Some say that every singer wants to be an actor, and every actor wants to be a singer. If the singer in question is rich enough, someone will usually put up the money to indulge them. The results? Generally dismal: Think Paul McCartney's star turn in Give my Regards to Broad Street (1984) or Britney Spears in Crossroads (2002) (or maybe don't). But in a few cases, the ambitious singers-turned-actors actually make movies worth seeing.
Here are five examples of the best films of some notable singers-turned-actors.
Title: The Blue Angel (1931)
The Singer: Marlene Dietrich
Plot: In interwar Germany, uptight school teacher Herr Rath (Emil Jannings) is appalled to find that some of his students are frequenting a local cabaret (The Blue Angel). When he goes there himself to catch them in the act, he falls head-over-heels for the club's star attraction, Lola-Lola (Marlene Dietrich). As an unlikely (and unstable) romance ensues between the teacher and the artiste, Herr Rath's once respectable life begins to spiral out of control.
Dietrich's Career: Once a cabaret performer herself, Marlene Dietrich was launched to global stardom by her role in The Blue Angel, directed by Austrian-American Josef von Sternberg. She returned to Hollywood with him, and together they made a number of films which elevated her to the status of a living legend. In later life, she returned to the song-and-dance format with which she began her career.
Where it's streaming: Amazon.
Title: Masculin féminin (1966)
The singer: Chantal Goya.
Plot: Jean-Luc Godard marketed this mid-60's gem as a film about "Paris, sex, and the Pepsi Generation." It stars Chantal Goya as an up-and-coming yé-yé singer (more on this in a moment) and Jean-Pierre Léaud as the aspiring writer who loves her. Throughout the film, Godard brings his whole repertoire of distancing techniques, digressing freely on the subjects of capitalism, sex, race, and, in a famous homage/mockery of Ingmar Bergman, Swedish cinema.
Goya's career: Chantal Goya started her career singing yé-yé music, the infectious French response to the pop sounds of the British Invasion popularized by the likes of Francoise Hardy and Sylvie Vartan (yé-yé is the French version of "yeah yeah," as in "She loves you, yeah! Yeah! Yeah!"). Although Goya never achieved the same level of musical success as Hardy, her appearance in Godard's uber-hip Masuclin feminin launched her on an acting career that would carry her through the '70s and '80s with varying degrees of popularity, although she was never to match the success of her one outing with Godard.
Where it's streaming: Hulu.
Title: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
The singer: David Bowie.
Plot: When an alien space ship crash lands on Earth, an extraterrestrial with a flair for business (David Bowie) emerges and promptly secures patents for a number of futuristic technologies. Revolutionizing human society, the alien -- who has taken the Earth name Thomas Jerome Newton -- builds a business empire and a vast fortune. Seeking to puzzle out his mysterious intentions are a human girlfriend (Candy Clarke) and a shady confidant (Rip Torn) who join Newton on the road to tragedy in this surreal, mind-bending masterwork from British auteur Nicolas Roeg.
Bowie's career: The Man Who Fell to Earth was Bowie's first film, and the role seems tailor-made for him. The man who brought us Ziggy Stardust already looked like an alien, and Bowie has the charisma and natural talent to take this bizarre sci-fi story and turn it into a tragedy of the first order. He has continued acting off and on over the years, with iconic roles in movies like Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Labyrinth and memorable supporting parts as Andy Warhol in Basquiat and Nikola Tesla in The Prestige.
Where it's streaming: Netflix.
Title: Days of Being Wild (1991)
The singer: Andy Lau (and almost everyone else in the cast).
Plot: In 1960's Hong Kong, lady's man York (Leslie Cheung) becomes increasingly emotionally unstable and erratic, leading to a rift with girlfriends, played by Carina Lau and Maggie Cheung, the latter of whom begins a gentle flirtation with a reserved policeman (Andy Lau). There is little in the way of a conventional plot, but director Wong Kar-wai, in his first collaboration with cinematographer Christopher Doyle, creates a rich and romantic environment almost as steamy as the Hong Kong summer.
Lau's career: In the world of Hong Kong entertainment, it is a commonplace for singers to act and actors to sing. For Andy Lau, who embarked upon a singing career in the early '80s and began acting soon thereafter, Days of Being Wild shows him developing the range and emotional depth that would catapult him to the heights of stardom, even though this is not his biggest role. Although for this film, we really could have profiled almost any of the actors, as most of them -- with the notable exception of Maggie Cheung -- have pursued similar paths as singer-actors.
Where it's streaming: Netflix.
Title: Rachel Getting Married (2008)
The singer: Tunde Adebimpe (of TV on the Radio)
Plot: With her sister Rachel (Rosemary DeWitt) getting married, troubled young woman Kym (Anne Hathaway) emerges from rehab to participate in the wedding. In the lead-up to the nuptials, the details of Kym's troubled past are brought to light, and we get a rich tableau of Kym and Rachel's extended family life and the repressed conflicts simmering beneath the surface.
Adebimpe's career: You may be wondering: Where is Tunde Adebimpe in all of this? The indie rock singer and occasional actor -- he plays the lead in 2001's Jump Tomorrow -- much like Andy Lau before him, does not have a huge role in this film, but the warmth and animation that he brings to its closing scenes are key to bringing its disparate emotional strands together. One only wishes that he had a filmography to match Lau's, but he has roles in two films coming out in 2015 -- Nasty Baby and 7 Chinese Brothers -- which will hopefully be positive contributions to his body of film work. Failing that, you can always check out the latest TV on the Radio release.
Where it's streaming: Amazon.