We’ve been blessed with a few ridiculous cameos from musicians in various movies. Michael Jackson in Men in Black II, David Bowie in Zoolander, and Snoop Dog in Half Baked are a few that just about everybody remembers. The obscure appearances, like Marilyn Manson in Party Monsters, are pretty great too. There’s also those few great double-threats like David Bowie or Tom Waits who have a solid acting career behind their musical one. But what about musicians who have turned to directing, writing, and creating films?
Surprisingly, there are a ton of movies out there with a famous musician’s name on the credits for creative work other than a musical score or cameo appearance. Whether they directed, wrote, and produced an entire brainchild of their own or contributed some filmmaking abilities to a film here and there, these musicians have some pretty great (and pretty terrible) movies on their resume.
Check out these 15 Movies Made By Famous Musicians.
15. Filth and Wisdom (Madonna)
Madonna is widely known as the Queen of Pop, and has been pushing the boundaries of pop music for decades. She’s also been in the film industry for a while too, first appearing in the 1979 film A Certain Sacrifice. She has mostly contributed to works as an actress, producer, screenwriter, and narrator. The 2008 British comedy drama film Filth and Wisdom, however, was her first attempt at directing a film. She served as the executive producer and screenwriter for the film as well.
Filth and Wisdom follows the story of Ukrainian immigrant A.K., who pays his bills and funds his band by working as a BDSM dominator. His roommate Holly is a ballerina who works as a pole dancer to pay rent and his other roommate Juliette is a pharmacy worker who dreams of becoming a missionary in Africa. The band that A.K. is part of is based on the real life Romani punk band Gogol Bordello, who also contributed to the film’s score. Gogol Bordello’s lead singer, Eugene Hutz, is also the actor that portrays A.K.
14. The Devil’s Rejects (Rob Zombie)
Rob Zombie found fame as one of the founding members and lead vocalist of heavy metal band White Zombie. Through the last couple decades, Zombie has lent his particular gruff vocals to voice acting roles for films like 2006’s Slither and 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. In 2003, he made his directing and writing debut with the cult favorite horror film House of 1000 Corpses. The sequel to House of 1000 Corpses, 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects, is generally favored as being better that the first film.
In The Devil’s Rejects, the Firefly family of serial killers are pursued by the police for their heinous crimes. After two of family members, Baby and Otis, escape the shootout and avoid being taken into custody, they meet up with Baby’s father and decide to go on a murderous killing spree to avoid being captured and save the Firefly family. The Devil’s Rejects may be hard to watch for some, as it is unapologetically torture porn. But if you love bloody horror films, this will be up your alley for sure.
Since The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie has directed, written, and produced several films, including the 2007 remake of the horror classic Halloween.
13. The Man with the Iron Fists (Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA)
East Coast hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan rose to prominence in the late ’90s. Despite quite a handful of gold and platinum studio albums, at least one member of the group didn’t plan on sticking to music alone. Wu-Tang Clan member RZA tried making feature films back then, starting with the incomplete and unreleased film Bobby Digital. His feature-length directorial debut, 2012’s martial arts film The Man with the Iron Fists, received mixed reviews but was generally well-received. Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino were involved in the film, which starred Lucy Liu, Russell Crowe, and retired mixed martial artist Cung Le.
In this homage to martial arts films, warring clans in China receive their weaponry from a village blacksmith (RZA). With his earnings, the blacksmith seeks to free his lover, Lady Silk, from the clutches of a brothel and start a new life. A plot against the region’s governor leads into several battles between assassins, military lieutenants, and the seven warring clans. The film is a very American homage to martial arts films and, while somewhat campy, is absolutely entertaining.
12. The Sentimental Engine Slayer (The Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez Lopez)
The rock band The Mars Volta formed in 2001 in El Paso, Texas. Known for their strange music video imagery and the haunting storytelling in their music, The Mars Volta found success and received a Grammy Award for their work in 2009. The Mars Volta split several years ago, but band’s guitarist and producer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez has continued to create music and other forms of art since them. He’s directed several unreleased feature films, countless music videos, a documentary, and 2010’s The Sentimental Engine Slayer.
Rodriguez-Lopez directed, wrote, produced, scored, and starred in The Sentimental Engine Slayer as lead protagonist Barlam. The film is a coming-of-age story that showcases the uniquely awkward struggle of a young person trying to find their identity amidst stereotypes and a disengaged age of poor family lives and drug abuse.
11. Renaldo and Clara (Bob Dylan)
Bob Dylan is without a doubt a household name, and he’s been influencing pop music and culture for over five decades and counting. He’s also been involved in several other types of art, including visual art and filmmaking.
