The 50 Greatest Rock and Roll Movies of All Time

Read this list with a candle burning and you will fill your entire Netflix queue

50 Greatest Rock and Roll Movies
50 Greatest Rock and Roll Movies

    Editor’s Notes: Lights, camera, rock! Our definitive list of Rock and Roll Movies originally ran in February 2018. We’re revisiting it today as we celebrate Martin Scorsese and The Band’s epic concert film, The Last Waltz, which came out on April 26th, 1978.

    I’d argue that it’s easier to identify a rock and roll movie than define one. Looking through this list, there are docs and biopics, concert films and musicals, movies with flick-making and generation-defining soundtracks, and films that don’t seem to have very much to do with music at all. And yet, they all feel like they should be categorized under the old devil horns in some way. They boast a common ethos, carry a certain swagger, and feel rebellious in their own, often unlikely, ways. So, here they are: The 50 Greatest Rock and Roll Movies of All Time.

    For all these movies (and others) that rock, we salute them.

    –Matt Melis

    50. Baby Driver (2017)


    Let’s start our list right, with the most recent entry, one that’ll invariably go down as one of the greats in due time. Edgar Wright’s opus of fast cars, gun violence, and Hollywood romance is built around its soundtrack, and while it’s not exclusively a rock and roll affair (shout-out to Wright’s use of a Young MC deep cut), Baby Driver features the rare modern movie soundtrack that functions as the lifeblood of the film itself. From the crackerjack editing to the perfect scene-by-scene placements, rock music becomes an extension of the storytelling. And because of Baby Driver, a new generation has discovered the glories of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. What’s not to love? Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

    Song to Stream: “Bellbottoms” by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

    49. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

    Phantom of the Paradise is Brian De Palma’s most whimsical and traditionally funny film. Good rock and roll has a sense of humor amid the cynicism and melodrama of the music. Phantom sardonically skewers the music industry, turning a record contract into a Faustian deal with the devil. Paul Williams brilliantly plays against type as the evil Swan and provides a wonderfully bizarre collections of tunes for the soundtrack, featuring faux ‘50s nostalgia with “Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye”, the Linda Ronstadt-style country-tinged pop of “Special to Me”, the glammy “Life at Last”, and the gloriously cynical closer, “The Hell of It”. –Mike Vanderbilt


    Song to Stream: “The Hell of It” by Paul Williams

    48. That Thing You Do! (1996)

    That Thing You Do! hums with authenticity. Tom Hanks’ ode to ‘60s pop rock gets all the details just right. Top-notch set design and costuming paint the snappy tale of the one-hit Wonders. The interaction between the band members feels familiar to anyone who has spent time playing rock and roll with a group at any level of success. It’s the soundtrack that propels the film, with each tune perfectly recreating the popular sounds of the day from Merseybeat to surf rock to Motown girl groups. –Mike Vanderbilt

    Song to Stream: “That Thing You Do!” by The Wonders

    47. The Filth and the Fury (2000)

    If you ever saw The Great Rock ‘n’ Swindle, you know that it was kinda just that, less a documentary about The Sex Pistols and more an arty dupe (“presented as a mockumentary”) on the part of Malcom McClaren, who sought to control the narrative about the legendary UK band he managed. The Filth and the Fury, also directed by Julian Temple, is an equally biting but proper delving into the history of the Pistols, with interviews, live footage, and Swindle snippets that highlight the true trajectory taken by Rotten, Jonesy, Cook, Matlock, and Vicious, complete with all the scornful words and scathing performances the film’s title suggests. You never get the feeling you’ve been cheated watching this one. –Lina Lecaro

    Song to Stream: “Anarchy in the U.K.” by Sex Pistols

    46. Heavy Metal (1981)

    Dungeons, dragons, well-endowed barbarians, bad-ass female warriors, zombie pilots, spaceships, and robots: these are the things that teenagers on the fringe adore. So much of rock and roll is intrinsically tied to teenage lust, and the Ivan Reitman-produced Heavy Metal is 88 minutes of just that. Reitman even brings along SCTV cast members — arguably the most rock and roll comedy troupe around in 1981 — to provide the voices of intergalactic lawyers and nyborg snorting aliens. The gangbusters hard rock soundtrack features Cheap Trick, Blue Oyster Cult, and Sammy Hagar, making the midnight movie smoke like a Gibson through a Marshall. –Mike Vanderbilt


