The musical genre known as rock and roll (often stylized as rock ‘n roll) is believed to have originated in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This soon-to-be-iconic style of music developed from several African-American music traditions, including jazz, blues, R&B, gospel, and others. However, this early rock and roll was far different from some of the iconic bands that would emerge in later decades. In fact, the record that’s considered to be the first rock ‘n roll record by most is “Rocket 88” by African-American artists Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats, and this record is a far cry from the music of well-known rock and roll groups like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones.
Over the long history of rock and roll, the genre has seen a ton of different variations and offshoots. However, a few things remain consistent among all rock ‘n roll bands. Their music comes from the soul, it makes you want to move, and it embodies a spirit of rebellion. And, for these reasons exactly, rock ‘n roll music and the groups that play it are great raw material for film directors.
Yes, the exciting aura around rock ‘n roll music translates beautifully to the silver screen. So, it’s no surprise that some of the most iconic movies in cinematic history have been movies about rock ‘n roll. But, in this article, we’re going to narrow it down to the best of the best and run through the 6 best rock ‘n roll movies of all time.
1. School of Rock
If you were born in the United States in the 1990s, then the 2003 film School of Rock is almost certainly a memorable part of your childhood. The concept of the film is one of the most ingenious ever devised by a screenwriter. A school hires a substitute teacher to cover a class for a few weeks. But, when the certified substitute teacher doesn’t show up, who shows up instead? His rock ‘n roll-obsessed roommate who’s looking to put a band together.
The success of this film was aided by one of the most outrageous performances ever from Jack Black. His character, Dewey Finn, formulates a plan to form a kick-ass rock band from the kids at Horace Green prep school, and he actually succeeds. With such an ingenious plot, amazon performances from Jack Black and a bunch of pre-teen actors (including Miranda Cosgrove), and an unforgettable soundtrack, I’d venture to say that School of Rock is the best rock n’ roll movie of all time.
2. Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny
Another film starring Jack Black, Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny is every bit as wild and unpredictable as Jack Black’s antics, and every bit as badass as the rock ‘n roll genre. Black stars as a kid named Jables alongside his Tenacious D bandmate Kyle Gass, who plays a kid named Kage. Yes, Tenacious D is a real band that plays real shows. However, the events portrayed in this film are anything but real.
Together Jables and Kage learn the deepest secret of rock ‘n roll: all of the great guitarists used the same pick (the “Pick of Destiny”). After stealing the pick from the Rock & Roll History Museum, they somehow find themselves in a “rock-off” with Satan himself that will determine the fate of the Earth.
3. The Doors
If you’re looking for something a bit more serious than the last two films to make it on this list, then you may want to check out the 1991 film The Doors. This film details the rise and fall of the enigmatic rock group The Doors, the band responsible for “Light My Fire”, “Riders on the Storm”, and countless others. While the events of the film are far from the real story of Jim Morrison’s life and death (and more of an “impressionist painting” of his life in the words of director Oliver Stone), this film is still most definitely worth watching.
Morrison is played by Val Kilmer who, on top of bearing a striking resemblance to the singer, delivers an unbelievably captivating performance. The film feels raw, dangerous, and thrilling. Even if you don’t love the music of The Doors, I can guarantee that you’ll enjoy this movie..
While many consider Blaze Foley to be a singer-songwriter in the country genre, I’d say that his music definitely borders on rock ‘n roll at the very least (and at least enough to include this amazing film on this list). The 2018 film Blaze is one of the most beautiful, gut-wrenchingly sad, and heartwarming movies I’ve ever seen. Oh, and the entire film features incredible music from start to finish.
The movie stars Ben Dickey as Blaze Foley, the greatest name in rock ‘n roll and country music that no one’s ever heard of. Blaze was a major driver in the Texas Outlaw Music movement and was a major collaborator with Townes Van Zandt (a considerably more well-known name). His song “If I Could Only Fly” was covered by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, his song “Election Day” was covered by Lyle Lovett, and (most famously) his song “Clay Pigeons” was covered by John Prine. Blaze Foley is an unsung hero of rock ‘n roll and this film is a melancholy testament to his life and influence.
5. This Is Spinal Tap
Going back in time, the 1984 mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap is definitely one of the most hilarious movies about rock and roll ever made. The film stars Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer as a fictional band called Spinal Tap that goes on a tour that proves to be very eventful. Billed as “one of England’s loudest bands”, Spinal Tap is far more concerned with their appearances and the volume of their speakers than actual musical artistry.
This film is so genius because it pokes fun at nearly every type of rockstar. There’s a hair metal phase of Spinal Tap, they get into the Flower Power movement, and the band is even broken apart because of a girlfriend who’s obsessed with yoga and meditation (which is what many claim caused the end of The Beatles). This Is Spinal Tap takes a jab at all of your favorite rock bands and will have you laughing for its entire duration.
6. Walk the Line
Of course, a movie about Johnny Cash starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon is going to be one of the best rock ‘n roll movies of all time. The 2005 film Walk the Line is the heartbreaking story of the life and death of Johnny Cash, a tormented rockstar whose difficult childhood followed him through his entire life. This movie depicts depression, the rise to fame, substance abuse, and love in an extremely believable and relatable way. Truly, it’s almost impossible not to cry at least once while watching this film.
This biographical drama was directed by James Mangold, who’s also well-known for Girl, Interrupted and 3:10 to Yuma. The film first premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and won Best Actress at the Academy Awards for Reese Witherspoon’’s performance. Joaquin Phoenix was also nominated for Best Actor that same year but didn’t win. All in all, this film will tug at your heartstrings and keep you engaged the entire time.