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Top 10 Best Movies Starring Musicians

Movies Starring Musicians

While reaction to the latest foray into the extended Star Wars universe, Solo: A Star Wars Story, has been lackluster at best, one less criticized aspect of the movie has been the performance of Donald Glover as interplanetary smuggler Lando Calrissian. As Nick Kush says in his review of the movie, the rapper’s performance may just have been the only thing that did indeed work about the film.

Bearing this in mind, let’s take a look at other examples of cinema’s long running love affair with the pop world and the best box office-billboard crossovers to date:

Honorable Mentions:

Tommy (1975)

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Dreamgirls (2006)

Mudbound (2017)

Out of Sight (1998)

Ocean’s 11 (1960)

Jailhouse Rock (1957)

#10: The Social Network (2010)

Though mostly populated with modest box office hits in the form of low-stake comedies, Justin Timberlake’s film career has also featured some convincing dramatic turns, with his role in David Fincher’s The Social Network, which detailed the rise of social media giant Facebook.  Playing Napster co-founder and Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, portrayed the young CEO as both one part an irrepressibly suave start-up guru, and another as a “.com-devil” in disguise.

The former NSYNC singer brought a level of charisma and cocky exuberance to turn one of the film’s supporting characters into one of its most vital roles, presenting a clear and memorable picture of a man who, running on sheer confidence rather than oxygen, drove a wedge between Facebook’s central co-founders and set the website on its way to global dominance.

Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network (2010)

image via NY Times

#9: Dancer In The Dark (2000)

Described by some as melodramatic and uncomfortable to watch, and by others as one of the most important films since 2000, Dancer In The Dark stars Icelandic singer Bjork in a tragically intense piece of dramatic acting. Written and directed by maverick Danish director Lars von Trier, the film depicts a Czeck born factory working immigrant who has moved to the United States with her son both of whom share a degenerative eye condition.

It’s polarizing nature is due to chiefly to its abrasive stylistic choices, as it’s filmed on low quality hand-held cameras, making it appear more in the style of a documentary than a narrative film at times. Still, despite being a pretty much novice to the acting world, Bjork’s human and pathos inducing performance received critical acclaim with one critic labeling it the “single greatest feat of film acting” of the 21st century so far.

image via Letterboxd

#8: Performance (1970)

In his first acting gig, Mick Jagger’s role in this experimental British crime drama, is both fantastically bizarre yet devastatingly brilliant. He plays figure, as Turner, a reclusive rock star hiding from the music world in his own counter-cultural cave, living off of his own personal diet of sex and drugs.

When gangster Chas (James Fox), winds up at his door hiding from his own demons following a killing gone wrong, two separate identities of 60’s London meet in a truly strange exploration of the various performances a person plays regardless of who they are. Jagger especially shines, oozing charisma and charm in a haze of sexual ambiguity and heavy drug use, as the walls of identity are broken down and lines of reality increasingly blurred. The combination of hard cuts and unusual narrative , as well the captivating quality of Jagger’s performance, make the cult classic one of British cinema’s finest and perhaps underrated films.

Mick Jagger in Performance (1970)

image via WordPress

#7: The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Alongside his crooning career, Sinatra was a fully bonafide movie star in his own right. Like all movie stars, some of his picture were duds to avoid and some classics that stand the test of time.

The Manchurian Candidate is at the head of the latter column. The film’s plot sees an American patrol captured by the Chinese during the Korean War, with one of its members, Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) released, after being brainwashed by his communist captors and sent back to US to attempt to kill the president. Sinatra plays Major Bennett Marco, a fellow patrol member who suspects Shaw’s brainwashing and attempts to frantically to disrupt his mission. A neat commentary on McCarthy Era suspicion and a fantastic opportunity to witness Sinatra in a noir setting, The Manchurian Candidate has today become a classic even despite its removal from distribution for over twenty years due to the plots link to the Kennedy assassination in 63′.

Frank Sinatra and Janet Leigh at an event for The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

image via more things.com

#6: A Hard Days Night (1964)

While many of popular music’s early superstars like Sinatra and Elvis , made names for themselves on-screen as fictional characters, The Beatles relented to play fictionalized versions of themselves. The strongest entry of the Beatles’s bizarre filmography, A Hard Days Night follows several days in the life of the band during the height of Beatlemania as they were constantly mobbed by hordes of screaming fans, the fab four are due to play a show to be televised live in London when Ringo suddenly disappears. Fun and light on its feet, featuring plenty of their early hit tunes, A Hard Days Night is now regarded as a classic of British Cinema; a cleverly crafted satire of the hysteria that surrounded the band as well as fascinating freeze frame of 60s Britain.

image via Newsday

#5: Moonstruck (1987)

Romantic-comedy Moonstruck depicts the story of an Italian American widow approaching middle age (Cher) who falls in love unwittingly with her fiance’s hot-headed brother (Nicolas Cage). One of those rare achievements for a rom-com, the film was both a commercial and critical hit, being labelled as one of the best comedies of the 80s, and grossing over $80 million at the box office. An icon of pop music for over six decades, along the way Cher’s put in some pretty admirable performances on the big screen, most notably with other 80s hits Silkwood and Mask. However, Moonstruck saw her reach her cinematic peak perfected a blend of comic timing and unbridled vulnerability that landed her an Oscar for Best Actress.

A commendable case study of Italian-American family values and an irresistibly funny ensemble vehicle with Cher domineeringly hemming the wheel, Moonstruck is a must see!

