It’s hard to remember a movie the Billboard staff has ever been more excited for than this week’s A Star Is Born remake. The trailers, the memes, the newspaper profiles, and of course, the “Shallow” — it’s all played a huge part in Star getting written in larger, bolder font on our release calendar than basically any proper musical release in 2018.
But of course, the biggest reason we’re so pumped is still pop-related: the long-hyped emergence of Lady Gaga, Leading Lady. There’s something inherently gleeful about seeing stars like Gaga on the big screen for the first time, in roles both large and small — adding new shades to their long-developed personas, and making them even more inextricable to our shared pop culture. Even when it goes obviously bad, it’s still pretty great. And when it goes great, it can be downright spectacular.
And so, as A Star Is Born hits theaters, we wanted to take a look back at 100 of our all-time favorite musician appearances in feature films. They range from Oscar-winning starring turns in prestige classics to split-second cameos in cult favorites, from artists who have come to be as synonymous with film as with music to artists whose IMDB pages might just be a couple entries long. We only had three hard rules for eligibility:
1. The artist had to be well-known for music before they were well-known for film acting. (Apologies to Jamie Foxx, Lindsey Lohan and — most painfully — Jennifer Lopez.)
2. The artist couldn’t be starring as themselves in the performance, even in a somewhat fictionalized rendering. (Further regrets to Alice Cooper, The Spice Girls, and The Beatles.)
3. Only one performance per musician-actor.
Besides those, our list encompasses nearly a century of hitmakers-gone-Hollywood history, from the very beginning of the sound era all the way up to this year — and yes, Gaga made our list, though you’ll have to read on to see just where she ranked. Come dive in to the deep end with us.
100. Britney Spears, Crossroads (2003)
Crossroads remains Britney Spears’ only feature film starring role – a shame, because for a pop star’s (admittedly raw) first concentrated stab at acting, the 20-year-old held her own among Zoe Saldana, Dan Aykroyd and more. Remember, this came at a time when Spears was going for a slight rebrand to shed her teen pop skin; “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” stars in Crossroads’ closing moments, and “Overprotected” pops up on the soundtrack. To that end, the film found Spears at a crossroads of her own, and though she didn’t stay on the thespian path, it remains an integral part of her pre-In the Zone era. — KEVIN RUTHERFORD
99. Dave Grohl, Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny (2006)
Part of what makes Dave Grohl so good in Tenacious D is that his character is completely over the top, but he truly commits to the ridiculousness. Grohl cameos in the penultimate scene as Beelzeboss, a giant Satan-esque monster who becomes “complete” with the Pick of Destiny — but who must first face a challenge from the group’s Jack Black and Kyle Gass to a good ol’ fashioned rock off before getting to keep it. What follows is the most legendary scene in the classic stoner film, where Grohl’s singing, drumming and guitar shredding prowess are on full display. The only response Black and Gass can muster is to “bust a massive monster mamajam” for the ages. And that they do. — XANDER ZELLNER
98. Vicente Fernandez, La Ley del Monte (1974)
The ranchera king starred in over 30 films dating back to the early 1970s, but we have a particular soft spot for 1976’s La Ley del Monte, a story of ill-fated love, set against the backdrop of the Mexican revolution. With rich historical and class references, this is not a frivolous film. The title song alone — which refers to two lovers engraving their names in the stems of a maguey plant (think engraving a heart on an oak tree) — makes it a worthwhile watch, if you can still find a copy lying around. — LEILA COBO
97. Tunde Adebimpe, Rachel Getting Married (2006)
Director Jonathan Demme’s family drama Rachel Getting Married was so alive with music at every turn that you might’ve missed the actual musician in the cast: Tunde Adebimpe, frontman for Brooklyn indie heroes TV on the Radio, as the title character’s groom-to-be. He’s obviously in his element unexpectedly singing Neil Young as part of his vows in the film’s wedding climax, but more interesting is him quietly but confidently challenging the family patriarch to an impromptu dishwasher-loading competition: uncomfortable, but getting warmer. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
96. Harry Styles, Dunkirk (2017)
What do boy bands and World War II have in common? Not much — unless you’re Harry Styles, the One Directioner who made his acting debut last summer playing a weary British soldier alongside Tom Hardy in Christopher Nolan’s nail-biting war drama Dunkirk. It’s no doubt an intimidating role for a first-timer, but Styles earned critics’ praise with a gripping display of the grim realities of war, stealing some of the mostly silent film’s best lines. (Example quote: “Survival’s not fair. That’s the price.”) Plus, he manages to make us forget (even if just for a second!) that we’re watching *Harry Styles* — a difficult feat for a world-famous former bandleader with those misty blue-green eyes. — TATIANA CIRISANO
95. Alicia Keys, Smokin’ Aces (2008)
The star-studded assassin free-for-all that was Smokin’ Aces should’ve made for an eternally rewatchable cable classic, but the only legitimately compelling part of it ended up being the chemistry between hitwomen Sharice (Taraji P. Henson) and Georgia Sykes (Alicia Keys, eminently winning in a variety of wigs and hoop earrings). The latter ends up falling for crime lieutenant Sir Ivy (Common) — leaving the former’s feelings crushingly unrequited — but we forever ship TarajKeys. — A.U.
94. Phil Collins, Hook (1991)
Remember that scene in the Peter Pan-based Hook where the kids go missing and the cops come to the house to investigate, and Robin Williams and his wife are exasperated, and the cop questioning them is Phil Collins, and — what? Phil Collins was in Hook? He was! Collins plays the priggish police officer who suggests, with a heel raise, that the children’s disappearance is a “prank.” It is a credit to Collins’ acting chops that he did not stick out in a room full of professionals, playing the role with a light (or dare we say, invisible) touch. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
93. Rihanna, Ocean’s 8 (2018)
For too long, Rihanna’s flair for acting has either been buried in box-office flops (Battleship, Valerian) or restricted to characters that are, well, simply Rihanna (Bring It On: All or Nothing, This Is The End). No more! Ocean’s 8 — this summer’s all-female addition to Steven Soderbergh’s heist series, set around the Met Gala — changes that, enlisting Rih to play stoner-hacker “Nine Ball,” a side-eyeing, tech-savvy badass who wears sunglasses indoors and can disable a building’s entire electrical system like that. The film’s wink to Rihanna’s real-life rep as the Met Gala queen delivers, and she’s arguably the most fun-to-watch part of the tepidly-received flick — so much so that Ocean’s was largely criticized for underusing her. — T.C.
92. Paul Simon, Annie Hall (1977)
Although he acquitted himself as a leading man well enough in One-Trick Pony, Paul Simon’s brief acting career is best remembered for his hilarious sliver of a role in Annie Hall. Playing a sleazy, superficial music producer with prodigious amounts of cocaine, Simon helps fellow New Yorker Woody Allen vilify everything he hates about Los Angeles — and all within about two minutes of screen time. — JOE LYNCH
91. Brandy, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
As Jamie Kennedy’s Scream character would happily explain at length, the best friend of the female protagonist in the meta-horrorverse of the late-’90s rarely fared well — unless you were played by Brandy Norwood, who in 1998 was simply too big and too likeable a star to not improbably survive to the end of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. Her turn as Jennifer Love Hewitt’s vacation partner Karla earned her an MTV Movie Awards nomination for breakthrough female; if the best frightened performance category had existed at the time, she’d have it sewn up. — A.U.
90. James Taylor, Two-Lane Blacktop (1970)
A warm, inviting singer-songwriter with boundless mainstream appeal, James Taylor tapped into the darkness bubbling beneath the surface of his lyrics for his leading role in the bleak, existential road movie Two-Lane Blacktop. Playing a man simply known as The Driver, Taylor’s minimalist performance and blank, quiet dissatisfaction spoke to the muted aimlessness many a disillusioned hippie felt after the counterculture revolution of the ‘60s began to peter out at the top of a new decade. — J. Lynch
89. Yasiin Bey, The Italian Job (2003)
Acclaimed New York rapper Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) has long enjoyed a successful side career as an affable supporting actor, bringing unassuming charm and sneaky gravity to a variety of films ranging from the weighty to the supremely silly. He’s had bigger roles than heist crewmember Left Ear in The Italian Job, but few that deployed him so expertly; even in a film full of gigantic stars keying dazzling set pieces, the most replayable moment remains his refusing to divulge details to Mark Wahlberg’s ringleader about why he’s freaked out by dogs: “I HAD… A BAD… EXPERIENCE!” — A.U.
