A-list actors making appearances in music videos has been a tradition since the earliest days of MTV. But what started mostly as simple cameos has long since evolved into intricate storylines, mini-movies, and star-studded group appearances—all in an effort to lure more viewers. We combed through the video vaults to find 30 clips featuring an array of famous faces, including Academy Award winners like Gary Oldman playing a priest in David Bowie’s “The Last Day,” Tom Hanks lip-syncing to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “I Really Like You,” and Christopher Walken gettin’ down (and gettin’ airborne) in Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon Of Choice.” While some of these music videos will be immediately familiar to many fans, others may have slipped under the radar. Either way, now they’re all assembled in one handy list.
“Dancing In the Dark” (1984)
Actor: Courteney Cox
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
“Dancing In The Dark” was the lead single for what would become Springsteen’s biggest album of all time, Born In The U.S.A., and it featured a video filmed in front of a full arena audience. Springsteen’s energy and dancing, as depicted in the video, are still beloved today. Near the end of the video, Springsteen pulls a young Courteney Cox out of the audience to dance with him on stage. Directed by Brian DePalma, the video features Cox dancing in front of thousands of fans at an arena in Minnesota and turned out to be her big break.
Actors: Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, Chevy Chase, Irene Cara, John Candy, Melissa Gilbert, Ollie E. Brown, Jeffrey Tambor, George Wendt, Al Franken, Danny DeVito, Carly Simon, Peter Falk, and Terri Garr
Artist: Ray Parker Jr.
The ’80s saw the beginning of movie and music video crossovers, and this promo clip combined original scenes on a neon-highlighted haunted house set with actress Cindy Harrell, shots of Parker performing, shots of celebs shouting the song title, and the movie’s stars and Parker dancing through Times Square. This is arguably the first star-studded video of the MTV era, and the song became a No. 1 hit. Unfortunately, Huey Lewis and The News sued for copyright infringement as the song resembled their No. 1 hit, “I Want A New Drug.” They won money in a privately settled suit, but then Parker sued Lewis in 2001 for reportedly breaching their confidentiality agreement. Oops.
“You Can Call Me Al” (1986)
Actor: Chevy Chase
Artist: Paul Simon
Sometimes you don’t need a big budget to make a memorable video, and this one was spawned by Simon, SNL producer Lorne Michaels, and Chevy Chase after the original version shot on the SNL set fell short. Chase was then corralled into joining Simon on a soundstage, and he stole the show by immediately taking over “singing” nearly all of the song’s lyrics while Simon played various instruments. The actor later joined the singer-songwriter onstage at a 1991 Central Park concert to recreate their “horn dance.” When “You Can Call Me Al” was filmed in 1986, Chase was a major movie star with hits like Fletch and National Lampoon’s Vacation under his belt, and Simon was becoming a major solo artist, with this album, Graceland, eventually selling more than 15 million copies worldwide.
“Can I Play With Madness” (1988)
Actor: Graham Chapman
Artist: Iron Maiden
Monty Python member Graham Chapman appears in this video as the strict art teacher presiding over a class outside in cathedral ruins. When he slips and falls into an underground lair, he discovers arcane trappings and an old TV showing an Iron Maiden concert. It’s no coincidence that Chapman was picked to appear in this video—director Julian Doyle had worked with Python previously, and Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson was a huge fan of the comedy troupe. He actually showed up to the 2009 premiere of the Monty Python documentary series at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City.
Actors: Jason Robards and Timothy Bottoms
This famous video utilizes footage from a little-known film called Johnny Got His Gun, a 1971 anti-war movie in which a soldier returns home from war as a quadriplegic, unable to see and basically trapped inside his shell of a body and wanting to die. Juxtaposed with the band’s performance footage, clips from the movie co-starring Jason Robards and Timothy Bottoms also get used. It’s likely neither of these actors would have been in a Metallica video normally, but because the film clips were originally licensed and the film rights later bought up to keep the video in circulation in perpetuity, the actors made “guest appearances.” The scenes really match the intensity of the song.
“You Could Be Mine” (1991)
Actor: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Artist: Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses contributed this raucous anthem to the Terminator 2 soundtrack at a time when T2 star Arnold Schwarzenegger was the biggest movie star in the world and Guns N’ Roses was the hottest rock band on the planet. The “You Could Be Mine” video features footage from a live GN’R performance at the Ritz in New York interspersed with scenes from the movie along with shots of the T-1000 coming to their show to hunt them down. At the end in the alley by the club, the Terminator meets them and ultimately computes that they’re a “waste of ammo.”
