Music and the movies are two worlds that cross over often, and to great effect. Sometimes the greatest overlap between those segments of entertainment comes from performances through figures we primarily know for carrying a tune over a scene. But believe it or not, these 32 movies featuring professional musicians are noteworthy for providing talent that can do both.
Janelle Monáe - Hidden Figures
Playing Mary Jackson, an African-American mathematician crucial to the early days of NASA’s space race, Janelle Monáe showed off her dramatic chops in the historical drama Hidden Figures. One of the earliest cinematic roles in her career, Monáe would go on to become a more prolific actor and singer, adding films like Glass Onion: a Knives Out mystery to her resume along the way.
David Bowie - The Prestige
As he continues to build amazing ensemble casts to carry out his cinematic visions, director Christopher Nolan has a knack for choosing talent. Which leads to that time Nolan begged David Bowie to be in The Prestige, as the helmer felt that the actor/singer would be a perfect Nicola Tesla. That instinct was as well played as the film it served to bolster.
Lady Gaga - A Star Is Born
Lady Gaga is such a natural entertainer that when she was announced as a lead in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born remake, it didn’t feel like that much of a surprise. With previous films and shows to her acting credit, this role could be considered her cinematic breakout, as it landed her many raves, awards and nominations during the 2018-2019 awards cycle.
Frank Sinatra - The Manchurian Candidate
By the time Frank Sinatra made The Manchurian Candidate, his career had seen him make musicals, comedies, and intense dramas alike. The 1962 neo-noir thriller became one of his best received films, as Sinatra’s Captain Bennett Marco and his quest to prevent a clandestine assassination attempt distinguished itself as a contemporary hit, as well as an all-time classic.
Queen Latifah - Set It Off
A landmark ‘90s drama that’s still fondly remembered to this day, Set It Off told a story of four women looking to live better lives through thievery. Queen Latifah’s Cleo Sims made up a part of that team, offering a complex performance that was both tragic and empowering.
Gene Simmons - Runaway
Kiss frontman Gene Simmons knew what it was like to surprise the world when he and his bandmates took off their makeup for a period between the ‘80s and ‘90s. That was as good a time as any for Simmons to break into acting, as the villainous Dr. Charles Luther in Michael Crichton’s Runaway.
Whitney Houston - The Bodyguard
If The Bodyguard had been made when it was first written, we might have seen Ryan O’Neal and Diana Ross playing the leads. But, as anyone in Hollywood could tell you, delays can sometimes gum up the works. Which is how, by time the ‘90s rolled around, Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston landed the iconic leads in this romantic-drama; with Houston making her historic cinematic debut.
Tim McGraw - The Blind Side
A year after Tim McGraw starred in Four Christmases, the country singer experienced two life changing moments. Not only did McGraw’s weight loss journey start to take off, but his acting career saw him co-starring with Sandra Bullock in the sports drama The Blind Side.
Beyoncé - Dreamgirls
2006 was a banner year for Beyoncé’s film acting resume, thanks to Deena Jones, part of the central trio in the musical drama Dreamgirls. The Renaissance woman helped boost director Bill Condon’s musical to awards glory, alongside co-stars Anika Noni Rose and Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson.
Lenny Kravitz - The Hunger Games
Lenny Kravitz jumped into the acting game in a pretty big way, after playing himself in several film appearances. Perhaps his most iconic role yet is that of portrayal of Cinna, stylist to Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games. Inspiring everyone’s favorite tribute into subtle acts of rebellion, Kravitz’s warmth helps solidify the guidance that helped turn Katniss into a hero for the ages.
Cher - Moonstruck
“Snap out of it!” With four words, Cher became a romantic-comedy legend, as she tried to deal with Nicolas Cage’s amorous advances in Moonstruck. Not only did that impress audiences overall, it landed her the award for Best Actress at 1988’s Academy Awards as well.
Flea - The Big Lebowski
If you thought “Nihilist #2” in The Coen Bros’ legendary comedy The Big Lebowski looked or sounded familiar, you have a good ear. Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Flea is the actor credited for that role, providing some comedic menace in Jeff Bridges’ neo-noir classic about blackmail, death, and bowling.
Dolly Parton - 9 To 5
With a balance of commanding wisdom and unlimited sweetness, Dolly Parton is a country star that will always be an icon. However, watching 9 to 5 just might shock you, as the dark comedy shows her teaming with Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda to teach Dabney Coleman how to treat a woman in the workplace. Let’s just say that lesson goes beyond a catchy theme song.
Dean Martin - The Sons Of Katie Elder
Rat Pack icon of cool Dean Martin is mostly known for either his comedies alongside musical pals Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., or his long running partnership with Jerry Lewis. But outside of either of those canons is Martin’s parts in westerns like The Sons of Katie Elder, which saw the crooner playing brother to genre legend John Wayne. So you can see how this was a pretty big deal back in 1965.
Madonna - A League of Their Own
A League of Their Own's Mae Mordabito is quite possibly Madonna's most memorable part. As center fielder for the Rockland Peaches, she plays the entire cast with comedic precision with her free spirited character.
Eminem - 8 Mile
Playing a fictionalized version of your own experiences isn’t a guaranteed success. And yet, Eminem took 8 Mile’s aspiring rapper Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith and made believers of fans and critics with his acting abilities. It was enough of a success that, decades after he has yet to take on another major film role, people are still curious if Marshall Mathers will ever lose himself in a movie again.