88. Jack White, Walk Hard (2007)
The 2007 music-biopic parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story boasts a laundry list of left-field cameos, but none surprise quite like Jack White as Elvis Presley. White, whose songwriting reveals a penchant for tongue-twisters and gibberish, deftly embodies The King’s larger-than-life persona with an incomprehensible, strung-out stream of mumbo jumbo. With some surprise Elvis moves in hand — think karate chops, not pelvic thrusts — White translates his sharp, tongue-in-cheek wit into slapstick silliness. — BRYAN KRESS
87. Keith Richards, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Somehow, some way, Keith Richards’ cameo role as Edward Teague, Jack Sparrow’s father, in 2007’s At World’s End turned into a return for its sequel four years later. Like his previous appearance but a little more comfortable, we’re basically just talking Keith Richards Dresses Up As a Pirate and Talks to Johnny Depp for a Few Minutes; acting depth there ain’t. But of course, Depp’s inspiration for Sparrow was Richards himself, so the fan service on display is undeniable — and for a film series based on a Disney theme park ride, that’s pretty much the name of this game to begin with. — K.R.
86. Sting, Quadrophenia (1979)
As the sneering, leather-jacketed Mods gang leader Ace Face, Sting all but paved the way for Billy Idol’s ’80s MTV dominance with his film debut in the movie adaptation of The Who’s Quadrophenia rock opera — indeed, Idol would later play the role himself on stage. An anti-establishment hero to the film’s protagonist at movie’s beginning, Sting also ends up crushing the lead’s spirit with the later reveal that he’s sold out and become a subservient hotel bellhop; just imagine how the dude would’ve felt about “Desert Rose” a couple decades later. — A.U.
85. Andre 3000, Jimi: All Is By My Side (2013)
Andre Benjamin has definitely picked his spots since OutKast’s 2007 hiatus. After dipping his toe in acting in the rap duo’s middling 2006 film/album Idlewild (and cameos in popcorn flicks like Be Cool and Semi Pro), he’s dropped dozens of rap features, but seemingly poured most of his energy into channeling Jimi Hendrix in this 2013 biopic about the rock icon’s early career — disappearing into the role like he did into his boho ATLien rap persona. From the spacey voice and laconic, lanky walk, to the quiet, spiritual seeker persona and paisley-splashed wardrobe, Benjamin disappears into the role he seems born to play. Plus, in a career of left turns, this right heel-turn into rock biopic makes no perfect sense. — GIL KAUFMAN
84. Bobby Darin, Captain Newman, M.D. (1963)
Gregory Peck played it safe as the strong, affable lead in this 1963 war dramedy, but genre-hopping singer Bobby Darin stretched his acting chops as a shell-shocked soldier with a wry, suggestive sneer who spits out insults at those who try to help him. The risk paid off for the former teen idol, who earned a best supporting actor Oscar nom for his acclaimed performance. — J. Lynch
83. LL Cool J, Any Given Sunday (1999)
This 1999 Oliver Stone-directed football drama boasted a star-studded lineup featuring the likes of Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx and James Woods. Despite the stiff competition for screen time, rapper LL Cool J managed to turn in a memorable performance as veteran running back Julian “J-Man” Washington, with his behind-the-mic swagger translating just as well behind an offensive line. The rapper may have taken his method acting a step too far, though, as a fight scene with Foxx (playing the team’s hothead new QB) actually escalated into a real-life melee between the two hybrid stars, complete with police involvement. — MATT MEDVED
82. Marc Anthony, El Cantante (2007)
In 2007, Marc Anthony, the leading salsa singer of his generation, faced the challenge of playing the greatest salsa singer of all time: Hector Lavoe. As a native Nuyorican, Anthony was weaned on the music of Fania, the label that took the Puerto Rican singer born Hector Juan Pérez Martinez to fame. With his then-wife Jennifer Lopez co-starring as Lavoe’s wife, Anthony embodied the late Latino icon in both body and voice. The movie soundtrack — on which Anthony sang Lavoe’s hits with musicians that included some of the legend’s contemporaries — debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums chart, and went on to win a Latin Grammy. — JUDY CANTOR-NAVAS
81. Josh Groban, Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)
From musically dramatizing Kanye’s tweets to delivering an uncanny impression of Michael Buble, Josh Groban has become an unlikely burst of comedic energy. His skills were on full display in his role as Emma Stone’s selfish boyfriend in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love. After a romantic public proposal devolves into a condescending job offer, Groban’s pitch perfect dismissiveness toward Stone (“I didn’t realize you thought that we were… there…. yet”) seals the deal as she walks out on him for good. — ERIC FRANKENBERG
80. Joey Fatone, My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
You certainly wouldn’t have known Joey Fatone was part of one of the most successful groups in pop music history from his appearance as Cousin Angelo in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a role that basically tells you all you need to know in the character name. The Italian-American Fatone couldn’t look more at home blending in as one of the extended Portokalos clan, having the time of his life bickering with his sister at the family diner, and providing the grinning punchline to the brother of the bride’s extended groom-hazing: “Hey Ian! WE’RE GONNA KILL YA!” — A.U.
79. George Strait, Pure Country (1992)
The King of Country would be the first to admit that his acting chops are stilted, but in this 1992 low-key charmer, Strait convincingly plays Wyatt “Dusty” Chandler, a country superstar who goes off the grid. The movie was a modest box office success, but the soundtrack was a monster, having been certified 6X Multi-Platinum by the RIAA. Perhaps knowing his limits, Strait did not appear in either of the non-theatrical sequels. — MELINDA NEWMAN
78. Christina Aguilera, Burlesque (2010)
It should come as a surprise to no one that vocal powerhouse Aguilera slays her musical numbers as Ali, a small-town girl who breaks out of her shell in a Los Angeles burlesque lounge, in this flamboyant movie musical. But can she act? Though the film came off more chaste than some expected — you’re more likely to find traces of Aguilera’s Mickey Mouse Club era than “Dirrty” alter ego Xtina here — watching Aguilera transform into a fishnets-clad diva alongside co-star Cher is irresistibly fun, and her catty fights with on-screen rival Kristen Bell are deliciously ridiculous (Bell: “I will not be upstaged by some chick with mutant lungs!”). But if you came solely to see Aguilera showcase her full vocal range in a Swarovski crystal bustier, you won’t be disappointed, either. — T.C.
77. Lyle Lovett, The Player (1992)
Lyle Lovett’s Robert Altman-facilitated transition from country star to character actor in the early ’90s couldn’t have been more seamless — his face alone seems to tell a hundred stories in its angles and creases. His role as Detective DeLongpre in the 1992 comedic meta-noir The Player was perfectly destabilizing; as he quote-chants “One of us!” in flat monotone at Tim Robbins’ murder-suspect film producer, he looks like he’s losing his mind, and we’re right there with him. — A.U.
76. DMX, Belly (1998)
Every year or so on Twitter the debate re-emerges as to whether cult favorite Belly is actually a classic or just trash, and of course both are true — the Hype Williams-directed crime flick is gorgeous, incoherent, horribly dated and absolutely iconic of its era. The actors, led by a number of turn-of-the-century hip-hop and R&B stars, mostly serve as stage props, but DMX’s volatile gangster Tommy “Buns” Bundy is the lone performance soulful and imposing enough to stand out among the widescreen set pieces — leading to a successful second career for the rapper starring in B-movie fare like Exit Wounds and Never Die Alone. — A.U.
75. Iggy Pop, Dead Man (1995)
The rocker born Jim Osterberg has spent a half-century playing the larger-than-life punk character Iggy Pop, logging film cameos galore (Cry-Baby, Tank Girl) in the process. But his first real acting happened in this black-and-white Jim Jarmusch psychedelic western — a spirit world mind trip starring Johnny Depp — in which he plays Salvatore “Sally” Jenko, donning a skirt as a cross-dressing, Bible-thumping fur trader enamored with Depp’s flaxen hair. In a film packed with acting icons and funky B-listers, Pop — wearing a bonnet and crouching in the dirt like a frontier Gollum — steals his scene with a low-key, rambling monologue about the cruelty of Roman emperor Nero, delivered while cooking up possum for his fellow travelers. Just Iggy being Iggy, really. — G.K.