    Song to Stream: “Reach Out and Take It” by Cheap Trick

    45. Jailhouse Rock (1957)

    Despite the name and best-known (striped t-shirt) scenes, Jailhouse Rock is not really a “prison flick.” Elvis Presley’s character does go to jail, where he discovers his musical prowess and pursues it once he gets out, but his journey to stardom proves even more challenging than his time behind bars. His James Dean-ish “bad boy” character makes bad choices, and it all leads to an obvious journey of redemption. But this one ain’t about the story; it’s about the exhilarating music and its star, whose charisma was so off the charts that it was quite fittingly criminal. –Lina Lecaro

    Song to Stream: “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley

    44. Forrest Gump (1994)

    Most films dependent on pop songs count on them to take us to a specific place in time within the movie. The Forrest Gump soundtrack takes us through decades of time. There’s lil’ Forrest dancing to Elvis’ “Hound Dog”. Creedence leads the charge in Vietnam with “Fortunate Son” (a tic that has been used in countless films since). Forrest and Jenny reconnect in “Sweet Home Alabama”. An older Forrest finds himself “Running on Empty” all the way across America (and back again). The songs advance the movie, and you never know what you’re gonna get (I couldn’t resist). –Justin Gerber

    Song to Stream: “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

    43. The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

    The Buddy Holly Story may not get all the little details right (Holly’s main axe was a Strat, not a Tele), but rock and roll is less about hitting all the right notes and more about the essence of cool. Gary Busey is a revelation as Buddy Holly — a performance that earned him an Academy Award nomination — even performing vocal duties on the Holly tunes featured in the film. Decades on, Buddy Holly’s influence on rock and roll music — from his songwriting to his recording and production techniques to his fearlessness — should be studied by every aspiring guitar slinger. Also, Paul Mooney is brilliant as Sam Cooke. –Mike Vanderbilt


    Song to Stream: “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” by Gary Busey and Jerry Zaremba

    42. Big Time (1988)

    Tom WaitsBig Time exists somewhere in the overlap between concert film, dreamland, and carnival freak show. Waits and wife/songwriting partner Kathleen Brennan decided to record the last North American shows of a tour and release a mix of the footage as a concert film. While the production’s narrative or a precise account of Waits’ alter ego, Frank O’Brien, may be difficult to decipher, the film somehow seems to tap into a new dimension of the avant-garde performer’s songs as the emotive Waits, for example, sings “16 Shells from a 30.6” into a workman’s lantern while the film cuts to him banging on pipes with a hammer or, in another instance, struts along to a madcap version of “Rain Dogs” that resolves into a festive jig straight out of the old country (which one, who could say?). It’s over-the-top, bizarre, and one of the few concert films that leaves you feeling as though you understand a unique artist just a little better for having been thoroughly absorbed and confused. –Matt Melis

    Song to Stream: “16 Shells from a 30.6” by Tom Waits

    41. Tommy (1975)

    The Who’s Tommy began as an ambitious double album in 1969. Arguably the first “rock opera,” the plot is threadbare, filled with bizarre ideas (a pinball-playing messiah?) from the wild mind of guitarist Pete Townshend. Ken Russell was an inspired choice to bring the story of Tommy to the sliver screen in 1975. Russell’s bonkers visuals compliment Townshend’s concepts, and the film features two showstopping performances (Tina Turner’s “The Acid Queen” and Elton John’s “Pinball Wizard”) and an odd reading of “Go to the Mirror” by Jack Nicholson. The film is weird, over the top, and consistently takes chances — everything you want out of rock and roll. Play this one loud. –Mike Vanderbilt


    Song to Stream: “Pinball Wizard” by The Who and Elton John

    40. Sing Street (2016)

    John Carney’s 2016 romantic musical is “for brothers everywhere,” as the end credits explicitly state, and yet there’s something achingly universal about the ’80s-set coming-of-age story. As we watch the poor Irish teens band together around the futurist sounds of new wave — from Duran Duran to Hall and Oates to The Cure — we’re swept away by these affecting portraits of young passion. Of course, none of it would work without the gritty stakes that Carney wires to his fantastical story, all of which groove to anthems both vintage and original. No kidding: If you’re not singing or clapping along by the second act, you might want to check your heartbeat. Something’s wrong, pal. –Michael Roffman

