For decades, rock stars have loved the movies and the movies have loved rock stars. Whether it was Elvis in “Viva Las Vegas,” the Beatles in “Help!,” or the Spice Girls in “Spice World,” top performers from the music world have long brought their talents and energies to the screen.
But some music icons have also been featured in movies where they can rely only on their acting skills, not their singing (though their singing is sometimes heard as title music). In some cases the results have been disappointing — Glen Campbell was wise not to have given up his day job — but in others, the performances stand up quite well.
Some stars, like Cher and Kris Kristofferson, have actually had serious acting careers. Here are movie roles that launched Hollywood’s biggest stars.
24/7 Tempo has put together a list of some 25 personalities better known for their discographies than their filmographies, together with notes on one of their more memorable performances. Pop stars, rock-and-rollers, and country singers are included. These are the best movies for fans of country music.
> Best non-singing movie: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
In this 1983 Japanese-British war film, Bowie plays a prisoner held in a Japanese POW camp during World War II. Bowie’s character becomes the object of a romantic obsession by the commander of the camp.
> Best non-singing movie: True Grit
In the film that won John Wayne his only Academy Award, singer Campbell’s portrayal of a Texas Ranger was most notable for the lack of acting skill it demonstrated. With little experience as an actor, Campbell was out of his depth in a cast that included Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, and Strother Martin. He did have a hit single with the movie’s theme song, though.
> Best non-singing movie: Moonstruck
Cher won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Loretta Castorini, a widowed Italian-American woman who falls in love with her fiancé’s estranged, hot-tempered younger brother, played by Nicolas Cage. Cher also won a Golden Globe for the role.
Harry Connick Jr.
> Best non-singing movie: Hope Floats
This 1998 drama features Connick as Justin Matisse, who strikes up a romance with Birdee Pruitt (Sandra Bullock) after she is embarrassed when her husband’s infidelity is revealed on a national TV talk show.
> Best non-singing movie: Teacher’s Pet
In this 1958 romantic comedy, Day plays Erica Stone, a college journalism instructor teaching a night class. Thanks to a series of miscues, a newspaper city editor played by Clark Gable enrolls in her class under a fake name. The city editor, who didn’t go to high school, believes that the only place to learn how to be a reporter is in a newsroom. Day, who began her career performing on radio and with big bands, sings the movie’s theme song over the opening credits.
> Best non-singing movie: Carnal Knowledge
This 1971 Mike Nichols film brought Garfunkel a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Sandy. The comedy-drama depicts the sex lives of two Amherst College roommates over a 25-year period that overlaps the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Jack Nicholson plays Sandy’s roommate, Jonathan.
> Best non-singing movie: Hairspray
In John Waters’ 1988 cult classic, Harry plays Velma Von Tussle, the mother of Tracy Turnblad’s rival. The film was remade into a Broadway musical in 2002, and the musical was made into a 2007 movie with Michelle Pfeiffer in the role of Velma.
> Best non-singing movie: Ned Kelly
Jagger stars in this 1970 feature about the 19th-century Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. “Mick Jagger, the rock singer, with a beard that makes him appear more Amish than Australian, is, sadly, simply a dour renegade who rarely becomes the ‘wild colonial boy’ of the legend,” the New York Times said in its review.
> Best non-singing movie: A View to a Kill
In this 1985 James Bond movie — Roger Moore’s last turn as 007 — Jones makes an impression as the hit woman May Day. “Miss Jones doesn’t do much with her dialogue,” the New York Times wrote, “but her startling visual presence is one of the film’s bigger assets.”
> Best non-singing movie: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
In this 1974 comedy drama directed by Martin Scorsese, Kristofferson plays David, an Arizona rancher who offers kindness to Alice (Ellen Burstyn), a single mother who has struggled after the death of her husband and an affair with a married younger man. Kristofferson doesn’t sing in the movie but Burstyn’s character is trying to pursue a singing career.
> Best non-singing movie: Out of Sight
A 1998 crime comedy directed by Steven Soderbergh showcases Lopez as Karen Sisco, a U.S. marshal who is kidnapped by Jack Foley (George Clooney) when he breaks out of prison. A romance between Sisco and Foley muddies the waters as she endeavors to arrest him.