Nicolas Cage and Cher in Moonstruck (1987)

image via Roger Ebert

#4: The Bodyguard (1992)

Another pop princess who turned to the big screen was Whitney Houston. Though she starred in only three films, her brief film career is memorable for one of the biggest smash hits of the 1990s. Grossing over $400 million worldwide, The Bodyguard sees Houston play a character not too far from her own reality as a pop superstar who hires and falls in love with her bodyguard (Kevin Costner), hired to protect her from a crazed stalker.

Though it’s critical reception could not ultimately match its box office receipts, with many critics dismissing it as a cheesy, formulaic romance, The Bodyguard is a shinning example of how music stardom can influence a film’s success, with the movie featuring many Whitney hits, leading its soundtrack album to become far and away the highest selling movie soundtrack of all time, and one of the most successful albums ever.

image via Moviefone

#3: King Creole (1958)

Remarkably in his world-wind 24 year career, Elvis found the time to star in 31 movies, alongside his chief role as the “King of Rock and Roll”. While not all were classics, one of the best admired is King Creole, which sees The King playing Danny Fisher, a 19-year-old bus boy tasked with making ends meet for his family, a predicament which leads him to get caught in New Orleans’ murky mob underbelly. Playing troubled, young “rebel” characters was a staple of Elvis’ early acting career, perhaps in an attempt to emulate his hero James Dean.

The desperation attached to the role in King Creole, allowed Elvis to showcase some impressive turns of emotion and dramatic depth, with critics lauding praise on his performance and the film being remembered today as one of Elvis’ best on-screen achievements.

movies starring musicians

image via YouTube

 

#2: Boyz N the Hood (1991)

A tragic and brilliant portrait of the lives of inner-city black youths in South Los Angeles, and a vital social introspection of the American experience from a criminally underrepresented perspective in Hollywood, Boyz N the Hood marked the acting debut of rapper Ice Cube in his first film role.

The film follows the lives of three young black men and the choices they make in reaction to the violence and poverty that surrounds them. In many ways Doughboy the tough talking drug dealing friend of main protagonist Tre (Cuba Goodling Jr.) is a role perfect for Ice Cube, given the socio-political heavy themes present in both N.W.A and his solo work’s lyrics, which often discuss issues facing and entrapping black communities. One particular speech by Doughboy’s character towards the film’s conclusion about the fatalistic life he’s been born into is one of the film’s stand out moments, with Ice Cube bringing both a degree of electric anger and emotional rawness to the role that makes the success he’s had since as an actor hardly surprising.

movies starring musicians

image via meme generator.net

#1: 8 Mile (2002)

Despite only being four years into his career as a rap superstar at the time, upon 8 Mile‘s release, Eminem was already a global phenomenon. Part of that is undoubtedly his rags to riches story, being someone who truly rose past social and mental demons to make it big, solely on raw talent. 8 Mile in part tells this story, focusing less on the success and more on the rocky road to it that the character Rabbit (loosely based on Eminem himself) embarks upon. In doing so 8 Mile explores the hip-hop genre itself and the racial divides that govern it, the underground scenes that enhance it and the trouble backstory’s that shape the lyrics that define it.

In his acting debut Eminem convincingly pulls of the role of Rabbit, channeling his lifetime of experience in the role, bringing all the angst, anger and frustration needed and communicating it impressively to the viewer. A box office smash and an academy award winner for best original song, 8 Mile is not just an exploitation film for Eminem fans, but a must-see for Hip-Hop and music fans in general.

movies starring musicians

image via NY Times


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14 Responses

  1. 18cinemalane says:

    Really interesting list, Nils! I like how this list contains a blend of older and newer films. Thanks for adding The Bodyguard to your list because it’s one of my favorite movies of all time! I would add Dolly Parton’s performance in Steel Magnolias to this list, as Dolly’s acting talents shined just as bright as the other actresses in that film!

  2. What about Ice Cube’s second huge film,”Friday”….just as iconic as “Boyz” in many respects.
    I also think Paul Williams in “Phantom of the Paradise” is a must for this list….

  3. Vuava says:

    Any of Bowie’s films?

  4. In Movies With Music, I love such films as Moonstruck and think Cher moved on from a singer to a superb actress. Another talent that sadly,fans remember, is the awesome Whitney Houston.I love her performance in The Bodyguard and enjoy her amazing rendition of
    I Will Always Love You.

  5. AlexTRyan27 says:

    Strange choice from me, but I’d add Plan B’s turn in Harry Brown (2009) – he relishes in a really intense performance!

  6. Kali Tuttle says:

    YOOOOOOO I love Eminem so much and I’m glad he is number one on this list. Great list — perfect mix of modern and past musicians!

  7. Oh! And Common is a great actor. He really impressed me in Wanted

  8. Very good list! I’m glad you gave Frank Sinatra some props in this article, because he was actually quite talented as an actor.

    Mos Def is actually pretty good, but I haven’t seen him in a large enough role yet to make a list.

  9. dirkdeklein says:

    Can I add Ned Kelly with Mick Jagger from 1970 and Crossroads with Steve Vai, 1986

  10. Ken Dowell says:

    Good to see Performance on this list. I thought that was a brilliant movie.

  11. Mike says:

    Mask was an exceptional movie and Cher was brilliant in it

  12. How about David Bowie in “The Man Who Fell to Earth”?

  13. I’d probably add Dwight Yoakim’s performance in Slingblade and Tina Turner in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome as honorable mentions.

  14. Nick Kush says:

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