In our present cinematic age of digital overwhelm and CGI blockbuster extravaganzas, the sudden appearance of a beloved rock star in a movie remains an absolutely killer special effect.
It’s especially satisfying when the audience has no idea the pop-up is coming, as well as when the rocker plays against type.
Here now are ten great film moments that got fans music gasping, pointing at movie screens, and whispering to anyone nearby, “Hey, that’s…!”
Nancy Wilson in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Heart’s lead guitar sorceress and occasional lead vocalist Nancy Wilson plays her role, “Beautiful Girl in Car,” with perfect aplomb. Nancy’s the total babe in the cool convertible who pulls up next to Judge Rheinhold at a stoplight while he’s delivering seafood.
Nancy smiles. Judge tries to look suave. She laughs. He suddenly remembers he’s dressed head-to-toe in a ridiculous pirate costume.
Truth be told, Nancy had an inside track for the gig: she was married to Cameron Crowe, legendary Rolling Stone rock journalist and screenwriter of Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Marilyn Manson in Jawbreaker (1999)
Rose McGowan stars as a mean girl turned accidental murderer in the pitch-black teen comedy Jawbreaker. In real life at the time, Rose was dating shock-rocker Marilyn Manson.
Thus, when Jawbreaker’s script called for a sleazebag singles-bar swinger to get busy with Rose in a scummy motel, the Antichrist Superstar himself couldn’t slap on a fake mustache or wide-lapel polyester leisure suit fast enough.
Dave Grohl in The Muppets (2013)
When Kermit the Frog reunites with Fozzy Bear in 2013’s funny reboot The Muppets, the ursine comedian is fronting “the Moopets”, a chintzy Muppets tribute revue in a dicey casino lounge.
Joining Fozzy are faux-Muppets named “Kermoot,” “Miss Poogy,” “Roowlf,” and, on drums, a sort of human Muppet named “Animool,” pounded out to perfection by world-class percussionist Dave Grohl.
Flea and Aimee Mann in The Big Lebowski (1998)
It takes a moment to realize one of the Germanic Nihilists in The Big Lebowski—the stern, black-clad terrorists who set the movie’s whole crazy shebang in motion by dropping a live marmot in The Dude’s bathwater—is played by Flea, bass beast of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Once it clicks, though, you know it’s Flea for the rest of the movie.
More surprising, though, is the discovery that Lebowski’s female Nihilist, the one who (spoiler alert?) sports just nine toes by the movie’s end, is portrayed with deadpan hilarity by singer-songwriter Aimee Mann.
For a performer famously gifted with an angelic voice, Aimee’s near-mute turn here is a surprise revelation of yet another amazing talent.
Anthony Kiedis in Point Break (1991)
Before he fronted the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Anthony Kiedis had some minor success as a teen actor, appearing in the 1978 Afterschool Special “It’s a Mile From Here to Glory,” and the 1980 Jodie Foster-Cherie Currie cult classic Foxes.
Anthony’s highest-profile thespian moment, however, occurs in the 1991 action classic Point Break.
As a “locals only” surf bully named Tone, Kiedis orders his Kowabunga cabal to hang more than ten all over beach invader Keanu Reeves as undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah. A totally tubular donnybrook results.
Anthrax in Calendar Girls (2003)
Calendar Girls is a delightful, fact-based comedy-drama from the UK about a group of matronly, middle-aged British women who pose nude for a charity calendar. Helen Mirren plays the leader of the suddenly saucy ladies.
While in Los Angeles to appear on The Tonight Show, Helen and her galpals are relaxing by their hotel pool, when they get an unexpected visit from Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian and bassist Frank Bello, who politely say hello.
“I was pretty excited to be in a scene with Helen Mirren,” Scott Ian recalls. “All these actresses were saying that they’d heard of us, but later I found out it was because the director told them who we were. For one second I hoped Helen Mirren listened to us!”
Rob Halford in Spun (2002)
Spun is a whacked-out, wildly stylized drug drama directed by acclaimed filmmaker and music video maker Jonas Akerlund, who also happens to have been the drummer for Swedish black metal pioneers Bathory.
Among the all-star cast that Akerlund sends to methamphetamine hell in Spun are Mickey Rourke, Jonathan Schwartzman, Mena Suvari, Brittany Murphy, and Eric Roberts. Blondie’s Deborah Harry throws fists as a heroic lesbian, but Debbie’s always been a movie actress, most notably in the sci-fi horror classic Videodrome.
The surprise rock star cameo, then, comes from Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford. He’s funny, scary, and, perhaps not surprisingly, entirely believable as a porn shop clerk who’s thoroughly entranced by a beefcake-in-bondage publication.
Ozzy Osbourne and Helmet in The Jerky Boys (1995)
It’s weird enough that multiplatinum prank phone call comedians the Jerky Boys got their own major studio movie (which, in turn, is made stranger by the fact that it’s actually very funny), but it’s absolutely jarring that when a scene required a hard rock band, the studio tapped otherwise dour alt-metal frown-makers Helmet.
