Total Recall: Our Favorite Rock 'n' Roll Movies

RT staffers share our favorite movies that rock.

Rock music has been a big part of the movies since Blackboard Jungle made Bill Haley a legend in 1955, and although the marriage of the two mediums hasn't always been a happy one (see: Elvis Presley in Harum Scarum and Paul McCartney's Give My Regards to Broad Street -- or better yet, don't), it's also produced some cinematic classics. With Pirate Radio hitting theaters, we thought it would be a good time to share our staff's favorite rock 'n' roll movies -- flicks that will get your toes tapping and your hands strumming the old air guitar. Hey, RT users, what are your faves?


Matt Atchity, Editor-in-Chief

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Rock 'N' Roll High School

They don't get much more Rock and Roll than this: unruly rock-obsessed students take over a high school, invite the seminal punk band The Ramones in, and let's just say that by the time Joey and the boys are done, school's out permanently. And of the Ramone's own brand of blistering punk rock isn't enough for you, the soundtrack is augmented with tracks by Chuck Berry, Alice Cooper, and Todd Rundgren. Although the movie was made in 1978, I didn't get to see until a few years later on VHS. But the film's message was still relevant for me: school sucks, let's rock! (Come to think of it, that message is still relevant.)




57%
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Rotten

Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey

In 1991, Bill S. Prestion, and "Ted" Theodore Logan returned to the big screen (after the surprising success of their first Excellent Adventure in 1989). This time around, instead of bouncing through time, our goofy heroes must conquer Death himself (it turns out Death is no expert at Battleship, Clue, Twister, or electric football), just so that they can play in the Fourth Annual San Dimas Battle of the Bands. It's hinted in the first film that Bill & Ted's band, Wyld Stallyns, changed the world with Rock and Roll, but we don't really see that start to happen until Bogus Journey, when they play Argent's God Gave Rock and Roll to You. Personally, I think a big part of how Wyld Stallyns changes the world has to do with the fact that they've got the Martian Station on board, and more importantly, Death himself. I could go off on a long tangent about the philosophical and metaphysical implications of having Death play bass in your rock band, but suffice to say that if the Grim Reaper himself is touring with you, you probably really could change the world.




Tim Ryan, Senior Editor

100%
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Woodstock

This summer marked the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, and with it came a flurry of media retrospectives. However, whether the mother of all rock fests was a cultural milestone or an overhyped, muddy bummer is beside the point at this late date, thanks to Michael Wadleigh's vivid, immersive documentary Woodstock. With its three-panel split screens and its four-hour runtime, no film has ever captured the multiple facets of a rock concert with as mush stylistic aplomb and tactile panache. The obvious draw here are the musical performances, many of which have become legendary (Carlos Santana's mind-bending guitar work on "Soul Sacrifice," the Who's thunderous run through Tommy, and of course, Jimi Hendrix's explosive, oddly reverent take on "The Star Spangled Banner"). However, what makes Woodstock a great film is that it gives equal weight to the crowd -- 400,000 strong and each one convinced that the world is changing for the better. Though the overall tone is communal and celebratory, a certain sadness seeps in: given the immediacy of the film, it comes as a poignant realization to know that the concertgoers, who wouldn't look out of place at a Fleet Foxes or Devendra Banhart show are now only a few years shy of receiving social security benefits.




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Fresh

DIG!

You might not think you need to see a documentary about the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, but you do. Ondi Timoner's Dig! is a lively, ironic chronicle of two bands that go from friends to rivals, but what makes the whole thing perversely compelling is the presence of the BJM's Anton Newcombe, an unhinged, self-sabotaging antihero for the ages. While the Dandys chart a respectable career path, the BJM continuously implode from Newcombe's ranting, raging, and onstage dustups with audiences and bandmates. Though it exerts the train-wreck fascination of a real life Spian Tap, Dig! also has something to say about the nature of success; it's further proof (if any were needed) that talent is often less important than professionalism in the music biz.