    Song to Stream: “Up” by Sing Street

    39. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

    Nicholas Roeg’s eccentric sci-fi masterpiece doesn’t make this list simply because it stars one of the greatest rock stars of all time. The movie looks, sounds, and feels gorgeous and weird all on its own. But David Bowie’s performance might’ve been enough regardless. More than any of his other dramatic roles, this one, as a disconcerted alien, possesses everything that made Bowie a mesmerizing musical figure — his androgynous beauty, outsider charm, and uniquely detached demeanor that somehow draws you in deep. It’s the theatrical link between Ziggy and The Thin White Duke, and even though he was reportedly pretty coked out during this period, he shines throughout. Unlike Roeg’s work with Mick Jagger in Performance, this is a star vehicle that’s as purposeful as it is provocative. –Lina Lecaro

    Song to Stream: “The Man Who Fell to Earth” by John Phillips

    38. La Bamba (1987)

    “The Day the Music Died” will be remembered in infamy when a plane crash took the lives of the Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, and 17-year-old Ritchie Valens. 1987’s La Bamba focuses on Valens’ short life, growing up in San Fernando Valley; his rocky relationship with his brother, Bob Morales; and his even shorter career that gave rock and roll fans “Donna”, “Let’s Go”, and the reworked Mexican folk song “La Bamba”. The film is a compelling and sad biopic, but the inspired casting of Los Lobos (as the voice and music of Ritchie Valens), Howard Huntsberry as Jackie Wilson, Brian Setzer as Eddie Cochran, and Marshal Crenshaw as Buddy Holly turn La Bamba up to 11. –Mike Vanderbilt


    Song to Stream: “La Bamba” by Los Lobos

    37. Sid and Nancy (1986)

    Gary Oldman has given a lot of Oscar-worthy performances, has only been nominated twice, and will probably win for one he doesn’t deserve. If you want a performance more transformative without the aid of make-up (shots fired, Darkest Hour), look no further than his performance as Sid Vicious here. Coupled with an equally magnetic Chloe Webb as Nancy Spungen, the movie is chock-full of punk Sex Pistols, disastrous solo efforts, and a memorable moment (no spoilers) of Sid covering Sinatra’s “My Way”. Keep an eye out for a young Courtney Love as Nancy’s friend Gretchen, a consolation for not getting Nancy. –Justin Gerber

    Song to Stream: “My Way” by Sid Vicious

    36. The Wedding Singer (1998)

    I’ve been to several weddings and have yet to encounter a wedding band. Do they really even exist? Anyways, the love of music and the music of love dominate The Wedding Singer. Wedding band shenanigans aside (“Give me ty-yime…”), the movie features a hip-hoppin’ granny (“Rapper’s Delight”), an original love song whose performance is made possible thanks to Billy Idol (“I Wanna Grow Old with You”), Van Halen t-shirts, Flock of Seagulls haircuts, and a drunk Steve Buscemi living out his dreams. I know this much is true: The Wedding Singer is fun as hell, especially for us ‘80s kids. –Justin Gerber

    Song to Stream: “Love Stinks” by The J. Geils Band

    35. 24 Hour Party People (2002)

    These days, a pairing of Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan has people thinking of the Trip series. However, an earlier partnership brought forth an ode to Factory Records founder Tony Wilson in 24 Hour Party People. The fourth-wall-be-damned look at the mogul’s rise and fall features discovery reenactments of Sex Pistols, Happy Mondays, and Joy Division (later New Order) to name but a few. It’s as close as many of us will ever get to The Haçienda, only without the nagging sweat and over-indulgence of drug use. Or maybe we actually want that, too. –Justin Gerber


    Song to Stream: “24 Hour Party People” by Happy Mondays

    34. Singles (1992)

    To be fair, Singles is more of an innocent meditation on the chaos of everyday romances than a rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster. Even so, Cameron Crowe’s 1992 romantic comedy ably doubles as a surprisingly organic time capsule of Seattle’s alternative rock scene. Then-future titans Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains all make agreeable cameos, the platinum-selling soundtrack winds up enhancing the drama, and the music trivia that Crowe wedges into the proceedings only embellishes the film’s vibrant, lived-in experience. Besides, where else are you going to see Eddie Vedder dish out life-long career advice? Guy’s a grungy yoda. –Michael Roffman

    Song to Stream: “Waiting for Somebody” by Paul Westerberg

    33. Nashville (1975)

    Nashville isn’t a musical, but it is musical. The late, great filmmaker Robert Altman had his cast write and perform many of the songs featured throughout, infuriating the country music scene at the time. Oh, well. It paid off. Altman follows the lives of several musicians, both amateur and professional, in the titular city leading up to a major political rally, their music providing the soundtrack. Nashville is an experience and a long one at that (nearly three hours), but the finale is one of the all-time greats. My boy Keith Carradine would go on to win an Academy Award for “I’m Easy”! Justin Gerber

