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Top 20 Musicians Turned Actors

Updated on July 3, 2011

20. The Beatles

Top Chart Position: 1 (21 times)

Movies: 5

  • A Hard Day's Night
  • Help!
  • Magical Mystery Tour
  • Yellow Submarine
  • Let It Be

The Beatles were one of the most, if not the most, influential band in music history. Their movies started out primarily as self-promotional vehicles for new songs. Yellow Submarine is primarily an animated feature. Let It Be was a documentary-style film released after the group's breakup had been announced. A Hard Day's Night was the 8th highest grossing film of 1964 and their most commercially successful foray into the medium of film.

19. Ice-T

Top Chart Position: 14

Longest-running Role: Det. Odafin "Fin" Tutuola on Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit

It has been oft-noted that the artist who rose to international fame on a record entitled "OG: Original Gangster," one of the seminal records in the history of gangsta rap, now makes his living playing a cop.  For ten years he has played Fin Tutuola on L&O: SVU, and shows no signs of slowing down.

18. Mariah Carey

Top Chart Position: 1 (18 times)

Top Grossing Film: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire ($62.8 mil) as Mrs. Weiss

No one else on this list has such a great disparity between their success as a singer and their absolute failure as an actor.  Carey's first major foray into film, the movie "Glitter," grossed less than 25% of its budget and was nominated for six Razzie Awards, winning one for Carey (Worst Actress).  It was not until seven years later that Carey was able to redeem herself and her acting career through a potent performance as Mrs. Weiss in the film Precious.

17. Mos Def

Top Chart Position: 16

Highest Grossing Film: The Italian Job ($176 mil) as Left Ear

Mos Def is one of the few hip hop artists who have drawn acclaim instead of jeers from critics for their acting. His work on television (House, Yo Gabba Gabba, Chapelle's Show), theater (Topdog/Underdog), and movies (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Italian Job) has shown his versatility and believability.  He has been nominated for Emmy and Golden Globe awards.

16. Chris Brown

Top Chart Position: 1 (twice)

Highest Grossing Film: Takers ($55 mil)

Brown's singing career was an almost instant success.  At age 16, he had a number one song ("Run It") and was well on his way to making a name for himself as an African-American pop icon.  His film debut was a very limited role in the film "Stomp the Yard", after which he was in the movie "This Christmas."  He also released a version of the song of the same name.  In his biggest commercial success, he had a leading role as well as executive producing credits in "Takers," in which he starred with T.I.

15. 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson)

Top Chart Position: 1 (3 times)

Highest Grossing Film: Righteous Kill ($76.7 mil) as Marcus "Spider" Smith

The only reason that 50 Cent is this high on the list is due to his dedication to acting.  In 2010 pictures came out showing 50 cent in what many people claimed was a "near death" state.  Gone was the chiseled jaw and bulging muscles, replaced with a thin, sallow, sickly, sunken face.  Fortunately, that was the look he as going for.  He had gone on a liquid diet and walked on the treadmill three hours a day for a role in an upcoming film Things Fall Apart where he plays a person dying of cancer.  He was down to 160 pounds.  Though his first foray into acting (Get Rich or Die Tryin') was roundly panned, his dedication is admirable.

14. T.I.

Top Chart Position: 1 (twice)

Highest Grossing Film: Takers ($55 mil), minor role in American Gangster ($266 mil) as Stevie Lucas

Unlike many of the musicians/actors on the list, all of T.I.'s acting performances have been very well received by audiences and, if not praised, at least not roundly panned by critics.  In a main role, T.I.'s best film presence is in the movie "Takers," in which he receives executive producer credit and was made in association with his company Grand Hustle Entertainment.  T.I.'s acting career was put on hold recently as he was incarcerated from May 26, 2009- May 26, 2010 for concealed weapons charges, and then was arrested on September 1, 2010 on drug charges.  Legal analysts think he may be incarcerated for a far longer period of time for the drug charges as they are a violation of his parole.

13. Justin Timberlake

HIghest chart position: 1 (3 times alone, 1 time as member of *NSYNC)

Highest Grossing Film: Shrek the Third (799 mil)

Justin Timberlake has one of the most memorable faces on the planet, thanks to his fame as part of the boy band *NSYNC and his solo music career.  This also makes him a bit difficult to cast as a traditional actor because people won't associate him with a character.  For this reason he has been cast successfully in voice roles, such as in "Shrek the Third" and the upcoming "Yogi Bear."  However, many critics have been praising his performance as Sean Parker, founder of Napster and the first president of Facebook, in the recently released "The Social Network."