Alex Vo, Editor

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High Fidelity

The universe of the music snob is an odd one, and High Fidelity shows it all with easy-cool swagger, romanticizing its heroes just as often as it exposes them for the absorbed, self-aggrandizing jerks they really are. But beneath the convoluted musical discussions and John Cusack's honorable pursuit of the ultimate mixtape lies an insanely sweet romantic comedy, about one's age old quest to recapture lost love (Cusack nails this role, his droopy, sad-sack eyes perfectly capturing a man crushed by life and an obscene vinyl collection). And while it's hip to dismiss co-star Jack Black as loud and overexposed, in 2000 he was still an unknown force of nature. In one of my all-time favorite movie moments, he flips the crowd on its head with a surprise, golden-throated rendition of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On."




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Stop Making Sense

Each year in Talking Heads' existence seemed to find them in a radically different place; theirs was one long evolution from tweaked metropolitan rock to New Wave pleasure pop. Stop Making Sense captured them in their most exciting incarnation, when the four-piece expanded to a crowded stage ensemble, complete with a polyrhythmic rhythm section and a big Afrobeat sound. The Heads hired an equally exciting director in Jonathan Demme, and the result is a scorching experience that gives the concert film a full cinematic treatment. Tight editing, beautiful cinematography and even more beautiful music, and one really big suit makes for a rare 1980s gem that's never lost its polish. (And you're in luck: it just got re-released on Blu-Ray!)



Comments

Brandon O.

Brandon Olaisen

No love for Almost Famous?

Oct 26 - 04:07 PM

Gridz21

Patrick Mullen

This list is missing Tommy, La Bamba, Pink Floyd The Wall, and A Hard Day's Night. Good call on Blues Brothers, Wayne's World, and Quadrophenia though.

Oct 30 - 03:37 PM

Mike F.

mike falconi

almost famous???????

Oct 26 - 04:10 PM

mufflermachinegun

stephen riddle

"Once" is about as rock n' roll as going to bed at a decent hour. Was hoping to see "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" on here, but glad "Dig!" got some props.

Oct 26 - 04:10 PM

Dr.Sabotage

nathaniel combs

Why is there no Almost Famous, Rock Star, or The Wall?

Oct 26 - 04:17 PM

Park M.

Park Mohler

The Wall and I'm Not There belong on this list, for certain.

Oct 26 - 04:22 PM

chille

doctor awesome

A Hard Day's Night?

Oct 26 - 04:24 PM

tomwaitsjrHAPPYICONOCLAST

Greg Guro

Stop Making Sense is one of my top 10 favorite films of all-time.

OF ALL TIMES

I've seen it, or had it on in the background, countless times. Only problem is when TOM TOM CLUB's annoying as hell song, GENIUS OF LOVE, is played, but I've grown adept at skipping it. . .

Oct 26 - 04:32 PM

josuepilk

Josue Pilk

Major props to Stop Making Sense, David Byrne was the leading man of the 80s. Tom Waits Jr., you may be the coolest guy I've never met. For anyone looking for an entirely different view of the Rock n' Roll lifestyle, I would recommend New York Doll.

Oct 26 - 04:44 PM

tomwaitsjrHAPPYICONOCLAST

Greg Guro

josuepilk,

Thanks for the compliment! And yah, I have the movie NEW YORK DOLL in my instant viewing queue on NETFLIX, but as you point them out, I'll try to see it sooner rather than later.

I also sent you a private RT message.

Oct 26 - 05:36 PM

Dave J

Dave J

the last waltz

Oct 26 - 04:47 PM

amir m.

amir mishali

yes! where is the last waltz?

Oct 27 - 06:26 AM

Zak

Zak Lopopolo

No Almost Famous, A Hard Day's Night, or even This Is Spinal Tap?

Oct 26 - 05:02 PM

TheEmoPianist

Christopher Runyon

Almost Famous?
A Hard Day's Night?
This Is Spinal Tap?
The Wall?
NOT EVEN SCHOOL OF ROCK?!?!

Oct 26 - 05:04 PM

RT-Matchity

Matt Atchity

Keep in mind, we were picking our own personal faves this time around. I couldn't force anyone to pick one of those movies as their favorite.

