There are so many music-themed films that are worth viewing. This list lacks documentaries, as all these films are related to music but not necessarily a factual documentation of musical events, times or places. All these films bleed music, it is coursing through their veins, and isn’t just distantly related to music- or features a main character that is a musician but little else music related. but most importantly, they are ALL worth watching. Some are entirely true, some are largely fictitious, but each one takes the best of the medium of music and turns it into a phenomenal film where a lot can be learned- and listened to.
- The Doors (1991)
This early 90′s film based on the life of The Doors, particularly Jim Morrison, was directed by Oliver Stone, and met with fantastic reviews. Despite the filing being infamously dramatized and exaggerated, there is a spirit in the film, and remains relatively faithful to earning insight into the life of a true rockstar. The film is very centered on the famous front man, who arguably has the most fascinating story to tell. The Doors have quite a history to them, and are favorites in the documentary and biopic. But even if you’re not a fan, there’s enough substance here to make the watch worthwhile, something you can learn from. Consider it a book on what NOT to do if you want to live, and what TO do if you want Oliver Stone to make a movie about you.
- The Blues Brothers (1980)
This classic Saturday Night Live bit from John Belushi and Dan Akroyd turned into a classic
music film that has developed into a cultural iconic piece of history. And now, over 30 years later, we can look back at The Blues Brothers as a representation of soul, R&B, and Blues, before the 80′s even begin. The movie may see
m a LITTLE dated, but it’s relevant enough to warrant a watch through so many years later, at the very least it
gives you an interesting take of the music of the times in a way only these two comedians can.
- Taking Woodstock (2009)
Taking Woodstock wasn’t generally well received, or massively popular, but its faithful representation of the Woodstock Festival deserves a mention, as it is a fantastic story that holds dear the ideological and cultural implications of the 70′s. There are many hippes, many self-indulgent mockeries of the 70′s jam session aesthetic, and namedrops of all the big acts of the era (and Dylan’s famous absence). The film is truly a trip to watch, and something to admire for its pioneering status. It’s from director Ang Lee who brought us gay cowboys and Chinese samurais. And now added to the repertoire- gay festival starters. Demetri Martin plays Elliot Tiber in this true story of Woodstock’s beginnings.
- Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
This movie is not only hysterical, but has music in its heart and soul. It’s sort of a commentary on various music persona’s, having elements from the life and personality of Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Jim Morrison to name a few. It also stars John C. Reilly (opposite Will Ferrell in Step Brothers) and Jenna Fischer of The Office. Regardless of a friendly cast, some well-placed cameos, Walk Hard is breathing music and shows that sometimes it’s better to take a lighthearted approach to the art of reminiscing old school rock n roll.
- Amadeus (1984)
Its less contemporary than most of the picks here, it does bring to life a gorgeous story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in the mid 19th century. Mozart, throughout the film, is one of the most enthralling characters in film history, and holds this film from great to phenomenal. It also has a lot of classical music. Like all the films listed, it’s core is music. But a classical approach to the topic weaves an interesting and unique perspective unseen in many films. it’s also historically appeasing and accurate. You’ll feel as if you can play the piano better after this 2 1/2 hour story is told- and maybe a little smarter too!
- 8 Mile (2002)
There are very few films about hip hop, and especially good ones. but Eminem managed to do what few rappers can do well, and that is act. (50 Cent tried and god was that rough to watch). Though Eminem has admitted the film is dramatized and only partly true, it is still effective in its message and scope. And though there is a much larger story to tell, it is music and hip hop that drives the character forward through this debut acting performance by the rapper himself.
- I’m Still Here (2010)
This inclusion is particularly odd, because it is a fairly new film that doesn’t seem to rely on music to drive the story. Joaquin Phoenix thought it smart to, in 2006, announce his retirement from acting and begin a career in hip hop. Though it sounds absurd, it was believable enough to justify a hoax on fans and the media alike. Despite this, the movie does have a strong grounding in music, with cameos by P. Diddy and Mos Def. Phoenix pursues a hip hop career with an apparent serious intent, and it does reveal the difficulty of producing a hit- with some laughs and naked men along the way.
believe this movie will come to be respected more in later years, but for now, it remains a bizarre and intrepid account of a man who experiences in the culture of music and drugs, and flounders to an awkward reveal and a blurred message of reality.
