Get on Up (film)

Get on Up is a 2014 American biographical musical drama film about the life of singer James Brown and is directed by Tate Taylor and written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. Produced by Brian Grazer, Mick Jagger, Taylor and Victoria Pearman, the film stars an ensemble cast featuring Chadwick Boseman as Brown, Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd, Dan Aykroyd as Ben Bart, Viola Davis as Susie Brown, Craig Robinson as Maceo Parker, and Octavia Spencer as Aunt Honey.

Get on Up
Get On Up poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTate Taylor
Produced by
Screenplay by
  • Jez Butterworth
  • John-Henry Butterworth
Story by
Music byThomas Newman
CinematographyStephen Goldblatt
Edited byMichael McCusker
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • August 1, 2014 (2014-08-01) (United States)
Running time
139 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million[2]
Box office$33.4 million[3]

The project was announced August 2013, along with Boseman, Davis, Spencer and Ellis' casting.[4] Principal photography began on November 4, 2013 and took place in Mississippi, where the entire film was shot on location in 49 days.[5]

The film was released on August 1, 2014 in the United States and received generally positive reviews from critics, with praise directed at the performances of the cast (particularly those of Boseman and Brandon Mychal Smith), and grossed $33 million worldwide at the box office.


Get on Up uses a nonlinear narrative, revealing James Brown's stream of consciousness and including asynchronous events and breaks in the fourth wall. It opens in 1993 with James walking through a hallway as an audience chants his name. He hears voices of people he knew throughout his life. The film cuts to 1988 in Augusta, Georgia; James learns his private bathroom in a strip mall he owns was used without consent. He goes to his truck, gets his shotgun, confronts a meeting, and accidentally fires the gun. He then confronts and forgives the trespasser. Flashing back to 1968, James meets President Johnson at the White House, then travels with his band to Vietnam to support the troops. He and his band are well-received.

James recalls being raised in backwoods poverty in the late 1930s by his parents, Susie and Joe Brown. Joe physically abuses his family. Later, James performs in a gospel group, The Famous Flames, formed by Bobby Byrd, whose family sponsored James' release from prison. In 1964, manager Ben Bart convinces them to let The Rolling Stones close The T.A.M.I. Show. The Flames upstage the Stones and, exiting, James says, "Welcome to America". Returning to James' childhood, Susie leaves Joe; Joe threatens her with a gun and keeps James. Joe beats James until Joe joins the army. James is left living with and working for his Aunt, who runs a brothel, though he attends church and enjoys the spirit-filled singing and dancing.

At 17, James is arrested for stealing a suit and receives a 5-to-13-year sentence. In prison, James sees a gospel group performing. His reaction incites a fight wherein both he and a singer, Bobby Byrd, are injured. Later, they talk and Bobby hears James sing. He invites James into his household after James is granted early parole. Their group perform at a Little Richard show. Later, James goes to the burger joint where Richard works. Richard predicts his own success and rants about not wanting to make music for the "white devil". Another flashback from James's childhood shows him and other black boys forced into a battle royal boxing match for a white country club audience while a band plays. Inspired by the band, James wins.

In the late 1950s, while James and Bobby are touring, they meet Ralph Bass, an agent for King Records, with whom The Flames record their first single, "Please, Please, Please", on the Federal Records label. Executive Syd Nathan isn't interested but changes his mind when he hears James singing. Ben Bart becomes James' manager, and the band's records are labelled "James Brown and His Famous Flames", leading all the members to quit except for Bobby. By 1962, James and Bobby have reformed the band, performing and recording at the Apollo Theater to great success.

After the show, Bobby tells James a lady claiming to be his mother is there. Seeing her, James recalls that as a young child, he had seen Susie with a soldier. When James called to her, she claimed she didn't know James. Aunt Honey consoled James, saying that his mother was foolish and that he would become rich.