“Comin’ On” (1992)
Actor: Jason Statham
Artist: The Shamen
Popular in the U.K. in the early to mid-1990s, The Shamen were a psych rock turned techno group. And this video for “Comin’ On,” thanks to the internet, has been immortalized. Using early digital technology which allowed multiple onscreen recreations of the same band members, The Shamen showcased one particularly hunky guy, greased up, wearing only boots and leopard shorts, and shaking his booty throughout the clip. At one point, there are nine of him on screen. Yes, that’s Fast And Furious star Jason Statham well before anybody knew who he was and before he was kicking ass on screen. Trippy, dude.
“Anybody Seen My Baby” (1997)
Actor: Angelina Jolie
Artist: The Rolling Stones
In “Anybody Seen My Baby,” Angelina Jolie plays one of the strippers at the Sleazeball Lounge, which is presided over by Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones. When the band is in attendance, Jolie’s character gets tired of the scene and escapes out the back door with Mick Jagger in hot pursuit. She quickly disappears into dense Manhattan traffic, and he spends the rest of the video searching the streets and subways trying to find her. Jolie’s short hair here is a result of her having filmed Gia for HBO. There’s also a wild scene in the video with Keith Richards playing guitar atop one of the Chrysler Building gargoyles.
“Amish Paradise” (1998)
Actor: Florence Henderson
Artist: “Weird Al” Yankovic
In Weird Al’s ode to Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” Al appears as an Amish man trying hard to show you how cool he is in a very, very retro way. There’s a guest appearance by Mrs. Brady herself, Florence Henderson, who stares disapprovingly at him during one key moment which mirrors a similar scene between Coolio and Michelle Pfeiffer (in her Dangerous Minds movie role as a tough teacher). The song and video created a rift between Coolio and Weird Al for a time as the former did not appreciate the parody, but they later reconciled. How could you not love this video?
“She’s Got Issues” (1999)
Actor: Zooey Deschanel
Artist: The Offspring
Shot on what looks like VHS, “She’s Got Issues” features the Offspring performing in a rehearsal room while the singer’s “girlfriend” (Deschanel) goes to her day job at a photo place, gets fired for copying customer photos, sees her therapist, then shows up at band practice. All along the way she envisions people being transformed into animated phantasmagorical creatures in the vein of ’60s underground comics. The video came out the same year as Zooey Deschanel’s first feature film appearance in Mumford.
“Weapon Of Choice” (2001)
Actor: Christopher Walken
Artist: Fatboy Slim featuring Bootsy Collins
“Weapon Of Choice” features one of the greatest actor appearances (arguably the greatest) in any music video. Directed by the acclaimed Spike Jonze, the video follows a seemingly forlorn traveler (Walken), who perks up when he hears music from a cleaning person’s boombox and proceeds to tap dance, jump, cartwheel, and fly around the lobby of what is now the L.A. Grand Hotel Downtown. It’s silly fun as we witness his euphoria, and the spirited performance was a revelation for many fans, who didn’t know Walken could dance like that. The clip won six MTV Music Video Awards and the Grammy Award for Best Music Video in 2002.
Actor: Jeremy Renner
In her own take on the Wild West directed by Sophie Muller, Pink is a brawling, badass babe who rides into a small town, starts fights with a lot of the local troublemakers, liberates the working girls, and manages to wiggle out of jail by seducing a sheriff played by Jeremy Renner. In the end, the outlaw and lawman have a showdown baring whips rather than guns. Guess who wins? This was an early, pre-MCU appearance from Renner before he became a big action star, although he had just appeared in S.W.A.T.
“Mr. Brightside” (2005)
Actor: Eric Roberts
Artist: The Killers
The video for The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” recreates the romantic triangle from the movie Moulin Rouge. Singer Brandon Flowers is enamored with a courtesan at a local brothel/music hall, but he has to watch her go off with different men every night. And, of course, he has to compete for her affection with the establishment’s rich owner, played by Eric Roberts. This was actually the beginning of a number of music video appearances for Roberts, who would go on to do shoots for Godhead, Mariah Carey, Akon, and Ja Rule, before reprising this role in the 2012 clip for The Killers’ “Miss Atomic Bomb.”
“Wake Me Up When September Ends” (2005)
Actors: Evan Rachel Wood and Jamie Bell
Artist: Green Day
In one of Green Day’s most iconic videos, a young Evan Rachel Ward is the fiancee of a young man who decides to enlist in the military (played by Jamie Bell), presumably because it’ll offer the couple a more secure future later. But he soon finds himself on a deadly battlefield in Iraq with friends getting shot around him. The video actually ends with uncertainty as to whether or not he will come home, but there is the hope that somehow he’ll be happily reunited with his girl later on. It’s a song and video that has resonated with many people coping with tragedy and loss. Frontman Billie Joe Armstrong wrote the lyrics about his father passing away when he was 10 years old.
