Eons ago, the Gods handed down a timeless sound to be forever known as Rock and Roll. Shortly afterward, it became heavily commercialized and manifested in countless forms throughout pop culture, including on the silver screen. Rock and Roll came with its own philosophy — a collective manifesto demanding an end to war and capitalist greed, love for all mankind regardless of race or gender, and a screaming good time for all who wished to pursue it. What follows is a Rock n Roll movies list made up of some of what we consider to be the best ever made. These films do their best to capture the spirit, content, style, and attitude of what Rock n Roll movies should be. Rated on quality of story, production style, and soundtrack, here is our list of the best Rock and Roll movies of all time.
Movies About Rock Bands
20. Airheads (1994)
Kicking off our Rock and Roll movies list is Airheads, directed by Michael Lehmann. Set in Los Angeles, Airheads is one of the best Rock and Roll movies to come out of the '90s. It’s about a group called The Lone Rangers who take an entire radio station hostage in an attempt to get their demo played on the air.
The film stars Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler as the bandmates, featuring Michael Richards, Michael McKean, and Chris Farley. It’s a fun take on the usual “get big” story, throwing in a dash of a Die Hard-esque thriller with a lot of great music jokes. It’s no masterpiece but the jokes are decent, the story has a great premise and the band’s music’s not too bad.
Animated Rock And Roll Movies
19. Heavy Metal (1981)
This animated fantasy movie is basically a bunch of early metal album art come to life. More an anthological accompaniment to a soundtrack, Heavy Metal is a series of dystopian fantasy vignettes linked together by its narrator, an immortal and all powerful green orb known as “The Loc-Nar.” The chapters are filled with space trials, sword fights, and a mixture of original scores and '80s Rock Music as the Loc-Nar regales us with stories of its many destructive exploits throughout the ages.
The rotoscope animation style is incredibly detailed. The film was inspired by a comic magazine series of the same name. Many people are surprised to discover it featured the voices of Eugene Levy and John Candy. The soundtrack is furnished with '80s hits from the likes of Devo, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Sammy Hagar, and many more.
Rock Music Movies
18. 200 Motels (1971)
Next on our rock movies list and cited as the first feature film to have been shot on video, 200 Motels. Frank Zappa’s autobiographical Surrealist tribute to the special kind of insanity that comes with life on the road in a Rock band. Like much of Zappa’s music, the film is completely absurd and has no real target audience other than perhaps the creator himself.
The plot is a literal slide into insanity as Frank and his band go crazy whilst cooped up in the small town of Centerville in the middle of a long tour. Scenes are loaded with experimental effects, acidic color manipulation and speed changes abound, giving the film a flavor of the wild and grating flare Zappa was known for. It’s no surprise this pioneer of music ended up on our best Rock and Roll movies list.
The story references real conflicts that were arising in the group, and much of the dialogue comes from secret recordings Zappa took of his bandmates. The film boasts a soundtrack loaded with new songs, orchestral arrangements and concert footage and features cameos from Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, and The London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Old Rock N Roll Movies
17. Head (1968)
In a way, Head is a celebration of the end of The Monkees, a sort of death trip in the collective mind of the group that inspired one of the best Rock and Roll movies ever. It came at a time when the band was beginning to pull apart, and the craze that they were once a part of was waning.
The film was directed by Bob Rafelson and co-written by Jack Nicholson, who would collaborate again on Five Easy Pieces. The movie is a collection of absurdist shorts that flow in and out with an airy stream of consciousness.
Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night featuring The Beatles was widely considered to be the first ever music film, a new way for studios to showcase their golden boys without the hassle of a global tour.
What Lester created just three years before is murdered, dismembered, and reassembled into a psychedelic Frankenstein in the flashing frames of Head. The skits and music numbers feature ink film coloring, crazy jump cuts, and nonsensical Surrealist struggles before the band comes right out and denounces their own legacy.
