Many musicians have appeared in movies, but only a few succeed. In most cases, musical artists’ prominent screen roles are forgettable, and they instantly return to their primary profession.
Of those that have adapted best to acting, some have even stolen the show from regular movie stars.
1. Harry Styles
Harry Styles’ music career launched as part of One Direction before he became one of the world’s biggest-selling solo artists. When he successfully won the audition to play Alex in the 2017 film Dunkirk, director Christopher Nolan claimed he was unaware of the extent of Styles’ fame. His portrayal of the young soldier was critically acclaimed, and Harry Styles appeared a natural on the big screen.
2. Elvis Presley
Movie fans would argue that Elvis wasn’t among the great actors of his generation, but the list is for musicians who stole the show. The King of Rock and Roll fits the bill with his incredible presence and charisma. Elvis Presley movies are repeated regularly and include fan favorites such as Roustabout, Love Me Tender, and Jailhouse Rock.
3. Lady Gaga
Musicians turned actors can also impress by being brilliant. In 2018’s A Star Is Born remake, Lady Gaga’s appearance was stunning and emotional. Many thought her portrayal of Ally Maine deserved an Oscar, but her Academy Award for the song “Shallow” was an impressive consolation prize.
4. Barbara Streisand
In some examples, readers will debate which came first – an acting or music career. In Barbara Streisand’s case, her two paths are almost simultaneous. Her brilliant performance in the 1976 version of A Star Is Born is a perfect show-stealing appearance and leads on nicely from Lady Gaga.
5. Keith Richards
Lovers of the Pirates of the Caribbean series knew that Johnny Depp based his character on Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. When the writers wanted to include Captain Jack Sparrow’s father, there was only one man for the role. Many felt that Keith Richards upstaged Depp when appearing in At World’s End and On Stranger Tides. These were not his first film roles, but the most memorable.
6. David Bowie
He’s another artist whose acting ability is open to debate, but, like Elvis Presley, David Bowie had the characteristics required to steal any scene. I remember his film career from The Man Who Fell to Earth, while others will prefer his performances in Labyrinth and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.
She’s an enduring performer whose career has spanned several decades, but many of us will think of Madonna as a 1980s artist. Her brighter, catchier pop songs summed up the music released in that period, and her film appearances were typical of the decade. 1985’s Desperately Seeking Susan is fondly remembered.
Actors, whether fully committed to the industry or musicians trying their luck, will always be remembered for one movie. In Cher’s case, 1990’s Mermaids is the film in question, and its memorable soundtrack plays a significant role. This singer earned film credits from 1965’s Wild on the Beach, while many believe her best moment on the silver screen came in Moonstruck. Cher’s Oscar for Best Actress backs up that theory.
A chilling performance in 8 Mile puts Eminem on the list. He appeared in movies before this 2002 release, but the autobiographical elements make this his best. His acting career has been dormant for some time, and that’s a great pity.
10. Britney Spears
Each entry will cause debate, but this will likely trigger most arguments. Britney Spears’ appearance in the 2003 movie Crossroads didn’t lead to a long acting career. It was, however, a promising start, and she didn’t look out of place alongside established stars, including Dan Akroyd and Zoe Saldana. If she ever returns to the limelight, acting can provide a rewarding option many Britney fans would love to see.
11. Frank Sinatra
It’s hard to believe now, but Frank Sinatra’s singing career once dived. Tired of playing to reduced audiences, he tried acting and was an unexpected success. Sinatra’s finest hour on the big screen came in the 1953 release From Here to Eternity, where he outshone many established stars, including Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, and Burt Lancaster.
12. Ice Cube
His performance in 1991’s Boyz n the Hood is celebrated as one of a musician’s most natural displays of acting. Rapper Ice Cube steals the show from an all-star cast led by Cuba Gooding Jr, and the award for best-supporting actor from the Chicago Film Critics Association is the least he deserved.
Cynics state that it was easy for Prince to play a complex character on the verge of musical stardom. In 1984’s Purple Rain, his character is called “The Kid,” but it’s all about the actor and his life. It’s a role he was born to play, but this remarkable performance received widespread critical acclaim.
14. Dolly Parton
When Dolly Parton took on her first acting role in 9 to 5, she was globally loved as a country music star. She adapted brilliantly to the big screen, taking the part of Doralee Rhodes as one of three main characters battling misogyny and the gender pay gap. It’s a film where Dolly won an Oscar for her incredible performance in the Best Original Song category.
15. Will Smith
As a sports fan mesmerized by Muhammad Ali in my youth, I can testify that Will Smith’s portrayal of the great man hits the mark perfectly. His mannerisms and tone of voice are stunning, and you can close your eyes and believe that the world’s best boxer is back. Smith stands out in all his acting roles, but his performance in Ali is a career highlight.
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