12. Jennifer Hudson

Top Chart Position: 24

Highest-grossing Film: Dreamgirls

Awards: Academy Award, Best Supporting Actress, Dreamgirls, 2007; Grammy Award, Best R&B album, Jennifer Hudson, 2009

Jennifer Hudson is still primarily a singer, however her Academy Award says something about her abilities as an actress. She was discovered during season three of the television show American Idol. She has performed with other singers on this list such as Beyonce ("Dreamgirls") and Queen Latifah ("The Secret Life of Bees").  

11. Ice Cube

Top Chart Position: 15

Highest Grossing Film: Anaconda ($136.8 mil) as Danny Rich

Ice Cube's acting experience is probably the most varied and the greatest departure from his music persona. His start as a rapper, best known for his work in NWA before his solo career, had him rapping explicit content regularly. By contrast, his family-friendly roles such as the travel-companion uncle in the comedy "Are We There Yet?" and pee-wee football coach in  "The Longshots" are extremely tame. (A referee might want to rethink that penalty if he knew that "When I'm called off, I got a sawed-off/ squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off"). He also seems comfortable working with other former music stars, starring with Jennifer Lopez in the movie Anaconda and with Mark Wahlberg in the film "3 Kings."

10. Queen Latifah

Top Chart Position: 23

Highest Grossing Film: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs ($886.7 mil) as Ellie

Queen Latifah's work has varied from rap to soulful jazz to acting.  Her acting experience has been varied, from "black comedies" ("House Party 2", "Barber Shop:Back in Business") to voice actress ("Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs", "Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio") to musicals ("Chicago", "Hairspray") to dramas ("The Secret Life of Bees").  Her acting and singing has been widely praised by critics and she has gained mainstream acceptance.

9. Frank Sinatra

Highest Chart Position: 1 (seven times)

Number of movies: 53 (often starring as himself or "singer")

Awards: Academy Award, Best Supporting Actor, From Here to Eternity, 1953; Grammy Award, Album of the Year, Come Dance With Me!, 1959 and September of My Years, 1961, and A Man and His Music, 1967

As a member and leader of the powerful and potent "Rat Pack," the traditional crooning and good old boys roles were owned by Old Blue Eyes.  He was in many films and musicals and put out a wonderful collection of work during the same time period.

8. Eminem

Top Chart Position: 1 (13 times)

Highest Grossing Film: 8 Mile ($242 mil) as Jimmy "B-Rabbit" Smith, Jr.

Awards: Academy Award, Best Original Song, Lose Yourself, from the film 8 Mile, 2003

Eminem has not done much traditional acting, but when he does, such as in the semi-autobiographical "8 Mile," it is surprisingly good. He also constructed and composed much of the soundtrack for the film, a song from which he won an Academy Award.

7. Bing Crosby

Top Chart Position: 1 (39 times)

Number of Films: 80

Awards: Academy Award, Best Actor, Going My Way, 1944

Bing Crosby is best known for his crooning voice, but he also performed in many feature films.  White Christmas is his most enduring work, but his role as a catholic priest won him an Academy Award in 1944.  He was in many films, often uncredited or playing the role of "singer."

6. Cher

Top Chart Position: 1 (4 times alone, 1 time with Sonny & Cher)

Highest Grossing Film: Moonstruck ($80.6 mil) as Loretta Castorini

Awards: Academy Award, Best Actress, Moonstruck, 1987; Grammy Award, Album of the Year, Believe, 1998

Cher has had one of the longest careers of anyone on this list in the media of film, music and television.  She is the only female artist to have charted in the Billboard Hot 100 in 5 separate decades.

5. Beyonce

Top Chart Position: 1 (5 times alone, 4 times with Destiny's Child)

Highest Grossing Film: Austin Powers in Goldmember ($296.6 mil) as Foxxy Cleopatra

While her husband Jay-Z has been noticably absent from acting for the most part, Beyonce has delved into it full-force.  Her work has been varied from comedy ("Austin Powers in Goldmember") to musicals ("Dreamgirls", "Carmen: A HIp-Hopera") to drama ("Obsessed").  Many critics have said that Beyonce has grown as an actress during her roles, although she is not an A-list actress yet.

4. Mark Wahlberg

Top Chart Position: 1 (once, as front man of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch)

Highest Grossing Film: Planet of the Apes ($362 mil) as Captain Leo Davidson

Wahlberg is this high on the list because he did not try to parley his fame as a musician into an acting career; he completely turned his back on his Marky Mark persona and built up his acting career from the ground-up.  He has starred with many of Hollywood's A-list actors (George Clooney in "3 Kings" and "A Perfect Storm," Don Cheadle and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in "Boogie Nights," and Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon in "The Departed") and has since become a member of the Hollywood elite.

