25 musicians with rich acting careers

Written by:
August 5, 2021
FX Network

25 musicians with rich acting careers

Musicians are a talented and creative bunch. Gifted musically, many also shine on both the big and small screen. Artists across decades and genres make the leap into acting, often balancing careers in both areas. Stacker took a look at musicians who made the transition to the silver screen and compiled a list of 25 who have had strong roles.

Whether it is a musician who was a child actor first or a singer who was asked by an actor to join them in a project, these artists demonstrate that whether singing to an audience or delivering an Oscar-worthy performance, some people are stellar performers no matter the medium.

This eclectic bunch sings country, R&B, and rock. They've won Oscars, Golden Globes, and critical acclaim. Their acting turns have included everything from roles as retired Texas Rangers on television to bit parts on “The Sopranos” to long-standing work on television crime dramas. They are versatile, they are prolific, they are successful as both musicians and actors. Read on to see if your favorite musician, or actor, made the list.

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1 / 25
Dreamworks Pictures

Beyoncé

Beyoncé earned critical acclaim for her role in the 2006 musical film “Dreamgirls,” as well as several award nominations and wins including the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Song for “Listen.” In 2020, the musician and actress also wrote and starred in “Black Is King,” a visual album companion to “The Lion King: The Gift,” which streamed on Disney+ in July 2020.

2 / 25
Armory Films

Mary J. Blige

In 2018, history-maker Mary J. Blige became the first person to clinch an Oscar nomination in both the acting and music categories for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song), as well as the first African American woman nominated for multiple Oscars in the same year. Both nominations were for “Mudbound,” where Blige plays the wife of an impoverished farmer, and for which she wrote and performed the theme song “Mighty River.” Blige has also acted in several television shows including, “Empire,” “Black-ish,” and “The Umbrella Academy.”

3 / 25
HA

David Bowie

David Bowie’s first movie role came in the 1967 short film “The Image,” where he portrayed a boy who terrorized an artist when he stepped out of a painting. One of the musician's most memorable roles was in the 1986 Jim Henson fantasy film “Labyrinth,” which featured Bowie playing Jareth the Goblin King. He picked eclectic roles to showcase his acting talent, like Pontius Pilate in Martin Scorsese’s 1988 film “The Last Temptation of Christ” and FBI agent Phillip Jeffries in David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.”

4 / 25
MGM

Cher

Cher is not only a Grammy-winning musician but an Oscar-winning actress who took home Best Actress in a Leading Role for her role opposite Nicolas Cage in the 1987 romantic comedy “Moonstruck.” She was also nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her turn in the 1983 film “Silkwood.” The talented actress also starred in several hit films in the 1980s including “Mask,” “The Witches of Eastwick,” and “Suspect.”

5 / 25
Twentieth Century Fox

Harry Connick Jr.

Crooner Harry Connick Jr. played Grace Adler’s doctor husband Leo Markus in the television comedy “Will & Grace.” He has also made several appearances in hit films like “Copycat,” where he played serial killer opposite Sigourney Weaver, and “Hope Floats,” for which he received a Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination for Favorite Actor-Drama/Romance.

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6 / 25
Paramount Pictures

Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby initially studied law, though his love for music won out. He made several comedies with his friend Bob Hope including a series of “road” movies like “Road to Bali,” “Road to Rio,” and “Road to Morocco.” Crosby was known for playing easy-going characters, and this style led to his Oscar win in 1945 for “Going My Way,” where he played a good-natured priest. He garnered another Oscar nod the following year for playing the same character, Father O’Malley, in “The Bells of Saint Mary’s.”

7 / 25
Columbia Pictures

Ice Cube

It was shortly after his departure from the rap group N.W.A. that Ice Cube made his acting debut in John Singleton’s 1991 coming-of-age film “Boyz n the Hood,” for which he won critical praise and Chicago Film Critics Association Awards for both Most Promising Actor and Best Supporting Actor. Ice Cube shows his range as an actor by taking roles in both comedic films, like those in the “Barbershop” franchise, and dramatic films like “Three Kings,” where he starred opposite Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney.

