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Famous Singers Turned Actors

We love a good multi-hyphenate, and singer/actors top the list in terms of Hollywood double threats. In fact, some of our favorite actors are also successful singers. Singers are used to inhabiting lyrics in a way that leads to acting success, and so it is not surprising that many singer-turned-actors have gone on to receive critical acclaim. Over time, certain musicians have even become arguably better known for their film and television work over their music. Has anyone thought about Will Smith's rap skills in the last 20 years? Not us!

Other singers/actors have maintained a strong hold in both fields, dominating music charts and movie theatres. A third category is the singers who have only dabbled in acting, making one or two films but remaining focused primarily on their music. Actors-turned-singers — a rarer breed that includes people like Jennifer Lopez, Hailee Steinfeld, and Jamie Foxx. Singers-turned-actors are almost commonplace nowadays. Here are some of our favorite singers who have taken to the screen.

Alana Haim

Alana Haim is the youngest of the three sisters who make up the band Haim — the others are Este and Danielle — and a natural way to begin our list given the acclaim she is receiving for her role in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Licorice Pizza." The film is Haim's first foray into acting, and her performance has received Best Actress honors from multiple critic's groups, including the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics, and the Florida Film Critics Circle.

Haim has already been nominated for a Golden Globe Award and a Critic's Choice Award for "Licorice Pizza," and she is even getting Oscar buzz for her turn in the flick. Her sisters clearly support her acting ambitions — they and their parents appear in the film — but acting seems to only be a secondary thing for the youngest Haim. "After this chapter is over with 'Licorice Pizza,' I go back on tour with my band, and I'm back to my other job that I love so much," Haim told The New York Times. "Nothing has changed. I'm still the baby."

Cher

Cher has been in the entertainment business for nearly six decades, and in that time, she has established herself as not only a great singer and performer, but also a fantastic actress. After rising to fame alongside Sonny Bono in the duo Sonny & Cher, Cher quickly established herself as a solo artist as well. The duo's first hit, "I Got You Babe," was their biggest one, but Cher herself has had hits in most of the subsequent decades. 

In addition to her music, Cher's acting has contributed to her status as a living legend. She was nominated for her first Academy Award in 1984, for her supporting role in "Silkwood," and won the Best Actress Oscar four years later for her role in "Moonstruck." Other standout Cher performances include those in "Mask" and "If These Walls Could Talk," both of which earned her Golden Globe nominations, as well as "Mermaids," and "The Witches of Eastwick."

Bette Midler

Bette Midler is an actress, comedian, and singer with a larger-than-life stage persona and a true love of performance. Midler first started on the stage, appearing in "Fiddler on the Roof" on Broadway for a few years in the 1960s. In 1972, Midler released her first studio album — "The Divine Miss M" — and has gone on to release more than a dozen more over the years. Interestingly, some of her biggest hits, such as "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "The Rose," have been on the soundtrack albums for her movies.

Midler started her professional acting career with an uncredited part in the 1966 film "Hawaii," but it was not until 1971's "The Thorn" that she really got things going. She has been nominated for two Best Actress Oscars, for 1980's "The Rose" and 1992's "For the Boys," and has won two Tony awards, four Golden Globes, three Primetime Emmys, and many more acting awards. Her other standout movies include "Outrageous Fortune," "Ruthless People," "Beaches," and "Hocus Pocus," a cult classic that is currently filming a sequel. Midler also had a short-lived sitcom, "Bette," but the less said about that the better.

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga has been garnering strong reviews for her role as Patrizia Reggiani in the 2021 drama "House of Gucci." The movie itself received mixed reviews, but Gaga has been nominated for many awards, including a Golden Globe and a Critic's Choice Movie Award. Overall, it is one more successful performance in her short but impressive acting resume. She has come a long way from "girl at swimming pool #2," the uncredited 2001 role she played on an episode of "The Sopranos," which marked her first on-screen performance.

