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The 6 Best Performances by Musicians in Film (Plus the 6 Worst)

The 6 Best Performances by Musicians in Film (Plus the 6 Worst)

This Friday, Maroon 5 frontman and “The Voice” judge Adam Levine will make his feature film debut. Having rock stars, pop stars and musicians appear in movies is nothing new, but what’s always up in the air is how good their performance will be. Will Levine’s first film turn out to be a strong performance like Eminem in “8 Mile”? Or will he fall into Madonna’s “Swept Away” category? We’ll find out this weekend, but for now let’s take a look at some of the best and worst performances by music artists in film. Let us know if you agree and if we’ve left anyone out in the comments.

READ MORE: Watch: Adam Levine Asks Everyone How To Act in Featurette for ‘Begin Again

Björk in “Dancer in the Dark” (2000)

We get that not everybody is a fan of Björk’s brand of Icelandic pixie pop. But if you’ve ever doubted that she has depth as an artist, take a look (or re-examine) her as Selma Ježková, the lead character in Lars von Trier’s 2000 musical drama. As a Czech immigrant and single mother who works at a bleak factory and is slowly losing her sight thanks to a hereditary disease, Björk’s Selma slips into trance-like daydreams where her dull, depressing existence transforms into a musical. Though the plot gets bleaker by the minute, Björk creates a believable and sympathetic heroine — albeit, a heartbreaking one. When the film premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, Björk won the Best Actress award for her no-holds-barred performance. When her character sings “I’ve Seen It All,” you know she’s telling the truth — as gut-wrenching as it is. The singer-songwriter said she found the process of making the film so emotionally taxing that she would never act again. Based on her performance here, we’re hoping she changes her mind. (Paula Bernstein)

Eminem in “8 Mile” (2002)

“8 Mile” shouldn’t have worked. The film, which looks at the career of a rapper growing up in inner city Detroit, stars Eminem in the lead role. Luckily, as bizarre as it sounded, the already-established musician proved to have some acting chops as well. He impressed all with his non-showy, subtle, but hypnotizing performance and epitomizes a successful music to film crossover. While he hasn’t starred in anything since, the role, which was clearly personal (and somewhat autobiographical), is a reminder that the man’s anger and passion can translate onto screen. (Eric Eidelstein)

David Bowie in “Labyrinth” (1986)

David Bowie already proved he had what it took to carry a film before appearing in Jim Henson’s beloved family film “Labyrinth,” with a bracing lead turn in “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” But while it didn’t come as a shock that Bowie could believably embody an alien (this is Bowie we’re talking about here) in “Man Who Fell,” his scene-stealing performance as Jareth the Goblin King was a nice surprise. Bowie is cheeky and at times terrifying in the role (if you grew up watching the film, his performance likely gave you nightmares), clearly having the time of his life. His energy and obvious enthusiasm for the project is infectious. (Nigel M. Smith)

Mick Jagger in “Performance” (1970)

Donald Cammell (“Demon Seed,” “Wild Side”) and Nicolas Roeg’s (“Walkabout,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth”) iconic 1970 British crime drama was the perfect platform for Mick Jagger to get his acting career off the ground. The Rolling Stones’ front man simply played himself, or something very close to it, and did a pretty good job. In the film, Jagger plays Turner, a reclusive rock star with a penchant for manipulation, who has recently turned his back on the biz, seeking a quieter life of drugs and sex minus the music. Living a life of hedonistic luxury, Turner’s sanctuary then welcomes in a new member Chaz (James Fox), an ex-gangster and man’s man on the lam, and things slowly go a little haywire. Paths merge, realities blur and true identity is questioned. The film is a must see in general and Jagger has wonderful swagger throughout. (Oliver MacMahon)

Jennifer Lopez in “Out of Sight” (1998)

You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Jenny From the Block was once a fiery actress. For over a decade, when not making music or appearing as a judge on “American Idol,” Lopez’s film career has been on the decline, with uninspired performances in tepid romantic comedies and inert thrillers. But in Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 scorching two-hander “Out of Sight,” Lopez was magnetic. In her best on-screen performance to date, Lopez plays a U.S. Marshall who falls for a bank robber (George Clooney). Clooney is great as always, oozing charm like a pro, so it’s Lopez who surprises in the film. She matches him in the charisma department (no small feat when you’re up against Clooney, who’s made a career out of playing suave) and brings real grit to the role that’s wholly believable. (Nigel M. Smith)

Courtney Love in “The People Vs. Larry Flynt” (1996)

