30 Times Musicians Played Themselves In Movies

Photo: Courtesy of Columbia TriStar.
South African director Neill Blomkamp is attempting something rather daring with Chappie (which hit theaters last week). He wrote the movie around his country's weirdest music act, Die Antwoord. Duo Ninja and Yolandi Visser play versions of themselves, raising the titular contraband robot to be just like them, complete with their "zef" lingo and pop-art aesthetic.

Musicians have been playing versions of themselves since the early talkies. Unlike Chappie, however, most movies employ them in brief cameo form. There are other times when artists slip in as random background characters, but we're here to celebrate those appearances when their built-in fame and larger-than-life reputations are used for a good joke or a pivotal moment. Sometimes, it's just about James Brown donning a silly ski sweater and performing in the middle of Idaho. Others, it's someone like Shania Twain stepping into I Heart Huckabees to point out just how callous Jude Law's character really is.

While gathering this list, we noticed something odd about it: There are hardly any female artists. Is it because directors don't think they're funny enough? Or are women discouraged from the kind of self-mockery these appearances usually require? Probably a little of both. Whatever the reason, we hope more ladies follow Rihanna's example in This Is the End and smack some sense into those boys.
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James Brown and Lesley Gore, Ski Party (1965)
What makes sense here: transplanting the "beach party" movie to a ski resort to shake things up a bit. What makes absolutely no sense: Lesley Gore popping up to sing "Sunshine and Lollipops" on the bus, and then James Brown and the Famous Flames claiming to be the ski patrol at this Idaho ski resort. Then they break out into the whitest version of "I Feel Good" you will ever hear. Rent Get on Up to get a fictionalized behind-the-scenes look at this moment.
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Count Basie, Blazing Saddles (1974)
It's 1874, and Bart (Cleavon Little) is off to become a small town's first Black sheriff. One needs a certain amount of style and encouragement to complete such a task, so Mel Brooks gives him Gucci saddlebag and the live sounds of Count Basie and his orchestra playing "April in Paris." The bandleader doesn't utter a word but his anachronistic presence says enough.
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The Ramones, Rock N' Roll High School (1979)
When a high school principal attempts to prevent the Ramones' biggest fan, Riff Randell, from attending a concert, all hell breaks loose. Riff and her classmates take over the school, and the Ramones show up to join in the fun, singing through the hallways and wreaking the kind of havoc we all once dreamed of doing ourselves.
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Madonna, Vision Quest (1985)
So, Madonna wasn't technically playing herself in this film about a high school wrestler (Matthew Modine) in love with an older woman, but it's as close as she ever got to doing so on the big screen before becoming a full-fledged actress. She sings "Crazy for You" and "Gambler" in a local bar in the movie, her first big-screen appearance.
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Twisted Sister, Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)
When Pee-wee sneaks onto the Warner Bros. lot to steal back his bicycle, the chase leads him straight through Twisted Sister's video shoot for "Burn in Hell." Dee Snider and the gang narrowly avoid a head-on collision with a runaway motorboat. This is one of the most '80s things ever to happen.
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Vanilla Ice, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
This combination is proof that if Nirvana and the grunge movement hadn't taken over the '90s, we surely would have faced a taste apocalypse. Vanilla Ice performs the eloquent "Ninja Rap" (key lyrics: "Go, ninja, go, ninja, go, ninja, go!") in an underground New York club while the turtles defeat their mutant enemies with an ooze antidote and then dance. Watch this "Honest Trailer" instead of the full clip, and you'll understand what we mean.
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Alice Cooper, Wayne's World (1992)
Who knows what Wayne and Garth expected backstage at Alice Cooper's show, but they probably weren't prepared for the shock-rocker's lesson on the history of Milwaukee as a trade hub between the French and Algonquin Indians. "I think one of the most interesting aspects of Milwaukee is the fact that it's the only major American city to have ever elected three socialist mayors." Any preconceived notions you have about metalheads go right out the window, don't they?