Bob Dylan’s directorial debut was the 1972 documentary film about his ’60s European tour, called Eat the Document. 1978’s Renaldo and Clara was a film directed by, written by, and starring Dylan. The film is nearly four hours long. Renaldo and Clara mixes concert footage, documentary interviews, and fictional drama vignettes. The film is heavily influenced by the French drama Les Enfants du Paradis and has Cubist elements.
Unfortunately for Dylan (and the rest of the production crew), Renaldo and Clara did terribly upon its release, receiving such poor reviews that the film was discontinued from theaters. It’s likely that the film did poorly due to its long runtime and loose plot.
10. Christmas on Mars (The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne)
Oklahoma rock band The Flaming Lips is known for their interactive, action-packed shows and psychedelic musical arrangements. The band’s lead singer and songwriter, Wayne Coyne, is famous for his ethereal vocals and experimental art explorations. Coyne’s directorial debut was the science fiction film Christmas on Mars, which was released in 2001. The low-budget film was shot in Coyne’s backyard and most of the spaceship set was built by Coyne himself.
Christmas on Mars explores the story of Major Syrtis as he experiences his first Christmas on the planet Mars. On the newly colonized planet, Major Syrtis attempts to organize a holiday pageant to celebrate the first colonist baby’s birth. A martian lands in the new settlement and the colonists decide to make him the planet’s new Santa Claus. Coyne expressed interest in not releasing the film in theaters, but rather in music venues, where complementary experimental things could be done, such as using a snow machine and mega-sound system to add an interactive element to the film’s showing.
9. The Proposition (Nick Cave)
Nick Cave, the Australian musician behind the diverse ’80s alternative rock band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, is far from just a musician and songwriter. He’s also an author, actor, and screenwriter.
The 2005 Australian western The Proposition was directed by John Hillcoat and written by Nick Cave. The film features many big acting names, including Guy Pearce, Emily Watson, and John Hurt.
In The Proposition, we follows the events that follow the horrific murder of the Hopkins family in the Australian outback during the late 1800s. The film opens with a gunfight between authorities and Charlie Burns (Pearce) and his gang. The entire gang is killed except for Charlie and his brother. The titular proposition is this: Charlie and his brother will live and be set free if they murder Charlie’s older brother Arthur, a psychopath that is terrorizing the outback.
Cave also wrote a script for the sequel to the 2000 film Gladiator that is deeply implausible and completely insane. No, seriously. Read it for yourself.
8. None But The Brave (Frank Sinatra)
Frank Sinatra is known as one of the most influential and talented singers of the twentieth century. While Sinatra had some acting gigs and cameos in the past that earned him cinema awards, not everybody is aware that he was also a producer and director as well. Sinatra directed, produced, and starred in the 1965 war drama None but the Brave, the only feature film he ever directed.
In None but the Brave, a Japanese platoon is stranded on a Pacific island with no communication. An American transport plane is shot down as well, leaving a platoon of US marines. Once the two groups learn of each other’s existence, tensions begin to mount dangerously over the use of a vessel the Japanese platoon is building to escape. The boat is destroyed, and a Japanese soldier is injured. In exchange for water, the marines’ pharmacist (Sinatra) treats the injured soldier. They decide on a truce, but it doesn’t last long. The film ends in a bloody gunfight that leaves most of the soldiers on either side dead. The film ends with a shot of the island and the words “Nobody ever wins.“
7. Greendale (Neil Young)
Canadian singer-songwriter Neil Young started performing in a Shadows instrumental cover band in the early ’60s, but came to fame through his successful and beloved solo career that boasts thirty-five albums over the past five decades. He’s been inducted into the Hall of Fame twice and his music is distinct for its personal lyrics and unique guitar work. But Neil Young has also done some film work as well, serving as a director, screenwriter, and producer for dozens of films.
Greendale, a 2003 musical film, was one of Neil Young’s more acclaimed pieces of film. The film accompanied his twenty-sixth studio album of the same name, and Young directed and wrote the film. The film follows the lives of residents of a small fictional California town called Greendale. The Green family is the focus of the film, and the film follows the lives of the contemplative grandfather, struggling artist son, free-spirited daughter, and cop-killer cousin.
6. 200 Motels (Frank Zappa)
Frank Zappa was one of the most multitalented artists of our century. He was a musician, songwriter, composer, producer, guitarist, actor, visual artist, and filmmaker. His musical career spanned across thirty years and featured a versatile, fluid transition to different types of music, including jazz, rock, jazz fusion, orchestra, and musique concrete works. Zappa’s film career, though not particularly popular, including some unique pieces of cinema.