74. Harry Connick, Jr., Copycat (1995)
Harry Connick Jr.’s first roles let him lean on his musical skills, like performing “Danny Boy” in 1990’s Memphis Belle and pounding the keys alongside the titular character in 1991’s Little Man Tate. However, he tossed that crutch for the 1995 thriller Copycat. With crazed eyes, a nasal Southern drawl and a dirty sneer, Connick was convincingly psychotic as a serial killer who turns Sigourney Weaver’s character into an agoraphobic, after terrorizing her in the movie’s shocking opening sequence. — CHRISTA TITUS
73. T.I., ATL (2006)
For his first foray into the film world, T.I. drew upon his own experiences of growing up in Atlanta for 2006’s coming-of-age flick ATL. Playing Rashad, the rapper’s Southern charm and searing intensity helped the main character’s story of trying to escape the hood alive feel more authentic. T.I. also contributed to the film’s music, whose soundtrack later became his fourth album King, and blessed us with the seminal (and double-Platinum) “What You Know” single. — BIANCA GRACIE
72. 50 Cent, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (2005)
It’s a bit of a cheat to get props for basically playing yourself in a loose biopic. But, like mentor Eminem a few years earlier, 50 blew out of the gate with his first role as if he’d spent his whole life preparing to play conflicted small timer Marcus “Young Caesar” Greer. From getting shot nine times to hustling drugs as a teen and transitioning to a rap career, 50 is convincing and natural, playing to type while believably hiding a layer of emotion and sensitivity beneath Greer’s hard-ass exterior. — G.K.
71. Lenny Kravitz, The Hunger Games (2012)
In The Hunger Games, Cinna is Katniss Everdeen’s talented stylist, so it made sense to have someone with a distinct style his own — Kravitz, natch — play the role in the series’ first two films. The star brings a bit of a charismatic rock star swagger to the role, and the delicacy of his one-on-one scenes with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) provide the film with welcome breaths of fresh air: unlike the brightly colored, extravagant, unfamiliar people around Katniss, Cinna is calm, cool and collected, a closer link to home than most of the Capitol. — K.R.
70. A$AP Rocky, Dope (2015)
It’s impossible not to sympathize with A$AP Rocky in the role of Dom in this coming-of-age crime dramedy. His big-screen debut sees the New York rapper playing a young, successful drug kingpin, into whose orbit protagonist Malcolm — a high school nerd who likes ’90s hip-hop — gets mixed up. Rocky’s intuitive performance and innate cleverness persuades the audience that there is good in Dom’s world. — PAMELA BUSTIOS
69. Snoop Dogg, Starsky & Hutch (2004)
The rapper’s pimped-out performance as Huggy Bear isn’t much of a stretch from his own on-record persona — just look at the name. But the same laidback comic timing that makes him one of hip-hop’s most iconic MCs also comes in handy as here as he walks away with the film’s most memorable one-liners. In fact, “I know some people that know some people that robbed some people” might be the only memorable thing about this tepidly received remake of the ’70s action series. — NOLAN FEENEY
68. Tina Turner, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Cunning but not cruel, calculating but honorable, the role of post-apocalyptic villain was played with unusual depth and moral complexity by Tina Turner in the totally bonkers ’80s sci-fi action classic Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Whether bellowing “bust a deal and face the wheel” in the titular thunderdome, or explaining her long-game for rebuilding civilization entire, Turner’s Amazonian Aunt Entity is one of the most wildly original not-so-evil bad guys in a decade full of off-the-wall antagonists. — J. Lynch
67. Tyrese, 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
Tyrese made an indelible mark on the Fast & Furious franchise in its second installment, 2 Fast 2 Furious. Playing against the late Paul Walker’s straight-faced Bryan, Tyrese’s cackling, shit-stirring Roman brings levity missing from the first film. Brought in after Vin Diesel turned down the chance to make the sequel, Tyrese used his turn to eventually become a key member of the Fast team — and his return appearances, beginning in Fast Five, cemented his status as the funniest member of the ensemble. — DENISE WARNER
66. Vanessa Williams, Soul Food (1997)
The star-studded ’90s drama Soul Food, which has become a staple for black families, helped Vanessa Williams prove she was more than just a Miss America winner-turned-pop star. Her role as Teri — a.k.a everyone’s uptight auntie with money — represented the turmoil some women go through when forced to be their relatives’ provider. The role also birthed one of the most memorable knife-wielding film scenes to date, which served as a lesson for cheating husbands everywhere. — B.G.
65. Carmen Miranda, The Gang’s All Here (1943)
One of the highest-paid actresses of the ‘40s, Portuguese singer Carmen Miranda was typically cast as a Brazilian by Hollywood (which, considering how badly other movies were whitewashed, was almost progressive). In 1943’s The Gang’s All Here, Miranda is scintillating as Dorita, in a wildly entertaining mishmash of showbiz and romantic scheming from director/choreographer Busby Berkeley — and her eye-popping performance in the banana-and-innuendo-laden “The Lady In the Tutti Frutti Hat” is one of the most celebrated (and spoofed) in movie history. — J. Lynch
64. Aaliyah, Romeo Must Die (2000)
Part of what made Aaliyah such an enrapturing figure as her fame and presence crested in the late ‘90s was her quiet ability to reveal a spectrum of talent: first singing and dancing, then, albeit briefly, acting. In her big screen debut, the late musician showed a seasoned confidence in inhabiting the role of Trish, who’s caught up in a bitter mob rivalry that plays out as a contemporary Romeo & Juliet paean. Aaliyah helped carry the film with both sensitivity and ferocity, as well as the sort of mystique that only true movie stars possess. — STEVEN J. HOROWITZ
63. Tom Waits, Down By Law (1986)
Zack, the character Tom Waits plays in Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law, is a DJ in the Big Easy, good at growing a goatee and growling his way through popular oldies like “Crying,” but unlucky in love and with the law. He’s in the clink on a frame-up — a body showed up in the trunk of the car he was driving — which is a tough rap, especially since it requires trading in his hip plaid pants and pork pie hat for state property. (At a lean 37, Waits remains handsome in all situations and lighting, regardless.) At first blush you’re thinking, oh, it’s Tom Waits playing himself — but the deeper truth is that it’s Tom Waits playing the kind of guy Waits writes song about. Big difference. — ROSS SCARANO
62. Miguel Bosé, High Heels (1991)
Pop star Miguel Bosé was known early in his career as Spain’s answer to David Bowie. Often performing onstage in skirts, his voice revealed his reverence for Ziggy Stardust. With his usual genius for casting, legendary director Pedro Almodovar cast Bosé as a drag queen in his 1991 melodrama Tacones Lejanos (High Heels). Bosé, whose character is a court judge by day, walked away with the picture in a scene in which he put on stilettos and lip-synched to Luz Casal singing “Un Año de Amor.” — J.C-N
61. Erykah Badu, The Cider House Rules (1999)
R&B star Erykah Badu’s quiet, restrained performance as Rose Rose, the daughter in a family of transient apple pickers, does more than just serve main character Homer’s (Tobey Maguire) evolution. As a woman raped and impregnated by her father, Badu’s Rose is tragic, but not without hope. She barely speaks in the scene where Homer performs her abortion, but the heartbreak and resignation in her face says it all. — D.W.
