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5 Musicians Who Starred in Movies

There are so many films out there where actors play musicians, from biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody, Elvis and Rocketman to fictional tales like Almost Famous, School of Rock and even Sister Act. But what about actual real-life musicians who starred in movies? We stopped to think about it and realized that there are actually quite a lot of them! Think of Olivia Newton-John in Grease, Queen Latifah in Chicago, Eminem in 8 Mile and Britney Spears in Crossroads! The list is endless, but we selected 5 performances that are all worth watching for different reasons, from timeless classics to recent gems featuring faces you’ll recognize. Find them below in alphabetical order!

1. Aretha Franklin

The Blues Brothers (1980)

The Blues Brothers | Aretha Franklin Sings “Think” in 4K HDR (Universal)

Let’s start with one of the best musical performances in a movie: Aretha Franklin’s turn in John Landis’ gem The Blues Brothers. The film is about two brothers, Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) who reunite when the former is released from prison. But when they learn that the Catholic home where they were raised is at risk of being closed, the titular Blues Brothers only have two days to put together their old R&B band and raise enough money to save it – all while being chased by the police.

The Blues Brothers is a classic for many reasons, from a fantastic script with hilarious turns to the leads’ performances, but it wouldn’t be the gem that it is without all its musical acts. And John Landis managed to jam-pack an astonishing number of musicians in the movie, from icons James Brown, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker to an endless list of cameos that make the film unforgettable. But the most iconic performance is that of the one and only Aretha Franklin, who plays diner owner Mrs. Murphy and treats us to a flawless rendition of “Think” when the brothers visit her and her husband (played by famous guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy) at the restaurant.

2. David Bowie

Labyrinth (1986)

David Bowie - one of 5 Musicians Who Starred in Movies - leans on a chair with a leg raised high in the film Labyrinth
David Bowie in Labyrinth (Warner Bros. Pictures)

David Bowie was many things: singer and songwriter, performer, artist, humanitarian, and even mime. The star was notorious for creating alter ego for his performances – Ziggy Stardust (persona) Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, Major Tom, Aladdin Sane, The Blind Prophet, and many more – so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the actor starred in not one, but many, many movies.

It’s hard to pick a David Bowie film over the others because they’re all so memorable, from The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), where he played the titular alien, to a key role in The Prestige (2006), and even a great cameo in Zoolander (2001) and a hilarious appearance as himself in Ricky Gervais’ series Extras (2006). But the most iconic performance he’s ever given has to be in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, where he plays a stylish and charming – if slightly creepy – Goblin King who kidnap the protagonist’s baby to lure her to his Kingdom.

Besides the gorgeous 80s haircuts and clothes, what makes his performance unmissable are the songs: prepare to be mesmerized by the “As the World Falls Down” scene, and you won’t be able to start singing “You Remind Me of the Babe!” at random times throughout your day after you’ve seen the movie.

3. Justin Timberlake

The Social Network (2010)

Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg sit on a chair in a waiting room in the film The Social Network
Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network (Columbia Pictures)

Here’s a musician who’s just as known for his movie performances as he’s known for his songs. Originally a member of the band N Sync, Justin Timberlake soon turned his attention to movies, mainly starring in animated hits like The Simpsons and Shrek and children movies, like the Trolls films. But he’s also starred in the occasional gem, such as the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel, and David Fincher’s The Social Network.

The Social Network is an outlier in Fincher’s career, yet it’s universally considered to be one of his best movies. Adapting 2009 book “The Accidental Billionaires”by Ben Mezrich, Fincher follows a fictionalized version of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) from his college years at Harvard to his adventures in the Silicon Valley, showing us what led to the creation of one of the most famous social networks in the world. But Fincher doesn’t stop there: as we follow young Zuckerberg invent Facebook, we also jump back and forth to another timeline, where our older “billionaire” is being sued for that very invention by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Severin (Andrew Garfield).

Justin Timberlake doesn’t have much screentime, but his role is essential to the film’s success: he plays Napster creator Sean Parker, a friendly though somewhat shady figure who shapes Zuckerberg’s years after university, acting as a key player for his success but also for his potential demise.

4. Keith Richards

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

Keith Richards - one of 5 Musicians Who Starred in Movies - plays the guitar as Jack Sparrow's father in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
Keith Richards in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Walt Disney Pictures)

The Pirates of the Caribbean movies – initially revolving around a young blacksmith trying to rescue the governor’s daughter after she’s kidnapped by a crew of cursed pirates – were ultimately made famous by another core character. Though seemingly goofy and eccentric, “Captain” Jack Sparrow is actually wonderfully resourceful and surprisingly loyal, and those are all qualities that draw us to him, together with his dubious moral code and unique, not exactly pirate-like look.

It’s a known fact that star Johnny Depp based the look of his perennially drunk, charmingly self-serving pirate on Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, and the team behind the saga decided to take advantage of that in the third movie, At World’s End. There, we get to meet Jack’s father, and who else should play him but Keith Richards himself? The Stones’ icon doesn’t have many scenes in the film – his can be considered more of a cameo – but his appearance is so iconic that you won’t be forgetting it anytime soon.

5. Lady Gaga

A Star is Born (2018)

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper sing together in the film A Star is Born
Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, Lady Gaga is a global superstar, mainly known for hits like “Poker Face” and “Bad Romance” and for the stylish, eccentric looks she sports during her performances and public appearances. But in 2018, we got to see a completely new side to the musician – one that went on to earn her an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and a Grammy Award, all in the same year.

In Bradley Cooper’s remake of the 1976 film of the same name, Lady Gaga plays Ally, a young talented singer who one day meets an older, alcoholic musician on a downward spiral. The two form a unique connection that is not without issues, but they also help each other overcome challenges and become better versions of themselves. Though the film isn’t revolutionary, Gaga’s performance is just as introspective and powerful as it needed to be, bolstered by musical turns that get to showcase her unbelievable range as a singer. Lady Gaga wrote most of the songs in the soundtrack herself, including the undeniable highlight of the movie, “Shallow”. If you’re anticipating her next film, Joker: Folie à Deux, A Star is Born is the right film to watch.

The 5 musicians above all starred in movies that were made famous by different things, from the unique stories they told in innovative ways to fantastic performances and soundtracks, who gained prominence in an era when streaming platforms and streaming music promotion did not exist. For some of these releases, the methods of popularizing music were very different from the modern approach at the time, and having someone like Aretha Franklin or David Bowie perform their hits really made a difference.

And then there are recent releases where musicians reinvented themselves and showed us a completely different side to them, like Lady Gaga in A Star is Born, and others where they chose to do something that had nothing to do with music, like Justin Timberlake in The Social Network. As for Keith Richards in Pirates of the Caribbean… that cameo has to be seen to be believed. Happy watching!

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