Skip to main content

Home Music Music News

Queen Elizabeth II’s Greatest Hits

Some of the most memorable times the late Queen was portrayed in pop culture by actors — or by her royal self

By Andrea Marks & Angie Martoccio & CT Jones & EJ Dickson & Elisabeth Garber-Paul


You don’t serve as head of state for almost three-quarters of a century without getting lampooned now and then. As a cultural constant, Queen Elizabeth II inspired everything from affectionate caricature to sneering punk anthems. She also excelled at playing herself alongside fellow British figures like Paddington Bear and James Bond. Here, 18 times the monarch’s outsized influence helped shape pop culture.

1969: The Beatles – ‘Her Majesty’

A 23-second-long unlisted track on Abbey Road, “Her Majesty,” is about being too drunk to profess your feelings to a capricious and enigmatic woman: Queen Elizabeth II. Paul McCartney said he wrote the finger-picked ditty as a joke in her honor. “It was quite funny because it’s basically monarchist, with a mildly disrespectful tone, but it’s very tongue in cheek,” he said. “It’s almost like a love song to the Queen.” Not everyone in the band felt the same. Four months after McCartney wrote the song, John Lennon returned the Beatles’ Medal of the British Empire to Liz in protest of the Vietnam War, Britain’s role in the Nigerian civil war, and, he later claimed in a letter, because the latest Plastic Ono Band single was performing poorly on the charts. The award had been given to the group four years earlier in 1965 as part of the Queen’s 39th birthday celebrations.—Andrea Marks

1977: Sex Pistols – ‘God Save The Queen’

It’s hard to imagine a time when insulting Her Majesty would get you blacklisted across an entire country, but that’s exactly what happened to the Sex Pistols in May 1977 with the release of their song “God Save the Queen.” Borrowing its title from the British national anthem, they put out this scathing takedown during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee — and even played it live on a boat during the summer celebrations, screaming that there was “no future” for England over the River Thames. That performance was shut down, they were banned from the BBC, and singer John Lydon was even attacked on the street, but the song has remained an enduring anthem for anarchists everywhere. (Lydon, it should be noted, has since changed his tune on the monarchy: “God bless the Queen,” he wrote earlier this year for her Platinum Jubilee. “She’s put up with a lot.”)—Elisabeth Garber-Paul

1986: The Smiths – ‘The Queen is Dead’

The title track to the Smiths’ 1986 album was just quoted more times on your Twitter feed than “Morrissey has canceled a concert.” But that’s because it took “God Save the Queen” one ghastly step further. There’s no saving the monarchy in Morrissey Land — only walks where it’s quiet and dry while studying the Romantic poets. “I found, as time goes by, this happiness we had slowly slips away and is replaced by something that is wholly grey and wholly saddening,” he told NME in 1986. “The very idea of the monarchy and the Queen of England is being reinforced and made to seem more useful than it really is. The whole thing seems like a joke. A hideous joke.”—Angie Martoccio

1988: ‘Naked Gun’  

In the classic slapstick comedy Naked Gun, Detective Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) must protect Queen Elizabeth II (Jeannette Charles) from a plot to assassinate her — by controlling the minds of unsuspecting bystanders — while she is on a visit to Los Angeles. Sure, her majesty suffers the indignity of being tackled by Drebin at a fancy state dinner, but she also gets to fire a stunner of a first pitch at an Angels-Mariners baseball game. “How about that Queen ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a nice round of applause.” Upon hearing of the real Queen Elizabeth’s death on Thursday, baseball legend Reggie Jackson — who portrays one of the would-be queen-killers — tweeted, “Now we all know I was innocent ! Amen! RIP Queen E !”—Lisa Tozzi

1992-2015: ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Family Guy,’ ‘Minions’

The Queen herself may not have pursued an interest in voiceover work, but that didn’t stop her from making cameos in a few animated franchises. The Simpsons saw her nearly knighting Krusty the Clown in her first appearance, but she has a much larger role in a season 15 episode, “The Regina Monologues,” when the all-too-American family visits the U.K. After Homer rear-ends her carriage at Buckingham Palace, she understandably has him thrown into the Tower of London to await execution. Eddie Izzard lends an impression of the Queen for a later gag that reveals she’s a fan of a reality show about the oafish citizens of Springfield. Cate Blanchette voiced the monarch in a Family Guy segment that re-imagined the show as a British sitcom and also featured a carriage accident — this time a fatal crash in a tunnel, a rather mean-spirited reference to the death of Princess Diana. Most surprising, perhaps, was Elizabeth II’s role in Minions, where the gibberish-speaking yellow blobs conspire to steal her crown in the late 1960s and (you guessed it) destroy her royal carriage in the process. She does get to smack one of them silly, so good for her.—MK

2002-2003: ‘Austin Powers in Goldmember,’ ‘Johnny English’

It wouldn’t be a slapstick British spy comedy without an appearance from the Queen. In both Johnny English and Austin Powers in Goldmember, Queen Elizabeth II’s power to knight those who have done the crown a great service comes in handy more than once. In the Austin Powers sequel, the titular spy is knighted early on by the queen for his role in defeating Dr. Evil, but is so torn up about his own daddy issues that he doesn’t get to enjoy his monarchial honors. While the crown jewels spark the initial plot in Johnny English, Queen Elizabeth II herself catches the villain’s eye. After her corgis are threatened, the queen is convinced to abdicate the throne to save her precious brood of puppies. After his subterfuge attempts fail, Johnny English physically clobbers the bad guy and is crowned the ruler, a title he promptly relinquishes to the queen in exchange for knighthood. The movie must not have bothered the real Queen Elizabeth II much, since she later made Johnny English actor Rowan Atkinson a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, one of the highest honors that can be given to a civilian.—CT Jones 

