ByRob Taylor, writer at
Rob Taylor

The music video has become one of the most iconic art-forms since it's early days with Bohemian Rhapsody, through the MTV days of the early 80's to the more modern "mini-movie" we see today. Today's videos often have production values and budgets higher than an average indie film, and a whole set of conventions have appeared.

One of the most common things today is to get a famous actor or actress to star in the video, but it wasn't always like this. In the early days, it was often that Hollywood involvement was purely a marketing gimmick.

When Billy Ocean's "When The Going Gets Tough" was released, it's video was banned by the BBC for basically being a "movie advertisement" as Jewel Of The Nile stars Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito appeared as backing singers. Using the stars of the movie in the music video for the film was commonplace in the 80's, with unlikely team-ups such as Michael McDonald and Billy Crystal appearing for Sweet Freedom/Running Scared.

Soon however, people started to get a LOT more creative in how they used Hollywood royalty in their videos. Here are 7 examples where an A-Lister made the video rock!

Christopher Lambert - Princes Of The Universe by Queen

Pioneers of the video format, Queen were known for pushing the envelope of what could be done with a rock video and had become pioneers of the movie theme business with Flash's soundtrack in 1980. While Queen innovated, Russell Mulcahy was reinventing what was possible in the music video world with iconic clips such as Ultravox's "Vienna", Duran Duran's "Rio" and the first video ever shown on MTV... The Buggles "Video Killed The Radio Star".

When Mulcahy turned his attention to his first big budget movie, Highlander, Queen were a natural fit for the soundtrack and "Princes Of The Universe" set the tone for the movie. When filming the video, iconic imageary from the film was overplayed with the band's ferocious stage presence.

The icing on the cake however, was the fleeting but very special appearance by the film's star Christopher Lambert in a "swordfight" with Freddy Mercury. Remember, in 1986, Lambert was a VERY big deal, coming off of movies such as Greystoke and Subway. He was very much the hottest star at the time and Queen were also on a hot streak, after stealing Live Aid.

While Highlander and the song didn't become the massive hit people predicted, it was the first time a movie-tie in actually made sense and made the video better and it's become one of Queen's most popular songs since Freddy's death.

Chevy Chase - You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon

One of today's most common video tropes is to have a famous star "avatar" for the singer and this was the first time it was seen with a big star.

Chevy Chase was a massive name at the time, and his quirky charm fit as a perfect foil to Simon who plays the dead pan straight man. While "Al" was part of a critically acclaimed album, it was also a major hit and seminal video.

Much as Robin Williams did a couple of years later by appearing in "Don't Worry Be Happy", Chase paved the way for comedians in particular to get involved in music videos. It showed that a music video could be a valid and memorable performance for a top star. While Chase is best known for his movies, everyone remembers his dancing with the trumpet and aping around in this video as some of his best work.

Rhys Ifans - The Importance Of Being Idle by Oasis

Oasis had long been known for being a video led band, as their success grew in the mid 90's their clips became more elaborate and began including famous faces such as Patrick MacNee from The Avengers.

By the mid 2000's, Oasis were one of the top bands on the planet, and able to attract A-list talent to their videos such as Robert Carlyle. Arguably their most memorable clip however is ironically their last major success. "The Importance Of Being Idle" is generally considered to be one of their best songs, even by Noel Gallagher himself. The song was a surprise number one hit in the UK, and in no small part to its video, starring Rhys Ifans.

Ifans was not quite A-List at the time, but was well known in the UK and globally for roles in movies like Notting Hill.The 51st State and Enduring Love. Today of course he is most known as Curt Connors in The Amazing Spiderman or Xenophelius Lovegood from Harry Potter.

It's not hard to see how this video opened the doors and peoples eyes to how good Ifans is as a performer. The quirks, tics and snark that helped his best roles are all there, and the sense that he's having a great time with his mates (he and the band were close friends for years) hamming it up.

It's hard not to love the moment where he goes into the coffin, the sarcastic but tearful little wave to himself or the cheeky smirk right at the end. If you've never seen this video, it is a must see!

Robert Downey Jr. - I Want Love By Elton John
Justin Timberlake - This Train Don't Stop There Anymore by Elton John

Elton John has long stated his dislike of appearing in videos, despite being in some iconic ones. In 2001 he found two perfect guys to replace him, and along the way helped pave the way for The Avengers!

For I Want Love, Robert Downey Jr., fresh from his jail term and rebuilding his career via Ally McBeal seemed an odd choice, until the ahem starkness of the video - him wandering through an empty mansion singing the song made it seem like he was born for that performance. The lyrics were also poigniant to Downey's situation and the naked emotion of an older Downey than everyone remembered helped propel the song to be a worldwide hit.

More importantly, it made people take a second look at the former enfant terrible, it was no longer "remember Robert Downey Jr.?" more "How good is he?". Big roles soon came calling and he is now the biggest star on the planet. Yet had that chance not been taken, we might have Tom Cruise as Tony Stark (ugh) instead,

The same year Elton found another, more personal avatar in Justin Timberlake on the ballad "This Train..."

Timberlake was actually playing Elton himself this time, displaying an uncanny resemblance to his 70's persona and as with Downey, showing the world some great acting chops through lip synching emotional lyrics.

There are other cameos, such as Paul "Pee Wee Herman" Reubens but this really is Timberlake AS Elton's show. Until that time, Justin had been a singer only, but soon acting roles came his way - and not only the "obvious ones". Movies as diverse as Alpha Dog, Black Snake Moan, Edison Force and Friends With Benefits all came as a result of this breakout turn as Elton.

Of course there are other times Hollywood stars have had great performances but these 5 are perhaps the best examples of how it can be a mutually beneficial situation. The band get a great boost from having a famous face in their video, and that face gets seen in a new light by people who make casting decisions.


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