These music stars showcased big talent on the big screen, making our list of top crossovers.
After a long, successful career in the ’70s with then-husband Sonny Bono, Cher showed she was much more than a killer set of pipes when she won the Oscar for best actress in a leading role in 1988 for Moonstruck, in which she shared the screen with Nicolas Cage. She appeared opposite Eric Stoltz in Mask and starred in Mermaids with Bob Hoskins and Winona Ryder. Sadly, her later appearances in film haven’t been so well received, such as her starring role opposite Christina Aguilera in the critically reviled Burlesque in 2010.
Tracy Morrow, better known as Ice-T, was one of the biggest thorns in the side of many a politician at the advent of the Parents Music Resource Center’s crusade to stamp out objectionable material. One of his most infamous tracks from the album Body Count, “Cop Killer,” was used as a target for those seeking to keep music decent. Ironically, less than a decade later Ice-T would play a cop himself in the successful Law & Order spinoff Special Victims Unit. But before he would wear Odafin Tutuola’s badge, the emcee would appear in the films Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (which remains the best subtitle in cinema history ever) as well as Tank Girl and Leprechaun in the Hood. He has also taken on a number of voice roles, including the video games Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Scarface.
Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges
Hip-hop artist Ludacris appeared in the Oscar darling ensemble piece Crash in 2004. Since then, he has appeared in more lowbrow fare. Most recently he has been seen in the film adaptation of the video game Max Payne and as Tej in the latter Fast & Furious movies. We can only hope Ludacris will appear in another drama soon, because the guy clearly has a ton of talent.
The hip-hop artist now going by his birth name Yasiin Bey has made a smooth transition into film. Starring in major studio releases almost immediately, Mos Def acted opposite Bruce Willis in 16 Blocks and worked with another musician-turned-actor Mark Wahlberg in The Italian Job remake. In 2005 Mos Def played everyone’s favorite intergalactic hitchhiker, Ford Prefect, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a video shop clerk in the Michel Gondry indie comedy Be Kind Rewind with Jack Black. Mos Def’s most recent role was in Life of Crime, in which he shared the screen with Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins and played a younger version of Ordell Robbie, a character made famous by Samuel L. Jackson in Jackie Brown.
Starting out with Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch from 1989 to 1993, followed by a stint modeling boxer briefs for Calvin Klein, Mark Wahlberg took a huge career leap in 1997 when he appeared as Dirk Diggler in the Paul Thomas Anderson film Boogie Nights. From there, Wahlberg has gone on to star in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, which won Wahlberg an Oscar for best supporting actor. Showing no signs of slowing down, Wahlberg received major accolades for his work in The Fighter starring opposite Christian Bale. He appeared as himself in Entourage, a show he helped produce for HBO. Lately, having replaced Shia LaBeouf (not as the same character, because that’d be weird), Wahlberg now heads up the cast in the recent string of Michael Bay Transformers films. Which is unfortunate, given he clearly can do much better. But we can only hope Wahlberg gets back to the more dramatic roles, where he seems best suited, soon.
Boxer, helicopter pilot for the United States Army, recipient of the Rhodes Scholarship to study literature, songwriter, country crooner, and star of The Last Movie in 1971, Kristofferson has made an indelible impact on the entertainment world since working with Barbra Streisand, another musician-turned-actor, in the film A Star Is Born in 1976. Kristofferson is probably most widely known among younger audiences for his role as the tough-talking Whistler in the Blade movies starring as Wesley Snipes. He has lent his inimitable deep voice to numerous video games and animated features and still, on occasion, pops up in supporting roles.
Ice Cube was a member of one of the most terrifying gangster rap groups of the early ’90s, N.W.A., which was a huge success with millions in record sales. First appearing in John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood, Ice Cube went on to star in the highly quotable Friday and a few of its sequels. He would go on to star in Barbershop and its sequels. He appeared in a string of family-friendly fare like Are We There Yet? and its sequel Are We Done Yet? but would quickly settle into comedy work, typically in roles as the hard-nosed supporting straight man with 21 Jump Street, Ride Along and their sequels.
Anyone born between 1975 and 1985 can likely recite the entire Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song. But before Will Smith graced our TV screens, he and DJ Jazzy Jeff released such hit songs as “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Summertime.” Later, Will Smith would outgrow the sitcom role that made him famous and appear in summer blockbusters including Independence Day and Men in Black, followed by several impressive dramatic roles in movies including Ali and Seven Pounds. He appeared as Deadshot in this summer’s Suicide Squad and will return as Detective Mike Lowrey in not one but two planned Bad Boys sequels.
First appearing in The Man Who Fell to Earth in 1976, David Bowie had a long and varied film career, from British soldier POW in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983) to a stylish vampire in The Hunger (1983) to a baby-kidnapping, singing goblin king in Labyrinth (1986) to Andy Warhol in Basquiat (1996) to a government agent in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me to Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (2006). He also lent his voice to a character on SpongeBob SquarePants and appeared as a future version of himself in the video game Omikron (and composed some music for the game as well). David Bowie passed away in January 2016, leaving behind a tremendous and varied body of work. His son, Duncan Jones, is a director and writer making a major splash in Hollywood with films like Moon, Source Code and this year’s video game adaptation of Warcraft.
Tom Waits, the last beatnik, started out with simple barroom ballads and singer-songwriter fare until basically creating his own genre. Known for his gravelly voice and strange stories within his songs about weirdos and misfits, Waits first appeared in film with Paradise Alley in 1978, a project directed by none other than Sylvester Stallone. From there, between increasingly amazing albums, Waits would go on to appear in a few Francis Ford Coppola projects including One From the Heart, The Outsiders, Rumble Fish and Bram Stoker’s Dracula as the fly-eating Renfield. He’d later appear in smaller roles with the Ben Stiller superhero comedy Mystery Men, Domino and, in a dream pairing, share screen time with Gary Oldman in the otherwise forgettable The Book of Eli. He is due to appear in the TV series Citizen soon.
Though probably still best known for his early ’90s country hits (including “Guitars Cadillacs,” best remembered as the scene in which a naked Arnie enters the bar in Terminator 2), Dwight Yoakam, once in a great while, will appear in a film — and it’s almost always a pleasant surprise. While he started out with small parts in TV movies, Yoakam’s breakout role came in 1996 with Billy Bob Thornton’s Sling Blade. From there the country singer appeared in a few other films, again in smaller roles, including The Newton Boys, the indie thriller The Minus Man and South of Heaven, West of Hell. But when cast in Panic Room as the ski-masked robber whose face we don’t see until the third act, Yoakam’s acting prowess is truly revealed. He plays the character of Raoul with an intensity and desperation — and squeals when his fingers get cut off in the door — turning in a performance unlike any other musician-turned-actor on this top crossovers list and managing to hold his own even when acting with the likes of Forest Whitaker and Jodie Foster. Though Yoakam has yet to display the same level of intensity in a role since, he did play a wonderfully wacky doctor working opposite Jason Statham in Crank and its sequel Crank: High Voltage.
What musician-turned-actor would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments.