Iconic Rock ‘N’ Roll MoviesPublished on August 4, 2019. Updated March 26, 2020
There are few things better than a solid film rooted in — or fueled by — the power of rock music. There are a host of rock documentaries out there, and delightful features like the Beatles A Hard Day’s Night, but there’s something about films boasting the traditional narrative structure — iconic satire — that deserve a nod of appreciation, and a list of their own. Here are some fantastic films that couldn’t exist, or would totally suck without rock ‘n’ roll.
15. Wayne’s World
Fans of Wayne’s World know that film isn’t about music directly, but it has a major influence on both Wayne’s World 1 and 2. Both films celebrate rock music, with special attention paid to Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin and of course one of the most iconic musical scenes in film history: their rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” On top of it all, Wayne falls for Cassandra Wong of the band Crucial Taunt and there is no denying she can “really wail.” Wayne’s World is great for anyone who likes comedy, anyone who likes rock’n’roll and especially for anyone who likes those two things combined.
14. Rock Star
Remember when Mark Wahlberg and Jennifer Aniston were in a musical drama film together? Many don’t, but it definitely happened with 2001’s Rock Star. The story was inspired by the real-life of Tim “Ripper” Owens who sang in a Judas Priest tribute band and eventually replaced Rob Halford in the real band. Admittedly, not the best film the industry has to offer, but the story is fascinating and Steel Dragon’s tunes are easy to get into. It may not be a masterpiece but Rock Star is definitely not a movie to be overlooked.
13. Bohemian Rhapsody
It isn’t hard to see why 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody set box office records and won numerous awards for its depiction of Freddie Mercury’s life and death, and the rise of Queen. Although many were not happy with the portrayals of Mercury’s sexuality or the historical inaccuracies, it was Rami Malek’s depiction of Mercury that made the entire movie unstoppable. The film is dramatic, entertaining, emotional, and best of all Queen music heavy, making it one of the best Rock ‘N’ Roll movies released in a very long time.
12. Detroit Rock City
1999’s Detroit Rock City is a cult classic, all in the name of one of music’s greatest rock bands of all time, KISS. Set in 1978, the movie follows four teenage boys who play in a KISS tribute band that want to see the band live in Detroit. Naturally, the plan doesn’t come together quite so easy especially because of Jam’s overbearing and religiously conservative mother. Much like Dazed and Confused and Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Detroit Rock City is about rock music, coming of age, and the impact of rock music on suburban kids through the ’70s and ’80s.
11. The Dirt
Netflix’s 2019 film The Dirt definitely didn’t win over very many critics, but it won over audiences. The biographical film tells the story of Motley Crue and was so raw and real that it isn’t surprising it offended some while delighting others. Douglas Booth’s portrayal of Nikki Sixx was so well done, it was at times hard to believe it wasn’t the real Nikki Sixx. The Dirt might not be an award winner, but it has all the makings of a great rock ‘n’ roll bio drama.
Hesher pretty much flew under the radar. It’s an odd one. It was an indie gem from 2010, and those who’ve seen it probably left the viewing thinking, “I don’t know what the heck I just saw, but I’m pretty sure it was awesome.” There’s nothing quite like an antihero who hates the world, cruises around in a van, listens to high-octane thrasher music and has a soft spot for helping people who are missing a lot of love in their lives. The film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, Rainn Wilson and Devin Brochu, who offers one of the finest performances by a child actor… ever! There is sex. There are drugs. There is rock ‘n’ roll. There is a most incredible impromptu pool party, and there is a eulogy offered that would make Shakespeare jealous. Well. Maybe not, but it totally rocks.
9. Pump Up The Volume
In 1990, Pump Up The Volume served notice of the angst that would soon come. Because of that, the film went particularly unnoticed by most audiences until the mid-1990s rolled around, when everyone was wearing flannel and combat boots, and doing their best to stick it to the man. It starred the once beloved, it-guy, Christian Slater, who was a high school wallflower by day, and an anonymous, fearless radio DJ by night. For fans of the pirate radio program, the DJ known as Hard Harry was spitting truth they were only beginning to recognize. He exposed injustices in the town, in their school and terrified the guilty parties through his anonymity. The film is marked with a stellar soundtrack, and that overall tonality of rock ‘n’ roll music. It was a bit ahead of its time, but it still holds up today.
8. Eddie and The Cruisers
Timing is everything, and this film is another example of the fine line and subjectivity dividing success and failure in Hollywood. When Eddie and The Cruisers was released in 1983, producers expected a great response. Instead, they got a box office flop. There was no rhyme or reason. A year later, the film enjoyed play on a little something called Home Box Office (HBO), and it began to grow wings. It has since become a cult classic with one of the most recognizable soundtracks in the history of studio motion pictures. The film starred Michael Pare as the legendary Eddie Wilson, who never enjoyed big success after his portrayal of Eddie, but the first time he sings… he’s so good. Tom Berenger, Ellen Barkin and Joe Pantoliano were also in the mix of Eddie… and overall, the film holds up quite nicely.