3. Elvis Presley

Top Chart Position: 1 (8 times)

Highest Grossing Film: Viva Las Vegas as Lucky Jackson

Number of Films: 31

Elvis' prolific film career combined with his success on the charts has never been equalled.  However, he is only third on this list because his films were primarily self-promotional fluff films for his music (as was the style at the time-see #20).  His highest grossing film, "Viva Las Vegas" is also his song promoting said movie.  The pressures of filming and recording at such a pace took a toll on the quality of music for these films, and for some of them ("Viva Las Vegas included) no formal soundtrack was released because not enough good material could be written and recorded in such a time frame.

2. Jennifer Lopez

Top Chart Position: 1 (4 times)

Highest Grossing Film: Shall We Dance? ($170.1 mil) as Pauline

Jennifer Lopez is multi-talented and is well-respected as an actress as well as a singer and dancer.  In many minds she has "the total package."  She is as high as she is on this list because she has been able to fully pursue both of her careers simultaneously.  She is the only person on this list to have a number one album (J. Lo) and movie (The Wedding Planner) in the same week (Jan 20-27, 2001).

1. Will Smith

Top Chart Position: 1 (twice)

Highest Grossing Film: Independence Day ($817 mil) as Captain Steven "Steve" Hiller, USMC

Will Smith has been able to leverage his star power into concurrent musical and film ventures.  His career started out as a rapper in Philadelphia with DJ Jazzy Jeff.  They were very popular and reached number 4 on the charts with the song "Summertime" in 1991.  He was able to parlay his winning charisma and good looks into a starring role on TV with "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."  He played a fictionalized version of himself named William "Will" Smith (Smith's real name is Willard) who moves from Philadelphia to California to live with rich, conservative relatives.  He also recorded the theme song.  After the show ended, he re-started his recording career in earnest, rolling out a string of accessible top 20 hits such as "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It", "Miami", "Just the Two of Us", and "Wild Wild West."  It was during this time that his per film salary increased significantly, from $5 million for "Independence Day" in 1996 to $20 million for "Ali" in 2001.  In 2007, Newsweek named him the "Most Powerful Actor on the Planet."


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    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Im sure it must of slipped your mind, but Jamie Foxx would make a strong case for top 5

    • Kelly Comas profile image

      Kelly Comas 

      10 years ago

      In that case I think LL should have made the cut. Compare Mariah's (or Chris Brown or Jennifer Hudson) ImDB profile with LL's.

      Top Charting Position: #3 if we're talking about Billboard's Hot 100.

      Highest Grossing Film: $116 mil. (S.W.A.T.)

      First role was as himself in 1986 and has been a regular on TV show NCIS not to mention he had his own sit-com in the 90's - In the House. Played alongside Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday and Samuel L. Jackson in Deep Blue Sea.

      That's a transition. If he wanted he could stop making music altogether and just be an actor. Not sure about Mariah, Jennifer Hudson or Chris Brown - they'd be better making music in my opinion.

    • dosters profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Chicago


      Thanks for the comment! I forgot that Jared Leto was in 30STM. Snoop and LL made my original rough draft, but they didn't make my final cut. My main goal was to list the ones who most successfully made the transition. Thanks for the suggestions and comment.

    • Kelly Comas profile image

      Kelly Comas 

      10 years ago

      Some more:

      Jared Leto of 30 Seconds To Mars.

      Snoop Dogg starred in Bones, Soul Plane and Training Day.

      How 'bout LL Cool J?

      DMX starred alongside Jet Li and Steven Seagal.

      Willie Nelson also had a good run with acting too.

    • dosters profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Chicago

      Well, thank you both for coming to swoon over Elvis on my page :)

    • bayoulady profile image


      10 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      pollyannalana-that is definitely what I went for...just those big ole blue eyes and gorgeous lips!

    • Pollyannalana profile image


      10 years ago from US

      I think he could have if he was given a decent script, there were at least one earlier one and maybe two that were pretty good acting but hey,who cared, all we wanted was to see him sing anyway!

    • bayoulady profile image


      10 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

      Ah....Elvis,Lopez,and Smith. Guess which one does not belong.???..a la Sesame Street~!LOL!As much as I , a baby boomer, loved Elvis I never could figure out why anyone thought he could act. :>) Fun Hub!

    • dosters profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Chicago

      Thanks jerk, I mean josters. ;-)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      The Beatles were also one of the most influenTial artists of all time. ;-)

      Nice list, m'boy!


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