60. Debbie Harry, Videodrome (1983)
Debbie Harry brought her marmoreal cool and Lower East Side edge to her portrayal of an S&M-loving psychiatrist in David Cronenberg’s deeply weird techno-fetish flick Videodrome. Whether putting out a cigarette on her chest or eerily popping up on a TV screen on an abandoned boat, the Blondie frontwoman’s detached aura gels perfectly with the film’s witches’ brew of UHF TV, softcore core, brain tumors, conspiracy theories and hallucinations. — J. Lynch
59. David Johansen, Scrooged (1987)
For his portrayal of the reckless cab-driving Ghost of Christmas Past, David Johansen exchanges the frontman glam of his early New York Dolls days for a fresh-out-the-dumpster look: ashen skin, yellow teeth, dusty clothes. He’s got the appearance of the ghoulish tour guide down pat, but his delivery truly sells it. Johansen throws some extra gravel onto his natural Staten Island accent as he cackles in the face of Bill Murray’s fear and comfortably shouts a line at another driver that any native New Yorker has probably said before: “Go back to Jersey, ya moron!” — C.W.
58. Awkwafina, Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu wasn’t sure if rapper-actor Awkwafina — who broke out with 2012’s viral “My Vag” and dropped her latest project, the In Fina We Trust EP, earlier this summer — would “ruin the movie or take the movie to another level.” As Goh Peik Lin, the new-money college BFF of protagonist Rachel (Constance Wu), she unquestionably does the latter, guiding Rachel and viewers through the world of Singapore’s uber-wealthy with rapsy irreverence and 5-Hour-Energy pep. You’ll find that same energy in her music: When Awkwafina’s own grandmother saw the film’s trailer, she told the star, “It’s just like you’re talking normal.” — N.F.
57. Aretha Franklin, The Blues Brothers (1980)
The late Queen of Soul solidified her place as the most commanding voice in the room for a new generation with her acting debut as diner matriarch Mrs. Murphy in the 1980 comedy The Blues Brothers. Once again proving her ability to move with the times, Franklin repurposed her 1968 hit “Think” into a perfectly choreographed verbal tongue-lashing. With her hand on her hips and a final finger wag, Franklin reminds her partner and audiences alike to think again before counting her out. — B.K.
56. Redman & Method Man, How High (2001)
It’s hard to pick just one moment or scene that really sums up this twisted, feature-length weed joke — which features everything from hotboxing Harvard to cannabis chemistry to the two MCs’ dead friend Ivory who shows up to help them pass the THCs (I know, I know) when they smoke a particular brand of manufactured marijuana. But all great partnerships have an origin story, and Meth & Red’s in the film is fitting in its simplicity: “Got blunt?” “Got weed?” The rest is history. — Dan Rys
55. Childish Gambino, Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
Thanks to starring roles in Community and Atlanta, we already knew going in that Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) could act, but his film potential had gone largely untested prior to his role as Han Solo’s smuggler frenemy Lando Calrissian in this summer’s Solo. The film received mixed reviews from critics, but Glover brought a much-needed swagger and charisma to the iconic role that made even the harshest of Star Wars fans proud. Though we (obviously) don’t see Gambino’s musical side in the film, we do see Glover channeling his inner Billy Dee Williams — including a spot-on vocal imitation — which had fans wishing for his own spinoff. — X.Z.
54. Bow Wow, Like Mike (2002)
Like Mike could have become a cable-TV staple solely for the early-2000s NBA nostalgia; contemporary superstars like Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Michael Finley all show up to marvel at the young phenom who can hoop with the best of ‘em thanks to magical sneakers. But Bow Wow (back when he was Lil, both professionally and physically) draws in the non-basketball nerds with precocious charm, learning valuable off-court lessons while dunking on his bully Ox (a young Jesse Plemons!) and Allen Iverson with equal aplomb. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
53. “Weird Al” Yankovic, UHF (1989)
“Weird Al” Yankovic superfans make up its loudest proponents, but UHF‘s cult following isn’t solely due to the enduring musical popularity of its comedic star. The film as a whole is gleefully, unapologetically goofy — and Yankovic leads the charge, from the moment his neck swivels 180 degrees to face an impossibly large boulder heading straight toward him after stealing the very Academy Award that should’ve been his. It’s a damn shame this remains Weird Al’s only lead film role. Now, who wants to drink from the fire hose?! — K.R.
52. Alanis Morissette, Dogma (1999)
In the mid-90s, Alanis Morissette re-shaped modern pop/rock in her own image. It makes sense then, that she was cast as God herself in Kevin Smith’s 1999 religious comedy Dogma — though she was originally supposed to play the film’s lead, before dropping out due to touring exhaustion. In a wordless role, she makes the most of her brief time on screen, ultimately destroying Ben Affleck’s Bartleby with a scream as defiant as the yelps from “You Oughta Know.” — E.F.
51. Maurice Chevalier, The Love Parade (1929)
French cabaret singer Maurice Chevalier became a major Hollywood star with his Oscar-nominated turn in Ernst Lubitsch’s delightfully suggestive Pre-Code musical comedy The Love Parade. As a retired playboy/bored royal consort, Chevalier is sweet, endearing and effervescent whether he’s wooing or whining, earning the first of his two Academy Award nominations in the process. — J. Lynch
50. Dwight Yoakam, Panic Room (2002)
Country star Dwight Yoakam had already shown his gifts for playing malevolent lowlifes in 1996’s acclaimed Sling Blade, but David Fincher’s cramped thriller Panic Room saw him dripping with so much sleazy menace he didn’t even need to show his face until halfway through the movie. In a movie where established stars Forest Whitaker and Jared Leto seem to have the plot’s villainy covered, Yoakam improbably emerges as the primary antagonist, with no explanation needed beyond his skin-crawling two-word drawl: “I’m Raoul.” — A.U.
49. Diddy, Monster’s Ball (2001)
In his turn of the century pursuit to master all disciplines known to man, Diddy proved an instantly successful character actor in the Oscar-winning Monster’s Ball, where he played the death row inmate executed by Billy Bob Thornton’s lead with impressive humanity and zero forced nobility. He exits the movie barely a half-hour in, but his impact is felt throughout — the scene of him barely able to walk to his execution is maybe the most brutal moment of an impossibly bleak movie, a doomed man unable to mentally or physically process his imminent fate. — A.U.
48. Art Garfunkel, Carnal Knowledge (1971)
In Carnal Knowledge’s brilliant opening, Sandy, played by Art Garfunkel, confesses to his friend Jonathan (Jack Nicholson), “I’ve never been able to talk to any girl.” Director Mike Nichols lets the dialogue run over the credits, rendering them disembodied voices against a black screen. They’re Amherst students in the ’40s, and what follows is a shrewd, formally challenging and bitterly satirical portrait of misogyny, stunted emotional growth, and impotence. Garfunkel brings tender cowardice to his Golden Globe-nominated portrayal of a guileless loser whose central male friendship is as toxic as could be. During an early scene, at Jonathan’s urging, Sandy repeatedly tries to touch the breasts of his first girlfriend, Susan, played by Candice Bergen, while they’re kissing. She resists repeatedly, each time removing his hand before finally asking, exasperated, “How could it be any fun for you if you know I don’t want it?” His reply: “I didn’t say it was fun.” — R.S.
47. Mandy Moore, Saved! (2004)
In the pantheon of turn-of-the-century teen pop queens, Mandy Moore was usually the sweetest, sometimes cloyingly so. She had moved away from that image by 2004, but she resurrected — and amplified — it in her turn as the goody-goody, Jesus-loving high schooler Hilary Faye in the movie Saved. Her character’s self-righteousness would be unbearable if it weren’t so hilarious: “I am filled with Christ’s love!” she shouts, hurling a Bible at the back of her co-star Jena Malone. The throw is almost hard enough to knock the memory of 2002’s schmaltzy A Walk to Remember out of people’s heads. — C.W.
46. Elvis Presley, Jailhouse Rock (1957)
In his best movie role (which, admittedly, is not saying a ton), Presley is the living embodiment of rock and roll rebellion as ex-jailbird Vince Everett. Throughout, he oozes a dark sex appeal, and the performance of the title track with his former cellmates remains as exhilarating as ever more than 60 years later — and serves as a precursor to the modern-day music video that has seldom been surpassed. — M.N.
45. Ludacris, Hustle & Flow (2005)
Playing a character so true to your career comes with the complication of emulating who you are in real life. But Ludacris, on the heels of making his Hollywood debut in The Wash in 2001 and ahead of his first go in the Fast & Furious franchise two years later, put his acting chops to work with unquestionable success in 2005’s Hustle & Flow. In it, he played a rapper named Skinny Black, riding high in hip-hop’s upper echelon and forgetting how hard it was to get there, resulting in a climactic confrontation with star Terrence Howard’s aspiring MC DJay. It’s a stark contrast to the jovial, animated persona Ludacris embodies in real life — and a testament to his abilities beyond the mic. — S.J.H.