8 / 25
Lions Gate // Getty Images

Snoop Dogg

Snoop Dog has appeared in everything from feature films and TV series to video games and music videos. The rapper has racked up several film and television credits including the Oscar-winning film “Training Day” and the Showtime series “The L Word.” In 2005, Snoop Snoop started his production company, Snoopadelic Films. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy in 2017 for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program along with Martha Stewart for “Martha & Snoop's Potluck Dinner Party.”

[Pictured: Snoop Dogg stands in front of a car in a scene from the film “The Wash” 2001.]

9 / 25
Wolf Films

Ice-T

Ice-T, born Tracy Marrow, made his film debut in the 1984 breakdancing movie “Breakin'” and later appeared in its sequel, “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” One of his most well-known roles was in the 1991 film “New Jack City,” with Wesley Snipes, where Ice-T also sang the theme “New Jack Hustler.” Not only has the rapper acted in film, but he’s held a regular role as Detective Fin Tutuola on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” since 2000.

10 / 25
Barwood Films

Kris Kristofferson

Singer and songwriter Kris Kristofferson’s acting career began in 1971 with “The Last Movie.” He went on to appear in “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid,” playing Billy the Kid, for which he received a BAFTA Award nomination. He also starred opposite Barbra Streisand in “A Star Is Born,” and acted in all three installments of the “Blade” film franchise, as well as the cult-classic comedy “Big Top Pee-wee.”

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11 / 25
FX Network

Lady Gaga

A bit part in the HBO crime drama “The Sopranos” as Girl at Swimming Pool #2 marked Lady Gaga’s acting debut in 2001. She also made cameos on “The Simpsons” and “Men In Black 3,” but her breakthrough role came in 2015 in the anthology series “American Horror Story: Hotel.” Her biggest role to date is starring opposite Bradley Cooper in the remake of “A Star is Born,” for which she received an Oscar nod for Best Actress in a Leading Role and a win for Best Original Song with “Shallow.”

12 / 25
Dreamworks Pictures

Jennifer Hudson

Though she got her start on the TV talent competition “American Idol,” versatile talent Jennifer Hudson went on to win both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her star-making turn in “Dreamgirls.” After enduring great personal tragedy with the loss of her mother, brother, and nephew, who were killed by her brother-in-law, Hudson found a way back to both the small screen with “Hairspray Live!” and the stage with the Broadway revival of “The Color Purple.”

13 / 25
R. Scott Gemmill Productions

LL Cool J

Born James Todd Smith, LL Cool J can be seen each week on “NCIS: Los Angeles.” His acting career began with cameo appearances in the 1985 film “Krush Groove,” based on the early days of Def Jam Records, and in 1986’s “Wildcats,” for which he also wrote the song “Football Rap.” He also received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2017.

14 / 25
Beacon Pictures

Lyle Lovett

Country star Lyle Lovett made his feature film debut in Robert Altman’s 1992 dark comedy “The Player,” and would go on to star in many more Altman movies throughout the years. Lovett also hit the small screen with appearances in “Castle” and “Blue Bloods” and the hit NBC sitcom “Mad About You” opposite Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser. In 1993, he married actress Julia Roberts in a union that would last less than two years.

15 / 25
Hollywood Pictures

Madonna

The Material Girl made her first feature film appearance in an obscure 1979 independent movie called “A Certain Sacrifice,” which would be commercially released in 1985 after she’d already achieved success with her singing career. Her first role in a major film would be nothing more than a cameo in 1985’s “Vision Quest,” which featured Madonna singing the song “Crazy for You” from the film’s soundtrack in a bar as the two main characters danced. While Madonna would act in several films throughout the ’80s and ’90s, including “Desperately Seeking Susan” and “A League of Their Own,” she would often receive harsh reviews from critics. Still, her performance in the 1996 film “Evita” would score her a Golden Globe win for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical.

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16 / 25
Universal Pictures

Tim McGraw

While he has had a remarkable career as a country singer, Tim McGraw has also had a solid acting career with both supporting and lead roles. He played opposite Billy Bob Thornton in “Friday Night Lights,” and was the easy-going husband opposite Sandra Bullock in the 2009 Oscar-nominated film “The Blind Side.” McGraw often lends his vocal talents to the films he stars in, as he did in the 2010 film “Country Strong,” where he played the husband and manager to Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, a recovering addict and country music star.

