Top 10 Rock ‘n’ Roll Movies
No matter how much we love rock ‘n’ roll, sometimes we all have to take a break from listening to it and do something different — like, say, watching a movie about, starring or otherwise inspired by our favorite rock stars. From straightforward biopics to films about fictitious bands — or even just movies that wouldn’t exist without classic songs on the soundtrack — rock’s been going to the movies for decades. So crank up the volume on your home theater and break out your lighter, because we’ve lined up a list of the Top 10 Rock ‘n’ Roll Movies.
‘The Buddy Holly Story’
These days, Gary Busey is better known for his offscreen antics than his acting, but in 1978 his work as rock legend Buddy Holly in ‘The Buddy Holly Story’ earned him an Oscar nomination. And for very good reason: He recorded his own performances for the soundtrack and dropped more than 30 pounds to look the part. It’s one of the more compelling entries in the rock-biopic canon, and a film that inspires in spite of its well-known tragic ending.
Boasting a magnetic central performance by Lou Diamond Phillips and a terrific soundtrack from Los Lobos, 1987’s ‘La Bamba’ was the right movie at the right time. Not only did it arrive during a wave of ’50s and ’60s nostalgia, but it paid smart, sensitive tribute to an important (and, at the time, somewhat forgotten) figure in rock’s early years. Like ‘The Buddy Holly Story,’ it’s a film whose overall uplift isn’t diminished by its gut-wrenchingly tragic ending.
‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’
Taking the “kids vs. authority figures” aesthetic that fueled the rock movies of the ’50s and ’60s to a pleasantly illogical conclusion, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’ may not be, technically speaking, a very good film. But that’s sort of the point — this Roger Corman production aimed itself squarely at cult status and hit a bullseye, serving up goofily anarchistic laughs in service of a plot that was basically meant to string together Ramones songs. Taken in its intended spirit, it’s a classic. (Word to the wise: Don’t watch the belated, Corey Feldman-led sequel, 1991’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever.’ Ever.)
‘Pink Floyd – The Wall’
More than most of the films on our list of the Top 10 Rock ‘n’ Roll Movies, ‘Pink Floyd – The Wall’ is probably best seen while the viewer is in … a certain state of mind. Even though it certainly isn’t for everyone, this cinematic adaptation of the classic Floyd record — directed by Alan Parker from a script by Roger Waters — makes up in raw, weird power what it lacks in widespread appeal. Break it out for your next midnight movie session and soak it all in.
A lot of rock movies tend to fall back on the music to explain (or paper over deficiencies in) the plot, but 1979’s ‘Quadrophenia’ takes a different approach, using the music to add extra muscle to a story inspired by the Who‘s 1973 rock opera. Starring Phil Daniels as an angst-ridden U.K. teen drawn into the often physical battles between the Mods and the Rockers, it’s very British. But even if you’ve never ridden on a tube or had kippers for breakfast, the songs — and the movie’s themes — are universal.
“Where were you in ’62?” Well, chances are good you weren’t even born yet. But the odds are just as high that even if you weren’t among the generation that cruised up and down the local strip while rock ‘n’ roll was busy being born, you’ll recognize the emotions (and, just as importantly, the songs) experienced by the characters in George Lucas’ ‘American Graffiti.’ Sadly, Universal couldn’t resist following it up with a woeful sequel several years later, but ignore that; the next time you’re looking for cinematic proof of music’s ability to interpret and intensify our deepest emotions, treat yourself to another viewing of ‘Graffiti.’
Most rock movies focus on the lives and experiences of the musicians, and ‘Almost Famous’ is no different. But this time we view everything through the eyes of a fan (Patrick Fugit, playing a thinly fictionalized version of writer/director Cameron Crowe) whose once-in-a-lifetime gig as a teenage reporter for Rolling Stone puts him on the road with a band of rock reprobates. The narrative arc is fairly predictable, right down to the feel-good ending. But hey, some of the best songs are pure formula, too; the pleasure comes from seeing just how it’s delivered, and with ‘Almost Famous,’ Crowe delivers it almost flawlessly.
‘The Blues Brothers’
OK, they’re the Blues Brothers, not the Rock Brothers. Never mind semantics. Not only is this super-sized version of the ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch popularized by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd one of the better road-trip comedies of the ’80s, it’s also a powerful, deeply affectionate tribute to some of the musicians who most crucially helped define rock’s form and function during the early years — from well-known stars like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin to unsung players like Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn. Besides, how many movies give you the theme from ‘Rawhide’ and one of the most spectacular car chases in movie history?
‘A Hard Day’s Night’
It wasn’t the first rock-inspired film, but it might as well have been. Created in classic rock-movie fashion — which is to say it was thrown together at the last minute in a misguided corporate effort to take advantage of a fad before it was too late — ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ should, by all rights, have been a disaster. Fortunately, thanks to the subversive gifts of director Richard Lester and the natural screen charm of the Beatles, it turned out a madcap classic (not to mention the basic template for a lot of rock movies to follow).
‘This Is Spinal Tap’
Even if it stopped at satire, ‘This Is Spinal Tap‘ would deserve a place on our list of the Top 10 Rock ‘n’ Roll Movies. But Rob Reiner’s groundbreaking mockumentary goes further than that, demonstrating a deep knowledge of (and love for) the music — not to mention the musicians — it’s poking fun at. Even though it was a commercial flop during its original theatrical run, ‘Spinal Tap’ has grown into a cult classic over the years, spawning a legion of imitators (including a few from Tap themselves), none of which has come close to the original. You’ve probably seen it more times than you can count, but so what? There’s always room for another viewing of ‘Spinal Tap.’