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The best singers turned actors

MichaelJackson-Thriller.jpgIn a little nod to the passing of Michael Jackson this week I thought that we could have a look at singers who have turned to acting, since this site is all about film it seemed the most sensible topic for a feature.

While Michael Jackson shouldn't really make it onto this list, it is a list that so often begins with the word "worst" or turns into a list of terrible cinematic moments.

However there are some good singers turned actors out there, some amazing ones in fact, and I've looked through a huge list of names to find the ones who I think are good, but you might disagree, and if you do then you can wade in with your choices.

When you start thinking about this list there are a couple of names that leap onto the keyboard as standard, but more because they have reached recent notoriety for their appearances in film, and not because they have given good or consistent performances. You might be thinking of a few of those names already, 50 Cent, Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson, Vanessa Hudgens, Miley Cyrus, and so on.

However if you think a little harder there are some other names that pop up, and you may have found them popping into the list while you were thinking of those above, and these names begin to make you think of some good performances, some great, and some you could class as real actors.

Now I've actually noted down a list of well over thirty names, and while I'm going to write up a few of them here, I don't want to cover every single one, this is something I'd rather you did in the comments and wrote about your favourite. So let me start with my slightly haphazard first five.

WillSmith.jpgWill Smith first came to my attention on television in his The Fresh Prince of Bel Air show, music wise it was Summertime and Boom! Shake the Room that came up next, and then he did something strange, he started acting.

If I think back it's probably Bad Boys that I saw first, but when I caught his performance before in Six Degrees of Separation I was astounded, as his performance was superb and totally against the character you'd expect from Smith, as he was gay, and that really surprised me. However the guy was really good, and then it wasn't until Enemy of the State that we saw something similar in terms of acting.

Then came Ali and I, Robot, interspersed with some poor and popular films, but a run came with The Pursuit of Happyness, I Am Legend (Filmstalker review), Hancock and the superb Seven Pounds (Filmstalker review), all great performances.

There's no doubt Will Smith has to be the best singer turned actor there's been, and he's continuing to prove that film after film.

FrankSinatra.jpgFrank Sinatra was an iconic man, whether you're talking about the singing career, the acting, or anything else behind that, but he was well regarded as one of the leading actors of his time and there are a few roles that still back that up.

I can't say I'm a huge knowledge of his acting career but I do know a couple of roles. Guys and Dolls was one of the ones I remember most, and for good reason, it's a musical and features Marlon Brando as his co-star, or is that the other way around?

However there's a film I remember him for above any other, and that's Suddenly. Not the popular choice of From Here to Eternity, High Society or Ocean's Eleven, it's a film that is a little grittier and tougher than the rest with the film telling of a group of men who arrive in a small town, holding someone hostage in his own home. The home overlooks the train station where the President of the United States is set to arrive and they are set to assassinate him.

The Manchurian Candidate is a well known film for him now, a great performance in a film which he himself ensured was held back after he thought it was un-American. I'm glad it finally did see the light of day though as it was a great performance.

Von Ryan's Express is the last film I remember him for, and I can see the ending in my head even now, an ending that always seems to be right but also annoying at the same time.

He may have had a very narrow range of acting, but it was the combination of the right role and his charismatic on screen performance that really did make him such a great star.

BarbraStreisand.jpgBarbra Streisand isn't probably a name you might have thought belonged up here, but I'm going with her. While other top names on the list have tons of films under their belt, Streisand only has eighteen, and one of them is in pre-production, and it's one of the two Focker films, so maybe I should just cut those two off the list straight away.

Looking back though her first two films were Funny Girl and Hello, Dolly! which both propelled her along her acting career, but it was really The Way We Were that I think was her early high point, causing numerous amounts of tears to flow alongside Robert Redford.

Then we can cut to Funny Lady, A Star is Born, and more recently Yentl, The Prince of Tides and The Mirror Has Two Faces, and all three of those films featured her as the director. What the hell she's doing involved in the Fockers series is beyond me, unless it's hard cash.

She certainly is a talented actress but also director, and a number of her appearances have been quite iconic films.

Cher.jpgCher is definitely deserving of being up this list don't you think? The first film that might leap into your head when you think of her is Mask, and quite rightly so, she was superb in that film.

However for me it was The Witches of Eastwick that stands out the most, just because the film was so great as a package and she stood up so well to her huge co-stars Jack Nicholson, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer. That there's really no arguing that she's not a great actress.

One of her most popular roles that had a huge influence on her acting standing, was that of Moonstruck starring alongside Nicolas Cage. She was superb there, and thinking about it I'd probably say it's in her top three performances.

Some might talk about Mermaids, but if we're to look at other performances from her I'd be tempted to discuss her appearance in Silkwood alongside Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell, a film that did help to push her towards Mask.

BetteMidler.jpgBette Midler is an actress I usually associate with being loud, opinionated and overbearing. However not so if you look carefully at some of her performances. If we consider Ruthless People and Outrageous Fortune as her early roles then there's For the Boys, The First Wives Club and the stand out Beaches that show she's more than her on stage persona.

From here, and probably alongside Bette Midler, it gets a little muddled for me. I'm struggling to discern quite a number of names. So let me just pick out a few from the remaining list that I think deserve a mention here, over and above those I've already highlighted.