Alas, 1995 was a trying time for Helmet. The group famously scored a major record contract payday during the post-Nirvana gold rush and their resulting album Betty, although now considered a classic, bombed big time. Hence, they did what they had to, and what that meant immediately was performing Black Sabbath’s “Symptom of the Universe” in the Jerky Boys movie.
Far more at home on the silver screen is Ozzy Osbourne, who affably hams it up as Helmet’s manager.
Two years later, the Prince of Darkness would lead a pack of rock star cameos early on in the Howard Stern biopic Private Parts.
Backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards, the King of All Media walks among Slash, Ted Nugent, Dee Snider, H.C. Hammer, Flavor Flav, John Popper of Blues Traveler and Tiny Tim before Ozzy takes a hard gander at Howard and proclaims, “What an a—hole!”
Alice Cooper in Sextette (1978)
Sextette is a stupefying, hilarious midnight movie exercise in high camp that stars 84-year-old Hollywood legend Mae West in a role that parodies her own insanely glamorous, world-class nymphomaniac persona.
Portraying the men in Mae’s life are screen icons that include Tony Curtis, Dom DeLuise, George Hamilton, Timothy Dalton, and George Raft. On top of that, Ringo Starr portrays one of Mae’s ex-husbands, while Keith Moon flames up the screen in the role of her boisterously over-the-top fashion designer.
Sneaking in among this madness is Alice Cooper. Adorned in a short-hair wig, Alice plays a hotel bellhop who perks Mae up out of her doldrums by suddenly hopping behind a piano and pounding out a disco anthem, thereby prompting other members of the hotel staff to burst into a spontaneous dance number.
Afterward, Dom DeLuise walks in and casually says, “Oh, hi, Alice!”
Billy Idol in The Wedding Singer (1998)
Adam Sandler’s beloved retro-’80s rom-com The Wedding Singer sports an initially unbilled, very funny role for Billy Idol as himself. While Sandler nurses a broken heart onboard an airplane, Billy, as his fellow passenger, inspires him to get back in the ring and take another swing for the heart of Drew Barrymore by performing an original song for her.
After successfully reinvigorating Sandler, Billy makes reference to “the mile high club,” prompting a well-dressed, older mom to ask what that means. With a cocked eyebrow and a seductive smile, Billy shoots a look to his new lady-friend that clearly offers her an invitation to learn more, first hand, about that elite organization.
Twisted Sister in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure climaxes with the titular hero, having been reunited with his beloved high-tech bicycle, leading a chase through the crazily crowded back lots of Warner Brothers’ Hollywood studios.
Barreling through one set after another, Pee-Wee disrupts a beach party romp, a Godzilla movie, and a Santa Claus spectacle before he speeds up to Twisted Sister as they’re riding in a slow-moving convertible while shooting a music video for “Burn in Hell.”
George Harrison in Life of Brian (1978)
Lifelong comedy fan George Harrison created his own movie company, Handmade Films, in part to finance the cinematic work of his heroes in Monty Python. Among Harrison’s first Handmade Films efforts was serving as executive producer on Life of Brian, the Pythons’ controversial send-up of Biblical epics
Toward the end of Life of Brian, director (and Python member) Terry Jones slips in a quick shot of the Quiet Beatle as a peasant in a crowd scene. Graham Chapman, as ersatz messiah Brian, gets pushed through a mob by John Cleese, who plays a politician in the ancient Holy Land.
Behind Cleese, in a red turban, George Harrison unmistakably gets in on the shoving action.
Mick Jagger in The Bank Job (2008)
Mick Jagger attempted to be a movie star with varying degrees of success in the Australian outlaw western Ned Kelly (1970), the freaky-deaky rock-and-roll gangster art film Performance (1970), and the sci-fi flop Freejack (1992).
The Jason Statham caper flick The Bank Job showcases another cinematic side of Jagger. He’s uncredited and almost unrecognizable as a square, bespectacled employee of the title institution who unwittingly lets the foxlike Statham into the metaphorical henhouse of a safe deposit vault.
David Bowie in Zoolander (2001)
As male supermodel supreme Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) battles his arch-nemesis Hansel (Owen Wilson) to an ultimate walk-off contest, coaching comes from an unexpected, but absolutely perfect, source: David Bowie, playing himself.
Bruce Springsteen in High Fidelity (2000)
Appears as a vision to John Cusack
Bruce Springsteen ranks among the most media adverse rock superstars. That’s what makes his out-of-nowhere appearance in the rock-themed rom-com High Fidelity such a stunner.
While John Cusack tosses and turns at night attempting to make sense of the women in his life, he cries out for help to The Boss, who suddenly appears at the foot of the bed.
Bruce strums and noodles on an electric guitar while John speaks on his romantic troubles. Then Springsteen vanishes as fast as he cropped up.
Over and out. Like a boss.