> Best non-singing movie: The Player
In this 1992 satire, country singer Lovett plays Detective Paul DeLongpre, who investigates the killing of a Hollywood scriptwriter. The culprit is a studio executive who had received death threats after rejecting the writer’s scripts.
> Best non-singing movie: A League of Their Own
Warren Beatty directed this 1990 movie, in which Madonna plays Breathless Mahoney to Beatty’s Dick Tracy. The New York Times called it “her best role since she made her debut in Susan Seidelman’s ‘Desperately Seeking Susan.'”
> Best non-singing movie: Some Came Running
In this 1958 drama directed by Vincente Minnelli, Martin plays Bama Dillert, a gambler with a penchant for alcohol who befriends Dave Hirsh (Frank Sinatra), an Army veteran returning home after World War II. They run into trouble thanks to the ex-girlfriend of a gangster. The New York Times review said, “Engaging, too, is Dean Martin (you’re no more surprised than were we!) as a genial professional poker-player who adopts the hero as a pal.”
> Best non-singing movie: Ruthless People
In this 1986 black comedy, Midler is Barbara Stone, the wife of a villainous wealthy businessman played by Danny DeVito. Barbara, played to campy excess by Midler, is abducted. But when the kidnappers demand a ransom, they run into a problem: Her husband had already planned to have her killed.
> Best non-singing movie: Steel Magnolias
This 1989 comedy drama features Parton as Truvy Jones, the owner of a beauty salon in northwestern Louisiana whose philosophy is “there is no such thing as natural beauty.” The salon is the focal point of the story as the women of the town meet up and forge friendships there. Parton shares the screen with an impressive female cast including Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Darryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts.
> Best non-singing movie: Charro!
In this 1969 Western, Elvis Presley stars as Jess Wade, who is blamed by his former gang for stealing a gold-plated victory cannon from Mexico. This is the only Elvis movie in which the rock star does not sing on screen. But he does sing the theme song that plays over the opening credits. The film is considered to be one of his better acting efforts.
> Best non-singing movie: Annie Hall
In what is widely considered to be Woody Allen’s best movie, Simon has a supporting role as music producer Tony Lacey, who woos the title character away from Alvy Singer (Allen).
> Best non-singing movie: The Manchurian Candidate
Frank Sinatra stars in this 1962 political thriller based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel. Sinatra plays Major Bennett Marco, who uncovers a sinister plot in which a POW in the Korean War was brainwashed to become an assassin.
> Best non-singing movie: Men in Black
Loosely based on the “Men in Black” comic book series, this film had the third-highest box office receipts of 1997. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play agents for a secret organization that monitors extraterrestrial beings who live in hiding on earth. It spawned three sequels, two of which also starred Smith and Jones.
> Best non-singing movie: The Way We Were
Streisand, who won an Academy Award for the musical “Funny Girl,” sings only the theme song in this 1973 romantic drama about Katie Morosky and Hubbell Gardiner (Robert Redford), two vastly different people who are strongly attracted to each other.
> Best non-singing movie: Dunkirk
In his first dramatic role, Styles, who rose to stardom with the boy band One Direction, plays a World War II soldier named Alex. Director Christopher Nolan said that he had not been familiar with One Direction but that Styles had won the role based on his acting skill.
> Best non-singing movie: The Social Network
In this biographical drama about Mark Zuckerberg and the early days of Facebook, Justin Timberlake plays Napster co-founder Sean Parker, who became Facebook’s first president. Director David Fincher told the New York Times that he almost didn’t cast Timberlake, who turned his fame from the boy band ‘N Sync into a successful solo career, because “everyone thought he was too famous.”
> Best non-singing movie: Down by Law
Singer-songwriter Tom Waits plays a disc jockey named Zack who winds up in a New Orleans jail after being framed in this 1986 film. There he meets up with Jack, who was also set up, and Bob, who is in jail for accidental manslaughter. The unusual threesome escape and wind up on the run in a swamp.
> Best non-singing movie: Sling Blade
A 1996 drama written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton features country singer Yoakam as Doyle Hargraves, a violent alcoholic whose girlfriend rents her garage to Karl Childers (Thornton), who has spent much of his life in a state psychiatric hospital. Hargraves and Childers come to blows over Hargraves’ abusive treatment of his girlfriend.