clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Prince's eclectic TV and film career, in 9 moments

Summing Prince up in a single word is nearly impossible.

He was a musician, an artist, an activist. He was a person whose entire life was about transcending labels and expectations. But across all his many lives, one thing remained constant: He transformed.

And so, when looking back at his storied legacy, it's fitting to appreciate some of the media he transformed simply by being a part of it, no matter how big or small. Here are just nine times Prince changed TV and film for the better — and yes, we're fully aware that Prince's incredible, prolific career means that we probably missed one of your favorites.

1) Purple Rain

Obviously. You really thought we were going to run down Prince's contributions to film and not start with his own film? Sure:

Outside of the music, there's not much to Purple Rain, which starred Prince as a pre-famous version himself who becomes a sensation by virtue of being … well, Prince. But who cares? The music is great.

The Grammy- and Oscar-winning soundtrack featured such iconic Prince songs as "When Doves Cry," "Let's Go Crazy," "I Would Die 4 U," and, of course, "Purple Rain." When you have songs this good, you don't really need a plot to make them shine.

2) Pretty Woman

Any rags to riches story worth its salt has a moment when a downtrodden hero gets to celebrate her awesome new life. Pretty Woman had one for the ages, thanks to Prince.

Vivian (Julia Roberts), plucked off the streets by a john with a conscience and a perpetually hangdog expression (Richard Gere), launches into a charmingly off-kilter rendition of Prince's "Kiss" while luxuriating in a bathtub. What better way is there to signal that you're feeling your sparkly new life than by soaking in bubbles and singing some Prince?

3) Muppets Tonight

You can be excused if you're not familiar with Muppets Tonight, which only lasted from 1996 to 1998 — and even that was an accident, since ABC tried to kill it after one season.

But if the network had succeeded, it wouldn't have produced the second season premiere, and we wouldn't have Prince shooting the shit with Muppets while wearing overalls and chewing on a piece of hay. Prince's episode of Muppets Tonight is an unhinged delight, letting the entertainer poke fun at himself while palling around with Kermit and company. They sing, they dance, they reminisce — they have fun, and it's just as fun to watch.

4) New Girl

When this Fox sitcom got the coveted post-Super Bowl slot in 2014, its writers knew they needed to go big — and so they called on Prince.

His cameo in "Prince" has the musician riffing on his own mysterious persona, as he helps Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick (Jake Johnson) through their relationship issues in fitting Prince fashion: appearing out of thin air, playing an impromptu concert, and hosting a contentious ping pong tournament (why not?). It's a weird episode that plays out more like a manic dream sequence — which, when you think about it, is exactly right for a story centering on Prince.

5) Romeo + Juliet

Shakespeare's devastating play may never have been quite as lush and surreal as it was in Baz Luhrmann's 1996 take, which depicted the star-crossed lovers (here played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes) trying desperately to make things work between their families in modern day Venice, California.

Part of Romeo + Juliet's magic lies in its soundtrack, which is so perfectly of its time that it includes Garbage, The Cardigans, Everclear, and the Butthole Surfers. But the movie also features 14-year-old Quindon Tarver's stunning cover of "When Doves Cry" — right at the moment when Romeo and Juliet think they're going to pull off a happy ending. It's joyful, but since viewers almost certainly know what's coming, it's also hopelessly bittersweet.

6) Chappelle's Show

"Charlie's Hollywood Stories" was a recurring Chapelle's Show feature that depicted the seemingly unbelievable stories that Charlie Murphy — Eddie Murphy's brother — had collected while in 1980s Hollywood. It was most famous for its Rick James chapters thanks to Chappelle's manic portrayal ("I'm Rick James, bitch!").

But the other edition that gained traction was the story Murphy told about meeting Prince at a club, going back to his house to listen to music, and playing a game of basketball that would change Murphy's perception of the rock star forever. Not only did Prince kick Murphy's ass while still wearing his "Zorro-type outfit with ruffles going down the front," but after getting the win, he made everyone pancakes.

(And yes, this is pretty much the exact plot of that New Girl episode.)

7) Super Bowl XLI

Super Bowl XLI: Pepsi Halftime Show
Prince and his purple guitar.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In 2007, the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears at the Super Bowl. It was a pretty terrible game. But even if it had been a better one, Prince would have managed to outshine football at its biggest event of the year with his volcanic halftime show, which not only persevered through a torrential Miami downpour, but fed off the weather's energy for something sensational. (According to NFL producers, when Prince was told that it would be raining, he asked if they could make it rain any harder.)

Armed with a purple guitar, Prince performed "Let's Go Crazy" and "Baby, I'm a Star," along with cover versions of Queen's "We Will Rock You," Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," the Foo Fighters' "Best of You," and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary."

And then he stood soaking wet in the center of the stage — shaped like the serpentine symbol he once adopted as his name — and performed "Purple Rain" in the middle of the downpour. It was electric, fully alive and sparking, like the best of Prince's live performances.

8) Batman

There have been so, so many Batman movies, but only one had the privilege of a soundtrack packed with Prince songs.

Tim Burton's 1989 take — starring Michael Keaton's Batman — was one of the most bizarre, courtesy of the aggressively whacked-out production design and Jack Nicholson's … committed performance as the Joker. It just makes sense that this strange chapter of Batman's history on film would be the incarnation that merited Prince's accompaniment.

But just because Prince was writing about Batman doesn't mean he sidestepped his signature trippy lyrics. Take this verse from soundtrack opener "The Future," which seems particularly noteworthy this week:

I've seen the future and it will be

I've seen the future and it works

If there's life after, we will see

Don't go out like a jerk.

9) The Simpsons (sort of)

This one's stretching the definition a bit, but bear with us, because it's a fun story.

The Simpsons tried to do an episode in its fifth season about Leon Kompowsky— a character introduced in season three as a man who believes he's Michael Jackson (featuring Jackson's real voice) — coming back to Springfield. This time, though, he thinks he's Prince. The result, according to former writers on DVD commentaries, would've had everyone in Springfield loosening up and wearing more paisley.

Unfortunately, Prince didn't like the episode when the show sent it to him. As per Simpsons creator Matt Groening, Prince tried to get them to ditch the original script — as written at least in part by Conan O'Brien — and produce a script his chauffeur wrote, instead. It didn't work out, but hey: Now we have this story.