44. Lena Horne, Cabin In the Sky (1943)
In this heavily religious story of good and evil fighting for a condemned man’s soul, Lena Horne is the unwitting tool of Lucifer as the seductive, worldly Georgia Brown. Oozing secular charm, one wink from the deliciously devilish Horne will send you running to the confessional booth. In a less-racist version of American history, Horne would have been a major leading lady — but as it is, her turn in Cabin In the Sky stands as a testament to her smoldering, luminescent on-screen presence. — J. Lynch
43. Flea, The Big Lebowski (1998)
If the definition of a great performance is to forget that the actor is a real-life person outside the character they’re playing on the screen, then Flea’s turn as one-third of a hapless group of faux-kidnapping, arguably-German nihilists fits the bill. It’s not so much that Flea’s role stood out in any way, it’s more the fact that it didn’t — the famed Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist slipped into the surrealism of the part perfectly, all the way through his final scene, when he took a flying bowling ball to the stomach in the pursuit of… something. This movie rules. — D.R.
42. Rubén Blades, Crossover Dreams (1985)
Rubén Blades showcased his musical and dramatic skills in 1985’s Crossover Dreams. Set in the gritty NYC of the ’70s, the movie follows his alter ego Rudy Veloz’s struggle to make his name in the cutthroat music industry beyond the Latin club scene. While his character did not succeed, Blades’ own crossover, propelled by his song “Pedro Navaja,” remains unprecedented for a salsa artist. This indie film, directed by Leon Ichaso, also foreshadowed Blades’ success as a Hollywood actor – he is currently known to TV audiences as Daniel Salazar in AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead. — J. C.-N.
41. Bing Crosby, Going My Way (1944)
One of the most profitable singer-turned-actors of all time, Bing Crosby won a best actor Oscar for his portrayal of a young priest who connects with the straying youth of an inner-city NYC parish while irking the church elders. Instead of playing against type, Crosby leans into the imperturbable affability and aw-shucks charm that endeared him to audiences in everything from smash musicals to the ‘Road’ comedies alongside Bob Hope. But with Going My Way’s mixture of drama, comedy and music, it stands as his finest on-screen moment. — J. Lynch
40. Selena Gomez, Spring Breakers (2012)
Gosh, remember Spring Breakers? Harmony Korine’s neon-splashed take on American youth drew shock before it was even released for its promise of flashy violence, rampant drug use and James Franco in beaded cornrows, but largely for its Disney-gone-bad cast — which stars Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine as four bored college students who rob a chicken shack to afford a Florida vacation. Gomez’s character Faith — a churchgoing girl-next-door who hightails it back home halfway through the film — is the most interesting of the otherwise largely exchangeable bunch, and Gomez, a devout Catholic herself, seems to bring her own experiences to the role. Lest we forget, this was 2014, a time when Gomez had just begun to shed her Disney star image — making her strong performance in the riskiest of roles all the more satisfying. — T.C.
39. John Denver, Oh, God! (1977)
It’s hard to imagine now, but at one point squeaky-clean John Denver was one of the biggest pop stars in the world. His affable, approachable folk hits paved the way for him to land top billing as a mousy supermarket manager tapped by God (the irrepressible George Burns) to spread His gospel of love to a cynical world. With a screenplay by veteran sitcom legend Larry Gilbert (M*A*S*H) and Carl Reiner (The Jerk) behind the camera, kind-eyed Denver is eminently believable and sympathetic as an earnest, perpetually flustered everyman willing to risk it all on his unshakable belief in the kindly little old Man only he can see. — G.K.
38. Lauryn Hill, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)
Somehow, starring in the sequel to a Whoopi Goldberg nun musical didn’t take away any of Lauryn Hill’s street cred: She transitioned almost immediately afterward to her successful run with The Fugees and then to her landmark 1998 debut solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Perhaps that’s because it was so undeniable while watching the 1993 movie, in which Hill played a rebellious high-schooler with a heavenly voice when she was just 17, that she was meant to be a superstar. The subject matter doesn’t really matter: The film was a great introduction to Hill’s peerless voice and soulful delivery. — KATIE ATKINSON
37. Michael Jackson, The Wiz (1978)
Just before bursting into solo superstardom with Off the Wall in 1979, MJ played the Scarecrow to Diana Ross’ Dorothy in this New York City-centric retelling of The Wizard of Oz. Michael’s soft sincerity is a perfect fit for the role, and his love for Charlie Chaplin is apparent throughout every wobbling leg and wiggling arm in his physically expressive performance. — J. Lynch
36. Ann-Margaret, Bye Bye Birdie (1962)
She had us at hello: The opening scene of Bye Bye Birdie features the 22-year old ingenue — then largely known as the pop singer behind singles like the Billboard Hot 100 top 20 hit “I Just Don’t Understand” — singing the title track in front of a blue screen, relying solely on her considerable charisma and blend of innocence and sexuality as high schooler Kim MacAfee. Inspired by the devastation experienced by teenage girls when Elvis Presley was drafted into the army, the musical led to Ann-Margret and Presley starring in 1964’s Viva Las Vegas a year later. — M.N.
35. Beyoncé, Dreamgirls (2006)
Bey nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for her Dreamgirls portrayal of Deena Jones, a singer based on pop legend Diana Ross, who eclipses co-vocalist Effie (Jennifer Hudson) to lead girl group The Dreamettes. Deena’s star power comes with obvious parallels to Beyoncé’s real-life role in Destiny’s Child, and the singer lends admirable self-awareness to the complex character — while serving up straight looks in the process. Audiences will likely root for Effie all the way (particularly after Hudson’s show-stealing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”), but the Queen Bee’s unexpected turn as the rival offers a fascinating challenge. Plus, her dazzling performance of her co-written original “Listen” — Deena’s declaration of independence from her manager — is guaranteed to draw you to your feet. — T.C.
34. Dean Martin, Rio Bravo (1959)
While perhaps best remembered acting-wise for playing the straight man to Jerry Lewis in a comedic partnership that spanned radio, TV and film, Dean Martin’s finest thespian moment came in the 1959 Western Rio Bravo, alongside director John Ford and co-star John Wayne. As a washed-up lawman struggling to maintain order (and his own sobriety), Martin dropped the gregarious crooner persona the public loved him for and dove headfirst into a gritty, empathetic portrayal of a man walking a razor-thin line between his catastrophic past and a potentially redemptive future. — J. Lynch
33. Janet Jackson, Poetic Justice (1993)
At her early-’90s peak, Janet Jackson had transformed into an unattainable superstar that exuded confidence and sex appeal. But with Poetic Justice, the icon settled into a titular role that many young women could relate to: the ‘round-the-way girl (with a knack for poetry) itching to find a better life outside the hood. Jackson acts alongside fellow artist Tupac, whose character Lucky joins the defensive Justice on a road trip. It begins with her refusal to bring her emotional guard down, and ends as a journey to self-discovery and romance. — B.G.
32. Harry Belafonte, Carmen Jones (1954)
Harry Belafonte might be best known in 2018 as a civil rights champion, but in the 1950s, he was also one of the brightest multi-platform stars in entertainment, with his film bona fides cemented via his starring role in the opera adaptation Carmen Jones. Though the calypso hitmaker had his singing vocals dubbed — his voice was deemed unsuitable for the register the score demanded — his range as an actor was undeniable, so expressive with his eyes and movements that by the time he’s turned murderous with lust and fury, you completely forget how plausible he was just an hour earlier as the dutiful soldier desperately trying to resist temptation. — A.U.