Rock And Roll High School Movie
16. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)
This entry on our Rock movies list is every Teen-Rocker’s fantasy as told through the story of young Riff Randell, a student at Vince Lombardi’s high school. Riff wrote a song for her favorite band the Ramones, and is dying to get it to them, but her tickets are confiscated by the evil principal Togar. She eventually succeeds in reaching them and the band helps Riff lead a student rebellion that ends in an altercation with the police, a student walkout, and a performance of the film’s title track as the kids burn their school to the ground.
The tone comes with a twinge of absurdism, and the movie may not be as polished as say, Grease, or other high school-set Rock music movies. It’s a spunky, youthful musical filled with high energy sequences and lots of fun slapstick “Rock Out” gags: glass shattering from amplifiers, portraits of administrators shaking off the walls, and Marky drumming on a rolling plywood platform down a locker-lined hallway flanked by an army of rocking adolescents.
The rebellious students’ wardrobes pops against the uniformity of the school colors. This aesthetic clash against the establishment underscores the rebellion against the institutions hellbent on stopping the Rock. Most of the shots are framed tightly, and they’re usually jam packed with actors filling every moment in this exaggerated Rock-world with frantic energy, all coming together to make one of the best rock movies of the '70s.
Movies About Rock Bands
15. Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Next on our Rock and Roll movies list is Bohemian Rhapsody. Rami Malek got his Oscar portraying the prolific Freddie Mercury. The film gets high marks for the detailed and realistic portrayal of the band’s Live Aid performance. Most rock biopics follow an incredibly similar formula and this one is no exception, but it’s a playful ride and had the benefit of close consultation from guitarist Brian May and the surviving members of the band.
The film features a cameo from Mike Myers as a music producer who condemns the film’s titular song as a boondoggle. This is, of course, a cheeky reference to the song being featured in Myers’ own classic film Wayne's World. The soundtrack is loaded with songs representing most periods in the band’s career thoroughly, melding together to become one of the best Rock and Roll movie soundtracks in recent film history.
Best Rock Music Movies
14. Detroit Rock City (1999)
Detroit Rock City is a staple on any Rock and Roll movies list. It’s about four friends in 1978 who are desperate to see Kiss play in Detroit and are willing to die trying. The film is a pretty standard stoner adventure set in their golden period; a coming of age story projected through the lens of Rock and Roll values.
The visuals are nothing to write home about, but the story is a fun romp and a celebration of adolescent defiance. The “us and them” feeling that fueled so much of the Rock and Roll movement. The journey is filled with disco-era rivalries, head-shop humor, and a masterfully shot striptease from a young Edward Furlong. This film is a snapshot of rebellion when the going gets tough, and reminds its viewers that when you want something you can’t let anything stop you.
Animated Rock And Roll Movies
13. Yellow Submarine (1968)
Although the band members themselves had no real part in it except for a brief cameo at the end, this film has always held an important place in The Beatles’ legacy. It was their last obligation in a three picture deal with United Artists and utilized a mixture of animation methods. The film’s style influenced artists like Peter Max and Terry Gilliam, and really flexed some muscle in terms of what animation could do.
The story starts on a bored and forlorn Ringo who is recruited to help save a faraway place called Pepperland from an invading race of creatures called the Blue Meanies. While the story is mostly a loose string of setups for musical numbers, the main conflict of the plot rings with the philosophical principles of the hippie sentiment of Rock music at that time: down with war, leave the land alone, all you need is love.
It’s a unique visual experience and a great love letter to the imaginative and transformative power of music. The soundtrack includes many Beatles’ staples, and some fantastic songs new songs left off previous albums: “Only a Northern Song,” “Baby You’re A Rich Man,” “Hey Bulldog,” and “All Together Now.”
Classic Rock And Roll Movies
Basically a spoof of every rock bio-pic that had ever been made, and some which hadn’t yet, The Dewey Cox Story (2007) covers the prolific career of a fictional rockstar who essentially had some hand in every significant moment of the genre’s history. The widely-scoped tale spoofs scenes from Ray, Walk The Line, and The Doors, while borrowing inspiration for jokes from the lives and works of The Beatles, Brian Wilson, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, and Elvis.