Lady Gaga has had a handful of performances aside from "House of Gucci," with the most notable being the vampire countess in Ryan Murphy's "American Horror Story: Hotel" and her wonderful performance as Ally in 2018's "A Star Is Born" remake. Both roles earned Gaga Golden Globe Award nominations — and she won for "Hotel" — and the latter earned her oodles of good reviews. Gaga was also nominated for two Oscars for "A Star Is Born," and though she lost the one for acting, she did win the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Mary J. Blige

Lauded songstress Mary J. Blige has been making records since the early 1990s, but she only occasionally acted up until recently. With 15 studio albums — plus many live and compilation albums — Blige is very much known as a singer. Her hits include "Not Gon' Cry," "Family Affair," and "Be Without You," amongst others. When it comes to acting, Blige got a slow start with occasional TV guest appearances on shows like "The Jamie Foxx Show" and "Strong Medicine." In the last decade, she has amped things up, starting with a role in the film version of "Rock of Ages" in 2012, and then a lead in the TV movie "Betty and Coretta," in 2013. She also guest-starred on "Empire" and "Black-ish," but it was her performance in the 2017 movie "Mudbound" that had everyone talking.

For her "Mudbound" role, Blige received Best Supporting Actress nominations at the Academy Awards, Critic's Choice Movie Awards, Golden Globe Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards. She has since continued acting and, judging by her IMDB, there does not seem to be an end in sight. Blige has appeared in ten episodes of "The Umbrella Academy," three episodes of the "Scream" TV series, and 21 episodes of "Power Book II: Ghost." She has also starred in multiple films, including the Aretha Franklin biopic "Respect" and the thriller "Body Cam."

Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand is a true multihyphenate, and a rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner. Though she originally wanted to act, Streisand began her career in nightclubs and on stages, utilizing her musical gifts to enter the biz. Her recording career began with 1963's "The Barbra Streisand Album," and she has since released more than 70 albums (including studio, compilation, live, and soundtrack albums).

Streisand started her screen career by playing Fanny Brice in "Funny Girl" in 1968, a performance for which she won her first (and only acting) Oscar. She was also nominated for acting in 1973's "The Way We Were," and has another Oscar for Original Song. In addition to "Funny Girl," she has Golden Globes for her work in the classics "A Star is Born," and "Yentl," which she also directed. Other standout films include "Hello, Dolly!," "The Owl and the Pussycat," and "The Prince of Tides." Aside from a small guest spot on "Modern Family," Streisand has not acted since the 2012 film "The Guilt Trip."

Janelle Monáe

In the last five years, singer Janelle Monáe has taken the acting world by storm, beginning with a small role in the 2016 awards darling "Moonlight." She followed that up with a stellar performance in "Hidden Figures," for which she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Critic's Choice Awards. Monáe's subsequent films have included "Harriet," "The Glorias," and "Antebellum." She has also appeared in season two of the TV series "Homecoming," and has done voicework in both films and television. Her next role is in "Knives Out 2," the sequel to "Knives Out" due out in 2022.

Monáe first made a name for herself as a singer, signing with Sean Combs' Bad Boy records in 2006. She has released three studio albums – "The ArchAndroid" in 2010, "The Electric Lady" in 2013, and "Dirty Computer" in 2018. She has garnered eight Grammy nominations, including ones for Record of the Year and Album of the Year, though she has yet to win any.

Tim McGraw

Country superstar Tim McGraw is currently starring alongside his wife, fellow country singer Faith Hill, in "1883," the spin-off of "Yellowstone" from creator Taylor Sheridan. It is not the musician's first foray into acting — in fact, he has been a budding thespian for decades, ever since appearing on an episode of "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" back in 1997. His film credits include "Flicka," "The Blind Side," and "Country Strong," to name a few.

McGraw's acting pursuits have not gotten in the way of his singing. His 16th studio album came out in 2020, the same year as his last compilation album. Over the years, McGraw has had over 70 singles, including hits like "Don't Take the Girl," "It's Your Love," "Please Remember Me," and "Felt Good on My Lips." His singles continue to soar on the US country charts, so he's unlikely to slow down the music any time soon.

Taylor Swift

When it comes to popstars today, they just don't get bigger than Taylor Swift. The singer has released nine studio albums and is in the process of re-recording all of her earlier albums (she has thus far released two "Taylor's version" records). Swift holds many records, including for the longest number one song – the 10 minute, 13 second version of "All Too Well" (via Smithsonian magazine). Amongst her biggest singles are "You Belong With Me," "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together," "Shake It Off," and "Blank Space."

Music is Swift's first love, and it is clear she plans to continue writing and singing, but she has also dabbled in acting. It started with a small role on a 2009 episode of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," which was followed the next year by a part in Garry Marshall's ensemble film "Valentine's Day." This later led to another guest spot – on Fox's "New Girl – and parts in "The Giver" and "Cats" film adaptations. She is next set to appear in David O. Russell's new movie, which has yet to be publicly named (per IMDB).

