20 excellent movies starring musicians
By Amy McCarthy
Sept 20, 2021
As if topping the charts and creating incredible music wasn’t enough, many of music’s most talented artists also make the leap to the silver screen. From Cher to Beyonce, musicians have turned in award-winning, critically acclaimed performances, even taking home Academy Awards from time to time.
Looking for new movies to watch? Add this list of 20 excellent films starring musicians like Bette Midler, David Bowie, Christina Aguilera, and Dolly Parton to your must-watch list ASAP. 1 of 20
Released in 1987, this charming rom-com starred “If I Could Turn Back Time” singer Cher in a leading role. The following year, it earned Cher a coveted Best Actress Academy Award and remains a cult classic. 2 of 20
Positively loaded with musical talent, the film adaptation of Broadway musical “Dreamgirls” stars Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, and Jamie Foxx. Hudson won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Effie White after its release in 2006. 3 of 20
In perhaps one of the most iconic music-to-film leaps, David Bowie’s portrayal of Jareth, the Goblin King, in the 1987 film “Labyrinth” remains iconic. 4 of 20
Country troubadour George Strait fittingly starred as up-and-coming musician Dusty Chandler in 1992’s “Pure Country.” Strait also recorded the film’s soundtrack, including the much-beloved hit “I Cross My Heart,” which appears in one of its most iconic scenes. 5 of 20
Bringing together the powerhouse pipes of Cher and Christina Aguilera, “Burlesque” was an instant hit with fans of camp after it was released in 2010. 6 of 20
“The Blues Brothers”
Derived from the Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name, “The Blues Brothers” is positively packed with appearances from incredible musicians, most notably Aretha Franklin. Her rendition of “Think” is totally iconic, as are the cameos from Cab Calloway, James Brown, Ray Charles, and more.
“Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit”
Whoopi Goldberg did her own singing while playing Deloris Wilson, perhaps better known as Sister Mary Clarence, the star of “Sister Act.” But the real musical star appeared in its sequel, “Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit,” when Lauryn Hill appears as a smart-mouth student with one hell of a voice. It was an incredible introduction to Hill’s remarkable talent. 8 of 20
“A Star Is Born”
Both the original release of “A Star Is Born,” which starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson and the remake with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, are packed with musical talent and award-winning performances. 9 of 20
Arguably the most iconic role for a musician in film history, Whitney Houston’s portrayal of a pop star opposite Kevin Costner was beloved by fans if not critics. Houston’s rendition of Dolly Parton’s classic “I Will Always Love You” certainly supported the film’s success, winning the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1993. 10 of 20
While she was playing the sweet and naive Sandy Olson, Olivia Newton-John was a prolific recording artist. The film, released in 1978, gave her a new image, and her career a much-needed boost. 11 of 20
In her role as Janis Joplin, Bette Midler showed the world that her acting chops were just as impressive as her vocals in “The Rose.” Released in 1979 after Joplin’s death, the film earned Midler an Academy Award nod, and the soundtrack’s title track has since become an enduring hit. 12 of 20
Starring in the story of his own life, rapper Eminem shocked critics with his nuanced performance in 2002’s “8 Mile.” It was also a huge success among movie fans and earned Marshall “Eminem” Mathers an Academy Award for Best Original Song. 13 of 20
This movie based on the legendary Broadway musical is truly packed with talent. In addition to Catherine Zeta-Jones’s star-making turn as Velma Kelly and Richard Gere’s tap-dancing, there’s also Queen Latifah‘s acclaimed performance as jailer Mama Morton, and John C. Reilly’s excellent singing on “Mr. Cellophane.” 14 of 20
“9 to 5”
Whether you love the catchy theme song or are drawn-in by Dolly Parton‘s incredibly charming performance as Doralee, the long-suffering secretary of a chauvinistic boss, there’s no denying the universal appeal of “9 to 5.” 15 of 20
Pretty much everything Prince touched was magic, and “Purple Rain” is no exception. Released in 1984, the film is a stunning showcase of Prince’s talents as an actor, performer, and musician, and won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. 16 of 20
Will Smith has certainly made other appearances on film — like his Oscar-nominated turns in “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness” — but the endlessly goofy action flick “Independence Day” really turned Smith into a household name. 17 of 20
The film adaptation of an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, Madonna stars as controversial Argentinian political figure Eva Peron. However you feel about Madonna’s acting chops, there’s no denying that she delivers one hell of a version of “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.” The film also earned Madonna a Best Actress Golden Globe in 1997. 18 of 20
Jamie Foxx is both an incredible actor and musician, evidenced by his portrayal of blues legend Ray Charles in the award-winning biopic “Ray.” It earned Foxx the Academy Award for Best Actor in 2005 and cemented his status as both an acting and musical force. 19 of 20
This 1992 cult classic stars late rapper Tupac Shakur as a teenager in Harlem who — no spoilers — decidedly gets in over his head. Shakur’s performance was praised by critics, and it remains a favorite among his fans. 20 of 20
When Mark Wahlberg was still touring with the Funky Bunch under the moniker Marky Mark, it was hard to envision that he’d later turn in an incredibly nuanced performance in the cult-classic film “Boogie Nights” just a few years later.
Amy McCarthy is a Texas-based journalist. Follow her on twitter at @aemccarthy.