James has a child, Teddy, with first wife Velma, later divorcing her and marrying his second wife, Dee-Dee. After a Christmas event in 1968, James hits Dee-Dee for wearing a revealing outfit. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., James convinces the mayor of Boston not to cancel his show at the Boston Garden, which prevents the rioting that affected other American cities. People try to get on stage; security intercedes until James calms the audience. Reaching out to the community, James records "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud".

Ben dies of a heart attack. As James' success grows, his financial troubles mount and relationships turn sour. He treats bandmates like lackeys, doesn't allow their creative input, fines them for breaking his rules, pays them late and makes them work on their days off. Finally, they rebel, using bandmate Maceo Parker as their spokesman. When James rebuffs them, they quit. We flash forward to Paris in 1971, when James performs "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine", "Super Bad", and "Soul Power". After the concert, Bobby tells him he is considering becoming a lead singer, but after Brown says he is not good enough, he leaves.

Flashing back to the Apollo, Susie expresses her love for James despite her reluctance to be a mother. He gives her $100 and asks her to go. Afterwards, Bobby enters, sees James breaking down, and heeds his request to care for Susie. In 1973, James learns his son Teddy has died in a car accident.

The film returns to 1988. James smokes a joint laced with angel dust. Following the accidental discharge of his gun, he is pursued by police, crashes through a barricade of two police cars, and sees visions of his parents before being cornered and arrested.

In 1993, James meets Bobby for the first time since Teddy's funeral and gives Bobby tickets to a concert at the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta. We see a montage of event from James' life before the show. His performance of "Try Me (I Need You)" moves Bobby and his wife to tears. The audience cheers.



Imagine Entertainment listed a James Brown biopic in development in 2000, with a script titled Star Time written by Steven Baigelman.[21] Mick Jagger joined on as a producer, and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth were brought on to rewrite the script, titled Superbad. Spike Lee was set to direct but development[22] stalled in 2006 over music licensing[23] and finance issues.[24] It was revived in 2012[23] when Jagger read a recent draft by the Butterworth brothers.[25] John-Henry Butterworth was fascinated by the period concept of celebrity in preparing to write. “When James was becoming famous, you had to hide where you came from and be squeaky clean. Whereas if he were an artist launching his career now his upbringing and what happened to him would be right there in the press release. Everyone knows how many times 50 Cent has been shot.”[23] The script took some liberties and includes at least one scene involving fabricated incidents.[26] Lee vacated the directors position[27] and on October 22, 2012, it was announced that Tate Taylor (The Help) was set to direct the untitled biopic about James Brown, to be produced by Mick Jagger and Imagine Entertainment's Brian Grazer.[28] On August 29, 2013, Universal Pictures set October 17, 2014, as a release date for the film, previously untitled.[29] Later, on November 13, Universal shifted the release date of the biopic from October to August 1, 2014.[30]


On August 26, 2013, Universal selected Chadwick Boseman to play the lead role of James Brown.[6] Boseman did all of his own dancing and some singing.[31] The soundtrack is live recordings of James Brown.[31] On September 17, Universal announced an open casting call for actors, musicians, and extras for different roles in the biopic, which was held on September 21.[32] On September 30, Taylor cast Viola Davis to play Susie Brown and Octavia Spencer to play Aunt Honey.[10] On October 21, Nelsan Ellis joined the cast of film to portray Bobby Byrd, Brown's long-time friend.[8] Lennie James joined the cast on October 23, to play the role of Brown's father Joseph "Joe" James.[11] Jill Scott and Dan Aykroyd were added on October 31; Scott played Brown's wife while Aykroyd played Ben Bart, the president of one of New York City's largest talent agencies Universal Attractions Agency.[9]

On November 3, Universal added Keith Robinson to the film to portray the role of Baby Roy, a member of Brown's band.[15] On November 14, Tika Sumpter also joined the cast, to play singer Yvonne Fair.[14] There was a rumor that Taraji P. Henson was to join the film to play Tammi Terrell.[33] Nick Eversman joined the cast on November 19, to play Mick Jagger.[16] On December 9, 2013, it became public that Brandon Mychal Smith was selected to portray Brown's musical idol, Little Richard.[34] On December 20, Josh Hopkins joined the film to portray the role Ralph Bass, a music producer.[12] After the shooting wrapped up in Natchez, Mississippi, the production was looking for extras to begin a shoot on January 6, 2014, filming a concert scene set in Paris in 1971.[35] There was another call on January 6, 2014 for extras to film some daytime scenes in Jackson on January 7, 2014.[36]