    Song to Stream: “I’m Easy” by Keith Carradine

    32. End of the Century (2003)

    Everything about the Ramones was a contradiction. Their music was fast and vociferous, but it was also super catchy, at its core, inspired by old timey, doo-wap, and pop. They looked more like bikers than punkers of the time. And each member was markedly different, yet they all went by the same fake surname. End of the Century is the definitive look at the game-changing New York punk pioneers who made simple-sounding music but were highly complex individuals with a contentious history and tense chemistry. Dee Dee, Joey, and Johnny have all met all their ends, but this unflinching film provides a poignant profile to cement their legacy. –Lina Lecaro


    Song to Stream: “Glad to See You Go” by Ramones

    31. Once (2007)

    By now, you know the story: a pair of performers joined with John Carney for a no-budget romantic musical about the power of song, and it became the kind of breakout hit that most filmmakers spend their entire careers chasing. What Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova accomplish onscreen is even richer than Once’s reputation, though; not only is the soundtrack an all-timer, but it’s also the kind of unabashedly romantic film that time and Hollywood have largely left behind. It’s utterly sincere in its intentions, a film about the absolute power of music to unite even the unlikeliest pairs. It’s far from the hardest-rocking entry on this list, but it’s as true to the spirit of the genre as any other entry. Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

    Song to Stream: “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

    30. The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

    Penelope Spheeris’ voracious inventory of the LA underground music scene circa 1979-1980 remains the superlative punk rock documentary thanks to its subjects (X, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, The Alice Bag Band, Fear, and the Germs) and their brazen, often brutal live performances. But it’s the interviews that give Decline dimension and depth. As both historical document and pure entertainment, it’s a fascinating exploration into the lives of those who make and gravitate toward aggressive music. Shout-out to Decline-Part 2 (The Metal Years), which lacks the nuance of the original but provides an amusing if somewhat depressing look at how it all evolved into hairspray and hedonism a decade later. –Lina Lecaro

    Song to Stream: “We’re Desperate” by X

    29. School of Rock (2003)

    Forming a band and playing rock music has always been an outlet for outcasts. The premise behind Richard Linklater’s School of Rock takes that idea several degrees further as broke and embarrassing local musician Dewey Finn (Jack Black) finally finds a band willing to back him: a group of private school elementary students over whom he holds a grade book under false pretenses. Black has never been funnier onscreen than in this ridiculous but endearing series of PG-rated Tenacious D gags, which includes a wholesome lesson about the value of letting one’s hair down and making time to get the Led out. Fifteen years later, a whole generation of viewers can recall how Black and his students “touched them.” Wait, that came out wrong. –Matt Melis

    Song to Stream: “School of Rock” by School of Rock

    28. Dont Look Back (1967)

    There are plenty of firsts attached to D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 tag-along documentary, which found the American filmmaker capturing a two-week stretch of 1965 Bob Dylan concerts in England. The doc can be credited as one of the earliest concert films, the genesis of the first music video, and a breakthrough in the observational cinema movement. But more memorably it acts as a fly on the wall for some of the most reflective and contemplative footage ever taken of Dylan, during a time when he was about to leave his mouth harp and protest songs behind for good, plug in, and turn the world of rock and roll on its head forever. How does that feel? –Matt Melis


    Song to Stream: “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan

    27. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

    One of the Coens’ bleakest films (even by their standards) foregrounds Oscar Isaac’s impossibly sad-eyed performance as the titular folk musician, who arrived just a little too early for the musical revolution. As he wanders through a landscape full of hokey gimmick songs (the utterly brilliant “Please Mr. Kennedy”), disinterested promoters, mysterious hitchhikers, and the many lives and loves he lost or abandoned with time, Llewyn discovers just how thankless making art for a living can be. And in the film’s dramatic centerpiece, as he makes a last-ditch attempt to impress F. Murray Abraham’s Chicago nightclub owner, he’s taught one of the harshest, truest lessons any musician is ever forced to learn: you can be at the very top of your craft and still land miles away from making it as you watch less committed performers take your place. Dominick Suzanne-Mayer

    Song to Stream: “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” by Oscar Isaac and Marcus Mumford

