NextMovie has moved! come with us to mtv news »
trending »

The Top 40 Musicians-Turned-Actors

DreamWorks

Ever since Bing Crosby starred in the 1930 film "King of Jazz," countless musicians have tried, with varying degrees of success, to parlay their musical ability into a side career in film.

The following list -- dug up in honor of this Sunday's Video Music Awards on MTV -- is proof that not all musicians are created equal when it comes to their acting abilities.

For every Mariah Carey in "Precious," you can find a Mariah Carey in "Glitter," but these 40 artists have shown that they can, at least some of the time, create memorable roles and transcend their musical careers. Sometimes, they even win Oscars.

40. Madonna

Madonna in A League of Their Own
Sony

During the nascent years of MTV, no female artist had more influence visually than the Material Girl, whose mix of eye-popping fantasy and gritty urban realism videos continue to influence a generation of vocalists. Despite a Best Actress Golden Globe for 1996's "Evita," the singer's cinematic output has had mixed results, with heartfelt performances like "A League of Their Own" offset by the dreariness of "Shanghai Surprise" and "Body of Evidence." Bonus points for "Truth or Dare," though.

39. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson in "The Wiz"
Universal

Five years before his 1983, 14-minute masterpiece "Thriller" would forever change the way music videos were created and perceived, the King of Pop was donning a wig and hay for his role as Scarecrow in Sidney Lumet's "The Wiz," an urban retelling of the "The Wizard of Oz." After "Thriller," the singer would go on to star in Francis Ford Coppola's "Captain EO" and as himself in the bizarrely wonderful "Moonwalker." Jackson also had a brief but memorable cameo in "Men In Black 2." MJ in a film about weird, alien beings. Sometimes the jokes write themselves.

38. Bow Wow

Bow Wow in "Roll Bounce"
Fox Searchlight

"Rapper-turned-actor" is a cliché that's nearly as old as hip-hop itself. Yet The Artist Formerly Known as Lil Bow Wow successfully parlayed his musical success -- dude was 11 when his debut album dropped -- into film with the surprisingly popular 2002 basketball film "Like Mike." But it was his lead in the memorable 2005 coming-of-age dramedy "Roll Bounce," however, that convinced us Bow Wow had the right moves for the big screen. His most recent starring role was alongside veteran rapper-actor Ice Cube in "Lottery Ticket,"  which didn't exactly redefine cinema, but did well enough for Bow Wow to sustain his dual careers.

37. Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dogg in "Starsky and Hutch"
Warner Bros.

Has Snoop Dogg really been in 34 feature films?! Has anyone seen three-quarters of them? Yet for every "Boss'n Up" (?) and "Da Game of Life" (??), there are notable roles in "Training Day," "Starsky & Hutch" and our favorite: the urban horror film "Hood of Horror." In keeping with his acceptance of any single thing offered to him, the rapper has lent his smooth, distinguishable voice to a number of animated films and has executive produced numerous non-animated porns, including the brilliantly named "Snoop Dogg's Buckwild Bus Tour." Add on a series of documentary narrations and you have a damn near one-man acting empire.

36. Bjork

Bjork in "Dancer in the Dark"
Focus Features

When it was announced that Bjork would not only compose the score but play the lead role in Lars Von Trier's 2001 tragedy "Dancer in the Dark," a million amateur comics made the same "it will be weird and crazy" jokes. They stopped laughing after the singer's performance as an immigrant scrounging up money for her son's eye operation brought many who watched it to tears. The Icelandic singer snagged a Best Actress award at Cannes, but wouldn't return to film until "Drawing Restraint 9," the 2009 experimental film directed by her partner Matthew Barney.

35. Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger in "Freejack"
Warner Bros.

Cult sci-fi lovers will probably assume Sir Mick is on this list for his role as an evil mercenary in "Freejack." Well, sorta. Not counting concert/band films like Jean-Luc Godard's "Sympathy for the Devil" and The Maysles Brothers' "Gimme Shelter," where Mick convincingly plays Mick, the singer makes the list for 1970's "Performance," where he somehow plays a debauched musician who provides the hideout to various miscreants and criminals. An uncensored biopic about his life would trump any of these films.

