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The definitely incomplete history of Janis Joplin biopics

by Josh Forward

There have been so many rumoured, green lit and delayed productions of a Janis Joplin biopic, it’s nearly impossible to keep track. But we're here to try! Janis was a 60’s superstar, with an iconic voice and an image that was reflective of the counter culture of the times. She also sadly joined the 27 club by a drug overdose. 

Her incredible life and talent has been promised on the big screen for decades and the latest announcement has Michelle Williams as Joplin under the direction of Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene). This will be based on Laura Joplin’s book "Love, Janis" made up of real letters from Joplin. This is not to be confused with the delayed version starring Amy Adams directed by Jean-Marc Vallee, halted by legal trouble which was tentatively called Get it While You Can.

But these two productions have actually been competing since the 1990’s. And before them there were other failed attempts. Let’s look back...

1979 The Rose starring Bette Midler is released. This was originally intended to be a biopic of Janis Joplin named Pearl, Joplin’s nickname, but the family refused the rights and weren't comfortable with how she was being portrayed. Bette Midler won a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for the performance. The Rose remains the closest we've gotten to an onscreen Joplin biopic. 

Mid-90’s A film titled Piece of My Heart, rumoured to star Courtney Love as Janis Joplin, was announced without a director attached.

1998 Melissa Etheridge and her partner wrote a script, with Etheridge looking to star. Gary Fleder, best known for thrillers like Kiss the Girls, was set to direct a version. This was also titled Piece of My Heart.

1999 As the anniversary of her death loomed, the words “Dueling Joplin Biopics” appeared and have lived on for the (nearly) two decades since. The rumoured Courtney Love version now had Brittany Murphy as Janis Joplin, who described the part as a dream role, and campaigned hard to get it. Though that version never happened, Murphy's audition tape made her a top candidate for a role in the film version of Chicago. A rival production starring Lili Taylor is also announced which never eventuates. The Etheridge version tried to sign Marc Rocco to direct after Fleder left.

Early 2000’s Piece of My Heart was revitalised with a new script by Anne Meredith and now it's a star vehicle for then ascendant Renee Zellwegger. At the same time a film to be called The Gospel According to Janis has director Penelope Spheeris attached with P!nk starring. The latter proposed film is the first time a production has the blessing of a member of the family, Laura Joplin. Peter Newman who is the producer for the recently announced Michelle Williams version was also behind this Spheeris version. Here Newman begins his life long ambition of getting a biopic made, and has amassed all the appropriate rights to do so. Both films were delayed but still promised for nearly five years.  

2006 Musician/actress Zooey Deschanel is set to replace P!nk in the Spheeris version, with a revamped script by Stephen Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson. Deschanel takes vocal lessons to prepare. Zellwegger reaffirms her interest in the other Joplin picture

2009 30 Rock skewers the constant efforts to make the film with Jenna Maroney starring in in the fictional picture Jackie Jormp Jomp, when they can’t get the rights to Joplin’s life, name or music. Jane Krakowski’s comedic genius was in full flight like an iron bird.

2010 Fernando Meirelles (City of God) signs on to direct the Zellwegger version… only now its for Amy Adams with a new script by Ron Terry and Theresa Kounin-Terry. Despite new directors, new star, and new script, this is technically still the same production that's been pushed since the early 2000’s. Now it's titled Get it While You Can.

2011  Five years after signing on, Deschanel formally announces that the will not be happening. Catherine Hardwicke replaces Meirelles as the director of the competing Amy Adams version.

2012Lee Daniels replaces Hardwicke who drops out. He drops out the same year. Peter Newman’s production, The Gospel According to Janis roars back to life with Tony winning Broadway star Nina Arianda (recently seen in Florence Foster Jenkins) attached. 

2014 Jean-Marc Vallee is now attached to Get it While You Can. Production is set to go ahead until rights issues stagger the progress of the film; scriptwriter Ron Terry was caught shopping the same script to other producers.

2015 Amy Berg directs the well-received documentary on Janis’s life Janis: Little Girl Blue, narrated by musician Cat Power. 

2016 - Peter Newman gathers Michelle Williams and director Sean Durkin with a brand new script based on correspondence written by Janis Joplin assembled by Laura Joplin, Janis’ sister in her novel Love, Janis.

Are you exhausted yet? How likely do you think the Michelle Williams version is to actually happen and why do people keep signing up after years of failures to greenlight this? Did we miss any rumored actresses? 

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Reader Comments (27)

I'll believe it when I see it. (Although I said the same thing about Bridget Jones 3, and look what happened there.)

