There's an old adage that actors want to be rock stars and rock stars want to be actors. But actors often have a hard time making the leap to playing musicians in spite of their enthusiasm because they either simply lack the chops or have trouble overcoming their personas.
The latest to make the attempt are Denis Leary, currently in US TV show Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, and Meryl Streep, who has things considerably easier playing a failed rocker with major baggage in new film Ricki and the Flash.
We decided to sort through the many actors who have taken to music in their films and answer the question: Who would make a legitimately cool rock star? (We're using the term broadly, as a catch-all for different genres.)
And we've ignored those actors who are at least as known as musicians since that would be a little unfair (sorry, Kris Kristofferson).
Kevin Bacon (Footloose), Angela Bassett (What's Love Got to Do with It), Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up), Gary Busey (The Buddy Holly Story), Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Ewan McGregor (Velvet Goldmine), Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line).
10 | Malcolm McDowell
McDowell played fictional rocker Reggie Wanker in the little-seen film Get Crazy, while his performance in A Clockwork Orange influenced artists like Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson. Part Roger Daltrey and part Mick Jagger, McDowell has always seemed like a rock frontman who turned to acting when the band broke up, though these days he looks like he could be in the Chieftains.
9 | Sissy Spacek
Though her willowy film presence is far from badass, Spacek nabbed her Academy Award for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter. She performed all the songs herself and landed at number-two in the country music charts with the soundtrack. If Spacek weren't committing to her chosen craft in Netflix's Bloodline, she could easily pack 'em in at the Grand Ole Opry.
8 | Taraji P Henson
Henson sang with Terrence Howard in Hustle & Flow and has appeared in music videos for Common and Tyrese Gibson, but she really blew up on Empire. Even though she isn't playing a musician, Henson's smouldering performance as the ex-drug dealing ex-wife and ex-partner of Howard's Lucious Lyon has more swagger than Mick Jagger and more attitude than Nicki Minaj in whatever feud she's got going. She could start a mosh pit at a symphony.
7 | John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd
Two young comedy talents formed a band simply by surrounding themselves with veteran musicians, and became beloved in their own right. With all respect to Animal House and Ghostbusters, the best thing they ever did was celebrate the blues on record and film—and we think they'd agree. Belushi died tragically, of course, but Ackroyd kept the Blues Brothers alive every so often with different players—just like so many other bands we don't want to lose.
6 | Gary Oldman
The always dependable Oldman has disappeared in way too many great movies over the years to list here, but he arrived as Sid Vicious 1986's Sid and Nancy. He's not only the best thing about the movie, but his transformation into Sid is as enduring as Vicious himself. He would have made a great rocker had he chosen to go that direction. Still, 20 years ago, Oldman appeared on guitarist Reeves Gabrels' album The Sacred Squall of Now singing a duet with David Bowie, "You've Been Around." He can do whatever he wants and has.
5 | Jamie Foxx
Foxx sort of was a rock star when he sang on Kanye West's number-one "Gold Digger," but when he portrayed Ray Charles in Ray, it was all over. He got the Academy Award and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor, and his pipes are more memorable than the movie. If he were a rock star, we have a feeling people would pay a lot less attention to Kanye.
4 | Spinal Tap
Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Christopher Guest so embody their joke band in This Is Spinal Tap that its legacy is equal to that of all the bands they're satirizing. (And it's been so long—over 30 years—that it can be easy to forget it was satire at all.) Whether they're playing aberrant heavy-metal types or the folkies of A Mighty Wind, as a trio these men are effortlessly in sync.
3 | Val Kilmer
Kilmer will always be Iceman, but among his other most memorable roles is Jim Morrison in The Doors. The hair and the leather pants, the howling performances as Morrison will endure. But it was the 1984 comedy Top Secret (by the guys who made Airplane!), in which he played fictional rock star Nick Rivers, that convincingly demonstrated that he would make an excellent rock idol.
2 | Brandon Lee
Lee played a slick goth rock star in The Crow and then like Kurt, Janis, Jimi, and Jim, he tragically died far too soon and instantly became larger than life. Who knows what else he was capable of, but with his dark looks and brooding stare, he is forever Eric Draven no matter how many times they try to remake that film. Many a band should be paying royalties to his estate.
1 | Johnny Depp
Pouty-lipped Depp is a natural. He started out with intentions of becoming a rock star and played with the bands the Kids, Six Gun Method, and Rock City Angels before turning to acting. Underneath it all, we always knew he was a rocker. He owned the Viper Room in L.A.; he sang in Cry-Baby and Sweeney Todd; in the Pirates of the Caribbean films he pretty much is Keith Richards. He plays guitar in the band the Hollywood Vampires with Joe Perry and Alice Cooper, and they're returning with a new album this year. Even if you don't buy it, you will probably strongly consider it.
This article was originally published on Esquire.com