Madonna

Famed stage actress Patti Lupone once called Madonna a "movie killer" on an appearance on "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen" (per CNN), but that's not quite a true statement. While Madonna has had some on-screen clunkers, not all of her 27 films have been disasters. In fact, a couple have been good — including "Desperately Seeking Susan," "A League of Their Own," and "Evita." Less successful film outings have included "Body of Evidence," "Swept Away," and "Who's That Girl."

While her acting may at times be questionable, no one can question Madonna's legacy in music. She is known by many as the "Queen of Pop" and her cultural impact has even been studied by sociologists and other scholars. Starting with her 1983 album "Madonna," the pop star has continued to redefine herself time and time again, in the process giving us some of the best hits of all time, like her number one singles "Like A Virgin," "Papa Don't Preach," and "Vogue." She will probably try acting again at least once or twice, but Madonna will forever be a musician and performer first.

Diana Ross

Though she is a talented actress, Diana Ross has primarily focused on music for the vast majority of her career. In fact, at 77, the legend is still releasing music — her 25th (solo) studio album, "Thank You," came out in November 2021. In addition to her studio albums, Ross has released five soundtrack albums, six live albums, and over 30 compilation albums (not to mention her work with The Supremes). Her number one singles include "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "Touch Me in the Morning," and "Love Hangover."

When it comes to acting, Ross has had a couple of smaller TV gigs, but has mainly focused on film. This has included the feature films "Lady Sings the Blues," "Mahogany," and "The Wiz," as well as the television films "Out of Darkness" and "Double Platinum." Her 1972 turn as Billie Holiday in "Lady Sings the Blues" earned her an Academy Award nomination, as well as Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Ross has not acted since 1999, so it would seem that she has retired from that part of her career.

Britney Spears

Britney Spears has been one of the most famous pop icons in the world ever since the release of her first single "...Baby One More Time" in 1998. She has since released nine studio albums, as well as a number of box sets, compilations, and EPs. She has had dozens of hit singles, including "Oops!...I Did It Again," "Womanizer," and "3." And though there are mixed reports about whether she still wants to make music, we are going to go out on a limb and say that Britney will return to the studio at some point.

While she is a born stage performer, the same cannot be said about Spears' natural acting abilities. The former Mouseketeer is not exactly a gifted thespian, as she showed in a number of 1990s sitcom guest spots where she played herself. The biggest proof that Spears' acting is subpar is the film "Crossroads," her 2002 attempt at film stardom. Aside from a couple more guest stints on shows like "Will & Grace" and "How I Met Your Mother," Spears has yet to take on another substantial role.

Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera got her start on "The All-New Mickey Mouse Club," alongside Britney Spears, and the pair also became pop starlets around the same time — leading to years of comparisons between the women. When it comes to music, Aguilera has had her fair share of hits, including number ones like "Genie in a Bottle," "What a Girl Wants," and "Come On Over Baby (All I Want Is You)." Unlike Spears, however, Aguilera's hits capacity seems to have tapered off. Aguilera's music no longer sells the way it used to, though she has continued to pump out songs (as recently as 2021).

Like Spears, Aguilera has not fared very well in the acting world either. Her primary role has been in the 2010 film "Burlesque," which was only slightly less terrible than Spears' "Crossroads." Aside from that one film, Aguilera has only acted a handful of times — in a 2018 film called "Zoe," in three episodes of the TV drama "Nashville," and as herself in a couple of other TV shows and movies.

Mandy Moore

Though she has been famous since her debut song "Candy," Mandy Moore was never as big as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera — or even Jessica Simpson — in the 2000s, but she did carve her own lane. In addition to "Candy," her six studio albums have housed other minor hits like "I Wanna Be with You" and "In My Pocket." Still, Moore has not had a song on the charts for nearly two decades — despite releasing her last album in 2020.

Where Moore has her contemporaries beat is in her transition to acting, which was incredibly seamless. She proved herself with the teen film "A Walk to Remember," and followed that up with movies like "Saved!" and "Chasing Liberty." Later film credits include "License to Wed" and "Tangled," where she voiced Rapunzel, but it has really been in television that Moore has shined. Small arcs on "Grey's Anatomy" and "Red Band Society" led to her breakout role as matriarch Rebecca Pearson on the hit show "This Is Us." She has received both a Golden Globe Award nomination and a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for the role.

