The 20 Greatest Classic Rock Movies of All Time

The 20 Greatest Classic Rock Movies of All Time | Society Of Rock Videos

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Every so often, a rock movie will come along to the nation’s theaters, and music fans hope it will launch a revival of the genre. There have been rock movies since the explosion of rock and roll in the ’50s, and such films have provided great visuals for the music long before we had MTV.

Rock movies had their heyday in the ’60s and ’70s. Whether it was the advent of MTV, or the current phenomenon of pay-per-view concerts, there hasn’t been a truly great rock movie in quite some time, and it seems that every 10 years or so a new one comes along that fans hope can lead the resurgence, whether it’s “The Doors,” “Almost Famous,” “The Runaways,” or the latest biopic of “Elvis,” which Warner Brothers released on June 24.

While a rock movie revival is long overdue, there have been many great rock films throughout history that hold up very well today. Here’s our list of the greatest rock films in history, from the ’50s to the ’00s.

1. Jailhouse Rock (1957)

“Jailhouse Rock” stands as a pivotal moment in the history of rock and roll cinema. Released in 1957, the film features none other than the legendary Elvis Presley in the role of Vince Everett, a character who undergoes a remarkable transformation from a jailbird to a bona fide rock star.

At the heart of the film is Elvis’ electrifying portrayal of Vince Everett. The King, as he would later be crowned, brings both charisma and an undeniable musical talent to the screen. His on-screen presence is magnetic, and it’s no surprise that his performance in “Jailhouse Rock” contributed significantly to his status as an icon of rock and roll.


2. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)


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“A Hard Day’s Night” is not just a film; it’s a time machine that transports viewers to the heart of Beatlemania in the early 1960s. Directed by Richard Lester, this cinematic gem offers an intimate and exhilarating glimpse into the meteoric rise of the world’s most iconic band, The Beatles.

Released in 1964, at the height of Beatlemania, the film captures the Fab Four—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr—during a crucial period in their history. At this point, they were transitioning from beloved British rockers to global superstars, and the film chronicles the whirlwind of excitement, chaos, and music that surrounded them.


3. Woodstock (1970)


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“Woodstock” is not just a documentary; it’s a time capsule that transports viewers to one of the most iconic moments in American history and rock music culture. Directed by Michael Wadleigh, this film is a vivid and immersive portrayal of the legendary 1969 Woodstock Festival, a three-day event that defined a generation.

Released in 1970, the documentary captures the essence of a critical moment in American history. The Woodstock Festival, held in upstate New York, was a gathering of nearly half a million people who came together to celebrate peace, love, and music. It was a counter-cultural phenomenon that symbolized the ideals and aspirations of the late 1960s.


4. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)


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“Phantom of the Paradise” is a cinematic gem that defies categorization, blending elements of horror, comedy, rock musical, and biting satire. Directed by Brian De Palma, this 1974 cult classic takes a darkly humorous and unconventional look at the music industry and the excesses of the rock and roll scene.

At its core, “Phantom of the Paradise” is a retelling of classic tales like “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Faust.” It weaves a narrative that’s equal parts sinister and absurd, making it a unique addition to the world of rock cinema.


5. Tommy (1975)

“Tommy” is an audacious cinematic interpretation of The Who’s iconic rock opera of the same name. Directed by Ken Russell, this 1975 film takes audiences on a visually groundbreaking and freewheeling journey through the wild and eccentric world of “Tommy.”

The rock opera “Tommy” was already a groundbreaking concept album when The Who released it in 1969, and the film adaptation aimed to push creative boundaries even further. While many were skeptical of Russell, known for his love of classical music, taking on the project, his unique vision brought a new dimension to the material.


6. The Last Waltz (1978)


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“The Last Waltz,” directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese, is an iconic concert film that documents The Band’s final performance, making it a must-see for music lovers and cinephiles alike. Released in 1978, this film captures a historic moment in rock and roll history and is considered one of the greatest concert films ever made.