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Mudhoney, Black Sheep (1996)
Seattle grunge-rock pioneers Mudhoney are performing at a Rock the Vote event when they run into Chris Farley's character backstage and mistake him for his brother, who's running for governor. Then they playfully shove Farley onstage. This is also quintessential '90s culture going on here.
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Tom Jones, Mars Attacks! (1996)
Martians have invaded Earth with the intent to colonize, but in Las Vegas, Tom Jones is still singing "It's Not Unusual." Well, until the Martians start shooting at his audience from the stage. He runs away and joins up with boxer/casino worker/hero Byron Williams (former NFL star Jim Brown). In the movie's closing scene, Jones returns to sing his hit in the desert with a number of Disney-worthy cute animals, because why not?
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Billy Idol, The Wedding Singer (1998)
"One of our first class passengers would like to sing you a song inspired by one of our coach passengers, and since we let our first class passengers do pretty much whatever they want, here he is," Billy Idol growls seductively over the airplane intercom, introducing Adam Sandler's Drew Barrymore-winning song, "Grow Old With You." In a movie that is both spoof and loving homage to the music of the '80s, this is the most appropriate cameo of all time.
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Blink-182, American Pie (1999)
Jim (Jason Biggs) and his buddies accidentally send out the link to their live-cam of naughty Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) to the whole school, which inexplicably includes Blink-182 and their pet monkey. The band stops rehearsing to watch her, and then witness Jim's embarrassing double premature fail. Serves him right.
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Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
If we're going to believe that Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) could fall madly in love with Austin Powers (Mike Myers), we might as well also believe that Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello enjoy playing "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" on random street corners in London. Costello is actually a frequent maker of cameos on TV and in movies, from Spice World to Talladega Nights.
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Bruce Springsteen, High Fidelity (2000)
Rob (John Cusack) lies in bed contemplating whether he should visit his top five ex-girlfriends, just to see how they're doing, and gets the go ahead from none other than Bruce Springsteen, who's just playing some blues riffs on his guitar in his bedroom for no particular reason. "Thanks, Boss."
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Ozzy Osbourne, Little Nicky (2000)
There really is no reason to revisit this movie in which Adam Sandler plays one of Satan's sons battling over who gets to claim his throne when he retires. But, you can enjoy this excellent use of Ozzy's infamy for biting the head off a bat. This is what happens when rock stars grow old and greedy, folks.
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David Bowie, Zoolander (2001)
When Hansel (Owen Wilson) and Zoolander (Ben Stiller) need a judge for their model walk-off, Bowie steps up to the task, announcing, "I believe I might be of service." He's clearly done this before.
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Shania Twain, I Heart Huckabees (2004)
For most of this David O. Russell movie, Shania is the off-screen subject of big-box store exec Brad's (Jude Law) favorite anecdote: He once tricked the country star into eating one and a half chicken salad sandwiches by telling her they were tuna, implying that he got one over on her diva ways. Finally, she shows up for a corporate meeting and informs him that she's a vegetarian. "I eat tofu tuna, Brad!"
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Mariah Carey, You Don't Mess With the Zohan (2008)
Mariah Carey is on hand to sing the national anthem for the movie's hacky sack tournament. And, then when Zohan (Adam Sandler) corners terrorist Hakbarah (John Turturro) in Mariah's dressing room, Hakbarah tries to claim he screamed because he saw a bee. Mimi says she's allergic, but doesn't quite give the diva freakout one would hope for.
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Ronnie James Dio, Tenacious D And The Pick Of Destiny (2006)
This is every young music fan's dream: Punished for rocking out, young JB (a kid with the singing voice of Jack Black) asks the poster of his hero, metal god Ronnie James Dio, for advice. Dio comes to life and tells him (in song) to make his way to Los Angeles and form the world's greatest rock band.
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Kanye West, The Love Guru (2008)
There aren't many redeeming things about this particular Mike Myers flop, but seeing 'Ye scream "I love hockey!" with more enthusiasm than we've ever seen from him might be one of them.