31. Kris Kristofferson, A Star Is Born (1976)
With Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper lighting up screens in the fourth version of this tale, it’s worth revisiting 1976 and remembering how country star Kristofferson more than held his own against megawatt, soft-focus icon Barbra Streisand. With a handful of film credits under his belt by then, the perpetually grizzled country outlaw chewed up scenery as on-the-skids, DGAF rock star John Norman Howard. From his flowing hair to his hypnotic, liquid eyes, Kristofferson tears away the spotlight as a self-destructive hellraiser who never met an opportunity he couldn’t squander (peep the scene where he drunkenly performs in a monster mask), as he gazes at life through the bottom of a bottle. Not a stretch on the surface, Kristofferson brings such simmering pathos to his take on Howard it makes you forget for a minute that these were roads he’d already blasted down and lived to tell about. — G.K.
30. Mariah Carey, Precious (2009)
Few pop stars are as closely associated with glamour and glitter (not to mention actual Glitter) as Mariah Carey, so it makes sense that her appearance as the cubicle-bound social worker Ms. Weiss in Lee Daniels’ Precious became a headline obsession: “Unrecognizable.” “Diva Went Dowdy.” “Mariah Carey Shows Her Ugly Side.” “Mariah Carey’s Hardest ‘Precious’ Challenge: Going With No Makeup.” (Technically, she was wearing makeup: “It just wasn’t meant to look good,” she clarified a few years later.) Yet it’s a shame there weren’t more headlines about just how impressively layered her performance is — particularly in the film’s climax, when she confronts Mary (Mo’Nique) over the abuse she inflicted on her daughter (Gabourey Sidibe). She’s angry and disturbed over the horrors she’s uncovering, yet trying to be straight-faced and strategic as she extracts answers from a hostile subject — a tricky balancing act for any actor, diva or not. — N.F.
29. Meat Loaf, Fight Club (1999)
Meat Loaf somewhat literally busts onto screen in his first scene as the downtrodden Robert “Bob” Paulson in the 1999 mind-bending thriller Fight Club, and his hold on audience’s hearts remains as firm as Big Bob’s hugs for the rest of the film. Though many of the characters lack basic human empathy, Meat Loaf’s supporting role serves as the emotional core of the story that symbolizes a tragic corruption of innocence, making his death in the movie’s latter half a pivotal point in the movie’s arc. The film is an abrasive and relentless grind, but Meat Loaf’s smothering presence helps to keep the mayhem grounded. — B.K.
28. Courtney Love, The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996)
Courtney Love could have fallen victim to severe typecasting when she auditioned to be Althea Flynt — the stripper-turned-wife of Penthouse founder Larry Flynt ruined by addiction — in 1996’s The People vs. Larry Flynt. Not only did the former dancer kick her own drug habit to land the role, she imbued Althea with a renegade temperament threaded with a bruising vulnerability that earned Love a prestigious New York Films Critics Circle award for best supporting actress. — C.T.
27. Whitney Houston, The Bodyguard (1992)
One of the defining traits of Whitney Houston as a singer was how much she put everything she had into her music, from the emotive subtlety of her more restrained moments to the full-force, from-the-rafters blowouts that defined some of her best work. That same intensity and dedication to craft drive her role in The Bodyguard, where she fittingly stars as a diva named Rachel Marron at the height of her stardom. Though she plays to type, it’s the realism that she brings to the role — the confidence, the panic and the fear — that makes it such a captivating performance, one that safely holds a place among musician debuts on the big screen. — S.J.H
26. Diana Ross, Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
“This isn’t any ‘screen debut’ by a Top 40 star,” Roger Ebert wrote of Diana Ross’ lead performance in the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues. “This is acting.” True story: Ross was one of the biggest pop stars in the world when she lobbied to play the iconic Holiday in Motown’s film production of the singer’s story, but there’s no ego in her performance: She subsumes herself in Lady Day, to the point where you even stop noticing that her singing voice still sounds like Diana Ross. It’s a turn of tremendous emotional and physical range — equally convincing as a frightened 15-year-old waif hiding from bad men and as a grown addict, pulling a razor on her man for getting in the way of her fix — and rightly earned the singer her first Oscar nod in as many tries. — A.U.
25. Tim McGraw, Friday Night Lights (2004)
Country superstar Tim McGraw completely inhabits the role of an alcoholic, abusive and demanding father of a high school football star in Peter Berg’s big screen Friday Night Lights. (Those who praise the TV show should watch the film, too.) McGraw’s Charles Billingsley first rampages onto the screen during practice, berating and beating his son Don (played by Garrett Hedlund) for dropping a catch, totally unrecognizable as the beloved entertainer behind “I Like It, I Love It.” Billingsley is bloated, angry and wistful for the days when he reigned on a state championship football team himself and believes his son will regret not making the same memories, and McGraw’s nuanced portrayal of the parent frustrated with his own life, raising his son in the only way he knows how, is stunning. — D.W.
24. Janelle Monae, Moonlight (2016)
In the fall of 2016, Janelle Monae co-starred in a pair of Best Picture nominees, Hidden Figures and Moonlight, and while the former featured the R&B star in the flashier role as the quick-witted mathematician Mary, the latter gave Monae more detailed, and ultimately more impressive, story beats to hit. As Teresa, the girlfriend of a drug dealer who becomes the de facto caretaker of the film’s protagonist, Monae wields a stern exterior and subtle gentleness to offer a young Chiron, and the audience, a sense of refuge amidst a chaotic environment. Teresa is ultimately given limited screen time, but Monae represents the quiet strength at the heart of the film. — J. Lipshutz
23. Bette Midler, The Rose (1979)
Based loosely on the life of Janis Joplin, the story of a bawdy ‘60s self-destructive rock star understandably brought Midler an Oscar nomination for best actress in her first movie role. Midler slices open an emotional vein and bleeds all over the role in one of the most vulnerable performances ever committed to screen. And of course, that’s all before even getting to her singing, which is predictably gut wrenching — and produced a pop perennial ballad in the No. 3-peaking title track. — M.N.
22. Mary J. Blige, Mudbound (2017)
As Florence Jackson, Mary J. Blige played the role of the even-keeled matriarch in Dee Rees’ Academy Award-nominated Mudbound. But while Florence doesn’t display the kind of overflowing volcanic energy we’re used to from Ms. Blige, the Grammy winner drew from her own life to imbue the character with a powerful calm that translated pain and history. Blige earned an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress, as well as a best original song nod for “Mighty River,” making her the first person to ever be nominated for acting and music Oscars in the same year. — E.F.
21. Doris Day, Pillow Talk (1959)
A big band singer before Hollywood came calling, Doris Day became one of the most successful singer-actor crossovers in Hollywood history. Opposite Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk, Day brought quiet confidence and droll comedy to the madcap Technicolor smash. Playing an independent Manhattan career woman who low-key wants romance even if she doesn’t have time for it, Day’s performance remains surprisingly relatable some six decades later — and her comedic timing as she reacts to her perpetually hungover housekeeper or her playboy neighbor (Hudson, who she naturally ends up with) demonstrates that the so-called straight man is sometimes the funniest role of all. — J. Lynch
20. Ice-T, New Jack City (1991)
Way before Fin Tutuola made him one of the most recognizable law enforcement figures in 21st century entertainment, let’s not forget that Ice-T playing 5-0 in 1991’s New Jack City was kind of a thing; one of the formative figures in gangsta rap history donning the shield in a blockbuster illustration of why crime doesn’t pay. It helped that his Scotty Appleton was nearly as charismatic as Wesley Snipes’ drug kingpin Nino Brown, with Ice looming large enough as a screen presence that even having an ex-Brat Packer playing his partner didn’t dull his shine. And for as much as Nino idolizes Tony Montana, the most Scarface quote in the movie belongs to Scotty: “I wanna shoot you so bad my dick’s hard!” — A.U.
19. Olivia Newton-John, Grease (1978)
Four decades after its box office debut, Grease remains a cultural phenomenon. The film’s classic songs helped make it one of the most beloved movie musicals of all time, but the chemistry between leads John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John remains at the film’s core. Portraying the wholesome exchange student, Sandra Dee-turned-Pink Lady Sandy, Newton-John is particularly stellar, with her charming persona and spotless soprano voice making the film the apotheosis of her ’70s superstardom. — P.B.