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley was an icon in every sense of the word, and so it is not surprising that the beloved singer was able to take his stage charisma and translate it to the screen. "The King of Rock and Roll" started singing early, and released his debut album in 1956, at age 21. Dozens of studio, compilation, soundtrack and live albums followed, and it would be impossible to underplay Presley's musical legacy. His biggest hits include classics like "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Love Me Tender," and "Suspicious Minds," all of which hit number one.

According to IMDB, Presley racked up 31 acting credits across television and film, beginning with his role as Clint Reno in 1956's "Love Me Tender." His other film hits include "Jailhouse Rock," "Blue Hawaii," and "Viva Las Vegas." Unlike many of the singer/actors on our list, Presley never took on minor roles; all of his films were very much Elvis-centric productions. His final performance was in "Change of Habit," which came out in 1969, eight years before his death.

Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah is such an acting powerhouse that it is easy to forget that she started her career as a rapper. Latifah signed with Tommy Boy Records in 1989 and released her first studio album, "All Hail the Queen," in November of that same year. She has released six other studio albums, with the final one being 2009's "Persona." Though she had some hits with singles like "Ladies First" and "U.N.I.T.Y.," the Queen's music was never as successful as her acting has been.

Latifah started acting only two years after her debut album, appearing in movies like "Jungle Fever" and "Juice." She broke out with a starring role in the sitcom "Living Single," which ran from 1993 to 1998, and further solidified her place in Hollywood with films like "Set It Off" and "Living Out Loud." In 2002, Latifah appeared as Mama Morton in "Chicago," which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. This led to leading roles in films like "Bringing Down the House," "Beauty Shop," and "Last Holiday." In recent years, Latifah has also maintained a presence on television, appearing in shows like "Star" and "The Equalizer."

David Bowie

David Bowie was known for both his music and his acting, as well as his theatrical personality and fashion sense. A creative genius who studied art and design in his early years, Bowie joined a band as a teen and released his debut single, "Liza Jane" (as part of the King Bees) while still underage. He released his first solo album a few years later and broke out with the single "Space Oddity" in 1969. In total, Bowie released 26 studio albums, 21 live albums, as well as dozens of compilations, extended plays, and non-album singles. Amongst his hits are songs like "Fame," "Let's Dance," and "Dancing in the Street."

Though his acting resume is not quite as large, Bowie was no slouch as a thespian either. He first appeared in an episode of "Theatre 625" in 1968 and made his first film appearance in 1976's "The Man Who Fell to Earth." His other film credits include 1983's "The Hunger," 1986's "The Labyrinth," and 2000's "Mr. Rice's Secret." His final role was as Phillip Jeffries in "Twin Peaks: The Return," which was released posthumously in 2017 using archival footage.

Rihanna

With her fashion and beauty empire Fenty, it is a shock that Rihanna has time to do anything else but business. And yet, the singer has somehow managed to fit acting into her already-packed schedule over the last decade. She started acting with the 2012 film "Battleship," and her other credits have included "Annie," "Ocean's Eight," and two episodes of "Bates Motel." Acting seems to be on pause for now, but then again, perhaps music is too.

Rihanna has not released a new album since 2016's "Anti," much to her fans' chagrin. This was her eighth album since her debut in 2005, and it debuted at number one in the United States. Rihanna has had much success with singles, frequently topping the Hot 100 when she does put out music. Her number one hits include "SOS," "Umbrella," "Rude Boy," "S&M," and "Work." Her most recent single was "Believe It," a song she recorded with Canadian artist PartyNextDoor in 2020.

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson knows how to defy the odds. She is an "American Idol" loser who took her seventh-place finish and used it to catapult to fame and fortune in a way that most "Idol" winners can't even seem to do. And though she began as a singer, Hudson's biggest successes have been in film — starting with her Academy Award for playing Effie White in the 2006 film "Dreamgirls." Her other acting roles have included "Sex and the City," "The Secret Life of Bees," and "Cats." Hudson most recently played singing legend Aretha Franklin in 2021's "Respect," which she also produced.

On the music front, Hudson has been less active, releasing only three studio albums over the course of 13 years, as well as the soundtrack album for "Respect" this past year. Her biggest hit is the 2008 song "Spotlight," though she has had a few other minor hits such as "Where You At" and "No One Gonna Love You." The hits don't match that astronomical voice, but hey, she has an Oscar.