17 / 25
Paramount Pictures

Bette Midler

Funny lady Bette Midler showed off her comedic talent in the 1996 film “The First Wives Club,” 1986’s “Ruthless People,” and 1988’s “Big Business,” which won her the American Comedy Award for the Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture. Bette’s breakthrough acting role was not in a comedy though, but rather in the 1979 drama “The Rose.” Midler received several nominations and wins for the film.

18 / 25
Rhode Island Ave. Productions

Mandy Moore

Mandy Moore’s series “This Is Us,” which received both critical and fan acclaim, and became a hit for NBC, is set to air its sixth and final season sometime in 2022. Moore got her start in acting with memorable roles in “The Princess Diaries,” where she played mean girl Lana, and in “A Walk to Remember” as a terminally ill teen. The star has also worked as a voice actor with turns in the 2010 film “Tangled” as Rapunzel and in “Brother Bear 2” as Nita.

19 / 25
Paramount Pictures

Mos Def

Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, began his acting career before his music career with childhood roles in sitcoms and television movies where he often acted under the name Dante Beze or Dante Smith. One of his most memorable roles came when he was a teen, and appeared opposite Mare Winningham in the 1988 ABC television movie “God Bless the Child.” As an adult he’s appeared in both television roles including “Dexter” and “House” and film roles including “Monster’s Ball” and “The Italian Job.”

20 / 25
Warner Bros.

Willie Nelson

Talented singer and songwriter Willie Nelson’s acting career dates back to the late 1970s when he made his film debut in the 1979 romantic drama “The Electric Horseman.” He’s acted on both the big and small screen playing characters that run the gamut from Uncle Jesse in the 2005 film “The Dukes of Hazzard” to a retired Texas Ranger on an episode of “Miami Vice.” 

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21 / 25
TriStar Pictures

Dolly Parton

Country singer Dolly Parton’s first acting role came about when Jane Fonda asked her to play one of the main characters in the 1980 film “9 to 5.” Parton also wrote the film’s theme song, which received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and two Grammy wins. Parton said she takes acting roles that closely align with her own personality, like the role of sassy Southern hairstylist Truvy Jones in “Steel Magnolias” and as Dolly Gnome in the animated film “Gnomeo and Juliet.”

22 / 25
Avon Productions (II)

Elvis Presley

Though arguably one of the greatest singers of all time, one of Elvis Presley’s earliest career ambitions was to be a film actor. In 1956, he got his wish and made his feature film debut with 20th Century Fox’s “Love Me Tender.” His films were often tied to his music, like the 1957 film “Jailhouse Rock” and the 1964 film “Viva Las Vegas,” for which Elvis worked on the soundtracks. The King acted in over 30 films before his untimely death in 1977 at the age of 42.

23 / 25
Columbia Pictures

Frank Sinatra

Ol’ Blue Eyes was a singing legend and a member of the Rat Pack, but he also had a prolific acting career and even won three Oscars, including one in 1954 for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his role in “From Here to Eternity,” for which he also won the Golden Globe. While Sinatra was a well-known film actor, he also acted on television, taking a 1977 role in the television movie “Contract on Cherry Street,” and several roles in television series like “Magnum, P.I.,” and “Who’s The Boss?”

24 / 25
Amazon Studios

Justin Timberlake

Justin Timberlake’s first foray into fame came on Disney’s “The All-New Mickey Mouse Club” alongside Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. He would transition to acting, as well as a career as a solo artist, after a successful turn with the boy band ’N Sync. In 2005, he had his feature film debut with “Edison,” though it would be the 2006 film “Alpha Dog” that would get him noticed, and Timberlake would go on to notable roles in several hit films including “The Social Network” and “Friends With Benefits.”

25 / 25
Infinity Features Entertainment

Tom Waits

Often referred to as a character actor, Tom Waits has appeared in popular films like “The Outsiders,” “Short Cuts,” and the 1992 film “Dracula” starring Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder. His diverse acting credits include voicing the character Lloyd on the animated television show “The Simpsons,” and playing a devil in the 2009 film "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus." Waits has worked alongside some of film’s greatest directors, including Terry Gilliam, Robert Altman, and Francis Ford Coppola.

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