Top 10 Films with Musicians in Leading Roles

From time to time, musicians take a chance and step off the stage to try their luck at acting. While some have gone on to become successful in both realms, like Tupac and Will Smith, many have been a part of abominations that even I wouldn’t force my worst enemies to sit and watch.

As horrific the thought of being strapped to a chair, like in A Clockwork Orange, and forced to watch Britney Spears in Crossroads or Mariah Carey in Glitter is, there are plenty of movies that star or have cameos by musicians that won’t make your skin crawl. The films on this list are a bit more obscure and don’t take themselves too seriously; while not all are good by most standards, these top 10 films with musicians as actors is enough to get you through a night of binge-watching movies in a blanket fort with six-pack. And don’t worry too much Britney and Mariah – you are forgiven; just… don’t let it happen again.  

Number Ten: Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny. The D caught the attention of music lovers with their short-lived HBO show and has gone on to release numerous records and tour the world. Together, with director Liam Lynch, they released this stoner classic back in 2006. As a film that definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously, Jack Black and Kyle Glass use their signature style of immature humor and successfully make a film that pays tribute to rock and roll. With cameos from artists such as Dio, Meatloaf and Dave Grohl, this film is like a stoner rock lovers’ wet dream.

 Number Nine: Natural Born Killers. This unforgettable 1994 film, directed by legend Oliver Stone with a screenplay written by a young Quentin Tarantino, has Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis playing psychopathic lovebirds that hit the open road on a killing spree. As an example of someone whose acting has overshadowed their music career, Lewis has been also known for fronting the band Juliette & the Licks along with a promising solo career. Now if only her music brought to life the angst and aggression in the same way she’s known for doing with her acting…

Number Eight: How High. Redman and Method Man in 2001 brought the Wu-Tang sword style to the big screen with this ridiculous stoner flick. Surprisingly, both rappers prove that they can handle the transition pretty well. Don’t expect any Oscar-worthy performances or screenwriting, but what this film lacks in intellectual stimulation, it thoroughly makes up for in laughs and pure obscurity. There is even a scene where they dig up, grind up and then smoke up dead presidents. Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up even if I tried.

Number Seven: Poetic Justice. This one is a two-for-one special, starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur in this 1993 tearjerker that should be sold with a box of tissues and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. While Jackson’s performance is nothing to write home about, Tupac truly shines as the star, having already made waves in Hollywood with his role in the film Juice only a year before. Having a poetic and romance-driven plot that is worthy of a good cry, it also delivers some social and racial commentary in a way that only director John Singleton can deliver.

Number Six: Smithereens. Before going on to direct such classics as Desperately Seeking Susan and episodes of Sex & the City, Susan Seidelman in 1982 shot and co-wrote this daring tale of a 20-something train wreck named Wren who tries to make a name for herself in the New York City music scene. Having no musical talent and living as recklessly as she can get, the plot takes some pretty unconventional and unpredictable routes. With a not-so-horrible co-star role played by punk icon Richard Hell, it’s a shame that this film has sort of fallen by the wayside to be long forgotten without quite gaining the cult following it truly deserves.

Number Five: Tank Girl. While it is debatable on whether or not this film can be considered a “good movie,” it has to be said that in trying to give Jamie Hewlett (who does artwork for trip-hop band the Gorillaz) and Alan Martin’s comic strip of the same name justice on the big screen, this film nails it. Lori Petty brings TG to life in a way that no one else could, and while rapper Ice-T is no stranger to movies and television, this is definitely his most interesting and strangest role ever played. 

Number Four: Friday. Another unforgettable stoner cult classic, this 1995 film starring Chris Tucker and Ice Cube (literally, straight outta Compton) has been repeatedly renowned as a quintessential comedy film of the 90s. Ice Cube had already established that he can handle his own on film in 1991 with Boyz n the Hood and would again with his small role in Higher Learning, but with Friday, he further proved his versatility as a thespian and writer. Although it’s known for its over-the-top humor and unforgettable quotes from Tucker, this film tells a timeless tale about standing strong, becoming a man and puffing the magic dragon for the very first time. 

Number Three: Ted. Long before his days acting in such classics as The Departed, Mark Wahlberg was your neighborhood white rapper. That’s right Marky Mark, we will never forget the Funky Bunch. Alongside Seth MacFarlane, who has also established an interesting musical career, this film will have you holding your gut in pain from laughing so hard. There’s also a surprising cameo from the lovely Norah Jones that is guaranteed to catch you off guard. Don’t forget to catch the sequel due out sometime in 2015. #BringNorahBack

Number Two: This Is the End. This 2013 film from the same guys that brought you such classics as Superbad and The Interview has a slew of cameos from artists from all creative fronts. A notable scene with singer Rihanna has her singing a duet with funnyman Craig Robinson to a song called “Take Yo’ Panties Off,” which might literally cause you to ROFL (that’s internet slang for “roll on floor laughing” for those of you not caught up with the times). Whether you love or hate Rihanna, you’ll be glad to know that this film wastes no time killing off just about everyone, and she’s no exception.

Number One: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. This 1979 film gets bumped to the top of the list because, chances are, if you are not a die-hard Ramones fan, you have probably never seen or heard of this film. With slapstick comedy in the same vain as such classics as Porky’s and Animal House, a story riddled with teen angst and a soundtrack of nothing but Ramone’s songs, this movie has everything. The lovable P.J. Soles plays the rebellious punk Riff Randell who takes matters into her own hands as Vince Lombardi high school falls to the oppressive iron-fist rule of its new principal, Miss Evelyn Togar. Sure, a lot of the humor is cheesy and outdated, but there is nothing cooler than watching the Ramones at the peak of their career simply having fun in their roles – Joey sings “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” to Riff during what appears to be a wet dream, and Dee Dee trips out over delivered pizza like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. This is probably the most punk rock film you’ve never seen, with a plot that bleeds teen angst in a genuine way that is rarely achieved on screen.