    26. Quadrophenia (1979)


    While Tommy undoubtedly features some autobiographical flourishes from the life of Who guitarist Pete Townshend, Quadrophenia feels even more personal. The tale of disillusioned Jimmy is told in more of a straight narrative style than Russell’s take on Tommy with The Who’s music relegated to the background. Jimmy’s into sex, drugs, and rock and roll … but none of that truly makes him happy. Disillusioned, angsty youth is the lifeblood of the best rock and roll, and, in a way, you can see the birth of The Who — once named the loudest band in the world — in the tale of Quadrophenia. –Mike Vanderbilt

    Song to Stream: “The Real Me” by The Who

    25. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

    If there is one movie that truly captures the obsessive and all-consuming force that is music fandom, Alan Arkush’s campy high school comedy is it. Riff Randall (bodaciously played by PJ Soles) exudes pure unadulterated joy and devotion to her favorite band (the Ramones), transforming the groupie paradigm into something more akin to mascot. It’s the heart of this otherwise chaotic and often absurd 1979 farce about an out-of-control high school and the new principal determined to whip it into shape. Shockingly, the Ramones weren’t the first choice to star, but they were the best choice, their buoyant tunes and cartoony image providing an A+ performance that continues to educate and inspire Riff-like raucousness to this day. –Lina Lecaro


    Song to Stream: “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” by Ramones

    24. Monterey Pop (1968)

    If Gimme Shelter inevitably gets remembered for a tragedy that took place in the audience, filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop rockumentary will forever be celebrated for what took place onstage across three days in 1967. Acts like The Who, Simon & Garfunkel, Otis Redding, and a young Janis Joplin came together to create a weekend of music that would inspire all rock festivals to come, including Woodstock. The film captures rock luminaries and festivalgoers alike still discovering what live rock and roll might look and sound like, the most famous instance of experimentation being when Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire onstage during, you guessed it, “Wild Thing”. –Matt Melis

    Song to Stream: “Wild Thing” by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

    23. The Commitments (1991)

    It’s often said that the leader of any given rock and roll band is usually the least talented; they were simply smart enough to surround themselves with the best players. In The Commitments, Jimmy Rabbitte doesn’t even have dreams of swaggering onstage. He wants to manage an Irish soul band. Rabbitte feels that soul is the most honest music out there, and while rock and roll music needs honesty, The Commitments points out – particularly in the character of Joey “The Lips” Fagan (brilliantly played by Johnny Murphy) — it’s usually being told by less-than-honest people. –Mike Vanderbilt


    Song to Stream: “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas

    22. Back to the Future (1985)

    If I learned anything from the ‘80s, it’s that the power of love is a curious thing. It can make one man weep, yet make another man sing. If I learned two things from the ‘80s, it’s that the role of rock in Back to the Future is undeniable. It’s Marty’s rock and roll attitude (and groundbreaking guitar play) that saves his very existence and even manages to change future events so that Biff becomes an indentured servant. Huey Lewis supplied the tunes and even gets a cameo during the talent show auditions: “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud.” –Justin Gerber

    Song to Stream: “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News

    21. The Last Waltz (1978)

    The music world has been absolutely bombarded lately by aging icons announcing their farewell tours and goodbye concerts. They’ll no doubt leave their fans with one last memory to store away, but few have ever said goodbye more memorably than The Band with The Last Waltz. Shot beautifully by Martin Scorsese, the concert film caught The Band still at the height of their powers onstage, spoke candidly behind the scenes with members, and saw more than a dozen guests ranging from Bob Dylan and Neil Young to Joni Mitchell and Neil Diamond take the stage. It’s the all-star jam to end all-star jams and a fitting farewell in the spotlight for a group of musicians whose band name actually came from shirking the attention. –Matt Melis


    Song to Stream: “I Shall Be Released” by The Band

    20. Grease (1978)

    Aside from being one of the most iconic films of all time, Grease also has one of the most iconic soundtracks to ever be pressed to vinyl, the likes of which continues to win over generation after generation. After all, you don’t need to be hip to soda shoppes and tight leather to feel the groovy sounds of Frankie Valli’s titular track or get swept up in the heartwarming duets between John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Yes, this is a film very of its time, but that has never stopped it from connecting with kids who want to rebel and who feel the need to sing about it. Grease is the word forever. –Michael Roffman

    Song to Stream: “You’re The One That I Want” by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John