“What Goes Around...Comes Around” (2007)
Actor: Scarlett Johansson
Artist: Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake plays a singer and a dancer who gets caught up in a steamy, passionate romance, but things unravel when his best friend starts falling for her as well. The short film, directed by Samuel Bayer (Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video) and featuring dialogue from writer/director Nick Cassavetes, has a bit of a modern Moulin Rouge vibe to it and ends with a high-speed car chase that you know will not end well. It’s all a bit melodramatic, but “What Goes Around…” did get nominated for Best Music Video at the MTV VMAs.
Actor: Alexander Skarsgård
Artist: Lady Gaga
In this video, Lady Gaga’s lover (Alexander Skarsgård) sets her up to be photographed by paparazzi. During a fight that ensues, she’s pushed over a balcony, and ends up temporarily paralyzed with her career seemingly down the drain. But in a bizarre twist of fate, after being rehabilitated, she poisons him and admits to it, thus being thrust back into the public spotlight. Ultimately, she’s acquitted of the crime. The ending of the video mirrors the finale of the famous Hollywood tragedy Sunset Boulevard, although the story arcs are different. Gaga said that “Paparazzi” is her commentary about the extremes that people are willing to go to achieve fame. This was the second single from her debut album, and this video was shot early into Skarsgård’s big run on True Blood.
“Love The Way You Lie” (2010)
Actor: Dominic Monaghan and Megan Fox
Artist: Eminem with Rihanna
Eminem and Rihanna trade raps and singing in this tale of a toxic couple in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship, something that both of them had experience with. Their video avatars are Dominic Monaghan and Megan Fox, who play out this drama that will have deadly consequences if it keeps spiraling down. The song has touched a raw nerve with many people, especially those who have experienced abuse and gaslighting, having racked up more than 2.5 billion views on YouTube.
“Lego House” (2011)
Actor: Rupert Grint
Artist: Ed Sheeran
This video plays off of the similar looks of Ed Sheeran and Harry Potter co-star Rupert Grint, with the latter taking Sheeran’s place as he “sings” and strolls along walkways, on a tour bus, and backstage, imitating poses and copying the singer-songwriter’s hoodies, T-shirts, and jeans look. But once Grint goes on stage in front of an audience and gets nabbed by security, we realize he’s not subbing for Sheeran here but portraying a guy obsessed with him who is just imitating him. The two gingers cross paths briefly at the very end as Grint is being escorted out of the venue by security.
Actor: Daniel Radcliffe
Artist: Slow Club
In “Beginners,” Daniel Radcliffe wakes up hungover one morning in an empty bar. Then he begins to sing most of the lyrics to this song while looking into the camera with frequent anguish. It’s a gender-swapped performance (since Rebecca Taylor is the band’s singer) as he stumbles around the bar, does a little air guitar, drinks more booze, then collapses to the floor. It’s an impressive one-shot video. Turns out Radcliffe is a big fan of the band, and naturally Taylor and bandmate Charles Watson jumped at the chance to include him in this.
“Lover Of The Light” (2012)
Actor: Idris Elba
Artist: Mumford & Sons
Idris Elba appears as a man who savors the simple pleasures in life, from tactile sensations to smelling the ingredients of his breakfast. But we soon discover that he’s blind when he makes the choice to leave his house without either his guide dog or his cane. He rushes up and down a mountainside, runs past a speeding car, and races towards a cliff; at the last instant, he stops. He is a man who wants to live his life to its fullest no matter what. Mumford & Sons wanted to try something different with this video, and as its star and director, Idris Elba did just that.
“The Next Day” (2013)
Actor: Gary Oldman and Marion Cotillard
Artist: David Bowie
In this short but sweet clip, Gary Oldman plays a priest of dubious piety as he knocks a homeless man out of the way to go into an S&M bar with other religious types and presumed prostitutes. Bowie is seen performing with his band while Oldman starts to dance with Marion Cotillard, but things go awry when stigmata form on her hands and she starts gushing blood everywhere. It’s the type of provocative clip that one would expect from the iconic and ever-experimental rocker, and it was temporarily banned from YouTube two hours after its premiere.
“Queenie Eye” (2013)
Actors: Johnny Depp, Jeremy Irons, Chris Pine, Jude Law, Sean Penn, Alice Eve, James Corden, Meryl Streep, Tracey Ullman, Howard Long, Kate Moss, Lily Cole, and Laura Bailey
Artist: Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney does a late-night take of a song for his recording engineer at Abbey Road Studios—just singing and playing piano to a song with other recorded tracks. But gradually over time, more and more people start materializing to hang out and groove to the music until a whole roomful of fans are dancing along to the tune. None of this is seen by the engineer, and you also wonder if the former Beatle is even aware of their presence. Or is he dreaming it?
