10 Best Acting Performances by Musicians

Miles Opton

It’s no secret that musicians often have a gene for entertaining. Having to perform countless times for different audiences, some musicians enter the acting sphere as if they were made for the big screen. Here’s my pick for top 10 acting performances from musicians:

10. Ice Cube - Boyz n the Hood

A coming-of-age film displaying a snapshot of a young black man navigating gang culture in Southern LA could only be made better by a sincere performance from legendary hip-hop pioneer and founding member of rap group N.W.A, Ice Cube.  Playing Doughboy, a gang member who can’t escape the violent “street rules,” Ice Cube offered a genuine performance to kickstart his reputation as a captivating actor. He went on to take roles in over 50 movies, with the most notable being 21 Jump Street, Ride Along, and Are We There Yet?

9. Justin Timberlake - The Social Network

A thrilling display of energetic storytelling defines The Social Network as a pop culture phenomenon - so who else could be more fitting than the pop sensation himself, Justin Timberlake. Through enthusiastic delivery around the rapid-fire dialogue, Timberlake blends in with the other seasoned actors to add an important element of sharpness to the Facebook narrative. He also says one of the most memorable lines of the movie: “Drop the ‘The’, just ‘Facebook’. It’s clean.”

8. Lady Gaga - A Star is Born

A superstar by nature, Lady Gaga hardly surprised us with her emotionally charged and gritty songwriting in A Star is Born. But Gaga proved to be far more than a legendary songwriter in the semi-bio-pic, offering powerful and real emotions that define her as a powerhouse entertainer. Tapping into her experiences of becoming a pop icon, Lady Gaga brings us into the chaotic transformation of life and love as a forming celebrity. 

7. Cher - Moonstruck

Cher didn’t need to convince us of her talents, but an Oscar didn’t hurt to prove her versatility as a performer. Playing the witty and emotional Loretta in Moonstruck, Cher explores a world of love and laughter with the unlikely match, Ronny Cammareri, played by Nicholas Cage. Cher effortlessly delivers the surprising, and sometimes bizarre, script with such precision it feels as if the fairytale aspects are completely plausible.

6. Tupac Shakur - Juice

Many of us know Tupac Shakur as a hip-hop pioneer. Not as many know that Tupac attended the Baltimore School of the Arts, where he studied acting and dance while writing poetry. Not only did Shakur find inspiration from Shakespear, proven by his multiple in-song references, he also put his thespian talents on display in various movies in the 90s. Harlem-based crime film, Juice, is the best exhibit of his affinity for acting as it displays him as a madcap teenager with ambitions for respect. Through contagious energy and carelessness, add another legendary performance to Tupac’s resumé.

5. Snoop Dogg - Training Day

We all know The Doggfather loves to be on the big screens. Now religiously entertaining on twitch, commentating animal shows, and entertaining on many late night shows, the legendary rapper has become a meme countless times. But let’s trace Snoop back to one of his first performances, as Blue on Training day. Playing a crippled drug dealer, Snoop gets involved with high energy chases and an interrogation. Not an easy part to act, but Snoop slays the role and keeps us on our toes.

4. Björk - Dancer In The Dark

Björk, the Icelandic singer/songwriter known for her avant-garde musical style, started releasing music when she was 11 years old. After releasing groundbreaking albums throughout the 90s, Björk took to behind the camera with Danish film-maker Lars Von Trier in the film Dancer In The Dark. Playing the main character, Selma, in the musical melodrama about a woman slowly losing her vision to a degenerative disease, Björk, plays into all of her strengths. Bold comedy, moving emotions, and an innovative use of music makes this performance tear-jerking, yet inspirational.

3. Mark Wahlberg - The Departed

Okay, maybe Mark Wahlberg isn’t as much of a musician as the rest... but he once wanted to be. Before hitting the big screens, Mark Wahlberg was “Marky Mark” in Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. The Boston-based hip-hop group actually put out the hit single, “Good Vibrations,” with Loleatta Holloway in 1991, 3 years before Mark Wahlberg ever got into the movie industry.

2. Prince - Purple Rain

Although a film about his own life, Purple Rain debuted Prince as an actor, breaking him from his ultra-successful shell as a musician. Five albums deep, Prince had already experienced anything and everything a superstar of his stature could. Purple Rain perfectly translated these experiences to the big screen, giving us an internal look at Prince and the side effects of his stardom.

1. Eminem - 8 Mile

Again a semi-autobiographical film, 8 Mile presents Marshall Mathers (under the moniker “B-Rabbit”) with familiarity and a new light. Touching on some of the common tropes of his music, the movie opens our eyes to the bleak world Eminem trudged through to get the rap success he wanted. We also see the rapper in a more romantic light, stripping away some of the masculinity and letting us feel some of the defining characteristics of the rapper. Before 8 Mile, who could’ve known the mega-rapper could carry an entire feature film, nonetheless create suspense around his rap battles as if we didn’t know what was to come.

Honorable Mention - Jamie Foxx - Django Unchained

We couldn’t really put Jamie on the list because it’s hard to pin him down as a musician. But starring as Django in Quentin Tarantino’s biggest blockbuster, it’s hard not to at least mention the ultra-talented singer, actor, comedian, and probably everything else you can think of. His thrilling and comic performance in this film is something you can’t miss.

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