The 1971 musical surrealist film 200 Motels was written and directed by Frank Zappa. 200 Motels was Zappa’s attempt at portraying the instability and madness of life on the road as a touring rock star. The film contains many nonsensical vignettes between concert footage of The Mothers of Invention and most of the film’s scenes feature some form of special effects and speed changes.
5. True Stories (Talking Heads’ David Byrne)
Legendary rock band Talking Heads blessed us with great albums through the years, as well as their defining hit “Once in a Lifetime”. Talking Heads’ lead singer, founding member, and principle songwriter David Byrne has been a talented and multifaceted artist for years, but he’s also contributed to the film world as well.
The 1986 cult indie film True Stories was directed by, written by, and stars David Byrne. The film spans several genres, including musical, art film, and comedy. Byrne himself described his film as “A project with songs based on true stories from tabloid newspapers. It’s like 60 Minutes on acid.” Most of the film’s score is by Talking Heads.
Byrne stars as a nameless stranger in a cowboy hat who visits a town in Texas and observes the preparations for the Celebration of Special-ness, which celebrates Texas’ independence from Mexico. The fourth wall is broken often in this film, and it is definitely an entertaining and unique treat.
4. The Education of Charlie Banks (Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst)
If you heard that nu metal band Limp Bizkit’s lead singer Fred Durst directed a drama film, you’d probably find it a little unbelievable. But he totally did. Yes, the musical mastermind behind albums like Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water took off his red baseball cap and got serious, resulting in the drama film The Education of Charlie Banks.
The Education of Charlie Banks is a 2007 drama that won a narrative award at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. The film follows a young man named Charlie Banks (played by Jesse Eisenberg) who reports a local violent tough guy named Mick (Jason Ritter) to the police following the vicious assault that left two jocks nearly dead. Now in college, Charlie discovers that Mick is back in town. He moves in with Charlie and his roommate in their dorm, uses their stuff, and flirts with Charlie’s crush. Charlie is left wondering if Mick has changed, or if he’s plotting revenge against Charlie.
3. Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (The Cult’s Ian Astbury)
If you were a mall goth at any time during the ’80s or after, chances are you listened to Billy Idol and The Cult on repeat, alone in your dark bedroom. The Cult is a British rock band that formed in the early ’80s and gained fame during the post-punk and gothic rock band wave of the time in Britain and elsewhere. English singer and songwriter Ian Astbury is well-known for fronting and performing lead vocals for The Cult, but has also tested his abilities in the film and theater world as well.
Astbury was often vocal about the various aspects of indigenous cultures during his career after coming to Canada from England in the late ’70s. He produced a documentary called Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide that was based on the book of the same name by scholar and activist Andrea Smith. The film focuses on the experiences of Native American women over the past 500 years and what oppressions they have faced and continue to face on reservations, such as forced sterilization and poor healthcare.
2. All My Friends are Funeral Singers (Califone’s Tim Rutili)
The Chicago experimental rock band Califone is unknown to some, but their albums Stitches (2013) and Quicksand / Cradlesnakes (2003) are definitely worth listening to as an introduction to the band. Califone’s frontman and lyricist, Tim Rutili, is also a very talented singer, guitarist, and keyboardist. His talents have branched over into the film world with the 2010 experimental drama film All My Friends Are Funeral Singers.
All My Friends Are Funeral Singers was directed and written by Tim Rutili, and the band Califone contributed all of the music, as it was released as a companion film to the band’s album of the same name. All My Friends Are Funeral Singers follows the story of a psychic medium that lives with a family of ghosts in a house they wish to escape. The medium discovers that the spirits are trapped within the house due to the actions of her own grandmother.
1. Graffiti Bridge (Prince)
Prince was a jack of all trades, boasting a fantastic and legendary career as a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, actor, and producer. On top of his many talents, he also directed, wrote, and starred in the 1990 rock musical drama Graffiti Bridge, which was accompanied by his album of the same name. The film is a sequel to his cult classic 1984 film Purple Rain.
After the events of Purple Rain, The Kid is living his life as a performer and owner of the club Glam Slam. The co-owner of Grand Slam named Morris attempts to extort The Kid out of his share of the club. An angel named Aura appears and attempts to convince the two to lead better lives. Things come to a head when The Kid challenges Morris to a musical battle to settle their grievances and the ownership of Grand Slam once and for all.
Unfortunately, the film was generally hated, and Prince was nominated for several Golden Raspberry Awards that included Worst Picture, Worst Actor, Worst Director, and more. The film was a commercial failure and is not as well known as Prince’s famous Purple Rain.
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