34. Chris Isaak

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
New Line

Even before crooner Chris Isaak broke through with 1991's "Wicked Game," the most sex-drenched country song MTV has ever played, the California singer-songwriter had turned up in 1988's "Married to the Mob" as The Clown. Authority figures would follow, as the singer with the classic 1950s good looks portrayed a SWAT Commander in "Silence of the Lambs" and a special agent in David Lynch's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me." His roles have trailed off a bit, but he could last be seen in 2009's "The Informers."

33. Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey in Precious
Lionsgate

Good news: Mariah Carey received her first award after only her second film. Bad news: It was a Razzie for Worst Actress for 2001's "Glitter," which scored a 7 percent critic-approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. There was only one way to go from there. After roles in a few direct-to-video and little-seen films, Carey makes the list for her "Where did that come from?" performance as a social worker in 2009's "Precious."  Dressed down, cleavage hidden and faint moustache applied (or grown), Carey's subtle, strong portrayal was a 180 from her "Look at me!" persona the singer displayed for the previous 16 years.

32. Ludacris

Ludacris in Crash
Lionsgate

Chris "Ludacris" Bridges has come a long way from voicing Weathers in "Lil' Pimp." (We don't remember that either.) As a carjacker in "Crash," Paul Haggis' ensemble film/college freshman realization (Everyone's a little bit racist sometimes!), Bridges' naturalistic style upstaged some of his more experienced peers. A supporting role in the sleeper hit "Hustle and Flow" would follow, though "Max Payne" and "Gamer," the latter of which the rapper called "the greatest movie of all time" to Rotten Tomatoes, mostly led to shrugs.

31. Beyoncé

Beyonce Knowles in "Dreamgirls"
Paramount

The former Destiny's Child frontwoman polarized critics in "Austin Powers in Goldmember," Mike Myers' third film and second inferior cash-in to "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery." But Beyoncé is best, understandably, in roles that combine music with acting, as on 2006's "Dreamgirls" and 2008's "Cadillac Records." In the latter, a sortakindabutnotreally accurate account of the founding of pioneering blues/R&B label Chess Records, Knowles excels as legendary singer Etta James. Stick to drama and you'll be higher on this list next year.

30. Tom Waits

Tom Waits in "Wristcutters"
Autonomous Films

With a reclusive demeanor, eccentric reputation and rasp that suggests 30 years of bad bourbon and too many cigarettes, Tom Waits has been the perfect go-to whenever a director needs that cool, yet detached, badass. A staple in early 1980s coming-of-age films ("The Outsiders," "Rumble Fish"), Waits has become a favorite of independent film god Jim Jarmusch ("Down By Law," "Mystery Train," "Coffee and Cigarettes") and fantastical director Terry Gilliam ("The Fisher King," "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.") When Waits appeared as The Devil in "Parnassus," the singer-songwriter's fans presumably went, "What took so long?"

29. Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez in "Out of Sight"
Universal

It's easy to mock J. Lo's film career, given that two of her films ("Gigli" and "Jersey Girl") continue to make myriad worst-of lists and others ("Monster-in-Law," U-Turn") are pointless retreads of extremely well-worn territory ("A woman battling her mother-in-law?? Brilliant!"). But when she shines, as she does on the hallucinogenic "The Cell" or opposite George Clooney in the beloved romantic thriller "Out of Sight," Lopez brings both empathy and power to the role. She's currently the highest-paid Latin actress in film history. Not bad for someone who got their start as a Fly Girl on "In Living Color."

28. Dwight Yoakam

Dwight Yoakam in "Sling Blade"
Miramax

Country star Dwight Yoakam has played a combination of policeman and psychopaths so well you're almost waiting for a severed head to be discovered in his fridge or hear about the signer making a citizen's arrest. Sure, he was fun as Dr. Miles in the video-game-on-coke "Crank" series, but his most powerful roles are as lunatics, most notably as the alcoholic a-hole in "Sling Blade," and the evilest burglar in David Fincher's "Panic Room." Who would've thought someone with the innocuous name "Dwight Yoakam" could be so evil?