The Band, a Canadian-American rock group, decided to call it quits after 16 years of performing together. To mark this momentous occasion, they organized a farewell concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on November 25, 1976. What makes “The Last Waltz” truly special is not only The Band’s extraordinary performance but also the presence of an array of music legends who joined them on stage as special guests.


7. Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

“Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” is a delightfully fun and rebellious rock and roll film from 1979 that adds a punk twist to the classic genre. Directed by Allan Arkush and featuring the iconic punk band The Ramones, this movie is a must-see for music enthusiasts and fans of irreverent comedy.

The film is set in Vince Lombardi High School, where music-loving students rebel against the oppressive school administration led by Principal Togar, played by the talented Mary Woronov. The heart of the rebellion lies in the music of The Ramones, who provide the film’s electrifying soundtrack and make spirited appearances throughout the story.


8. Quadrophenia (1979)


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“Quadrophenia,” released in 1979, is a gritty and compelling portrayal of English youth and the turbulent Mods vs. Rockers conflict of the 1960s. Directed by Franc Roddam and based on The Who’s rock opera of the same name, the film masterfully captures the essence of teen alienation and rebellion during a tumultuous era.

At the heart of the film is a young protagonist named Jimmy, portrayed by Phil Daniels, who navigates the complex social landscape of working-class London. Jimmy’s struggle to find his identity and purpose in a society marked by class divisions and generational clashes forms the emotional core of the story.


9. Airheads (1994)


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“Airheads,” directed by Michael Lehmann, is a raucous comedy that follows the misadventures of a struggling metal band known as The Lone Rangers. Frustrated by their inability to get their demo tape heard by radio stations, the band hatches a wild and ill-conceived plot to gain attention: they decide to take the radio station’s DJ and other staff hostage in a bid to force the station to play their music. What could possibly go wrong?

The film is a humorous and satirical take on the music industry, particularly the challenges faced by aspiring bands trying to break into the mainstream. The Lone Rangers, played by Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler, are a lovable bunch of misfits who are passionate about their music but are struggling to find an audience.


10. Singles (1992)

“Singles,” directed by Cameron Crowe, offers a quintessential cinematic snapshot of the grunge era in the early ’90s. Set against the backdrop of Seattle, this film delves into the lives, relationships, and aspirations of a group of twentysomethings navigating the complexities of love and adulthood. It’s a tale of music, romance, and self-discovery, all set to a backdrop of a radio-friendly grunge soundtrack.

At the center of the film is a cast of characters, each grappling with their own unique challenges and dreams. Matt Dillon plays Cliff Poncier, the lead singer of the fictional band Citizen Dick, whose music embodies the grunge sound of the era. While Citizen Dick may not be the next big thing in the music scene, their presence adds an authentic touch to the film’s portrayal of the Seattle music scene.


11. School of Rock (2003)

“School of Rock,” directed by Richard Linklater, is a heartwarming comedy that celebrates the transformative power of music and the joy it brings to people’s lives. This 2003 film stars the charismatic Jack Black in a role that perfectly suits his infectious energy and comedic talents.

The story revolves around Dewey Finn (Jack Black), a down-on-his-luck musician with dreams of rock stardom. When he impersonates his roommate and lands a substitute teaching job at a prestigious private school, Dewey discovers an opportunity to merge his passion for rock music with his newfound teaching responsibilities.


12. The Runaways (2010)


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“The Runaways” is a biographical drama film directed by Floria Sigismondi that delves into the captivating and groundbreaking story of the all-girl teenage rock band, The Runaways. Released in 2010, this film provides an engaging and visually striking portrayal of the band’s rise to fame in the male-dominated world of rock and roll.

The film is centered around the lives of Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning) and Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart), two of the band’s key members, as they navigate the challenges and opportunities that come with their newfound stardom. At its core, “The Runaways” explores themes of empowerment, rebellion, and the enduring spirit of rock music.