2006: ‘The Queen’

Queen Elizabeth II wasn’t just a monarch — she was also a mother-in-law. Maybe that characterization and its humanizing affect explains the popularity of stories surrounding the queen and her relationship with her former daughter-in-law Princess Diana Spencer. In 2006, actress Dame Helen Mirren won an Academy Award for her performance in The Queen, a dramatic film from director Peter Morgan focused on the days after Spencer’s death. In it, the Queen and Prince Charles refuse to give Spencer any of the formal recognition that would usually befit the death of a member of the royal family. Instead of mourning with the rest of the country, they continue their vacation. When the political party in power also publicly mourns Spencer’s death, the country begins to wonder whether England still needs a royal family anymore — leading to larger conversations about family and the monarchy’s role in modern life. The pair’s relationship has also been depicted in the cerebral Spencer, the unintentionally hilarious Diana: The Musical and other projects like The Princess, Diana: Her True Story, and Princess in Love. While the films had varying degrees of success, they all asked a similar question: did the Queen do enough to protect Diana?-CTJ 

2012: A Bond Girl at the London Olympics

Sure, it was just in a promotional sketch for the Olympic Games, but the Queen herself got to take a turn as a Bond girl with Daniel Craig. During the opening ceremony of the 2012 games, Elizabeth appeared next to Craig in a short video, where Craig escorted her to a helicopter before the pair appeared to base jump out over the crowd at London Stadium. The Queen reportedly had input in her character, including changing her line from “Good evening, James,” to “Good evening, Mr. Bond,” according to her royal dresser Angela Kelly. While manners must run deep in the royal bloodline, so do secrets, as members of the royal family said they were unaware of the queen’s decision to participate. “I remember certain expletives coming out of my mouth when I realised what was going on. It was actually a very well-kept secret,” Prince William said during the television tribute, Elizabeth at 90. “Probably more of a state secret than some of the intelligence documents that she receives… nothing was told to any of us. Clearly they knew that certain grandchildren would go around telling everybody too much!”—CTJ

2015: ‘A Royal Night Out’

If you’re an Anglophile with a strong interest in watching a (semi) historically accurate version of the 1990s Disney classic My Date With the President’s Daughter, look no further than A Royal Night Out, a romp set in the 1940s starring Sarah Gadon as the pubescent Queen Elizabeth, with Bel Powley as her more rebellious sister Margaret (and silver fox Rupert Everett as their father King George VI). On the day Europe is finally declaring an end to World War II, Elizabeth and Margaret are permitted to slip out of the palace and celebrate with commoners, quickly abandoning their security detail to embark on a string of hijinks and mingle with hunky soldiers. The film is based on true events, though it admittedly takes some liberties (in reality, the sisters were back in time for their royal curfew). But it scratches the itch for those looking for more of a window into QEII’s pre-Philip, teen years.—EJ Dickson

2016-Present: ‘The Crown’

Perhaps no dramatized series has shed light on the inner workings of the Royal Family (despite the Royal Family’s own protestations) than The Crown, the hugely popular Netflix show featuring Claire Foy and later Olivia Colman as the ever-stoic, irrepressible monarch. In the early seasons, Foy plays Elizabeth II as a foil to her more flamboyant sister Margaret, a wiser-than-her-years matriarch with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Later seasons show how the Queen settles into her role as leader of her nation, with a self-assured Colman deftly navigating various crises (the Aberfal Disaster episode, in which the Queen must deal with the aftermath of a Welsh landslide leading to the deaths of dozens of young children, is a must-watch) and bumping heads with a uber-ambitious Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (played by an icy Gillian Anderson). Colman has said she felt immense pressure playing the role, but one wouldn’t know it considering how snugly she slips into her sensible Anello & Davide shoes. Immediately following the Queen’s death, the show announced it would be taking a short hiatus from filming its sixth season, in her honor.—EJD 

2016: ‘The BFG’

What looms larger than the British Empire? Well, in Steven Spielberg’s BFG — based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name — it’s actual, child-eating giants. The animated film follows a London orphan named Sophie and her friendship with an old but extremely friendly giant. At first, the pair frolic through magical lands catching dreams. But when they realize that a hoard of bully giants are eating children around the world, they enlist the help of Queen Elizabeth II, voiced by Penelope Wilton. After Sophie and the giant send the queen a nightmare about kids being devoured, the queen is convinced to help the pair and sends her army after the giants. At the end of the film, Sophie is adopted by members of the Queen’s staff and gets to live in the palace. But not the giant. He has to go home.

2022: Tea With Paddington Bear

There’s nothing more quintessentially British than the monarchy — except, perhaps, for tea. Throw in Paddington Bear, the nationally beloved, winsome ursine fellow, and you have a classic national celebration. For the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee —  the 70th anniversary of her reign — earlier this year, Queen Elizabeth II, looking sprightly in a mustard-yellow-and-cornflower ensemble, filmed an adorable video with Paddington Bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) at tea at Windsor Palace, finally revealing what she toted in her iconic handbag (not to spoil or anything, but it’s a marmalade sandwich). Brits were, for some reason, baffled by what sorts of technological wizardry was at work to bring the two icons together, but turns out it was just good old-fashioned CGI.—EJD 

This article first appeared on