Thanks to Justin Timberlake’s prominent roles in Inside Llewyn Davis, Friends With Benefits, and The Social Network, we’ve grown used to seeing the once peroxide-blonde ‘N SYNC star acting with aplomb on the big screen. Pop stars, especially those of the synchronized-dancing, lip-synching, less technically “musical” genres that dominated the early aughts, seem particularly well-suited for acting — because really, they were kind of acting the whole time.
No one else from the Billboard charts of the 2000s, except maybe Jennifer Lopez, has made it to Timberlake’s level of feature film success. But even JT started somewhere — namely, with the made-for-TV prince-and-pauper redux Model Behavior (2000). As it turns out, tons of other pop stars tried to earn their own “/actor” crowns in movies you may (The Aviator) or may not (Carmen: A Hip Hopera) have seen. In celebration (and in memoriam) of these forgotten career detours, we bring you 20 films that surprisingly feature pop stars from the beginning of the millennium.
Justin Timberlake, Model Behavior (2000)
Justin and his white man’s ‘fro starred in this Disney original movie alongside Psych‘s Maggie Lawson (and bonus: Kathie Lee Gifford). Timberlake played model Jason Sharp, who gets fooled by Lawson’s Alex Burroughs and Janine Adams — a high school girl and model who swap places so each can escape her normal life.
Lance Bass, On The Line (2001)
Before he almost went to outer space (and before he came out of the closet), Lance Bass starred opposite Emmanuelle Chriqui (herself fresh off of Snow Day) in the Chicago-set rom-com On The Line. I last saw this when I was 12, so it’s frozen in my brain as a fantastic, beautiful, romantic, and touching film. I’m not going to watch it again. Please do take note of little leprechaun Joey Fatone shredding his guitar from atop Lance’s shoulder.
Ashanti, John Tucker Must Die (2006)
Ashanti was a mainstay on the pop-R&B circuit in 2002 and 2003, with airy hits “Foolish,” “Happy,” and “Rock wit U (Awww Baby).” But in 2006, she took a break from all that for a starring role in the teen comedy John Tucker Must Die, a film about three high school girls (from different cliques!) who realize they’re being played by the same guy and recruit Brittany Snow to enact their revenge.
Britney Spears, Crossroads (2002)
Let me get this bit of trivia out of the way: Shonda Rhimes wrote Crossroads. No wonder the emotional journey of three childhood best friends on a roadtrip tugged at our heartstrings so! Unfortunately for Britney, her co-stars are faring a bit better than she did in the acting world: Zoe Saldana has Star Trek and Avatar under her belt, and Taryn Manning took a turn on Sons of Anarchy before her creepy, scene-stealing role as Pennsatucky in Orange is the New Black.
Mandy Moore, The Princess Diaries (2001)
Before she voiced a cartoon in Tangled, before she played a leukemia-stricken teen in A Walk To Remember, and before she got some indie cred with Saved!, Mandy Moore was the bitchy cheerleader who taunted a young Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries. Like many of these popstars-on-film, Moore obviously got a chance to perform during the film, singing “Stupid Cupid” at a beach party with her posse.
Jessica Simpson, The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
The peak of Jessica Simpson’s career occurred when she won the role of Daisy Duke in the film version of The Dukes of Hazzard no one asked for. She was in incredible shape (her legs inspired me to work out for an entire week that year), and she hadn’t yet divorced Nick Lachey. Unfortunately, not even Burt Reynolds could save that movie from certain death.
Nick Lachey, The Hard Easy (2006)
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything at all about The Hard Easy, though it stars Oscar nominees Vera Farmiga, Bruce Dern, and Gary Busey. It also stars Nick Lachey (a year after his divorce)… so maybe that’s what happened. (Side note: Lachey also has a bit part as a Vietnam soldier in Nora and Delia Ephron’s Bewitched reboot, but the black hole of the internet has swallowed up all photographic evidence of it.)