Bing Crosby is more known for his musical roles than his dramatic ones, and I think that drops him down this list because so many of these singers have become true actors without musicals, a genre where they would undoubtedly feel more at home in than a dramatic film. White Christmas and High Society are two of the biggest roles, but does anyone remember him for the non-musical roles?

Kris Kristofferson recalls Convoy for me, but through his lengthy career it's been Blade that has brought him back to the fore in a straightforward but great fun performance that has endeared him to a whole new group of fans.

Queen Latifah is showing that there's a lot more to her talent, and not just in the realm of voicing cartoon characters. She's not choosing the best of roles but Taxi and Chicago are probably her best moments.

Justin Timberlake isn't doing half bad, and Shrek the Third aside he's got Alpha Dog, Black Snake Moan and Southland Tales showing that he has something there. I think a better choice of roles and a little more experience might propel him upwards.

Alicia Keys is looking as though she could be the next to crack the move if she wants to. Smokin' Aces (Filmstalker review), The Nanny Diaries and The Secret Life of Bees has shown whst she has to offer so far, and it's looking good.

Could Beyoncé Knowles crack the move from singer to serious actress? She's certainly got the talent what with her first big role proving quite a bit in Austin Powers in Goldmember, (let's not mention The Pink Panther remake), then her superb turn in Dreamgirls and Cadillac Records, both mixing dramatic acting with some powerful musical moments, and the recent Obsessed moving her far away from her musical side.

Dolly Parton is definitely a name to credit here, although her roles haven't been many, if I just said Nine to Five you'd know the film, and there's Steel Magnolias and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas to consider too. Short, but definitely sweet.

Mos Def may mumble his lines, but his role in The Italian Job showed there was a lot more to him, and 16 blocks (Filmstalker review) then Be Kind Rewind (Filmstalker review) cemented that idea. Follow that with Cadillac Records and ignore Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Filmstalker review), and this is a guy that's going to ride up this list in years to come.

Tom Waits appears in a lot of films, but his roles are never huge, and when they are the main attraction the film doesn't get the exposure. I think of his films and I think of Wristcutters: A Love Story (Filmstalker review), Domino, Short Cuts and Dracula. I'm not sure I've seen enough of him to say whether he's a name that deserves to be high on the list, but of what I've seen he's proven he's an actor as well as a singer.

Jennifer Lopez pains me. Most of her roles have been bitterly disappointing because they've been poor romantic comedies, usually a term that can kill a film instantly. However there have been some good moments in there, and for me the unrewarded The Cell is one of them. Yes most people will call for Out of Sight, and that is a good performance from her, but The Cell has her leading and not leaning on a big name male co-star. I'd also call attention to her voicing performance in Antz. Give her the right role and script, stretch her a little dramatically, and she can deliver without a doubt.

Before I go I'm going to throw in a British singer turned actor, Ashley Walters from So Solid Crew. I first saw him in Sugarhouse (Filmstalker review) where he turned round an excellent performance, and then again in WAZ (Filmstalker review) where he did the same, but he's also had roles in Goal!, Get Rich or Die Tryin' and Speed Racer.

Okay, there are tons more names I could go through, and I'm really trying not to write them all up so that we can hear from you about who you think are the best, or even the worst, singers turned actors.

Let's see if you agree with some of the choices I've made, or why don't you just get commenting with the names and performances that you think deserved to be mentioned.



Mark Wahlberg, he was good in....er....Three Kings

While she is by no means my favorite singer, NOR a particularly good actress, she is iconic, and she has turned in a couple of decent performances. I think we have to mention Madonna in a list like this. I love "A League Of Their Own" and she's quite good in it. And of course "Desperately Seeking Susan." Plus, who can forget "Shanghai Surprise" with ex-husband Sean Penn?

Couldn't agree more about Mos Def. I'm not sure I understand the Hitchiker's Guide comment as I thought he was alright in the movie, but 16 Blocks was a great performance.

Even though he's not a great actor, I think Ice T has made some good choices with his acting career. The movie he did with Denzel and Lithgow was good fun...more because of Lithgow, but Ice T held up his end.

Of course, the greatest musician turned actor is Alanis Morissette. Her turn as a nose-honking, mute God in that Kevin Smith movie was truly Oscar-worthy. ;-)

I recently went and saw "the prestige" and it shocked me how well David Bowie did as Nicolae Tesla. He really knocks it out of the park when he gets off the bench. And now that i think about it, he really made "labyrenth" the classic it was, not to mention the tunes that he rolled it up in.

I'm not particularly a Bowie fan, but i have to hand it to him for his theatrics and style. I never think about him as an actor but when he does it, he delivers.

You said it Richard, I'd go with Barbra Streisand too. For reasons you've already mentioned. ;)

Not a fan of Ms. Lopez but I caught An Unfinished Life on telly the other night and I have to say she held her own opposite Redford and Freeman.

Oh Shaun you're having a laugh aren't you? Shanghai Surprise?!

Hap, the Hitchikers Guide comment is because the film itself is pretty poor and I'd rather forget it. He though, is a different story.

I haven't seen Ice T or Alanis Morissette in many films to be honest. As for Bowie Mogulus, I've seen him in more bad films to be honest.

Patrick Wilson, did tons of Broadway and then came out in some good movies. Phantom of the Opera, Watchmen, The Alamo, The A-Team... Well as I go on no particularly good movies but he's a class actor and a great singer.

Well he was in Hard Candy, and having just seen The A-Team he was a lot of fun in that role that's for sure.


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