Lenny Kravitz

It feels only natural that musician Lenny Kravitz has started to explore acting, given that he was once married to actress Lisa Bonet and that their daughter, Zoe, is a popular actress herself. Still, Kravitz is primarily a singer — one who has been on the scene since his debut album "Let Love Rule" dropped in 1989. Kravitz has released a total of 11 studio albums, as well as a number of live albums, compilations, video albums, and box sets. His hits include songs like "It Ain't Over 'til It's Over," "Fly Away," and "American Woman."

Aside from occasionally playing himself, Kravitz did not start acting until 2009, when he played a nurse in the acclaimed film "Precious." His most high-profile role has been as Katniss Everdeen's stylist Cinna in "The Hunger Games" and "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." In the last decade, he has also appeared in Lee Daniels' "The Butler," in guest spots on "Star" and "Better Things," and as himself in "Zoolander 2."

Justin Timberlake

After appearing on "Star Search" and "The All-New Mickey Mouse Club," Justin Timberlake shot to fame alongside the rest of boy band NSYNC, formed in 1995. NSYNC released four studio albums, beginning with 1997's "N'Sync," and their biggest hits include "It's Gonna Be Me" and "This I Promise You." After leaving NSYNC, Timberlake launched a successful solo career with 2002's "Justified." He has since gone on to release four more studio albums, as well as a couple of compilations and soundtracks. Timberlake has had many hits as a solo popstar, including number one songs like "SexyBack," and "Can't Stop the Feeling!".

Timberlake did not do much acting while he was still in NSYNC, but he has more than made up for lost time. Beginning with the 2005 thriller "Edison," Timberlake has flexed his acting chops in just about every genre imaginable. His film credits include "Alpha Dog," "The Social Network," "Bad Teacher," and "Friends With Benefits." He has also found success as the voice of Branch in the "Trolls" movies.

Jon Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi is, of course, the famous front man for rock band Bon Jovi, which started making music professionally in 1984 with the release of their album "Bon Jovi." In total, the band has released 15 studio albums, three live albums, five compilations, five EPs, and a boxset. Their number one hits include "You Give Love a Bad Name," "Livin' on a Prayer," and "Bad Medicine." Bon Jovi has also released two solo albums and 16 singles, including the hit 1990 "Blaze of Glory."

Bon Jovi dipped his toe into acting in 1990, when he played an uncredited inmate in "Young Guns II." Two years later, he was back with a small role in "Moonlight & Valentino," and the next year starred in "The Leading Man." His other film credits include "Pay It Forward" and "New Year's Eve," but most roles have been tiny. Bon Jovi has also guest starred on a few TV series, including a memorable episode of "Sex and the City" and a 10-episode arc on "Ally McBeal." He has not acted in a decade, so it is safe to say that things are on hold for now.

Courtney Love

Courtney Love is not known for having things especially together, but there was a short period in the 1990s when the rocker got glam, right around the time she starred in "The People vs. Larry Flynt." Love's work in the film earned her a Golden Globe Award nomination, a Satellite Award nomination, and a handful of critics' awards. Prior to "Flynt," Love had limited acting experience, appearing in films such as "Sid and Nancy" and "Feeling Minnesota." She has been slightly more active as an actress in the time since, with credits including the film "200 Cigarettes," and guest stints on TV series such as "Sons of Anarchy," "Empire," and "Revenge."

Love has gained much more notoriety for her music, mostly as the lead singer of alternative band Hole (though she has released a solo album as well). Hole has released four studio albums since their first back in 1991, though their last one was in 2010, and they have had nothing come out at all since a live album – "Grease Your Hips" – in 2016. Hole's popular songs include alt-rock hits like "Doll Parts," "Miss World," and "Celebrity Skin."

Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey is a living legend — a singer with one of the most recognizable voices in the world, who has had 19 number one hits (per Entertainment Weekly). This includes classics like "Visions of Love," "Hero," "Always Be My Baby," and "All I Want for Christmas Is You." In fact, Carey has had hits on the charts in each of the last four decades, since her debut in 1990. She has released 15 studio albums, eight compilations, two soundtracks, two EPs, and a remix album, and is one of the highest selling female artists of all time (per the RIAA). Carey is still making music, and her fanbase is seemingly as devoted as ever.

When it comes to acting, the road has not been quite as golden for the songstress. She had a small role in the 1999 film "The Bachelor," and then made a humiliatingly bad movie, "Glitter," which was widely panned. She has slightly redeemed herself since, with small but strong supporting roles in movies such as "Precious" and "The Butler."