Shooting began on November 4, 2013, in Natchez, in and around Natchez through the end of the year, and then in Jackson, Mississippi.[37] On December 20, 2013, the film wrapped up shooting in Natchez. Crews were set to take a holiday break and then return to filming from January 6–24, 2014, in Jackson.[35][38] Filming got on track again on January 6, 2014, in Jackson.[36] On January 13, 2014, press posted the news that crews had filmed large scenes at Thalia Mara Hall, and they shot other scenes at Mississippi Coliseum, Capitol Street, and some of the restaurants in Jackson.[39] In total Get on Up was shot in 49 days.[23]


On September 1, 2014, it was announced that the film would be the opening film of the 2014 Zurich Film Festival.[40]


On March 13, 2014, Universal released some photos and a first official trailer of the film.[41][42] A second official trailer was released on May 20.[43]


Critical responseEdit

On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 80% based on 167 reviews, with an average rating of 6.88/10. The site's consensus reads: "With an unforgettable Chadwick Boseman in the starring role, Get on Up offers the Godfather of Soul a fittingly dynamic homage."[44] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 71 out of 100, based on 44 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[45] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.[46]

Brandon Smith received praise from critics for his brief but memorable role as Little Richard.[47][48][49] Music critic Robert Christgau found the film "not just good--great. Better than The Help, which I quite admire, and Ray, which I love. A mite short of a work of genius--it fudges too much and mythologizes beyond the call of narrative necessity. But worthy of the genius who inspired it nevertheless ... Get On Up does justice to his unknowable soul and his unending music, both of which defy closure by definition."[50]

Less favorable reviews include "Get On Up is a cagey, shapeless James Brown biopic" by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, who rated the film D+ at The A.V. Club,[51] Several other critics noted key facts and incidents omitted in the film,[52] in articles such as "The Social Activist Side of James Brown You Won’t See In Get On Up",[53] "The Great Man Theory of Funk: Get On Up shows us James Brown the unstoppable personality, but skimps on James Brown the musician",[54] and "12 Crazy James Brown Moments You Won't See in Get on Up".[55]

Box officeEdit

The film grossed $13.4 million during its opening weekend, finishing in third place at the domestic box office behind fellow new release Guardians of the Galaxy ($94.3 million) and Lucy ($18.3 million).[56]

Get on Up went on to gross $30.7 million in the U.S. and $2.7 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $33.4 million, against a $30 million budget.[3]


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  3. ^ a b "Get On Up (2014) - Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 22, 2014.
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  5. ^ Dougherty, Steve (July 24, 2014). "James Brown and the Making of 'Get On Up'". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved October 3, 2020.
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  14. ^ a b "Tika Sumpter Cast In James Brown Biopic 'Get on Up'". November 14, 2013. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
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  29. ^ Hayden, Erik (August 29, 2013). "James Brown Biopic 'Get on Up' Gets October 2014 Release Date". Retrieved December 22, 2013.
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  49. ^ "Get On Up Review". Huffington Post. August 1, 2014.
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  52. ^ Jung, E. Alex. "12 Crazy James Brown Moments You Won't See in Get on Up".
  53. ^ Harris, Aisha (August 1, 2014). "The Social Activist Side of James Brown You Won't See In Get On Up". Slate.
  54. ^ Wolk, Douglas (July 2014). "The Great Man Theory of Funk: Get On Up shows us James Brown the unstoppable personality, but skimps on James Brown the musician". Slate.
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  56. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for August 1-3, 2014". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. August 4, 2014. Retrieved August 22, 2014.

External linksEdit