Rock stars turn up in the unlikeliest of places, even on the silver screen. While some musicians have taken to acting as more than just a part-time gig, others dip their toes in the water with varying degrees of critical and artistic success. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes it sucks, and sometimes, somehow, it’s both at the same time. Here, then, is an incomplete list of the best, weirdest and worst rock star cameos. Given the swashbuckling parallels, it should come as no surprise that our list begins with a handful of films where rock stars made the lateral cinematic move to play pirates.
David Bowie – Yellowbeard (1983)
Though he made a brief meal of playing himself as an impromptu model walk-off judge in Zoolander, David Bowie’s oddest cameo came in the star-stuffed 1983 pirate comedy flop, Yellowbeard. In a short scene with Madeline Kahn and Eric Idle, an uncredited Bowie plays Henson, a pirate with a shark’s dorsal fin.
Keith Richards – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow is a loose – and loose-limbed – impression of Keith Richards anyway, so it made sense that he’d turn up in a pair of Pirates of the Caribbean flicks as Sparrow’s father, Captain Teague. Richards is so Richards in the role, it’s tempting to wonder whether the entire thing wasn’t improvised on the spot.
At World’s End –
On Stranger Tides –
Paul McCartney – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
While Richards mumbled and grumbled his way through a pair of Caribbean cameos, McCartney’s turn as Jack Sparrow’s Uncle Jack is pure comedy. As Sparrow is being dragged through a jail by guards, he passes a cell in which his Uncle Jack is seen playing cards and singing the Beatles’ “Maggie Mae.” After a brief exchange, Uncle Jack offers his nephew this sage advice: “If they disembowel you, ask for Victor. He’s got the softest hands.”
John Doe – Road House (1989)
Given Patrick Swayze’s bouncer character’s penchant for solving a problem with violence, things could have gone a whole lot worse for John Doe’s character than just losing his job. As bartender Pat McGurn, Doe gets the heave-ho after being spotted skimming from the register during a busy night at the titular road house. Instead of having his mustache torn off by Swayze’s Dalton, McGurn is simply advised to “take the train.”
Alex Van Halen? – Robocop (1987)
For years, the rumors have circulated that this clip from Robocop features the drumming half of the Van Halen musical brotherhood, Alex Van Halen. The part is described as Keva Rosenberg, “unemployed person.” Apparently, this is not Alex Van Halen espousing his philosophy to a TV news reporter. Still, it’s pretty funny, so:
George Harrison & Ron Wood – The Rutles (a.k.a., All You Need is Cash)
Former Beatle George Harrison has several cameo credits to his name, none more memorable than his portrayal of a television reporter in The Rutles, a mockumentary based on the lives of the Beatles. In one scene, Harrison’s reporter interviews a fearful Hell’s Angel played by Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones.
David Crosby, Phil Collins – Hook (1991)
Steven Spielberg’s 1991 film Hook serves as a sequel to the Peter Pan saga, starring Robin Williams as a grown-up Pan who’s forgotten about his Lost Boys days, Dustin Hoffman as the titular one-handed captain, and Julia Roberts in a mod wig as Tinkerbell. The flick also saw a few rock stars turn up in tiny roles, including Phil Collins as a police detective, and David Crosby as Tickles, a pirate who taunts children and later gets his testicles crushed. Sadly, Jimmy Buffett, who also appears as – you guessed it, a pirate – fails to suffer a similar fate as Croz.
Nancy Wilson – Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Director Amy Heckerling’s 1982 coming-of-age comedy isn’t even about pirates, and yet in the scene in which a fuzzy-sweatered Nancy Wilson turns up to titillate Judge Reinhold, he’s wearing full-on buccaneer garb. Still not as embarrassing as his character getting caught jerking off by Phoebe Cates earlier in the film, though.
Michael Nesmith – Burglar (1987)
Burglar, a regrettable cinematic adaptation of Lawrence Block’s fine mystery series about a bookseller and supposedly reformed prowler named Bernie Rhodenbarr, cast Whoopi Goldberg in the titular role. The film, which lost a hell of a lot in its journey to the silver screen, is deservedly forgotten. But it does feature a curious cameo by Monkee Mike Nesmith as a laconic cab driver with the unenviable task of taking a slurring and shouting Bobcat Goldthwait home…wherever that is.
Bo Diddley – Trading Places (1983)
Dan Aykroyd’s Louis Winthorpe III hasn’t hit rock bottom by the time he visits a pawnbroker played by Bo Diddley, but he’s not far off. The victim of an elaborate bet by his wealthy bosses, Winthorpe has been cast out of his former life of wealth and comfort, and after taking up with a prostitute, decides to sell what remains of his worldly possessions: A watch that tells time simultaneously in Monte Carlo, Beverly Hills, London, Paris, Rome and Gstaad.
“In Philadelphia it’s worth fifty bucks.”
Jack White – Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
Walk Hard was a box office flop, but has since gained a faithful following for its comedic spin on the Johnny Cash story. The film is full of odd cameos – the Beatles scene alone is a hilarious head-scratcher – but perhaps none more memorable than Jack White’s portrayal of Elvis Presley as a mumbling aggro asshole.
Bruce Springsteen – High Fidelity (2000)
The film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel about a lovelorn record shop shifted the action from London to Chicago, casting John Cusack in the lead. In one memorable moment, Bruce Springsteen appears as himself to give Cusack’s character romantic advice.