    19. Elvis (1979)

    John Carpenter knows rock and roll swagger. He watched Elvis Presley perform on Ed Sullivan in 1956 at his house in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and 23 years later, he would direct a biopic on the King of Rock and Roll. Carpenter’s presence can be felt throughout Elvis, the way his gliding camera tastefully captures the film’s many performances. But, not surprisingly, it’s Kurt Russell as the King that steals the show. Elvis was a once-in-a-lifetime performer: he had a voice, a look, and that intangible swagger that made him a star. While Russell didn’t necessarily look like Elvis or sound like Elvis (Ronnie McDowell handled vocal duties), Russell carries the essence of Elvis throughout the film … and that’s rock and roll. –Mike Vanderbilt


    Song to Stream:Suspicious Minds” by Ronnie McDowell

    18. Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)

    The combination of Alan Parker’s live-action direction, Pink Floyd’s music, Gerard Scarfe’s iconic animation, and casual drug use have kept this film adaptation of 1978’s The Wall relevant for nearly 40 years. From the recreations of war-torn regions scored by “The Thin Ice” to the animated flower fucking/murdering of “Empty Spaces”, the film is a visual/aural feast with something unexpected just around the corner of every wall. Bob Geldof’s transformation from rock casualty to phony dictator (sadly) resonates today. Watch out for that giant judge talking out of its ass. Subtle? No, but there’s a reason hammers permeate the film. –Justin Gerber

    Song to Stream: “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd

    17. Woodstock (1970)

    The unwashed earthiness of the hippie movement started as a expression of an anti-establishment ethos, but by 1969 it started to manifest into something beyond social statement, evolving into a celebration of communal interaction and euphoric escapism, often driven by free sex, drugs, and music. This expansive film captured how for a moment in time (three days to be exact) the mythic music festival embodied it all, taking the viewer right into the muck, into the crowds and storms, and right under the stage to experience some incredible music. See the director’s cut for the most extensive footage featuring Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez, Santana, Sly Stone, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Who, and of course, Jimi Hendrix, whose frenzied take on “The Star Bangled Banner” out of “Purple Haze” remains the pan-ultimate festival stage moment of any generation. –Lina Lecaro

    Song to Stream: “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Jimi Hendrix

    16. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)


    You can write essay after essay about John Cameron Mitchell’s 2001 cult musical-comedy — extolling all of its ideological merits and the brazen discussions it brings to the table about gender identity — but what ultimately sells Hedwig and the Angry Inch are the songs. Mitchell and Stephen Trask penned an incredible glam-punk production, one that’s overwhelmed by a series of anthems that sparkle with glitter and dust straight outta ’70s era New York City. Mitchell is at the center of it all, fuming with an energy that’s as palpable onscreen as it was onstage in the years prior. How he didn’t win the Golden Globe nomination is another sin of that awards show, but also all-too-fitting of the Hedwig narrative. Try and tear her down! –Michael Roffman

    Song to Stream: “The Origin of Love” by Hedwig and the Angry Inch

    15. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

    And now for a different kind of rock and roll movie. At the height of Beatlemania, the Fab Four were tasked with carrying Richard Lester’s screwball comedy and ended up making one of the more iconic and memorable tie-in movies ever. Sure, it exists solely as a vehicle to further the Beatles brand at a time when audiences would throw money at anything featuring Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr, but A Hard Day’s Night goes several steps further by announcing the foursome as physical performers of genuine skill. It’s funny even as it’s hokey, wholesome even as Lester slips in touches of bawdiness here and there, and far less strange than The Beatles’ onscreen material yet to come. It’s also a time capsule of a cultural moment and one of the biggest bands in history at the zenith of their powers. Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    Song to Stream: “A Hard Day’s Night” by The Beatles

    14. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1982)

    Before “Riot Grrls” and “Girl Power”, there was this cheeky and fun feminist punk fable. Starring a 15-year-old Diane Lane (and an equally young Laura Dern) as bored teens who quickly score fame and lookalike fans while on tour with punk legends “The Looters” (played by Ray Winstone, Paul Cook, and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Paul Simonon of The Clash), Stains is a satire about the industry directed by a dude who knows it (Lou Adler). It might be one big, colorful cliché, but this cult classic conveys the rush of rebellion better than most, especially when it comes to females who wanna rock. Sadly, its themes are still way too relevant today. –Lina Lecaro

    Song to Stream: “Professionals” by The Fabulous Stains

    13. Control (2007)

    Music biopics can be such a predictable snore. That’s why Control, Anton Corbijn’s biographical film on Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, is such a revelation. Corbijn, who had actually served as the band’s original photographer, offers a 122-minute portrait that’s so hands-off, despite being perfectly shot and accurately portrayed. Sam Riley’s a natural as the late Curtis with a brutally physical performance that soars for its silent, patient approach. Every little detail is in the settings, the music, and the off-screen conflicts that only come to light if you look for them. It’s not for everyone, sure, but it’s certainly honest, and that honesty speaks volumes. –Michael Roffman


