10 of Our Favorite Movie Performances by Musicians-Turned-Actors: From David Bowie to Harry Styles and Mariah Carey
Salsa superstar Marc Anthony shows off his acting chops in Man on Fire, a classic action-thriller starring Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken, and Dakota Fanning that's currently airing throughout July over on AMC. Anthony's so compelling as Samuel Ramos, a wealthy (and sketchy) businessman who hires Washington's former Marine to protect his daughter, that we've decided to round up some of our favorite performances from musicians moonlighting as actors. Some are more lighthearted than others, but all of them definitely show a different side to the performer in question.
1. Mariah Carey in Precious
Carey may have cultivated a reputation as the ultimate pop-R&B diva, but she definitely subverts our expectations in director Lee Daniels' powerful 2009 drama. She's fantastic as Mrs. Weiss, an exhausted but empathetic social worker who helps Gabourey Sidibe's title character to process the horrific abuse her parents have subjected her to. “I had to lose all vanity,” Carey said of her unexpected role. “I had to change my demeanor, my inside, layers of who I am, to become that woman.” And there's no doubt her hard work paid off with a properly transformative performance.
2. David Bowie in Labyrinth
Bowie actually appeared in more than 30 movies over the years, popping up in everything from David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me to Christopher Nolan's The Prestige. But a whole generation will always hold dear his charismatic and fantastical performance as Jareth the Goblin King in 1986's Labyrinth. Though this musical fantasy movie directed by Jim Henson was a flop at the time, it's since built a large cult following, and contains one of Bowie's most playful and underrated songs, "Magic Dance."
3. Cher in Moonstruck
As Cher recalled on The Graham Norton Show a couple years ago, people laughed when she launched an acting career in the early '80s. But by the end of the decade, she'd definitely silenced her critics with a string of impressive performances in films including 1983's Silkwood, 1985's Mask, and 1987's Moonstruck, for which she won an Oscar. As a resilient Brooklyn widow who falls for her late husband's unreliable younger brother, she's the perfect combination of tough and vulnerable – and gets to deliver the now-iconic line: "Snap out of it!"
4. Harry Styles in Dunkirk
The One Direction pinup-turned-solo star makes his acting debut in Christopher Nolan's 2017 war movie, and definitely holds his own among a stellar ensemble cast that includes Sir Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, and Mark Rylance. He's completely convincing as Alex, one of many young British soldiers terrified for their lives as they await evacuation from the beaches of northern France. We're definitely looking forward to his next acting job – and it's a shame that his rumored Disney Prince role didn't pan out.
5. Janelle Monáe in Moonlight
Monáe studied musical theater before she launched her recording career, but she segued into acting in 2017 with a couple of straight-up dramatic roles. She's equally impressive in Hidden Figures, in which she plays NASA's first Black female engineer, Mary Jackson, with spirit and dignity, and the Oscar-winning Moonlight, in which she brings warmth and empathy to the role of Teresa, who becomes a surrogate mother figure to troubled teenager Chiron (Ashton Sanders). Her acting career now continues apace; she has two intriguing movies due for release in the coming months: horror flick Antebellum and feminist drama The Glorias, in which she plays Dorothy Pitman Hughes, the activist who co-founded Ms. magazine with Gloria Steinem.
6. Sir Mick Jagger in The Burnt Orange Heresy
The Rolling Stones legend takes on his first non-cameo movie role in 20 years in this stylish 2019 thriller starring Dracula's Claes Bang. He's suitably slippery as Joseph Cassidy, a ruthless art dealer who manipulates Bang's ambitious art critic into procuring a painting from a reclusive master played by Donald Sutherland. It's not what you'd call a transformative performance, exactly, but more a case of Jagger harnessing his natural charisma into a juicy role which really suits him.
7. Dolly Parton in 9 to 5
In her movie debut, Parton is pitch-perfect as Doralee Rhodes, a secretary presumed to be sleeping with her boss by work colleagues who look down on her. Their opinion soon changes, though, when she teams with Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda) and Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin) to take down their sexist and mean-spirited male oppressor. The three women make such a fierce, feminist trio that fans have been hoping Parton might make a guest appearance in Fonda and Tomlin's hit Netflix sitcom Grace & Frankie. Fingers crossed!
8. Sir Elton John in Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Sure, John's cameo as himself in the second Kingsman movie isn't the stuff that Oscars are made of, but it is an absolutely brilliant example of a massive rock star having fun on screen. He's genuinely hilarious as he sends up his reputation for being a potty-mouthed diva after Julianne Moore's megalomaniac criminal kidnaps him and forces him to sing for her. There's also pleasing symmetry in the knowledge that Kingsman star Taron Egerton would go on to portray John in the hit biopic Rocketman.
9. Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born
Gaga had already won a Golden Globe for her work in American Horror Story: Hotel, but her first lead movie role still feels like a bit of a revelation. She's tough, tender, and totally believable as Ally Maine, an ambitious singer-songwriter whose star rises as her mentor and lover, Bradley Cooper's country-rock star Jackson Maine, slowly succumbs to alcoholism. She deservedly earned an Oscar nomination for her performance, and won one for writing and performing the movie's lovely crossover smash "Shallow."
10. John Legend in La La Land
In only his second live-action movie, Legend shines in a key supporting role opposite Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. He plays Keith, keyboardist in a successful jazz fusion band that Gosling's Sebastian briefly joins but leaves after realizing he's not keen on their accessible style. Legend is spot-on as this slightly smarmy "frenemy" figure, and also gets to perform his excellent original song "Start a Fire."
Have we missed out one of your favorite performances by a musician-turned-actor?