Sex, drugs, rock and roll… and running lines? It’s true, so many actors love to run from the movie set to the musical stage. We get it, many artistic types like to have different outlets to release their creativity. But somehow we have trouble getting past that. It’s like the typecasting theory: Michael Richards, for example, was so Kramer that we couldn’t buy him as anything else. Same for actors who are rockstar wannabes: we know them as actors, we buy them as actors, and anything else is too much. It reeks of desperation and greed: like, we just saw you making $20 million as a pirate and now you want us to listen to you play guitar?
Truth be told, some of the actors and actresses on this list have some musical talent. Some have even had some degree of success as a musician. But some are so bad they make us want to remove our eardrums.
Here they are, the 15 Movie Stars Who Suck at Music.
15. JOHNNY DEPP
Does Johnny Depp suck at music? Let’s ask Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the guys in Oasis, Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, and Aerosmith axe-man Joe Perry. It’s hard to believe these acclaimed musicians would share a stage or studio with Depp if he didn’t have some significant talent. But it’s still weird to see him playing guitar because he’s been so mega successful as an actor.
He has said that music is his first love and he even dropped out of high school to pursue a career in rock and roll, in a band called The Kids. Even after he first hit the screen in A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, he was still making music, playing in bands. He’s always done that. Even today, he’s in a band called Hollywood Vampires with Perry and Alice Cooper – they released an album in September featuring a couple of songs primarily written by Depp. And, of course, he’s channeled his love of rock and roll into his work on screen, most notably finding inspiration from Keith Richards in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.
14. SHANE WEST
Shane West has fairly quietly become a very successful actor, parlaying his breakout role (of sorts) on the big screen in 2002’s A Walk to Remember into long-term TV gigs on Once and Again, ER, Nikita and Salem. But lurking amongst all the acting is a punk rock singer.
West started out in music fronting a mediocre band called Jonny Was in the early 2000s. But what’s remarkable is his relationship with the influential punk band the Germs. He starred as late lead singer Darby Crash in the 2007 biopic What We Do is Secret. He then played with the surviving members of the late-’70s band (including current Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear) during a party for the film, and they were so impressed they asked him to join the band. He toured with them from 2006-2009.
13. JARED LETO
Okay, Thirty Seconds to Mars fans, our shields are up, we’re ready to take your fire. For the uninitiated, Thirty Seconds to Mars is the band Jared Leto sings in with his big brother Shannon and Tomo Miličević. Since coming together in 1998, they’ve released four albums and sold over 15 million copies. So there’s no doubt they have a following, despite a fairly eclectic style that overall could be lumped into the “progressive rock” genre.
Leto has been known to take breaks from acting to focus on his band. After 2009’s Mr. Nobody, he went all-in on Thirty Seconds, touring relentlessly – so much so that they made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for most shows in one touring cycle, with 300. When he finally returned to the screen, he did it in a big way, with his Oscar-winning turn in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club. So maybe best to stick with that?
12. JULIETTE LEWIS
Juliette Lewis has been in the public eye as an actress since she was 14 years old, appearing in a few ‘80s sitcoms (The Facts of Life, The Wonder Years), before breaking into film in a big way in dark, early ‘90s films like Cape Fear, Kalifornia and Natural Born Killers. So she did have that dark, mysterious reputation that can lend itself to rock and roll.
Unlike Depp and Leto, Lewis wasn’t always a musician. She was inspired to form and lead a band as an adult after watching a Blondie concert, then formed Juliette & The Licks in 2003, with former Hole drummer Patty Schemel. The band released three albums that charted in the U.K., and opened for bands like Foo Fighters and Muse, before breaking up in 2009. She did a little solo work and focused more on acting again, before reforming The Licks in 2015. They’re planning to release a new album this year, for whatever that’s worth.
11. KEVIN BACON
Just when you thought “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” was fun enough, he went and broadened the degrees to the music industry. The Footloose star hooked up with his big brother Michael back in 1995 and started the acoustic-heavy country rock duo The Bacon Brothers. Music was always a part of the brothers’ lives, but they didn’t make it official until then, when Kevin was 37 and Michael was 46.