    Song to Stream: “Disorder” by Joy Division

    12. Gimme Shelter (1970)

    Had The Rolling Stones’ 1969 US tour not concluded with the Hell’s Angels stabbing Meredith Hunter, a young black man, to death after he pulled out a gun at Altamont Speedway, Gimme Shelter would still be an absorbing document of the end of an era and a revealing behind-the-scenes look at the world’s greatest rock and roll band in their touring prime. The sense of dread that comes with knowing how it will unfold makes it a far more complex chronicle, but there are still moments of grandeur and bliss, particularly the stage performances, which show Mick, Keef and co. busting out numbers from Let It Bleed, eerily released the day before the ill-fated festival would see unforgettable bloodshed. –Lina Lecaro

    Song to Stream: “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones

    11. American Graffiti (1973)

    While not a musical in the traditional sense, American Graffiti is driven by Wolfman Jack’s playlist of ‘50s and ‘60s rock and roll standards. Rock and roll is the soundtrack of teenage dreams, and the last day of high school represents a crossroads at adulthood and arrested development. The film is funny, melancholy, sweet, and exciting, and refreshingly doesn’t give all of the characters a happy ending, almost like a ‘60s car crash ballad. American Graffiti inspired the ‘70s nostalgia wave, and Dazed and Confused — a film with rock and roll in its DNA — certainly cribbed a little bit from George Lucas’ first big hit. –Mike Vanderbilt

    Song to Stream: “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around the Clock Tonight” by Bill Haley & His Comets


    10. Wayne’s World (1992)

    Wayne’s World would make this list for the “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along alone. But then, the film keeps going, rolling by with gag after gag that hilariously pokes fun at and celebrates the legends of rock ‘n’ roll (see: Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, Crucial Taunt). Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar are both rockist caricatures, who live and die by the type of tall tales that owned the lunch rooms growing up. And while that sensibility admittedly wanes as the years go by, and hair starts growing in really weird places, their words of wisdom will always cling to you — like a new pair of underwear. You know, at first it’s constrictive, but after awhile it becomes a part of you. Sh’yeah. –Michael Roffman

    Song to Stream: “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

    09. Dazed and Confused (1993)

    Every scene featuring a song in Dazed and Confused simply has to be there. Imagine heading into the pool hall sans Dylan’s “Hurricane”. Drifting into the night sky without Skynrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” is akin to heresy. And driving home at the end of the night with the radio turned off instead of turned up with Foghat’s “Slow Ride” blaring out your speakers sounds absolutely boring. There’s a reason why most of our favorite music comes from our teen years. First experiences are as intrinsic to the soundtrack of our lives as the film’s soundtrack is to Richard Linklater’s ‘70s-set masterpiece. –Justin Gerber

    Song to Stream: “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith

    08. The Blues Brothers (1980)

    Most know that The Blues Brothers began as a Saturday Night Live sketch, which later begat John Landis’ 1980 blockbuster comedy about two brothers, Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd), on a musical mission from God to save an orphanage. Fewer know that by the time the film hit theaters, The Blues Brothers were already a chart-topping and major touring musical act. If that’s not rock and roll enough for you, the irreverent comedy pairs the sibling duo with full-blown musical numbers from legends like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Ray Charles, not to mention a little police chase through a mall that’ll even garner a chuckle from Illinois Nazis — and you know how much we hate them. –Matt Melis


    Song to Stream: “Think” by Aretha Franklin

    07. High Fidelity (2000)

    Stephen Frears’ adaptation of Nick Hornby’s popular novel High Fidelity proves that you can have great taste in music, a killer record collection, and all the pop-culture opinions in the world, but still have zero answers when it comes to love. In our generation’s Annie Hall, record shop owner and pop-culture junkie Rob Gordon (John Cusack), like Alvy Singer before him, goes on a quest to figure out why he seems to be forever doomed in the love department. In the end, he learns what so many of us have to in an age where we’re bombarded by more film, television, and music than we can possibly make sense of. Sometimes, it’s not all about us and what we like; sometimes, we have to put all our bullshit aside and make a top-ten list, a playlist, or a relationship about someone else. –Matt Melis

