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The 50 Greatest Rock and Roll Movies of All Time

on March 04, 2019, 6:00am
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40. Sing Street (2016)

 The 50 Greatest Rock and Roll Movies of All Time

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

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39. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

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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

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38. La Bamba (1987)

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“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

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37. Sid and Nancy (1986)

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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

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36. The Wedding Singer (1998)

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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

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35. 24 Hour Party People (2002)

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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

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34. Singles (1992)

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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

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33. Nashville (1975)

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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

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32. End of the Century (2003)

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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

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31. Once (2007)

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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

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