We all wanted to grow up to be rock stars. And apparently rock stars wanted to grow up to be in the movies. Some embarrass themselves and decide against quitting their day job. But others actually aren’t half bad at the whole acting thing. There are many performances to choose from, but we decided to make matters easy for you and focus on ten of the top rock star performances on screen.
Leto became a well-known rock star after he made his name in film, but he’s always been a music guy, so he makes the list. He recently gained 62 pounds to play Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27 — and was quite good — but it’s his role in Requiem for a Dream that is his best. He plays a young guy who loses it all (money, love, arm) due to his severe drug addiction. His portrayal of Harry as an incompetent man, but one with potential, on the road to destruction was tough to watch. In a good way.
Other Roles of Note: Prefontaine, Panic Room, Chapter 27
Okay, we all watched the train wreck that used to be Courntey Love through the years, so maybe it wasn’t a stretch to believe her as a woman who had a good portion of drugs a few times a day, then got AIDs and basically went crazy before she drowned at home. She was a good choice for the role because she’s Courtney Love, but most impressive was her command of the intimate moments between she and Larry (Woody Harrelson) and showing the other side of Althea Flynt. It even grabbed her a Golden Globe nomination.
Other Roles of Note: Sid and Nancy, Basquiat, 200 Cigarettes, Trapped
Known best for his song, “I Put a Spell on You,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was actually such a character himself that it translated into solid performances on screen. His Hotel Night Manager role in Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train is his best. Hawkins was cool, weird, and offbeat, just like the film itself. He brought his style to the role and did the same in other films. If he were still around, we’d show up to see him still chew some scenery, preferably while wearing leopard print.
Other Roles of Note: Perdita Durango, Peut-être, A Rage in Harlem
Bowie was a music legend. Jim Hensen was the legend behind The Muppets. Joining those two elements was simply awesome. This was supposed to be a kids’ film, but it was way better — and so was Bowie. He was funny, but menacing. Even his graceful movements were part of his character — as was that wig on his dome. Whether you like him or not, I don’t know of anyone that has ever said a bad thing about his performance as the Goblin King in this movie.
Other Roles of Note: The Prestige, The Last Temptation of Christ, August
John “No Longer Cougar” Mellencamp’s only fault is that he doesn’t accept enough roles. Because when he does, he turns in good performances. Falling from Grace is his best performance, and he also directed himself in the film. He is perfect for the role of a music star returning to his small Indiana hometown to meet up with old friends, an ex-love and deal with his wife.
Other Roles of Note: After Image, Lone Star State of Mind
This film is poor and the script is silly. For Dylan to be able to do what he did with those restrictions shows you how good he was. He was suave and charming as the loner former rock star and he was especially great in the scenes where he was interacting with his pretty new protegée and trying to keep her love for himself after she meets a new up-and-coming stud. I’m not saying Bob Dylan is an actor with great range. I’m saying he was quite good in this and he singlehandedly makes this movie a guilty pleasure.
Other Roles of Note: Renaldo and Clara, Masked and Anonymous
You gotta love Meal Loaf. He was large and sweaty in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but knew how to make the most of his screen time. I’ve always enjoyed his small supporting roles over the years and then I saw Fight Club. And he was fantastic. Not only was the movie great, but Meat Loaf as Bob "His name was Robert Paulson," the weepy teddy bear with enormous man boobs, is even better. He provides some of the film’s very minimal comedic relief and you can’t help but feel sorry for him — yet you still have to laugh at him.
Other Roles of Note: Focus, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, The Salton Sea
Talk about a rock star that rarely acts, but when she does, she’s sexy and spellbinding. Tina Turner’s role in Mad Max as the ruler “Auntie Entity” was filled with the kind of passion she puts into her music every time she’s on stage. This is one of those roles where you truly believe she is that person — and for someone that had only acted twice before (once in just a cameo) — that is no small feat. From the moment she is on screen your eyes can’t deviate, and not just because of her revealing outfit. Those legs. My God, those legs.
Other Roles of Note: Last Action Hero, Tommy
Dee Snider is actually a very intelligent and well-spoken man who has voice his opinion on Capitol Hill about censorship and the whole Napster debacle. But his Twisted Sister persona has been nothing like that. And then he did Strangeland and changed our perception of him again. He wrote the script — which kind of fell apart somewhere along the way — and produced the movie, which is about a sicko that lures victims by using online chat rooms. And Snider plays the sicko. Does he ever. “Capt. Howdy” is his online name and he’s a twisted dude who sneers and snarls his way through murder and torture. Normally we wouldn’t think much of a Dee Snider performance on film, but if you like horror movies and demented villains, you will see why his performance belongs here.
Other Roles of Note: Deepwater, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
Henry Rollins has been acting about as long as he has been belting out his brand of rock and he has turned in some good performances over the years. He usually plays a meathead type — given that he’s built like a pitbull — so when I saw his role in Johnny Mnemonic, I knew he had more range then he’s sometimes allowed to show. A angry techie, futuristic nerd, he was recognizable, but not the usual angst-ridden Henry Rollins. He still had the anger, but it was something more personal and not just being pissed off because of the roids pumping through his veins.
Other Roles of Note: Heat, Feast, “Sons of Anarchy”
We’ve been watching Steve Van Zandt on stage with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for seemingly a gazillion years. And to be honest, we didn’t recognize who he was when we first saw Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos." Maybe partly because Van Zandt wears a bandana 24/7 and we’d never seen him in a suit, while Silvio is never without a suit and has a permanent grimace on his face to go with his pompadour.