Mandy Moore - A Walk To Remember
Pro-tip: if you’re a pop star that wants to become an actor, a Nicholas Sparks movie just might be the surest way to test those waters. Mandy Moore can attest to that fact, as her role in 2002’s A Walk To Remember was probably a good warm up for her future success as part of NBC’s drama series This Is Us. If you’re a fan of that meteoric network hit, and you haven’t watched this movie, you owe yourself a moment to correct that.
Isaac Hayes - Escape From New York
A certain generation of Isaac Hayes fans will know him best as a soulful singer, while others would recall his velvety pipes from the romantically obscene Chef from South Park. And right in between those groups are the die hard fans of the best action movies ever who would remember Hayes as the menacing Duke in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.
Brandy - Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
Everyone has their favorite Cinderella, and for Disney growing up in the ‘90s, Brandy is a prime candidate for those honors. Which is totally valid, as the singer’s leading portrayal in Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is a magical glass slipper that ties the entire cast of notables together. To imagine this movie without her is, quite frankly, impossible.
Sammy Davis Jr. - The Cannonball Run
The entire Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. were all actors, as well as singers, at the height of their powers. One of Davis’ best gigs, besides the original Ocean’s 11, came out of The Cannonball Run, which reunited him with fellow pally Martin for two films of vehicular madness.
Janet Jackson - Poetic Justice
Writer/director John Singleton’s Poetic Justice could very easily be counted as an acting win for either Tupac Shakur or Janet Jackson. However, Ms. Jackson wins out no question, as her dynamic performance as Justice anchors both the dramatic, and the romantic halves of this picture. Not to mention, this project marking Janet’s debut as a feature film actor is still a powerful statement felt by her fans.
Andre Benjamin - Four Brothers
While Four Brothers isn’t an exact, on-brand remake of the western The Sons of Katie Elder, it’s pretty close. The similarities between the two Paramount movies are even eerier when you think about how Dean Martin’s acting career was enriched by the 1965 western, and Andre “3000” Benjamin saw the same sort of fortune come from his part in the 2005 action-drama.
Diana Ross - Lady Sings The Blues
Upon its release in 1972, Lady Sings The Blues sparked critical debate over how good of a biopic it really was. What wasn’t up for question was the excellence of Diana Ross’ performance as Billie Holiday; a feat that not only won her raves from critics, but also scored her a Best Actress nomination at 1973’s Academy Awards.
Usher - Light It Up
Not long after Usher made his movie debut in Robert Rodriguez's The Faculty, he graduated to being a lead player in the ensemble for writer/director Craig Bolotin's Light It Up. Going back to high school with Rosario Dawson and Sara Gilbert as classmates, Usher took part in a teenage rebellion with a cause more serious than any alien invasion.
Alicia Keys - Smokin’ Aces
The words “professional assassin” aren’t exactly what come to mind when talking about singer/songwriter Alicia Keys. That perception is part of how 2006’s Smokin’ Aces was such an explosive surprise upon its initial theatrical release. Keys and Taraji P. Henson’s double act as hired killers with a job to do helped keep this ensemble action dramedy spinning with chemistry to spare.
John Legend - La La Land
Is John Legend’s La La Land character a villain? It depends on who you ask, with his part in splitting up Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling’s on-screen romance acting as a defining factor. Unsurprisingly, the piano man’s charm and musical prowess added some extra star power to Damian Chazelle’s colorful musical.
Mariah Carey - Precious
People like Mariah Carey and Charlize Theron “deglamming” for performances in powerful dramas only helped amplify their performances. In Theron’s case, that led to her first Academy Award nomination in Monster. Meanwhile for Carey, director Lee Daniels’ heartbreaker provided her with a credit that wowed the critics to an impressive degree.
Alice Cooper - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Decades before Across the Universe turned the Beatles songbook into a jukebox musical, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band used that premise to a campier extent. This is, after all, the movie where you can see Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees “fighting” villains like Aerosmith and Steve Martin. And a part of that collection of baddies is an equally creepy and intriguing Alice Cooper, playing the role of cult leader Father Sun.
Björk - Dancer In The Dark
Writer/director Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark was only singer Bjòrk’s second motion picture. You’d never know it, as this beautiful but tragic mashup of drama and music saw the Icelandic singer-songwriter land a heartbreaking blow with her character Selma. Trust us, you need the right headspace, and a lot of tissues, to take on this experience.
Common - Run All Night
While Common eventually got to hunt down Keanu Reeves’ titular assassin in John Wick: Chapter 2, he practiced his killer skills with another action vet: Liam Neeson. Run All Night pitted the rapping/acting talent against Mr. Neeson, and the war waged between the two men is something truly impressive to behold.
Britney Spears - Crossroads
Not a girl, not yet a woman, and because of Britney Spears’ intense “method acting” in Crossroads, there was one more thing she wasn’t at the time: an actor. Though she’d eventually play a couple other roles here and there, preparing to star in this teenage drama road trip was enough to make Spears question how much she really wanted to act.
Prince - Purple Rain
The world knows the many sides of Prince through his mythic career as a guitar god and musical boundary pusher. Purple Rain made that image all the stronger, as the man is basically playing himself, with some dramatic and comedic embellishment. The result is a movie that was a white hot success, and a powerful calling card in Prince's future endeavors on both sides of this fence.
While it’s not for everyone, actor/musician crossovers are always interesting to keep an eye out for. Both commanding successes and curious one-off scenarios are equally intriguing, as one never knows where the next success story will come from. Aspiring singers and actors alike take note: these cases we’ve just discussed are good studies to keep in mind when plotting your own course to stardom!