Entertainment Movies Rock stars on film: These are the best and worst singers-turned-actors

Rock stars on film: These are the best and worst singers-turned-actors

Mick Jagger plays a wealthy art collector in crime thriller The Burnt Orange Heresy. Photo: Sony Picture Classics
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Lost amid last month’s big film stories involving the Oscars and Harvey Weinstein was the forthcoming release of a film starring none other than Sir Michael Jagger.

In the thriller, The Burnt Orange Heresy, the Rolling Stones front man delivers his first dramatic performance since 2001.

This is less than cause for celebration in Australia, where those old enough are still smarting from Jagger’s limp performance as Ned Kelly (1970).

But 1970 also saw him set Nicolas Roeg’s Performance alight as a decadent rock star (admittedly less of a stretch).

So, channel Sir Mick’s obvious charisma into the right role and the results can be incendiary.

Given the reams of column space over the years slamming singers who migrated to cinema, a surprising number made the jump successfully.

Let’s take a look back at the star performers, and those who are the unfortunate crashing space debris.


Cher won an Oscar in 1988 for her star turn alongside Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck.

Cher is the gold standard of singer/actor crossovers, appearing relaxed and convincing before the camera since The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour screened during the early 1970s.

The industry agreed, awarding her the Oscar for Moonstruck in 1988.

Grade: A-plus

Lady Gaga

Stefani Germanotta proved she has acting chops to match her powerful pipes in genres from horror (American Horror Story) to romance (2018’s A Star is Born).

The consummate all-rounder, Gaga is sure to keep gliding effortlessly between platforms.

Anyone who can keep attention fixed on her while Bradley Cooper is peeing his pants on stage before an audience of millions has unquestionable screen presence.

Grade: A

Jennifer Lopez

Chronologically, it’s a little hazy as to whether J-Lo is an actor turned singer or vice-versa.

No matter. Since lighting up the screen while stripping off with George Clooney in Out of Sight (1998) she’s proven she has the goods, confirmed last year through her electric performance in Hustlers.

Grade: A

Mark Wahlberg

Mark Wahlberg played a porn actor in cult classic Boogie Nights.

It’s true, Marky Mark doesn’t have limitless dramatic range.

But he recognises this and has made his thespian mark, which now borders on superstar levels, through breezy comedies – The Other Guys (2010) Ted (2012) – and hairy-chested action flicks like Lone Survivor (2013) and Patriots Day (2016).

Wahlberg has also shown that, within his limitations, an A-class director can help him deliver something special.

Paul Thomas Anderson used his strangely innocent screen presence to wonderful effect in Boogie Nights (1997) where he portrayed porn actor Eddie Adams/Dirk Diggler.

Martin Scorsese, in turn, packaged Wahlberg’s abrasive shoutiness into an arresting performance (pun intended) in the vital supporting role of Sergeant Sean Dignam in The Departed (2006).

Grade: A-minus


Marshall Mathers’ only dramatic outing (apart from a handful of cameos) was 8 Mile (2002) as rapper Jimmy ‘B-Rabbit’, a fictionalised version of himself.

Eminem delivered a powerhouse performance and the theme song Lose Yourself was a smash, dominating the Billboard chart for months and becoming a signature track.

Lose Yourself also won an Oscar, something the Academy was happy to celebrate in February when Eminem belted it out at the 2020 ceremony.

Grade: B-plus

Alice Cooper

It might be only a single scene but has there ever been a more influential singer cameo than Alice Cooper’s in 1992’s Wayne’s World?

Fans around the world were convinced: Not only that Alice had an intimate knowledge of Native American place names; but also experiencing him expanding on his knowledge would be an excellent way to spend an evening.

Grade: B-plus


Madonna single-handedly sank 1990’s gangster comedy Dick Tracy.

Not everything Madge has appeared in has been dreadful, but her film career has mirrored the little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good, she was very, very good (well, pretty good) but when she was bad, she was horrid.

And she has been horrid most of the time.

Madonna’s clumsy acting doesn’t always sabotage her films which are frequently diabolical vanity projects anyway – Shanghai Surprise (1986), Body of Evidence (1992), The Next Best Thing (2000) and Swept Away (2002).

But every now and again she single-handedly sinks a potentially good vehicle like 1990’s Dick Tracy.

Rival Lady Gaga’s cinematic success must make Madonna grumpier than her own five Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Actress do.

She dodges a fail grade only through A League of Their Own (1992).

Grade: D-minus

Glen Campbell

Campbell heads a long list of country and western stars who failed to light up the big screen.

To be fair, his most memorable performance as the arrogant Texas Ranger, Le Boeuf, in 1969’s True Grit was more wooden that dreadful.

But Campbell’s claim to notoriety comes from winning that role.

None other than Elvis Aaron Presley saw True Grit as an opportunity to diverge from the inane romantic comedies that had become his signature and campaigned aggressively to be cast as Le Boeuf.

So, the world was robbed of the opportunity to see John Wayne, the Duke, riding alongside the King as they tracked down renegades Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall.

Grade: D-Minus (for both Campbell and Presley)

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