27. Deborah Harry

Deborah Harry in "Hairspray"
New Line Cinema

The Blondie lead singer was a New York mainstay in the mid-1970s to early-1980s, establishing herself as a linchpin of the then-burgeoning punk and New Wave scene. Beginning in 1976, the singer would pop up, often haphazardly, in whatever projects her friends were working on at the time, including the quasi-fictional downtown New York classic "Downtown 81" (shot in 1981 but released in 2001).  Harry's acting career went mainstream in David Cronenberg's "Videodrome," which sees the singer portray a sadomasochistic psychiatrist to scummy TV network president James Woods. These days, most of her "acting" comes from documentaries reminiscing about the glory days.

26. Harry Connick Jr.

Harry Connick Jr. in "Independence Day"
20th Century Fox

One year before his film debut in "Memphis Belle," crooner Harry Connick Jr., a.k.a. the man who has caused a million middle-aged panties to be thrown on stage, earned worldwide acclaim with his compositions for the soundtrack to "When Harry Met Sally."  Over the past 20 years, Connick Jr. has somehow found a way to release an album and film a movie at least once a year, with notable roles in "Little Man Tate" and "Independence Day."  But go watch "Copycat" tonight and tell us there's a smoother serial killer than him.

25. LL Cool J

Deep Blue Sea
Paramount

In recent years, the Def Jam godfather has preferred small-screen roles such as "NCIS" and "House," but the versatile entertainer has done everything from comedy ("Toys") to horror ("Halloween: H2O 20 Years Later") to action ("Deep Blue Sea") to whatever the hell "Rollerball" was supposed to be. In one of life's most ironic twists, as running back Julian Washington in "Any Given Sunday," Uncle L gets mad at someone else for excessive cockiness. Acting!

24. Eminem

Eminem in "8 Mile"
Universal

As big as he is, Marshall Mathers could've had a Kanye-like reign over pop culture had he not dropped out of the spotlight to stop the pill-popping that was dominating his life. After one of the best rapper/actor performances in the quasi-autobiographical "8 Mile," the rapper is making up for lost time, signing up for the boxing film "Southpaw," the 3-D horror film "Shady Talez" and an ex-con torn between his past partners in crime and FBI agents in "Random Acts of Violence." And judging by his cameo in Judd Apatow's "Funny People," Em's funny even when he's angry, so win-win.

23. Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw in "The Blind Side"
Warner Bros.

Tim McGraw will probably always be known as one of the biggest country singers in the world, but even international singers need side hustles. Fans of "Friday Night Lights," (the 2004 movie, not the show) will recognize McGraw as Charles Billingsley, the tough father to fullback Don. Five years later, McGraw would star in his biggest movie to date as wealthy businessman Sean Tuohy in "The Blind Side," pulling off a surprisingly convincing performance. The signer returned to more familiar territory in 2010, playing a country singer in Shana Feste's "Country Strong."

22. Meat Loaf

Meatloaf in "Fight Club"
20th Century Fox

Whether you like his histrionic brand of theatrical, operatic pop or not, Meat Loaf's hulking frame and innocent-looking face have made him a casting director's wet dream when the role calls for a Gentle Giant. Getting his start in the 1975 cult classic "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," the singer has popped up semi-regularly in everything from "Angels in the Outfield" to "Wayne's World." But to David Fincher and Chuck Palahniuk fans, he'll always be Robert "Bitch Tits" Paulson from "Fight Club." You just can't unsee the image of Loaf cradling Edward Norton between his heaving bosom.

21. Sean "Diddy" Combs

Sean Combs in Get Him to the Greek
Universal

Since he's contractually obligated to engage in every business or creative venture at least once, no one was shocked when Combs showed up as a drug dealer in Jon Favreau's "Made."  What was surprising was that he was the best part of the film and would go on to a respectable acting career in such films as "Monster's Ball" and "Get Him to the Greek" (the latter of which he managed to steal from co-stars Russell Brand and Jonah Hill). Now that we know "I'm Still Here" is a hoax, Combs' meeting with Joaquin Phoenix goes down as his best performance to date.

Get 20-1>>

Related Stories

  • back
  • close

Most Popular Videos

Get More »

Also Check Out

More from MTV Networks
2010 - 2014 MTV Networks, and ™ MTV Networks. All Rights Reserved.