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David Bowie, Bandslam (2009)
A movie starring Disney queens Aly Michalka and Vanessa Hudgens has an obvious crossover audience with David Bowie enthusiasts, doesn't it? For whatever reason, Bowie appears as himself to offer Hudgens' group a deal with his new indie record label after catching them on YouTube.
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Eminem, Funny People (2009)
While at a very civilized dinner the foul-mouthed rapper complains to Adam Sandler's comedian character that he's too famous to go to Chuck E. Cheese or Target. Things really heat up when Ray Romano (as himself) ogles him in the restaurant. Something tells us this might be exactly the way Eminem feels about fame.
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Wilson Phillips, Bridesmaids (2011)
"Hold On" was one of those songs from the '90s that we thought overplay had killed for good ... until Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph made it the anthem of their friendship. Something tells us it wasn't too hard to convince Carnie, Wendy, and Chynna to show up and perform their hit for the final wedding scene, and they definitely got the album sales to support that decision.
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Rihanna, This Is The End (2013)
If the apocalypse were coming, we could only wish for our last big hurrah to be at James Franco's housewarming. Rihanna is among the many celebs playing themselves at the bash, slapping Michael Cera hard across the face and musically teasing Craig Robinson, before falling into a giant crack in the earth.
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Alice Cooper, Dark Shadows (2013)
In this interview
Cooper sounds like he was quite the fan of Dark Shadows, the vampire TV soap in the '70s, so it's no wonder he agreed to play himself and perform "No More Mr. Nice Guy" at the Collins' house party in the Tim Burton movie. "Ugliest woman I've ever seen," mutters Johnny Depp's Barnabas during the show.
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Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, Muppets Most Wanted (2014)
Sometimes, the best cameo is the quickest. For the opening number, the duo are in matching monogrammed aprons, serving up cupcakes and tea on the set. "We're doing a sequel," the Muppets sing. "With Hollywood stars," Bennett croons, and Gaga adds, "And, more one-liner cameos." That's it. Short and sweet.
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Eminem, The Interview (2014)
This movie begins with Eminem coming out as gay in a TV interview with James Franco's character. If this had been released in 2001, when the rapper merely sharing the stage with Elton John was a big deal, it would garnered as many headlines as that whole North Korea terrorism threat. Not so much these days.
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DMX, Top Five (2014)
"DMX, what are you doing here?" Chris Rock's Andre asks from his jail cell to the rapper's. "I'm X, man, I live in this f---ing place. Don't you watch the news?" But, DMX reveals that he wants to break out, not of jail, but of the "box" the industry puts him in, and proceeds to croak out the saddest version of "Smile" we've ever heard.
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Photo: Courtesy of Screen Gems.
Drake, Think Like a Man Too (2014)
Kevin Hart's Cedric leaves his wife, Gail (Wendy Williams), behind to give his pal the best kind of Las Vegas bachelor party he can, but lo and behold, Gail's been having some fun of her own. When Cedric calls her from jail, Drake answers in his unmistakably sexy voice. Maybe they're just discussing interior decorating, but who knows where that could lead?
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Photo: Via YouTube.
Michael Jackson, Men in Black II (2002)
"What about that position you promised me in Men in Black?" Jackson asks Rip Torn via video call. "I'm still working on that alien affirmative action program," the agent responds. While no one's coming out and saying that MJ was playing himself and declaring that he's actually an alien, it's all there for us to infer. This is a great example of Jackson (sometimes) having a sense of humor about his public image.
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Photo: Via YouTube.
Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, GZA, RZA, and The White Stripes, Coffee & Cigarettes (2003)
Iggy Pop learns that Tom Waits is not just a musician but also a surgeon on the side, in a supremely awkward conversation over the titular substances. The Wu-Tang Clan's RZA also turns out to be an alternative medicine practitioner, and he and GZA realize their waiter happens to be Bill Murray. Then Jack White tells Meg White all about his Tesla Coil and the amazing theories of Nikola Tesla. You can tell by the black and white that this is all super meaningful.