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

I wonder if Taylor Dayne, Joan Osborne or Joss Stone were ever in discussion...

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Me too,and this seems like great actress but totally wrong.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordon

"By the time they make it, she won't be dead anymore." - Stand By Me

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

"Fernando Meirelles (City of God) signs on to direct the Zellwegger version… only now its for Amy Adams with a new script..."

That should be ... "only now IT'S for Amy Adams"...

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMarcos

thank you for including the jane krakowski version! genius.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEric

Eric - as the wormhole of Joplin biopics consumed me, it was the perfect brain cleanser to watch Jackie Jorp Jomp clips. Laughed every time.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

When in doubt get Meryl.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordon

Gotta love the Jackie Jormp Jomp. ;)

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterT-Bone

Mark -- LOL. Meryl can do a lot of things but playing a 27 year old. hmmmm.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Well, there's always Grace Gummer, whom I could buy in the role after Season 2 of Mr. Robot.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

This is gonna sound bad, but I think they should wait until her family are gone to make this. Family meddling always seem to ruin these projects, and her family seems especially picky.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike Troutman

The only people who want these movies are the actresses who believe it will win them an Academy Award. And as much as I'd be keen to see Sean Durkin behind the camera again, this project sounds dull as dishwater if its as tradition as I expect it to be (unique visions do not tend to happen after years of rewrites with on and off filmmakers). Williams seems like an off choice, truly.

My understanding of THE ROSE was that Bette Midler only agreed to make it if it was *not* a Joplin biopic because she felt nothing could equal Janis.


October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Man, a Courtney Love version sounds delicious. I feel like she'd bring such truth to the role.
I had no idea that Brittany Murphy was in the running for a role in Chicago??
Most of these sound like a mess. The most promising is probably the Amy Adams version.

And what's up with Michelle Williams always being miscast in biopics? First Marilyn, now this.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

i imagine this will be a double feature with the oft-promised freddie mercury biopic

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterpar

I do love Michelle Williams but I think she is woefully miscast as Joplin. I have to say I don't think Amy Adams is a better choice either.

I don't think much will come from this latest attempt to film Joplin's story and really can't understand why. Janis was an incredible vocalist and dynamic personality and her dramatic life story should easily lend itself to a fascinating movie.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony

Consign Mareko, I'll believe it when I see it

@markgordon: Meryl IS in Doubt...Lol

I've a feeling it might never happens, maybe the trials & tribulations of the TRYING to make the biopic would make a interesting documentary?? haha

They could alws cast Jane Krakowski (precious!!)

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Courtney Love or even Brittany Murphy, yes. I can't see anyone else for this role at current time. Anyways, I'm satisfied with Bette Midler and Dana Fuch's portrayals this far.

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

Michelle Williams is mistake for sure. They need an actress with edge and natural charisma with acting skiills

Courtney Love is the perfect candidate but too old. Cate Blanchett is a great candidate but too old.

What about:

Emily Blunt
Mia Wasikowska
Rooney Mara
Anna Faris
Rose Leslie
Evan Rachel Wood

October 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

All of these sound potentially awful to me.

What I really want to know is, why isn't Zooey Descanel starring in a biopic about Linda Ronstadt? Now THAT would be good casting!

October 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDoctor Strange

J-Law for J-Jop.

October 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterKeegan

If not Courney Love, then Lindsay Lohan perhaps? With the right director, of course. Michelle Williams is a wonderful actress but she wasn't Marilyn Monroe and she isn't Jamis Joplin

October 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterken s

No tag for Renee?

October 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterOscar Fan

Ooh, Evan Rachel Wood is a sublime suggestion

October 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I trust in Michelle Williams but I think Jennifer Lawrence would be a better choice. I don't know if she can sing, but she's talented and she is unconventional beautiful. Just like Janis was. Plus, she has that face, dramatic and funny at the same time. just like Janis had!

If I was the director, I would like to audition Rosamunde Pike and Emma Stone as well (for the same reasons as Lawrence...) and then take the best choice ;-)

April 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterKalinka

Great article. I trust Michelle Williams, I REALLY DO. This is supposed to start filming on August. We’ll see.

May 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSalvia Plath

The wheels are turning again... Bohemian Rhapsody has relit the fire for biopics and Hollywood is go.

I have a line in to the production – in the name of all that is good and holy, please post your thoughts on what would make a great Janis biopic here.

I only ask that you don't say "don't make one" because I have no power to stop this. Only to encourage the train to take the exciting path...

July 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCamilla

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