Obviously, with Kevin’s bank account, album sales aren’t a huge factor in their ability to stay together, but they’re still kicking more than 20 years and eight albums later, often touring around Kevin’s filming schedules. To their credit, they’ve been known to play a lot of charity events. And they’ve even been known to play the Kenny Loggins hit “Footloose” during their live shows.
10. BILLY BOB THORNTON
Back around 2001, actor/director Billy Bob Thornton decided to turn his musical hobby into something more official. He threw together four roots-rock solo albums before starting up The Boxmasters in 2007, in which Thornton sang and played drums. They were even signed to a real independent record label, Vanguard Records.
But then Thornton went a little crazy. He appeared on Canadian radio show Q to plug The Boxmasters’ tour opening for Willie Nelson. While appearing cranky and disinterested (at best), he took offense with mention of his film career and referred to Canadian audiences as too reserved, like “mashed potatoes with no gravy.” It made the news around the world and the Canadian tour was mysteriously canceled. Nonetheless, although no longer with a record deal, they’re still around and released an album in 2015.
9. BRUCE WILLIS
Back in 1987, Bruce Willis was at the height of his breakthrough success in the TV show Moonlighting. His film career hadn’t even really gotten off the ground yet, with Die Hard still a year and a half away. Suddenly this song started gaining popularity on the radio. It was a cover of The Staples Singers classic “Respect Yourself.” It was released on the classic Motown label. And it was sung by, of all people, that guy from the TV: Bruce Willis. Amazingly, it rocketed all the way up to #5 on the Billboard charts.
But that was about it for Willis’ music career, at least in a popular sense. His debut album, The Return of Bruno, peaked at #14, and was accompanied by a goofy HBO special starring Willis as “Bruno.” He released another album for Motown in ‘89, which was resoundingly forgotten. But he has lent his vocal “talents” to other projects here and there over the years.
8. EDDIE MURPHY
Back in 1985, Eddie Murphy was widely considered the funniest man in the world. He’d been a breakout star on Saturday Night Live, he had three hit films under his belt, including the massive success of 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop, and his 1983 comedy special Delirious was an instant classic. Because that wasn’t enough, he started up a music career.
His debut album How Could It Be came out in ‘85 and spat out the single “Party All the Time,” and by some freak of nature it became a huge hit, reaching #2 on Billboard. Maybe everyone kept listening to it waiting for the funny part. But it never came. Nearly 20 years later, it was voted the seventh worst song of all time by VH-1 and Blender. Undaunted, Murphy has continued to make music through the years, recently recording a reggae track with Snoop Lion, and is said to be working on a new album called 9.
7. DENNIS QUAID
It seems like Dennis Quaid has been around forever and he’s been in everything. But we first began to realize he had some musical talent, on top of his acting chops, in 1987’s The Big Easy. He wrote and performed a song in that one. But it was two years later, with his ferocious performance as Jerry Lee Lewis in Great Balls of Fire, that we saw he really had something. Quaid even learned to play piano in Lewis’ manic style.
So that’s all well and good. He’s an actor capably playing musicians in movies. But it’s when they take it off the screen that it starts to get weird, and that’s what happened with Quaid. He started a rock band called Dennis Quaid and the Sharks. Let’s refer to a review of one of their shows in Variety to get a taste of how that goes: “…he should probably keep his music career a hobby,” “anonymous-sounding,” “Quaid gives an actorish performance. During nearly every song he sticks his tongue out lasciviously, gives his hips a shake and duckwalks across the stage.” We’ll pass.
6. RUSSELL CROWE
Gladiator star Russell Crowe is yet another bigshot Hollywood actor who feels the need to force upon the world his take on roots rock. To be fair, though, he was doing the music thing before he hit it big on the big screen. He formed a band in 1992 and even the name screams “don’t even bother listening to us”: 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. There’s just so much wrong with that. Why not exactly 30? Why “foot” and not “feet?” What’s a grunt?