The film is part genre spoof, part straight up comedy, and part love letter to the legacy of classic rock. The film stars John C. Reilly as Dewey Cox, with Chris Parnell and Tim Meadows as his bandmates, with Jenna Fischer. The story touches on just about every genre trope in the book; crazy drug abuse, megalomania, a rise, a fall, heartbreak, childhood trauma, and reconciliation upon the realization of an artist’s opus.
The film was directed by James Kasdan and co-written by Kasdan and Judd Apatow, who had worked together previously on Freaks and Geeks. Reilly is perfectly cast to take the audience on the emotional roller coaster that is the life of Dewey Cox, and he performs all of the original music written for the film. All in all, it’s an incredibly ambitious comedy, but works well enough to earn its place as a classic.
80’s Rock And Roll Movies
“Be Excellent To Each Other,” a simple teaching from simple men. These are the words of Bill and Ted; two high school rockers who receive the help of a time traveler to pass their History class. They also learn it’s their destiny to write a song that will unite the world in peace. The plot sounds complicated, but it’s surprisingly easy to absorb, making for one of the best Rock and Roll movies ever.
The titular duo collect significant historical figures like Joan of Arc and Genghis Kahn to help them study for their final. The journey is filled with air guitar moments, punctuated with non-diegetic shredding solos, and the 2nd Act builds to one of the best comedy montages of all time.
Top Ten Rock And Roll Movies
10. Wayne’s World (1992)
Whether you’ve seen it or not, you’ve felt this film’s influence. From the early days of Mike Myers’ film career, Wayne’s World showcases the prolific comedian’s ability for creating timeless characters. It’s directed by Penelope Spheeris who was well versed as a filmmaker in the history and nature of Rock and Roll, sharpening her teeth on Megadeth music videos and her incredible music documentary series, The Fall Of Western Civilization.
The script is brimming with so many excellent one liners you’ve probably repeated them without even realizing. In classic Myers’ style, the movie is filled with fourth wall breaking jokes, meta references to classic films, send-ups of commercial pop culture, and Gonzo swings in tone played up for ultimate comedic effect.
The plot centers around the selling of Wayne and Garth’s TV show as they face against pressure to “sell out” their classic style. Between learning to collaborate with his sponsors creatively and his robo-fox bass-playing girlfriend Cassandra romantically, Wayne comes to realize that success comes from remembering what’s real.
Rock And Roll Films
9. Purple Rain (1984)
Based on the life of Prince himself, Purple Rain is a highly emotional musical film about a young rocker known as “The Kid” and his band The Revolution. The Kid suffers under the weight of a difficult home life with his physically abusive father, also a former musician, and his emotionally abusive mother.
Cinematographer Donald Thorin, known for Midnight Run, The Golden Child, and Head of State, captures every bit of flare and charisma through the lens. The lighting reflects the film’s somber atmosphere perfectly, giving way to bursts of triumphant light as The Kid seeks the solace that being on stage will provide.
Prince is one of the greatest performers of all time and he pulls no punches on screen. The theme is established in the opening number with a quick cut montage with lyrics that underscore the protagonist’s outlook (“In this life, you’re on your own”).
The wardrobe is immaculate on Prince and his compatriots, and his signature purple motorcycle and the the film won an Oscar for Best Original Song Score. It proved to have one of the best Rock and Roll movie soundtracks, and housed some of Prince’s most successful tracks: “When Doves Cry,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” and of course, “Purple Rain.”
Rock And Roll Films
8. Wild Zero (1999)
Wild Zero is about a Japanese rock band Guitar Wolf fighting off an army of alien-created Zombies with their young blood, Ace, and his girlfriend, Tobio. The band is composed of leather clad greasers forever fueled by the power of Rock and Roll, and they don’t let you forget it. They scream it at you.
The movie plays mostly as a B-horror movie with all the blood, monster make up, and more blood to boot. There’s motorcycles, explosions, throwing star guitar picks, and more than a few exploding heads all set to a hard, fuzzy soundtrack. The movie has also been praised for its tasteful handling of some plot points involving a transgender character which was unfortunately rare in many films of that period and genre.
