile, Warner Bros. and Atlas Entertainment are also developing a project about Armstrong that focuses on his former teammate Tyler Hamilton, who ended up turning on Armstrong and accusing him, correctly it turns out, of doping. Jay Roach (Recount, Game Change) is attached to direct.
3. John McAfee
More media-baiting bad behavior, more dueling biopics!
Warner Bros. is developing a project with filmmakers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (Crazy, Stupid, Love) based on Joshua Davis’ Wired story about the anti-virus software pioneer’s increasingly strange behavior leading up to the Belizean police wanting to question him in connection with the murder of a neighbor.
Meanwhile, Canadian production companies Impact Future Media and Equinoxe Films announced in January that they had secured McAfee’s life rights for a feature with the working title Running in the Background.
4. Susan Boyle
In case you weren’t aware, the life story of the Britain’s Got Talent breakout superstar is already being told in Britain, as a musical called I Dreamed a Dream. It is a real thing that is actually happening, and what’s more, it’s winning rave reviews.
In November 2012, Fox Searchlight reportedly secured both Boyle’s life rights and the rights to adapt the musical as a feature film. If the project comes together, it will make a gagillion dollars, and your aunt will not stop talking about it.
5. Richard Pryor
For years, Dreamgirls director Bill Condon had been hoping to make a feature film about the life of the beloved and troubled actor-comedian, starring Marlon Wayans. But now the baton has been passed to actor Forest Whitaker, who is developing a new script with the blessing of Pryor’s widow Jennifer. No directors or actors are attached, however.
6. Iggy Pop
There was a glorious, fleeting moment when it looked like we would be getting a movie about the shirt-averse punk rock pioneer, starring Elijah Wood. Alas, ‘twas not to be.
Instead, in February, British and German producers announced Lust for Life, a biopic about Iggy Pop and David Bowie’s musical collaboration in West Berlin in the 1970s, with Gabriel Range (Death of a President) attached to direct from a script by British writer Robin French.
7. Johnny Carson
Hitchcock screenwriter John McLaughlin and producer Tom Thayer are reportedly working a biopic about the Tonight Show host based on Bill Zehme’s book Carson The Magnificent: An Intimate Portrait and with the blessing of the Carson estate.
8. Kurt Cobain
Early this year, documentary filmmaker Brett Morgan (Chicago 10, The Kid Stays in the Picture) reportedly told British music magazine NME that he’s planning an “ambitious” multimedia portrait of the Nirvana frontman incorporating both live action and animation. He says he’s hoping to release the film in 2014.
After all these projects that remain hovering in development limbo, now we’re getting somewhere! Imagine Entertainment is close to securing financing for a film about the famous Brazilian soccer player, with an eye to start production later this year in time for the 2014 World Cup.
Documentary filmmakers Michael and Jeff Zimbalist (30 for 30: The Two Escobars) will make their feature directing debut from their screenplay. No actor is attached yet to play Pelé, but he better have a killer bicycle kick.
10. And now we move into the world of biopic projects that are lucky enough to have an actor attached to them — not that this always helps the movie get made.
11. Janis Joplin
Of the two films about the hard-living rock legend currently in the hopper, one appears to be much closer to becoming a reality — and it’s not the one starring an Oscar nominee.
That project, Get It While You Can, has Amy Adams attached to play Joplin, and Oscar nominee Lee Daniels (Precious) attached to direct. The script remains in development, with no start date yet announced.
Instead, it’s the Janis Joplin project starring a Tony Award winner, Venus in Fur’s Nina Arianda, that has the most going for it. The producers have secured the rights to most of Joplin’s music as well as the life rights to several key private individuals close to Joplin’s story. They are aiming to begin production this fall with an independently financed budget that falls just under $15 million, with Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) directing from his screenplay.
12. Alan Turing
Alan Turing was an ingenious mathematician who invented the idea of the modern computer and played a crucial role in designing the system that broke the Nazi Enigma codes in World War II. He was also gay, and so brutally persecuted for it that he ended up taking his own life.
It’s a stunning, tragic true story, and in February, Benedict “Benny Batch” Cumberbatch was reportedly close to agreeing to play Turing in The Imitation Game — yup, that would be exactly right. Norwegian director Morten Tyldum is attached to direct the script by Graham Moore.
13. Barbara Jordan
The first African-American woman from the South elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Barbara Jordan quickly became a major political star in the Democratic Party in the 1970s. She retired from elected public service in 1979, in part due to her battle with multiple sclerosis, but her impact lasts today. In March 2012, Viola Davis signed up to develop a biopic about Jordan, with TV helmer Paris Barclay (Sons of Anarchy, In Treatment) attached to direct, based on the book Barbara Jordan: American Hero by Mary Beth Rogers. Since that time, however, there have been no further updates.
14. And sometimes, finally, after years upon years of “development,” a biopic can actually become a real live movie. It’s true!
15. Marvin Gaye
Stay with me here: In 2008, Jesse L. Martin signed up to play the late R&B legend Marvin Gaye in Sexual Healing, to be produced by James Gandolfini. (I know; I did a double take too.) That project, however, came to naught. Then last year, Lenny Kravitz signed onto another Marvin Gaye biopic project, this time with British documentarian Julien Temple (The Filth and the Fury) directing. But then Gaye’s son Marvin Gaye III reportedly raised objections to the script, and Kravitz dropped out. Then last month, Martin again landed the role of Gaye, replacing Kravitz in the project, which had taken on the title of…Sexual Healing. Phew!
The cherry on top of this convoluted sundae: Martin’s Law & Order compatriot S. Epatha Merkerson is playing Gaye’s mother Alberta. Right now. It’s happening! For real!
16. Jimi Hendrix
This is actually cheating a bit — All Is by My Side is a biopic about iconic rock ‘n’ roll guitarist Jimi Hendrix, shot last year, starring Andre Benjamin (i.e., Outkast’s Andre 3000) and written and directed by John Ridley (Red Tails, Undercover Brother). But it’s a prime example of the difficulty facing a movie about a celebrated artist, especially when that movie wants to use some of that artist’s art. According to Rolling Stone, the Hendrix estate denied the film the use of any of Hendrix’s music, so instead the film is filled with covers of other artists, like the Beatles and Muddy Waters. How audiences will take to seeing a moving about Hendrix that is missing an essential part of the Hendrix Experience remains to be seen.