    Song to Stream: “Most of the Time” by Bob Dylan

    06. Stop Making Sense (1984)

    Stop Making Sense is an impressively directed concert film. Constructed from three nights of shooting, director Jonathan Demme doesn’t need to bring a lot of flourish to the proceedings because the Talking Heads are such a treat to watch on their own. There’s so much joy onstage that Demme can let the camera linger on David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, and their funky counterparts who are along for the ride. When Demme does make his presence as a director known, he brings an art-pop style with his color and lighting choices that perfectly compliment the new wave stylings of Bryne and company. –Mike Vanderbilt

    Song to Stream: “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads

    05. The Graduate (1967)

    One of the earliest examples of proper pop songs rather than a musical score supporting a film. Dave Grusin supplies some of the swingin’ soundtrack, but it’s the songs of Paul Simon, performed by Simon & Garfunkel, that elevate The Graduate from a great film to an all-time classic. The bookends featuring “The Sound of Silence” are as depressing today as they were over 50 years ago, the loveless sex that sputters along to “Scarborough Fair/Cantacle” hits hard for those who can recall such malaise, and, of course, it all comes back to “Mrs. Robinson”. Here’s to you. –Justin Gerber


    Song to Stream: “The Sound of Silence”

    04. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

    Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show surely isn’t everyone’s cup of fishnets, but whether or not B-movie horror, mad scientists, and alien transvestites are your idea of a good time, the music, as its producer Michael White once described it, is absolutely “bulletproof.” Combine some of the grooviest rock songs this side of Transylvania with standout performances from Tim Curry and Meatloaf and enough leather and lace to make both bikers and drag queens blush, and you have a rock and roll spectacle that has reigned over the midnight hour across the globe for more than 40 years. –Matt Melis

    Song to Stream: “Science Fiction Double Feature” by Richard O’Brien

    03. Almost Famous (2000)

    Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical tale of a young man swept up in the wild world of early ‘70s rock stars has already become one of the absolute greats in the rock movie canon, in large part because of it being one of the best examples of Crowe’s trademark hyper-sincerity being used to perfect effect. Bolstered by a legion of great character performances (Frances McDormand’s panicking mother, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s lovingly sardonic take on Creem editor Lester Bangs), Almost Famous captures the highs and lows of one of the recording industry’s most decadent eras, even as it looks back through the rosiest-colored glasses possible. It may be a film made from love, but in keeping with Stillwater’s trajectory, Almost Famous understands that the good times don’t last forever. More importantly, it understands that they probably shouldn’t. Dominick Suzanne-Mayer


    Song to Stream: “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John

    02. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

    Comedy is at its best when it’s true. Rob Reiner’s 1984 rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap is both. It’s hilarious and yet says everything you need to know about the rock genre. When Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer came together to write the razor-sharp screenplay, they did their homework, bottling the misogyny, the recklessness, and the utter stupidity that’s haunted the scene for decades. Because of this, the film has come to serve as a ubiquitous label for critics, musicians, and fans alike, namely because most of what happens on screen isn’t at all far fetched. It’s why a musician like Steven Tyler didn’t see the humor in it and yet also why a musician like Dave Grohl proudly declared it as “the only rock movie worth watching.” He’s not wrong. In fact, it’s one of the rare comedies that gets better with age. –Michael Roffman

    Song to Stream: “Stonehenge” by Spinal Tap

    01. Purple Rain (1984)

    Sure, it’s an imperfect film, but in a way that’s part of what makes Purple Rain the consummate rock and roll movie. It was a bold attempt at depicting the rock star dream that could’ve gone awry if not for the singular mojo and musical genius of its main character. When it came out in 1984, Prince’s alluring steez and sultry sludge of funk, soul, and rock, cemented by 1999, had already made him an iconic figure, but he was also, ironically, an enigma — shy, sexually ambiguous, and seemingly aloof.

    Whether or not Purple Rain revealed who “The Kid” really was, it did reflect several familiar musician-driven dynamics: band drama (with his ‘mates Wendy and Lisa), club owners who put crowd-pleasing over creative expression, rivalries (the scene-stealing Morris Day & The Time), and how desire (Apollonia) and despair (his abusive dad) clash and often coalesce into the most epic music of all.


    And then there’s the stunning, climactic trifecta of tunes at the end: the emotional title track, the effervescent “I Would Die 4 U”, and one final audacious affirmation, “Baby I’m a Star”. As if this flick left any doubt. –Lina Lecaro

    Song to Stream: “Purple Rain” by Prince