Mariah Carey, WiseGirls (2002)
Did you think we were going to say Glitter? In WiseGirls, Carey plays Raychel, a waitress at a restaurant that serves members of the Mob. Apparently the movie involves murder, body-chopping, and a twist ending where someone believed dead turns out to be alive. Yikes.
Nick Carter, Edward Scissorhands (1990)
The blonde angel of the Backstreet Boys was once just an “Uncredited Neighborhood Extra” in Tim Burton’s 1990 classic, Edward Scissorhands. Carter played the slippin’ and slidin’ little kid above, in a role just as insignificant as whatever he’s doing now. Sorry, Nick.
Jennifer Lopez, Jack (1996)
Like we noted earlier, J.Lo has starred in enough legitimate films (Selena, anyone?) and enough flops (I don’t want to say it, but I will: Gigli) that she’s ended up with a pretty normal movie career. But you might not remember her small role in the Robin Williams movie Jack as his teacher, Miss Marquez.
Sometimes a pop star just embodies a certain role before she even gets it, and such was the case with Gwen Stefani’s Jean Harlow in The Aviator. She was only in the movie briefly, a dangling sparkle on the arm of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes, but her perfect glamor made the scene memorable.
Enrique Iglesias, Once Upon A Time In Mexico (2003)
Enrique Iglesias took a break from singing about being our hero (baby) and making out with Anna Kournikova in bathrooms to take part in the conclusion of Robert Rodriguez’s Mexico Trilogy. Iglesias plays Lorenzo, who helps out Antonio Banderas’s CIA-hired mercinary, “El Mariachi.”
Macy Gray, Training Day (2001)
Technically, Macy Gray’s hit “I Try” came out in 1999, but we’re going to let this one slide in. Two years after her scratchy, catchy song sped up the charts, Gray played “Sandman’s Wife” in Training Day.
Beyoncé, Carmen: A Hip Hopera (2001)
Obviously, Beyoncé played the titular character in 2001’s Carmen: A Hip Hopera, based on the classic Bizet opera about the gypsy, Carmen. Bey’s Carmen is an aspiring actress with attitude, and her seductive powers shone through even then — 13 years ago. The movie also stars Mekhi Phifer and Mos Def. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the entire thing here, and decide for yourself whether it’s brilliant or a trainwreck (or both).
Kelly Rowland, Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
Always a few steps behind her former bandmate, Kelly Rowland starred in 2003’s mash-up horror flick, Freddy vs. Jason. Unfortunately, as most characters in teen slasher films do, Kelly’s Kia doesn’t live to see the end. But girlfriend didn’t go down without a fight; watch her sass Freddy and insult his, er, manhood, before Jason finishes her off.
André 3000, Four Brothers (2005)
OutKast’s André 3000, or André Benjamin, played Jeremiah Mercer in Four Brothers, a movie about (shocker) four brothers trying to avenge their mother’s death. Mark Wahlberg, Tyrese Gibson, and Garrett Hedlund round out the remaining three Mercers.
Nelly, The Longest Yard (2005)
Remember The Longest Yard? The one where we’re supposed to believe Adam Sandler is in prison? Nelly was in that one, too.
Christina Aguilera, Burlesque (2010)
We cannot fault Christina Aguilera for doing Burlesque. If you get the chance to work with Cher in any capacity, you take it.
Mya, Chicago (2002)
Mya, the artist who brought us “The Case Of The Ex” and “My Love Is Like… Wo,” also played one of the murderesses in 2002’s Chicago. In addition to lending her voice to karaoke staple “Lady Marmalade,” she also got to deliver one of the best lines of “Cell Block Tango”: “I guess you could say we broke up because of artistic differences. He saw himself as alive, and I saw him dead.”
Aaliyah — Romeo Must Die (2000)
Before her untimely death in 2001, Aaliyah had a busy career, from performing on Star Search at 10, to signing with Jive Records at 12, to a creepy underage marriage to R. Kelly, to working with highly sought-after producers Missy Elliott and Timbaland. In the midst of all that, she shot an action film, Romeo Must Die, which also stars Jet Li, DMX, and Isaiah Washington.