18. David Bowie, The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
It’s probably fitting that David Bowie’s first film role found the eccentric pop star portraying an alien; after all, he was just a few years removed from the introduction of the Ziggy Stardust persona that helped rocket him to superstardom. But The Man Who Feel to Earth wasn’t just some feature-length commercial for Bowie’s musical ventures — it simply introduced another facet of his singular talent. Perhaps no one but Bowie could have played the character: Thomas Jerome Newton, an extraterrestrial who comes to Earth in search of water for his home planet, only to be swept up in earthly pursuits like alcohol and television. Other actors might have been caught up in weirdness for weirdness’ sake or a peculiarity that distracts from the rest of the plot. The forever-uncanny Bowie looked the part, acted the part – he was the part. — K.R.
17. Will Smith, Ali (2002)
Before the turn of the new millennium, actor/rapper Will Smith was basking in the height of his visibility, the world’s biggest hybrid star as he entered his thirties. And before the after-effects of the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement kicked in, Ali was establishing himself as the greatest boxer of all time by the time he hit age 30. Those similarities transferred to the big screen, as Smith fully encapsulated the charisma, cockiness and intellect of Ali — all the way down to his unique vocal inflections. Of course biographical films weren’t a new concept in Hollywood during this time, but Smith’s Academy Award-nominated portrayal raised the bar for lead performances in future acclaimed 21st-century biopics like Ray and Walk the Line. — B.G.
16. Eminem, 8 Mile (2002)
Sure, Marshall Mathers is essentially telling his own life story in 8 Mile, trading his Eminem moniker for “B-Rabbit” in the Curtis Hanson-directed flick — but there was no guarantee back in 2002 that the mega-selling rapper could actually carry a feature film. Any doubts were erased when the gritty film was released and fans saw Em in a whole new light (and a whole new hair color). There were some familiar touchstones that we knew about from his lyrics — the bleak Detroit setting, the trailer park on the wrong side of the tracks, the less-than-ideal mom and beloved little girl (though in the film it’s his baby sister, not his daughter) — but we had never seen Eminem in a romantic light, or really in any sort of vulnerable situation until 8 Mile. His biggest achievement on the big screen, however, was his ability to build suspense for the climactic battle-rap scenes — as if the entire audience didn’t already know what he was capable of on the mic. — K.A.
15. Frank Sinatra, From Here to Eternity (1953)
However Sinatra got the role of a lifetime — rumor has it he pulled some of his connections to scare studio boss Harry Cohn into offering it — ‘Ol Blue Eyes proved his mettle alongside established stars Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr and Ernest Borgnine as sad sack WWII private Angelo Maggio. Three years after his once red-hot career had seemingly hit the skids — sending him to headline to sometimes half-empty Las Vegas showrooms — Sinatra landed a role in the much-anticipated blockbuster about Army soldiers stationed in Hawaii before the Pearl Harbor attack. With a haunted, hungry look in his eyes and a rail-thin appearance that made him appear emaciated next to the hunky Clift, balanced by that 1,000-watt smile and charm, Sinatra more than earned his best supporting actor Oscar for his heart-rending death scene alone. With everything to prove and nothing to lose, the crooner showed Hollywood that he still had what it took to light up the screen, and soon enough, the charts as well. — G.K.
14. Björk, Dancer in the Dark (2000)
Björk has always been a multi-threat talent, but this tragic 2000 Lars Von Trier film marked her ascent to silver-screen acclaim. Her spellbinding performance as a naive and nearly-blind factory worker who dreams of Hollywood musicals earned her the Palme d’Or and Best Actress awards at Cannes, and her soundtrack contribution “I’ve Seen it All” with Thom Yorke earned an Oscar nomination for best song. The film unexpectedly made headlines again in October 2017 after Björk accused a “Danish director” — assumed by some to be Von Trier, though the director denies any wrongdoing — of on-set sexual harassment. — M.M.
13. Queen Latifah, Chicago (2002)
When you’re good to mama, mama’s good to you, and Queen Latifah was very good as tough-as-nails, corrupt prison matron “Mama” Morton in the 2002 film adaption of Chicago. In the movie which became the first musical to take home the Best Picture Oscar since 1968, the screen-commanding Latifah dispelled any notion that she couldn’t belt out a musical number as impressively as she could rap — though she ended up losing the best supporting actress Oscar to her co-star, Catherine Zeta-Jones. — M.N.
12. Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights (1997)
Mark Wahlberg introduced himself to the public in 1991 as rapper Marky Mark, leader of The Funky Bunch, and genre critics howled over the group’s bubble-gum aesthetics despite its scoring the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit “Good Vibrations.” But Wahlberg professionally redeemed himself with 1997’s Boogie Nights, when he portrayed John Holmes-inspired porn star Dirk Diggler as a compelling blend of naivety, coke-deluded bravado and anxious approval-seeking. Wahlberg expertly traversed the arc of nubile rookie to fallen idol that concluded with flinty-eyed self-acceptance found through hitting rock bottom. Unlike most artists on this list, he permanently traded music for movies, and became an A-list star along the way. — C.T.
11. Tupac Shakur, Juice (1992)
As Bishop in Ernest Dickerson’s Juice, Tupac Shakur plays a Harlem teen who loses his way to become the embodiment of that establishing Prodigy line in Mobb Deep’s “Survival of the Fittest”: “I’m falling and I can’t turn back.” Bishop loses his soul, is possessed by stress and animated by violence, by the temporary rush of power a gun grants you; his friends no longer recognize him after his first taste of crime, they’re only afraid of him. Shakur was 20 years old when the film was released in 1992, just two months after his debut album dropped, and he plays the part like he understands it from the inside out. His eyes are bright and wide and his grin is the same as the devil’s when, revealed suddenly behind a closing locker door at school, he tells his former friend: “I am crazy. But you know what else? I don’t give a fuck. I don’t give a fuck about you. I don’t give a fuck about Steel… I don’t give a fuck about myself!” By selling the last line, Shakur transforms the performance from horror story to tragedy. — R.S.
10. Justin Timberlake, The Social Network (2010)
Don’t let his unsurprising professional ease playing King Bro of Silicon Valley mislead you about his importance to Facebook chronicle The Social Network‘s success. The film’s portrayal of Napster co-founder Sean Parker leans so heavily on our familiarity with Justin Timberlake’s brand of 90 percent charm and 10 percent BS that when he actually gets busted and ousted at film’s end it’s legitimately shocking — we’d never seen JT get caught before. And if you’re still unconvinced that anyone besides Timberlake could’ve played Parker with similar verve, ask yourself how many other actors you’d trust to deliver a line like “Drop the ‘the'” with the self-impressed profundity of a guy who’s just discovered the formula for penicillin — or how many could make a catchphrase out of a quote they never actually say in full out loud. — A.U.
9. Dolly Parton, 9 to 5 (1980)
Setting aside how disturbingly topical this 1980 film feels now — central themes include the all-too-relevant issues of sexual harassment in the workplace and the gender wage gap — let’s instead focus on how perfectly cast Dolly Parton is in the role of Doralee Rhodes. Parton was already a country music superstar by 1980, but 9 to 5 marked her first-ever movie role, playing one-third of a trio of women (joined by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) who live out their darkest revenge fantasies against a misogynistic, vile boss (Dabney Coleman).
Fonda and Tomlin’s characters initially believe all the office gossip that Parton’s Doralee is involved with the boss, what with her curve-hugging outfits, sky-high hair and fire-engine-red fingernails, but just like with Parton herself, there’s much more than meets the eye. She channeled her feisty fire and career of resounding accomplishments into Doralee, and especially into her pitch-perfect warning to her boss should he ever get handsy with her again: “Look, I got a gun out there in my purse, and up to now, I’ve been forgivin’ and forgettin’ because of the way I was brought up, but I’ll tell you one thing: If you ever say another word about me or make another indecent proposal, I’m gonna get that gun of mine, and I’m gonna change you from a rooster to a hen with one shot.” — K.A.
8. Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls (2006)
By now it’s accepted practice that the breakout star of a TV talent competition isn’t always the winner: Just look at One Direction and Fifth Harmony, who both placed third on their respective iterations of The X Factor and ultimately outperformed the “true” winners. But when Jennifer Hudson, who placed seventh on the third season of American Idol, beat out hundreds of other actresses (including her season’s winner, Fantasia Barrino) for the role of Effie White in the 2006 film adaptation of 1981’s Dreamgirls musical — and walked away with a best supporting actress Oscar in the process — she rewrote the rules of reality stardom. After all, it’s what you do with the platform, not where you place, that makes a career.