Billy Idol – The Wedding Singer (1998)
If romantic support is good enough for the Boss, it’s good enough for Billy Idol too. The former Generation X frontman empathizes with Adam Sandler’s heartsick character during a flight, shares a knowing smirk when the Mile High Club is mentioned, takes over the intercom to introduce Sandler’s mushy song, nails the lumpen antagonist with a food cart, then steps aside to let Drew Barrymore do her patented simultaneous laugh/cry thing.
Madonna – Die Another Day (2002)
Pierce Brosnan’s final film as James Bond was so bloated and absurd, the series was stripped back and rebooted with Daniel Craig in the role. Madonna’s stiff performance as Verity, a leather-clad fencing instructor didn’t ruin the film, but it didn’t help it much either.
Ozzy Osbourne-Trick or Treat (1986)
Like others on the list, Ozzy has popped up in numerous cameos on the silver screen, often playing himself or a close facsimile. In the rock & roll horror flick Trick or Treat, however, he goes for the polar opposite, playing television evangelist, the Rev. Aaron Gilstrom, who rages against unchaste rock music. “Demonic beasts,” says Ozzy’s puritanical reverend. “Whatever happened to the good old simple love song? ‘I love you.’ That’s what good words use. Nowadays they have to write some sickness. It’s just absolutely sick and bizarre, and I’m going to do my upmost best to try and stop it now.” Spoiler: He doesn’t. Kiss’ Gene Simmons is also in the film.
Tom Waits – The Fisher King (1991)
Waits has had a long career as an actor, though his uncredited cameo as a handicapped “moral traffic light” in director Terry Gilliam’s dark romance leaves a lasting mark.
Chris Cornell, Pearl Jam – Singles (1992)
Cameron Crowe’s grunge-era Seattle-based romantic comedy was heavy on the former and light on the latter, with Matt Dillon’s rocker doofus Cliff Poncier not showing up nearly often enough in the final cut. When he does, he’s surrounded by grunge royalty, as in a scene where Poncier attempts to woo Bridget Fonda’s barista by installing a powerful stereo system in her car. Late Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell plays a neighbor who witnesses a comedic climax so obvious it seems as though it takes half the film to arrive. Poncier is the frontman of a band called Citizen Dick, rounded out by Pearl Jam members Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament. High fives all around!
Tom Petty – The Postman (1997)
In the glacially-paced post-apocalyptic Kevin Costner film The Postman, late rocker Tom Petty plays the Mayor of Bridge City. In a curious bit of dialogue, Costner’s Postman recognizes Petty’s Mayor as being famous. “I was once. Sorta. Kinda. Not anymore.” Is Petty actually playing Petty?
Anthony Kiedis – Point Break (1991)
If you’ve ever longed to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ smirking frontman get his ass kicked, this is the film for you.
Flea – Back to the Future Part II (1989), Back to the Future Part III (1990)
The ordinarily jittery Michael Balzary, a.k.a., Flea, brings a quiet, dignified grace to the minor role of Douglas J. Needles in the two sequels to the original Back to the Future. Just kidding: Flea mugs his way through a few minutes of screen time, prodding Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly with the worst insult imaginable: He calls him a chicken.
Back to the Future Part II –
Ian Brown – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
As Harry Potter disembarks from the Knight Bus and enters the Leaky Cauldron, the former frontman of the Stone Roses briefly appears as an unnamed wizard in the Leaky Cauldron, reading Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time while magically stirring his tea. Brown and director Alfonso Cuarón were friends, leading to the uncredited cameo.
Pulp & Radiohead – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Fictional band the Weird Sisters, who play the Yule Ball at Hogwarts in the fourth film in the Harry Potter series, include Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey of Pulp, and Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway of Radiohead. The group performs “Do the Hippogriff” to the delight of the students of Hogwarts, along with those visiting from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, two other European schools of magic.
After the box office success of the Beatles in the mid-‘60s, rock & rollers were indiscriminately stuck in the middle of all manner of movies to try and get teenage butts in the seats. Sometimes it made perfect sense. Sometimes it didn’t. Here are three such appearances; it’s up to you to decide whether it’s a hit or miss.
The Lovin’ Spoonful – What’s Up Tiger Lily? (1966)
Using a Japanese spy film, International Secret Police: Key of Keys, as source material, comedian and nascent filmmaker Woody Allen rejected the original plot and instead wrote a dubbed translation about the search for the world’s greatest egg salad recipe. During post-production, and reportedly without Allen’s knowledge or approval, clips of the Lovin’ Spoonful performing were added to give the film a more contemporary film.
The Yardbirds – Blow-Up (1966)
Filmed during the few months in 1966 when both Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page were in the group, the Yardbirds appearance in Michelangelo Antonioni’s celebrated thriller finds David Hemmings’ questing character wander into a London club full of passive hipsters. On stage, the Yardbirds are chugging through “Stroll On” when Beck grows frustrated with feedback and smashes his guitar. The crowd springs madly to life when the neck of the guitar is tossed from the stage, but it’s Hemmings who escapes with the prize.
Little Richard – Catalina Caper (1967)
In one of the most incongruous of all ‘60s cameos, legendary rocker Little Richard performs “Scuba Party” on a boat in this goofy B-movie that was part teen comedy, part heist flick. Richard is backed – at least on film – by the Cascades, a lily-white vocal group who hit #3 on the Billboard 200 in 1962 with “Rhythm of the Rain.” Beyond playing Little Richard’s band, the Cascades also perform “There’s a New World Just Opening For Me,” written by the Kinks’ Ray Davies.