Actors: Aisha Tyler, Margaret Cho, Eric Stonestreet, Kristen Schaal, and Jack Black
Artist: “Weird Al” Yankovic
This kooky Weird Al video was done in one very well-executed Steadicam shot that moves between two floors of a live venue. The master of musical mirth starts off lip-synching his own song, a parody of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” before passing the lip-synch baton to Aisha Tyler, then on to Margaret Cho, Eric Stonestreet, Kristen Schaal in an elevator, and then to Jack Black, grooving and twerking down stairs. Finally, Weird Al returns to wrap things up. It’s a lot of fun, and all the stars were clearly into vamping for it. There were six takes of the video done, and they picked the sixth and final one.
“Just One Of The Guys” (2014)
Actors: Kristen Stewart, Anne Hathaway, and Brie Larson
Artist: Jenny Lewis
“Just One Of The Guys” was produced by Beck and features his backing vocals, but he does not appear onscreen. Supporting singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis in her fabulous rainbow tuxedo, Oscar winners and nominees Kristen Stewart, Anne Hathaway, and Brie Larson dress up in white suits and “perform” barefoot, but they also take on satirical bro personalities with fake mustaches, backwards baseball caps, and tracksuits. Stewart in particular really enjoys hamming it up. They humorously echo some of the chorus lyrics: “No matter how hard I try to be just one of the guys/There’s a little something inside that won’t let me.”
“I Really Like You” (2015)
Actor: Tom Hanks
Artist: Carly Rae Jepsen
Here’s another fun example of an actor lip-synching to a performer’s words. Tom Hanks starts his day early in the morning, preparing to go to a video shoot to do a big dance number with Carly Rae Jepsen and her crew. He’s running late, but the entire time he’s singing the words to her song. He makes his way down New York City streets, posing for fan photos and signing autographs and generally enjoying life. The best part is when Jepsen jokes in the song about being pregnant, except he’s saying it to her on camera when he reaches the set of their video. The pairing of Jepsen and Hanks was likely conceived to play off of their nice person personas.
“Bad Blood” (2015)
Actors: Selena Gomez, Lena Dunham, Hailee Steinfeld, Serayah, Gigi Hadid, Ellie Goulding, Martha Hunt, Cara Delevingne, Zendaya, Hayley Williams, Lily Aldridge, Karlie Kloss, Jessica Alba, Mariska Hargitay, Ellen Pompeo, and Cindy Crawford
Artist: Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar
In this action-packed video, two ass-kicking super spies, Catastrophe (Swift) and Arsyn (Selena Gomez), have a falling out after Arsyn steals the briefcase they obtained and kicks Catastrophe out of a skyscraper window. From that point on, they’re each assembling their super crews to settle the score and take the other down. There’s a slew of celeb cameos, and you just have to keep up with the famous faces flying by during the training and prep montages.
“Drew Barrymore” (2017)
Actor: Drew Barrymore
This is the sneakiest appearance on our list. SZA’s lyrics reflect feeling like an outcast sometimes and were also inspired by the experiences of a young Drew Barrymore. The video features SZA hanging out and partying with friends, but during a solitary moment on a steep sidewalk in the city, Drew Barrymore walks up and past her, smiling in a friendly manner and indicating they share a bond. It’s a blink and you’ll miss her moment, but it’s also clever since the song does not directly reference her beyond the title.
Actors: Mahershala Ali and Danny Glover
This two-and-a-half-minute song addressed Jay-Z’s absent father from childhood. Here, Mahershala Ali plays a boxer seemingly preparing for a fight, and occasionally, the presence of an older man, presumably his father, appears to hold his punching bag or watch from the wings. That patriarchal figure is portrayed by Danny Glover in this black-and-white clip. Jay-Z wrote the song as an unsent letter to his father, who abandoned him when he was 11, and with whom he reconciled months before his father’s death from liver failure.
Actors: Issa Rae, Tessa Thompson, Tiffany Haddish, Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, and Jerrod Carmichael
Jay-Z’s “Moonlight” is an unusual entry into this list because it’s seven-and-a-half minutes long but only features only about two minutes of actual music. A group of actors is doing a black version of Friends, and the man playing Ross (Jerrod Carmichael) is really not happy about doing something derivative. During a surreal moment, one of his co-stars breaks him out of their TV reality and leads him to a door that opens onto a field at night, where he sits and looks at the stars. The closing line is “And the Oscar goes to La La Land.” That’s a reference to when Moonlight’s Best Picture win at the Oscars was overshadowed by the mistaken initial announcement that La La Land had won.
“Jessie’s Girl 2” (2020)
Actor: Rick Springfield
Artist: Coheed and Cambria
Coheed and Cambria’s sequel to Rick Springfield’s biggest song actually features a guest vocal in the middle from the legendary rocker himself. Springfield is also an actor on top of being a musician, and his appearance here is rather meta. He’s actually portraying the guy who got Jessie’s Girl from his own song, and he deeply regrets getting involved with and marrying and having a family with her, wishing he had “left that monster in the ’80s!”