Best Rock Movies Of All Time
Part late-night comedy, part monster movie, and part musical extravaganza, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) follows Brad and Janet played by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon. When their car gets a flat, their only option is to use the phone at a nearby mansion hosting a “Transylvanian Convention.” Upon meeting the host, Dr. Frankenfurter (Tim Curry), a self-proclaimed “sweet transvestite from transexual Transylvania,” their world turns upside down.
The set and costumes really steal the show, often juxtaposing the high energy musical scenes against a drab and dusty haunted mansion. The film’s well known musical number, “Let’s Do The Time Warp Again,” captures the many Transylvanians flail stiffly through a line dance, like a low-budget Broadway show performed by reanimated corpses.
Cutaways explaining dance moves and Frankenfurter’s peppered direct addresses to the audience lean into the B movie element and further the otherworldly style. The movie’s macabre and silly sexuality developed a well known cult following, still booking theaters for midnight shows all over and even inspired a TV remake with Laverne Cox in 2016.
Rock Opera Movies
6. Pink Floyd: The Wall (1980)
Brooding on the darker philosophical side of the Rock World, Pink Floyd: The Wall is a feature length dramatization of Floyd’s masterpiece of the same name. The Wall is a snapshot of a breakdown at the peak of an artist’s career. It starts here, and it ends here, and every moment in between plays like a recovered memory amidst an iowaska trip.
The film stars a fiery Bob Geldoff as the psychotic protagonist Pink, who is slowly slipping into a manic state of disillusionment. The scenes mix mediums, showcasing detailed animated sequences from illustrator Gerald Scarfe and extravagant, moodily-lit sequences from director Alan Parker. Parker worked extensively in musical film, known for directing many well known titles including Fame, Evita, and The Commitments.
The violent imagery creates a dark visual psyche through which we ponder the effects of war on society, trauma on children, isolation on sanity, and the power of man’s idols. Geldoff performs vocals on many songs from the album, stocking the soundtrack with unique renditions made just for the film, and giving it a life of its own outside the studio album it was based on.
This film is the perfect visual realization of everything their music is about — the helplessness of the individual in a broken world, the sickness of society at large, and the madness that lies inside us all.
Rock Opera Movies
5. Tommy (1975)
Though the concept existed previously, The Who is the first band credited with marketing an album as a “Rock Opera.” The distinction being that it tells a story, and all dialog is communicated through song. The story is about a young boy named Tommy who is rendered deaf, dumb, and blind as a boy. The plot follows his mother and her boyfriend’s failed attempts to cure Tommy until he becomes a national celebrity for his exceptional pinball skills.
Soon, Tommy’s senses return and he becomes an evangelical figure who tries to pass wisdom onto a mass of thankless followers. He eventually blinds and deafens them all, in hopes that the inward journey will help them find peace. Instead, they riot and murder his parents and Tommy flees into the mountains.
It’s an age-old tale, one I’m sure everyone can relate to, but it’s done in magnificently over the top style. The soundtrack is filled with covers of The Who’s songs from exceptional artists like Elton John, Tina Turner, and Eric Clapton. The elaborate costumes and sets evoke classic studio musicals of the Golden Age, and the shots whip pan their way through roaring crowds giving every moment the energy of a traveling rock show. Packed with commentary on religion, society, and idolatry, Tommy is a powerful visual and musical experience.
Best Rock And Roll Movies
In every best rock movies list I’ve read, there is one exceptional classic that gets passed over time and time again: Tenacious D’s origin story masterpiece, The Pick of Destiny. Directed by Liam Lynch, who got his start directing the D’s music videos and TV show, the story starts with a young Jack Black being thrown out of his parents’ home for rocking too hard and too often.
Jack forms an alliance with an exceptional guitar player named Kyle Gass and the two embark on a quest to find a legendary guitar pick. The pick is made from the devil’s tooth and fabled to contain the very spirit of rock and roll, all in hopes of selling a record and paying their rent. The adventure is laced with signature Jack Black physical comedy, a phenomenal rock training montage, hilarious chase scenes, and a sensationally colorful and indulgent mushroom trip musical number.