Wild one Courtney Love isn’t the most liked celebrity on the planet but she can act when she puts her mind to it. The “Hole” singer and former wife of Kurt Cobain proved it with her portrayal of Althea Leasure Flynt in Milos Forman’s 1996 biopic. The films follows the rise and fall of “Hustler” publisher Larry Flynt over 35 years and Love unequivocally gives her all. In reward, Love received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress, and a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress. (Oliver MacMahon)
And six of the worst…

Jon Bon Jovi in “Moonlight and Valentino” (1995)

Elizabeth Perkins stars as a widow coping with the recent death of her husband. The film chronicles her journey to heal as she manages to find solace in a group of friends, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, Kathleen Turner and Whoopi Goldberg, who have also had to cope with their fair share of hardship. Perkins’ character too, begins to recover from her loss, upon meeting a handsome young painter hired to work on her house, played by Jon Bon Jovi. “Making his film debut as a flirtatious house painter who helps Rebecca out of her funk, the rock singer Jon Bon Jovi smiles too much, talks in a nervous monotone, and exudes little charisma,” Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote in his review panning the film. It’s hard to believe that “nervous” and “little charisma” could appear in the same sentence as Jon Bon Jovi, whose persona onstage has always been larger than life. (Shipra Gupta)

Bob Dylan in “Masked and Anonymous” (2003)

Bob Dylan not only acted in the film, but he also co-wrote it with longtime “Seinfeld” staff writer Larry Charles. The film centers on a the fictional rock legend Jack Fate — played, of course, by Dylan — and takes place in a totalitarian society not too far in the future. “Masked and Anonymous” features an all-star cast that includes John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, Luke Wilson, Val Kilmer, and the list goes on. All of whom, presumably, lept at the chance to appear in the film because it offered the chance to appear alongside the man and the legend himself. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert called the film a “vanity production. “He has so long since disappeared into his persona that there is little received sense of the person there. The vanity belongs perhaps to those who flattered their own by working with him, by assuming (in the face of all they had learned during hard days of honest labor on a multitude of pictures) that his genius would somehow redeem a screenplay that could never have seemed other than what it was, incoherent raving juvenile meanderings.” (Shipra Gupta)

Ludacris in “Crash” (2004)

Forgetting the fact that Christopher Brian Bridges failed to make his character sympathetic at all, the fact that he was even in “Crash” can only adequately be called ludicrous. As screenwriter Paul Haggis’ mouthpiece, Ludacris came off as far less of a worthwhile character and more of a nuisance. While characters of color were the only ones able to breath a semblance of life into Haggis’ preachy ensemble drama, it was Don Cheadle and Terrence Howard that did it best, with Ludacris sent back to his first career with his tail between his legs. (Brandon Latham)

Mick Jagger in “Freejack” (1992)

The man with the lips that could sink a thousand ships has given some peculiar, eclectic performances in his lifetime, even including a spin as Australian bushranger Ned Kelly. One outing that can’t get you no satisfaction though is as bounty hunter Victor Vacendak in Geoff Murphy’s depressingly bad science fiction film “Freejack.” Jagger is seemingly disinterested and stony for the entire film. The performance is far too lazed and makes one question if Jagger is simply resting on his awesome laurels. Who could blame him really? On the upside, this time-travel shocker does included a cameo from Amanda Plummer (“Pulp Fiction”) as a nun with a gun. (Oliver MacMahon)

Sting in “The Bride” (1985)

An adaptation of the iconic novel “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley, “The Bride” is thankfully often forgotten in the mess that was the creative influx of the mid-1980s. Sting of The Police is a success story because he was discovered as a teacher before enjoying fame as the band’s frontman, but this film has no such fairytale. He flops as the mad scientist who crafts his monsters, but not quite as much as Jennifer Beals does as his creation Eva. (Brandon Latham)

Madonna in “Swept Away” (2002)

Although it would be unfair to assume that “Swept Away” marked the moment when Guy Ritchie and Madonna first realized things weren’t working out, the film is definitely a low point for them both, at least career-wise. Madonna, who had impressed critics with her performance in “Evita,” stars as Amber Leighton, a beautiful, wealthy but rotten woman who is taken by her husband on a private cruise to the Mediterranean. “Swept Away” is a wretched film with Madonna giving an over-the-top performance that pretty much brought the end to her acting career. In terms of musicians who made their way to the big screen, Madonna’s career is probably not one to emulate. (Eric Eidelstein)

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