And Hudson did a lot with hers, imbuing the source material’s signature showstopper, “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going,” with a fresh urgency, shaking and waving her hands wildly as if she were physically pulling every bit of energy out of the room to sustain her marathon belt-off. When she wasn’t singing in a scene, she seemed possessed by the spirit of Effie, taking over the screen with a royal bluster that makes her regular voice and presence seem startlingly tame by comparison. In Dreamgirls‘ most climactic moment, Hudson swore you were gonna love her; viewers had no reason to question it. — N.F.
7. Prince, Purple Rain (1984)
With five albums already under his sparkly belt, Prince had established himself as an immensely gifted musician way before 1984’s Purple Rain. But the film, which was his acting debut, showed that his talents expanded way beyond the studio. Granted, the plot mirrored his own life, following a troubled singer trying to juggle strained family relationships and a budding career. Yet it also brilliantly translated Prince’s rock star intensity onto the big screen, both in his romantic scenes alongside real-life musical protege Apollonia and in his blistering performances on stage at Minnesota’s iconic First Avenue club. It didn’t matter if you were a fan or not; his presence was simply mesmerizing. If the movie wasn’t enough, Prince set his musical standard even higher by anchoring it with the eponymous, award-winning soundtrack album, considered his magnum opus by fans and critics alike. — B.G.
6. Madonna, A League of Their Own (1992)
By the early 1990s, Madonna was, in the words of A League of Their Own producer Robert Greenhut, “hot stuff.” “She was Madonna,” said lead actress Geena Davis. “We wondered if we were going to be able to talk to her.” Not only did Madonna talk with them (and allegedly make everyone Rice Krispies Treats on her birthday), she more than held her own in the eventual basic-cable classic while acting — and sliding — alongside her fellow Rockford Peaches as the wisecracking, man-slaying “All the Way” Mae Mordabito. Much like Madonna’s own persona at the time, Mae was played with a certain toughness and flirtation, as convincing making highlight plays on the diamond as she was stealing hearts in a bar full of GIs. She also had a chance to show off her comedic timing alongside Rosie O’Donnell, Mae’s best friend in the film. Their playful, scene-stealing chemistry was no act: The two have remained pals ever since. — C.W.
5. Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Given that her role as Dorothy Gale is one of the most indelible in celluloid history, it’s almost inconceivable that MGM initially wanted Shirley Temple for the part of the young girl swept away by a Kansas tornado to a magical land (along, of course, with her dog, Toto). Regardless of where she came in the pecking order, the magnetic Garland — who was just 18 when she shot the 1939 release — made it her own, as well as the movie’s signature song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” At the 1940 Academy Awards ceremony, she was presented with a special Juvenile Oscar for her performance in Oz — as well as that year’s Babes in Arms — and she would go on to be one of Hollywood’s greatest stars over the next two decades, including a towering performance in 1954’s first musical remake of A Star Is Born. — M.N.
4. Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born (2018)
It might not seem like much of a stretch for Lady Gaga’s big screen breakout to come as an aspiring pop star. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Gaga is playing a Hollywood-ified version of herself in A Star Is Born. While there are certainly parallels between the “Just Dance” singer and her alter ego Ally, this isn’t the story of Lady Gaga’s rise. It’s the story of an insecure woman plucked for stardom by a weary alcoholic who just wants to take another look at her. Stefani Germanotta willed herself into being Lady Gaga, until Lady Gaga became the superstar we know and love. Her Ally, however, is resigned to her unremarkable life, until the unexpected happens. But from the second Gaga takes the stage with Edith Piaf eyebrows to belt out “La Vie En Rose,” she electrifies those in the theaters as much as she enchants Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine character.
That’s no surprise, of course: We’ve seen Gaga light up much bigger stages for a decade already. However, Gaga’s acting artistry — which will stun even her diehard Little Monsters — is what really shines through in Star, particularly as a drunk Jackson tells Ally she’s ugly and the pain of her worst insecurity flashes across her face. Gaga brings to life Ally’s quiet determination to find herself as an artist in a world obsessed with sexy pop stars who sing frothy but ultimately forgettable tunes — a struggle that Gaga herself is intimately familiar with — while battling her fierce devotion to her struggling husband. Together, Cooper and Gaga make a beautiful, exhilarating, and heartbreaking but never altogether bad romance. And when Gaga takes her final bow, introducing herself as Mrs. Ally Maine, her star as a bona fide actress is born. — D.W.
3. Ice Cube, Boyz N the Hood (1991)
If there’s a thesis statement to the first half-decade of Ice Cube’s entertainment career, it could be one of Doughboy’s most famous lines: “Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s goin’ on in the hood.” That was the backbone of N.W.A and the underlying theme of Boyz N the Hood, and the rapper born O’Shea Jackson Jr. embodied it, whether in his lyrics or his acting. Maybe the best thing that can be said of Cube’s performance in Boyz is that it hardly seems like acting at all. Just 22 years old when the film was released, Cube was barely removed from the life the film was depicting, and the character — which John Singleton wrote with him specifically in mind — fit him like a glove: charismatic, vaguely threatening, loyal to a code, wondering why it all makes so little sense. It’s Straight Outta Compton in feature film form — even more so than the biopic titled after that classic album decades later — with Cube’s authenticity shining through. — D.R.
2. Barbra Streisand, The Way We Were (1973)
A single scene is enough to prove the point: On one of those New York nights, Barbra Streisand’s Katie runs into the uber-WASP Hubble, played by Robert Redford, who she had a thing for in college, out at a bar. She takes him home; he’s wasted. They go to bed together, and Streisand’s face as she reclines back onto the pillow next to this man of her dreams toggles between nerves and relief. It’s happening, this improbable scenario she’s fantasized about, only he’s passed out. Extending a manicured hand, she teases his hair in a gesture that’s as sweet as it is gently creepy — until he shifts in his sleep and cuddles up to her, pinning down her arm. Now she’s annoyed. Now he’s dimly stirring and pressing his lips to her neck and her eyes close in expectant bliss. Then he’s on top of her and her face smooths placid. Cut to her in close-up and Streisand’s expression is unreadable; her eyes seem somewhere else, like part of her is in the daydream of how this was supposed to be even while she’s actually there, in her bed, knowing the weight of him.
The scene unfolds relatively early in Sydney Pollack’s sprawling romantic drama, set against the backdrop of World War II and, later, McCarthyism. It’s got shades of The Great Gatsby and Play It As It Lays; it’s an American epic about love, marriage and the movies. It is a vehicle for an incandescent and stricken Barbra Streisand, portraying a woman stuck in love with a man who is too intimidated by her spirit and intelligence to stay with her, too cowardly to grow enough to make it work. It’s a role she had played before — she won an Oscar for it with 1968’s Funny Girl — but never better than this. Can it be that it was all so simple then? Never is. — R.S.
1. Cher, Moonstruck (1987)
Someone like Judy Garland certainly had a more impactful Hollywood career overall, but when it comes to a single performance from an acting singer or a singing actor or whatever you wanna call it, Cher’s Oscar-winning turn in the 1987 romcom Moonstruck remains the standard by which you mentally check all others. As an Italian-American widow doing her best to resist falling for her fiance’s estranged bad-boy brother (Nic Cage), Cher carries herself with a sense of downtrodden exasperation, seemingly bested by life’s myriad disappointments. But when Loretta Castorini’s brassy spark rears its head through a perfectly executed slap or an are-you-kiddin’-me glare, watch out… particularly if you’re Cage’s cheek.
Moonstruck is a story about finding the courage to feel hopeful about life after the world brings you to your knees, and Cher brings that mixture of reluctance and romantic recklessness to the screen with a self-effacing realism and millisecond-sharp comedic timing. Few performances are this irresistible, hysterical and believably low-key — and the fact that it came from one of the 20th century’s biggest pop stars leaves us unable to snap out of loving Cher in her deservedly Oscar-winning performance more than 30 years later. — J. Lynch