Oct 26 - 05:26 PM

will s.

will stamp

oh MAAAN. I was gunna say spinal tap! ya'llssz STOLE it from me. ya JERKS.

Oct 26 - 05:20 PM

RT-Matchity

Matt Atchity

Keep in mind, we were picking our own personal faves this time around. I couldn't force anyone to pick one of those movies as their favorite.

Oct 26 - 05:26 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

I'd have to go with This is Spinal Tap, but others worthy of note...

The Doors,
Tommy
Top Secret
Air Heads

Oct 26 - 05:28 PM

RT-Matchity

Matt Atchity

Air Heads? Really?

Oct 26 - 05:39 PM

Brandotalks

Dave Callaghan

AirHeads rocks!!! If you don't like it, "your all woohoo and sh*t!"
That dance Adam Sandler does when walks out and the cop is waiting cracks me up everytime! The late Chris Farley as the cop in the bar. Micheal McKean as the sleezy programing director. Micheal Richards pre-Sienfield, David Arquette as the stoner(and provider of the quote above), the person I didn't really like was Brendan Fraser.
It is most definately to taken with some nice skunkage.

Oct 27 - 01:13 AM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

I know, but there's something just so wonderfully 80's hairband about it, plus a great cast for such a plainly unambitious movie.

Eddie and the Cruisers, it's a guilty pleasure as a crappy B movie.

Oct 27 - 05:39 AM

Jamie E.

Jamie Evans

The problem with these lists is everyone's top ten is different. Some of us saw a movie at a certain time, that no matter how crappy it is, it is still on of our favorites. I remember 'Eddie and the Cruisers' being one of those movies. I think I saw it when I was about 10.
'This is Spinal Tap' should definitely be on there as well as one or two Beatles movies. 'The Doors' was also a great movie.

Oct 29 - 09:42 AM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Oh and Anvil, the story of Anvil.

Oct 26 - 05:31 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Great Balls of Fire...sorry last one.

Oct 26 - 05:34 PM

tomwaitsjrHAPPYICONOCLAST

Greg Guro

josuepilk,

Thanks for the compliment! And yah, I have the movie NEW YORK DOLL in my instant viewing queue on NETFLIX, but as you point them out, I'll try to see it sooner rather than later.

I also sent you a private RT message.

Oct 26 - 05:36 PM

JohnnyJonJon

Jonathan Groen

This is going to sound really cheesy, but I would pick The Buddy Holly Story as one of my faves. Where else can you see Gary Busey rock it out and is actually....good? Also, props to Once, This is Spinal Tap, and School of Rock.

Oct 26 - 05:38 PM

RT-Matchity

Matt Atchity

Air Heads? Really?

Oct 26 - 05:39 PM

Brandotalks

Dave Callaghan

AirHeads rocks!!! If you don't like it, "your all woohoo and sh*t!"
That dance Adam Sandler does when walks out and the cop is waiting cracks me up everytime! The late Chris Farley as the cop in the bar. Micheal McKean as the sleezy programing director. Micheal Richards pre-Sienfield, David Arquette as the stoner(and provider of the quote above), the person I didn't really like was Brendan Fraser.
It is most definately to taken with some nice skunkage.

Oct 27 - 01:13 AM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

I know, but there's something just so wonderfully 80's hairband about it, plus a great cast for such a plainly unambitious movie.

Eddie and the Cruisers, it's a guilty pleasure as a crappy B movie.

Oct 27 - 05:39 AM

Jamie E.

Jamie Evans

The problem with these lists is everyone's top ten is different. Some of us saw a movie at a certain time, that no matter how crappy it is, it is still on of our favorites. I remember 'Eddie and the Cruisers' being one of those movies. I think I saw it when I was about 10.
'This is Spinal Tap' should definitely be on there as well as one or two Beatles movies. 'The Doors' was also a great movie.

Oct 29 - 09:42 AM

David S.

David Schwartz

The Commitments? Maybe it's a Soul movie instead of a Rock n Roll movie...

Oct 26 - 05:53 PM

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