- This is Spinal Tap (1984)
This “mockumentary” film truly is a classic. It has one-liners that are still said to this day, and gives you an insightful outlook on the music industry as much, if not more so, than any true documentary. Spinal Tap wasn’t particularly a real band before and during this film, but they did tour and make a follow-up album based on the idea of Spinal Tap. It’s funny, but it’s also eerily familiar for those who understand musical culture and social dynamics. The guys argue, the guys get shafted by labels, and through all the laughs and all the satirical points, there is a line of truth embedded in each and every scene.
- 24 Hour Party People (2002)
If you ask a music fan what period of music and place would they hope they could go to, they may say Seattle’s grunge scene, the LA glam rock scene- maybe the African tribal scene thousand of years ago. But after watching 24 Hour Party People, they may have to pick Manchester’s scene in the late 70′s and 80′s- spearheaded by Factory Records mastermind, Tony Wilson.
The film chronicles the punk rock era in Britain, and the rise and fall of Factory Records, whose turbulent nature made for an uneasy company, but a fantastic film. The film is notable for being part myth, rumors, and substantiated fact. Bands like Joy Division and the Happy Mondays make appearances and drive the plot. There’s also a whole collection of cameos for those in the know. Maybe for a drinking game with your musically inclined friends?
- Once (2006)
Being a small-time musician is a rough gig. You play sets on the street with a flipped over hat, maybe a show for 14 people at a small pub in the city. The trials and errors of a man and his guitar have never been reflected better than in Once, an Irish film released to global critical acclaim. Though the film is not based on any one individual in particular, it does offer a look into the struggles of being a musician, wrought with a love story and driving spirit of song- it’s a fantastic film that gives power to music.
- Control (2007)
Joy Division are popular in the biopic genre. Ian Curtis famed suicide and story has lent a whole group of music fans to wish the days of Joy Division’s longevity. And yet, with only two albums to the band’s name, they have spawned a few films- Control being the most superior. With a gorgeous visual style, impeccably acting, and a notoriously faithful story to the true events, Control offers us a glance into the band during their rise and the inevitable death of their front man. it’s a character story drowning in music, and can be argued as one of the best pictures in the genre.
- High Fidelity (2000)
For old school music fans, there is nothing better than a legitimate record store. The dank smell, the spinning vinyl, and the music nerds who argue about the obscurity of their favorite artists. yet in High Fidelity, you have all these attributes put together into a clusterfuck of storytelling genius. The soundtrack is phenomenal as well, and 11 years later, it reflects the dying record store and the consummation of music in a rapidly evolving culture.
- Ray (2004)
There isn’t much to say Jamie Fox’s performance of Ray Charles in “Ray” that hasn’t already been said. he gives a life and energy to the soul music pioneer. Crafting an indelible sound in the art of molding genres together, and having a beautifully romantic and endearing story to boot, Ray Charles truly is a legend in the world of music and the film portrays this honestly and with triumphant appeal.
- Walk the Line (2005)
Before Joaquin Phoenix made “I’m Still Here” and baffled just about everyone, he gave us a performance of the decade in Walk the Line, the chronicles of Johnny Cash. The man was no stranger to drama, womanizing, and the creation of gorgeous country rock music that has everlasting appeal. it was also nominated for 5 Academy Awards, and is considered one of the best biopics in history, let alone music. As for the actual story, it’s an interweaving piece into Johnny cash as a man, his struggles with writing and simply existing where his popularity and drug use nearly swallowed him whole as it has done to so many rock stars in history.
- Almost Famous (2000)
Almost Famous is just as much a film about journalism and coming of age as it is about music. Working for Rolling Stone, William Miller tours with a fictitious band, and learns as much about the world of music as the viewer. We grow with him- we witness the worst and the best of human relationships with him, and we learn it all in a shell of music through the early 70′s. It’s a beautiful film that takes the best elements of music-oriented film- learning about the culture while understanding what the character is going through and hopefully taking something away from it all. Almost Famous is surrounded in the world of music, but shows the seedy underbelly of being a musician with influence, money, and talent.