The plot is laden with references to cinematic masterpieces and rock legends, classic jokes and moments from the band’s self-referential musical lore, and the soundtrack is produced to perfection containing all original compositions made for the film.
Movies With Rock And Roll Soundtracks
3. Almost Famous (2000)
Many Cameron Crowe films are widely considered to be classics — Jerry Maguire, Say Anything, Elizabethtown — Almost Famous might be his most widely beloved. Nostalgic for a time and place gone by, the story follows a young writer named William Miller, who aspires to be a Rock and Roll journalist. He finagles a press pass, meets some groupies at a Sabbath show, and submits a writeup to Rolling Stone who then pays him to shadow one of his favorite working acts on the road.
Through a labyrinth of sexed out, drugged up, Rock and Roll antics William stares into the soul the music that means so much to him and watches as the scene pulls apart at the seams. Themes of unrequited love, transient families, greed, and youthful naïveté paint pictures of a genre built on a lie. It’s the story of what Rock and Roll became at its worst moments, when the people who were making it fell victim to ego and desire.
The ensemble cast is stocked with familiar faces and great talent including Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Frances McDormand, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Almost Famous is an incredibly heartfelt coming of age story amidst the death of Rock, when the masses were realizing that they had bought into an idea that might not have been as pure as it seemed.
Movies With Rock And Roll Soundtracks
2. School Of Rock (2003)
Rock and Roll culture’s influence on the works of Richard Linklater is no secret. It should therefore come as no surprise that he directed one of the most beloved Rock and Roll movies of the modern age starring Jack Black, Joan Cusack, and a bunch of prolifically talented kid musicians.
School of Rock is a rare film, the tone of which falls perfectly on a line between movies for families and movies for adults. Jack Black plays a down-on-his-luck rocker who gets kicked out of his band and poses as a substitute teacher at a private school to pay the rent. He’s the type of guy who could use more talent but knows more than anyone what it means to rock. He soon discovers his class of uptight preppy students all have significant musical ability, and forgoes all regular curriculum in favor of coaching them to win an upcoming battle of the bands.
Black was made for this role, and his electric spark on screen pulls subtle greatness out of his young co-stars. He teaches them to believe in themselves and to never fear chasing their dreams, just as Rock music has always taught us. The soundtrack is loaded with classic rock hits, and the battle of the band performance from the kids in the band will rock your world.
Best Rock Movies List
1. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
This is Spinal Tap is a mockumentary directed by Rob Reiner who appears in the film as the project’s fictional director Martin Di Bergi. It's also the first feature co-written by Christopher Guest, who plays lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel. It follows a fictional '70s band in interviews and performances on an American tour as their popularity is in serious decline. A direct parody of the rise and fall “behind the music” tale, the dialogue is saturated with hilarious jokes about rockers and their world.
The cast is fantastic and features guest appearances from Fran Drescher, Ed Begley Jr., Billy Crystal, and more. The cinéma vérité style adds a rich life to the mostly improvised scenes, credited to cinematographer Peter Smokler who was well-versed in the style having previously shot several real documentaries, as well as the infamous doc-styled protest fiction, Punishment Park.
All the songs performed in the film were written by the band, and play like legitimate Hard Rock bangers. Try listening to “Sex Farm,” “Big Bottom,” or “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight,” and tell me Spinal Tap isn’t just as good a group as many of their “real” contemporaries. The world created in the film takes on such an organic life with a great music/plot balance, countless, unforgettable quotes pile up in scene after scene, and the final result is one you’ll never forget.
Rocking On...best movies songs ever
Now that we’ve covered the best rock 'n' roll movies of all time, why don’t we continue on with the best movie songs? Some soundtracks contain one or two great songs, but can’t sustain those highs throughout. In this next article, we look at what makes a movie song great. Some songs referenced in this list appear, but you may be surprised how many new ones made the cut!