13 Greatest Performances by Singers Who Totally Nailed it on the Big Screen
With the passing of multi-talented artist David Bowie, who thrilled fans for decades with his music and acting, it’s time to look at some other great stars of music who made their best leap into acting and completely won us over.
Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
Former Destiny’s Child lead and hugely successful solo singer Beyoncé Knowles made her big screen debut in the third installment of this popular Austin Powers comedy/spy spoof series. Alongside franchise star Mike Myers, she plays a character named Foxxy Cleopatra, an homage to blaxploitation heroines Foxxy Brown and Cleopatra Jones. Beyoncé would later get more and more acting roles, but it is here at her start where she shines best.
9 to 5 (1980)
Dolly Parton was already a household name as one of country music’s most successful and memorable performers, but it was her acting debut in Colin Higgins’s office comedy about three secretaries (Parton, Jane Fonda, Lilly Tomlin) who seek revenge on their sexist, self-centered boss (Dabney Colemam) that won hearts around the world. Charming, funny and the soul of the film, Parton is a joy to watch. And the theme song she performs is pretty catchy, too.
In a supporting role as an abusive boyfriend, Yoakam stunned in the Academy Award winning drama about a simple man (played by Billy Bob Thorton) once convicted of murder and now free trying to make it on his own. Hard-edged and frightening, Yoakam stole every scene he was in and painted a truly scary character that still resonates.
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Back in the 80s, the world was floored by the often controversial singer Madonna as she exploded onto the scene in a variety of provocative music videos, but it was her second film (after a small role in Vision Quest, 1985) in the comedy/drama Desperately Seeking Susan that put her on the map playing a free-spirited NYC East Village gal. She created a fashion trend and had audiences swooning with her seductive, in-your-face performance.
Funny Girl (1968)
The multi-talented artist made a big splash for her very first film role, winning an Oscar for her performance, telling the story of famed comedienne Fanny Price. A musical, she got to show of her singing chops as well and has since gone on to act and direct in many other film projects.
Singer Cher was no stranger to movies back in 1987 having made her debut 20 years earlier, but it was her role as Loretta Castorini that nabbed her the Oscar and acting fame. Playing a comely woman who breaks from her shell when she falls in love with her fiancée’s younger brother (Nicolas Cage), the comedy drama was a huge hit and showed the singer has true acting talent.
Yasiin Bey (as Mos Def)
The Woodsman (2004)
In this chilling story about a convicted child molester named Walter (Kevin Bacon) who returns to his native Philadelphia after 12 years in prison, Def plays a local police officer who is certain Walter cannot avoid the temptations of his environment and wants to catch him before hurting another child. Def is mesmerizing in the abusive role of a suspicious cop that earned him high praise and many future roles, including Be Kind Rewind, which almost made this list.
The Social Network (2010)
Up to this point, Timberlake had not made much of an impression as a serious actor, having appeared in, most notably, Southland Tales and The Love Guru, two critically panned films that bombed at the box office. While a favorite on late night television and bonafide superstar either way, it was his turn as Napster co-founder Sean Parker that pretty much silenced his critics.
The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
The troubled singer has had a wild ride and a history of controversy from the start, but her star-making role in Miloš Forman’s telling of the life of pornographer/entrepreneur Larry Flynt is her best work. Playing Althea, a stripper at one of Flynt’s club with whom he becomes involved and a driving force in the creating and publication of his Hustler magazine, Love chews up the scenery in a smoldering, sensual, and powerful performance.
While the late, highly-influential singer had been featured in a number of films to this point, it was his stunning portrayal of artist Andy Warhol that spun critics on their heads. Thoughtful, endearing and deeply moving, Bowie utterly falls into the role and walks away with the film’s best performance.
In another acting debut that shocked audiences, Jennifer Hudsons’ stirring, passionate, and heartbreaking performance as Effie White, the scorned lead singer of the titular all-female singing group, is a face-melting tour-de-force. Taking home the Oscar for best supporting actress, the mega-talented Hudson has continually proved since that she is a talent with no limitations.
Seven Pounds (2008)
There is no doubting the incredible talents of this gifted musician and actor, and before this performance in Gabriele Muccino’s Seven Pounds, Will Smith had already established himself as a huge box office draw for more than ten years. It even seemed that he had given up music. While hits like Men in Black and Independence Day made him a superstar, it is his quite roles where he really shines and here, as man devastatingly crippled by guilt who decides to change the lives of seven strangers where he gives the best performance of his career.
Dancer in the Dark (2000)
The former lead singer of the Icelandic pop group The Sugarcubes, singer Björk was hardly a household name when she signed on to play Selma Jezkova, a woman who emigrates with her young son from central Europe to the United States in the mid-1960s. They both suffer from an unnamed disease that will make them go blind and she struggles to work for an operation that might save him. Haunting, achingly-beautiful, and one of the most heart-wrenching and disturbing roles in cinema history, Björk won international acclaim for her chilling work, but vowed she would never act again, claiming the overwhelming emotional exhaustion of the character was all she could take. The film and her performance as a woman lost in musical fantasy is unlike anything come before or since.
What do you think of singers in film? Who are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below.