7. Purple Rain
“I never meant to cause you any sorrow. I never meant to cause you any pain…” With those words, Prince locked himself into film and music history. It was appropriate that Prince named his backing band The Revolution at the time, because that is precisely what they did with the rock “musical.” Warner Bros. scored some serious profits from the box office and record sales, and Prince became a rock icon in the process. It was a huge deal that Prince was taking to the silver screen back in 1984. He was, in every sense, quite mysterious, and his portrayal of a screen character offered fans more spoken word that he had offered up to that point. A quick look at Prince’s first interview with Dick Clark on American Bandstand will offer all the proof to that puddin’. Purple Rain also featured funk legends, Morris Day and The Time.
6. This Is Spinal Tap
There are few romps through the world of rock music that are as delightful as This Is Spinal Tap. The mockumentary, written and directed by Rob Reiner, featured the inner workings of the British heavy metal band, Spinal Tap, as they struggle to return to their former glory and top the charts as they once did. The comedy is subtle, rarely on the nose and so well layered, a 10th or 20th viewing of the film will reveal more hilarious moments. The cast featured Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean as the core members of the band, but musical legends like Loudon Wainwright III were also in the mix at various times. The film was scored by the Reiner and the “band members,” and it remains a definitive classic, truly standing the test of time. And one of the best things about it: it runs a quick 82 minutes.
5. Pink Floyd – The Wall
Roger Waters mixed the world of live action and animation beautifully with the 1982 film to follow his 1979 album of the same name: The Wall. For those who have never seen The Wall, or who have never taken in the progressive rock majesty that is Pink Floyd, this is the perfect introductory piece. It’s also an iconic work of film and music history, and will likely be found on any and every list regarding movies about music. The film is not a documentary, rather a progressive narrative featuring a main character, and some stellar animation from Gerald Scarfe. There is very little dialog, and for fans of the album The Wall, there are notable changes and remixes in the music for the film, therefore, both must be owned by any true Pink Floyd fan. For those who are curious: no, this isn’t the one you play simultaneously with The Wizard of Oz.
4. School of Rock
Any film that can score Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” deserves a place on this list. The only problem with this film was the mix up on the titles. It is supposed to be School of Rock, but for some reason the neon sign that was made for the opening credit sequence said, “The School of Rock.” Beyond that, this is pretty much a perfect “family” film. While some families are total squares, and don’t like rock ‘n’ roll, they can’t deny that Jack Black is at his absolute best in this Richard Linklater directed, Mike White written love letter to rock ‘n’ roll music. The kids in the film are great, and several have gone on to enjoy wild success, including Miranda Cosgrove. The music in the film is some of the most iconic rock ‘n’ roll music of all-time, and the overall attitude (and the rocker van) make you wanna get up and go to a live show.
3. High Fidelity
High Fidelity is part dude awesome, and part late coming of age. Perhaps those are one in the same? Whatever the case, it’s a film that stars John Cusack, and like School of Rock, it also stars Jack Black and Joan Cusack. John’s character, Rob Gordon, has been dumped by his lady love, and through his musical past, present and future, he’s able to come to terms with who he was, who he is and who he wants to be. It’s full of more than rock ‘n’ roll music, but the discussions about music alone lend itself to rock ‘n’ roll film lore. References to Peter Frampton, Stevie Wonder, The Beta Band are the normal conversation in High Fidelity‘s bank of dialogue, and the film itself features music of those artists, as well as legends like Bob Dylan, Queen, Rakim & Eric B., Grand Funk Railroad, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts… and more.
You won’t be surprised if two Cameron Crowe films take the top spots on this list, will you? You shouldn’t be. Is there a filmmaker who knows more about rock music than Cameron Crowe? There might be those who rival him, but none of those people — Kevin Smith, perhaps — would claim to know more. Singles is the definitive Seattle Sound, grunge movement film that features what the hell is happening in the world, and 20-somethings in the 1990s. Released in 1992, the soundtrack featured Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam (Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament act in the film), while the film featured an A-list, 1990s cast in Kyra Sedgewick, Campbell Scott, Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda and cameos by people like Eric Stoltz, and even Tim Burton as a young, upcoming filmmaker… “The next Martin Scorseez…” It’s a dandy.
1. Almost Famous
Almost Famous was almost semi-autobiographical — a recollection of Cameron Crowe’s life experiences serving as one of the youngest writers in the history of Rolling Stone Magazine. The film was one of the best released in 2000, and it was subsequently nominated for a slew of awards, including four Oscars. The film chronicles the young life of main character, William Miller (Patrick Fugit), and his ongoing relationship with the fictional band Stillwater. This puts him on the road, and in the air with the band, experiencing more life than he is ready for. Almost Famous boasts one of the finest casts ever assembled: Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Frances McDormand, Zooey Deschanel, Jimmy Fallon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Noah Taylor, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, a young Jay Baruchel and Michael Angarano.