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The 50 Greatest Rock and Roll Movies of All Time

on February 13, 2018, 12:05pm
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10. Wayne’s World (1992)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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

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