Nevertheless, they recorded a few albums until breaking up in 2005, when Crowe started another band with a singer from Canadian band Great Big Sea, also ridiculously named: Russell Crowe & the Ordinary Fear of God. Crowe and Doyle (who also acts) continue to collaborate on different projects. Unfortunately.
5. KEANU REEVES
When Keanu Reeves busted out in 1989’s Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it was so obvious that someday this kid was going to make us listen to his music. Sure enough, it took just two years before Reeves began to pluck away at the bass in the band Dogstar. The band was originally called Small Fecal Matter. True story. He plugged away in this alt-rock group until 2002, in between his world-saving turns in blockbuster films, touring and recording an EP and two albums.
After Dogstar broke up, he joined with one of his former bandmates to form another band called Becky. But Reeves, luckily for the ears of the world, got too busy with his acting commitments to stick with that one very long.
4. JADA PINKETT SMITH
After about a dozen years in the film industry, Jada Pinkett Smith claimed she’d grown up listening to heavy metal and started a metal band called Wicked Wisdom in 2002. She used the stage name Jada Koren for some reason. Shockingly, the band got off the ground with help from her husband, Will Smith’s, management company, and her own production company released Wicked Wisdom’s debut album.
In fairness, the band received a modicum of critical acclaim and opened on tour with metal band Sevendust. Curiously, they also opened on a Britney Spears tour in 2004. They were placed on the bill for the 2005 Ozzfest tour, much to the dismay of fans. And, tragically, her foray into music has influenced her children to do the same.
3. WILLIAM SHATNER
It would be fair to slot William Shatner’s musical efforts into a “so bad it’s good” category, like a silly B movie. He actually doesn’t even make any attempt to be musical; he just speaks in his idiosyncratic, Shatneresque way with musical accompaniment. It started way back in 1968, at the height of the first run of the original Star Trek series, when he did his unique “covers” of popular songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
But his… well, we wouldn’t call it “best” exactly… maybe “most interesting in an almost good way”… efforts have come alongside musician Ben Folds. They first collaborated in 1998, on Folds’ Fear of Pop project. Folds surrouned Cpt. Kirk with lush instrumentation and gorgeous backing vocals, as he spoke the lyrics. They collaborated again on Shatner’s own surprisingly well-received 2004 album, Has Been, on which Folds co-wrote most of the songs.
2. DAVID HASSELHOFF
After breaking out on the ‘80s talking car series Knight Rider, David Hasselhoff decided it would be fun to destroy everyone’s eardru – er, record some music. It seemed most everyone hated the sounds that came out of his mouth. That is, except for Germans, for some reason. They loved him. Remember that old Norm Macdonald SNL refrain, “Germans love David Hasselhoff?” That was no joke.
Back in 1989, Hoff’s first album went triple platinum in Europe and his song “Looking for Freedom” rocketed to #1 in Germany. In the ensuing decades, somehow his popularity as a singer has endured overseas. Amusingly, he reached #3 in the U.K. in 2006, thanks to an ironic internet campaign. He tried to ignite his career in the U.S. with a 1994 pay-per-view concert, but it failed miserably because it occurred on the same night as O.J. Simpson’s crazy car chase. And we’re all better off for it.
1. PARIS HILTON
Do we really even have to write anything here? Isn’t it enough to list Paris Hilton’s name on a list of actors who failed at music? And is she really an actor? A movie star? Well, she qualifies for this list because she’s been in movies, although not exactly as a star. And she’s so monumentally, painfully, ear-bleedingly bad at singing that we’ve put her in the top spot.
As a public service, we’d actually rather not even remind you of her work as a recording “artist.” But we wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t refer to the insufferable socialite’s songs “Stars are Blind” and “Turn it Up,” both of which preposterously reached #1 on the U.S. dance charts in 2006. That only encouraged her to screech into microphones again many times over the years, even boasting a #3 dance hit in 2015 with “High Off My Love.” Oh, the humanity.
Can you think of any other artists that should stick to the screen? Let us know in the comments!