13. Back to the Future (1985)

“Back to the Future,” directed by Robert Zemeckis and released in 1985, is a beloved iconic film that blends science fiction, time travel, and the timeless appeal of rock and roll. At its heart, the film is a thrilling adventure that explores the consequences of altering the past while celebrating the power of music to change one’s destiny.

The film’s protagonist, Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox), is a young musician with a passion for rock and roll. Marty’s life takes an unexpected turn when he is accidentally transported back in time to the 1950s, thanks to the eccentric inventor Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) and a time-traveling DeLorean car. Marty finds himself in a world where he encounters his teenage parents and must ensure that they fall in love to secure his own existence.


14. Wayne’s World (1992)


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“Wayne’s World,” directed by Penelope Spheeris and released in 1992, is a comedic gem that brilliantly blends humor, rock ‘n’ roll, and pop culture. Based on a popular “Saturday Night Live” sketch, the film hilariously pokes fun at and pays tribute to the legends of rock ‘n’ roll, all while leaving a lasting impression with its unforgettable “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along scene.

The film follows the misadventures of Wayne Campbell (played by Mike Myers) and his best friend Garth Algar (played by Dana Carvey), two lovable slackers who host a public access cable TV show called “Wayne’s World” from Wayne’s basement in Aurora, Illinois. The show primarily features the duo discussing music, pop culture, and their zany antics.


15. Dazed and Confused (1993)


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“Dazed and Confused,” directed by Richard Linklater and released in 1993, is a coming-of-age film that masterfully captures the spirit of the 1970s and the quintessential teenage experience. One of its standout features is its unforgettable soundtrack, which serves as a time capsule of the era’s music and culture.

The film is set on the last day of high school in 1976 and follows a diverse ensemble of students as they navigate the challenges and freedoms of youth on the cusp of adulthood. It explores the themes of rebellion, camaraderie, and the pursuit of fun during the long, hazy summer night.


16. The Blues Brothers (1980)


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“The Blues Brothers,” released in 1980, is a remarkable musical comedy that combines humor, music, and a soulful mission in a truly unforgettable way. Directed by John Landis and starring John Belushi as Jake Blues and Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues, the film revolves around their outrageous journey to save an orphanage while navigating a world of eccentric characters and legendary musical performances.

The premise is delightfully simple: Jake and Elwood, two brothers with a passion for blues music, set out on a mission from God to raise money for the financially struggling St. Helen of the Blessed Shroud Orphanage, where they were raised. To achieve their goal, they must reunite their old band and put on a massive concert.


17. Almost Famous (2000)


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“Almost Famous,” a semi-autobiographical film by director Cameron Crowe, takes audiences on a nostalgic journey through the exhilarating world of rock ‘n’ roll in the early 1970s. This coming-of-age film, released in 2000, offers a heartfelt and authentic portrayal of a young journalist’s remarkable adventure on the road with a rock band, capturing both the highs and lows of the music industry.

The story revolves around William Miller, a young and aspiring music journalist played by Patrick Fugit. William’s passion for music and writing leads him on an extraordinary assignment: to accompany the fictional rock band Stillwater on their tour for Rolling Stone magazine. Armed with a notepad, pen, and his wide-eyed curiosity, William embarks on a journey that will change his life forever.


18. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)


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“This Is Spinal Tap” stands as an enduring masterpiece of mockumentary filmmaking, delivering a side-splitting and incisive portrayal of a fictional heavy metal band that strikes a nerve with musicians of all genres. Directed by Rob Reiner, this cult classic offers a timeless and uproarious satire of the music industry.

The film brilliantly parodies the excesses, absurdities, and inner workings of the rock and roll world, focusing on the fictional band Spinal Tap. The band members—David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer)—embark on a chaotic tour of the United States, documenting their misadventures, egos, and comedic mishaps along the way.


19. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)


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“The Man Who Fell to Earth” stands as a mesmerizing and unconventional sci-fi masterpiece that showcases the otherworldly talents of the iconic David Bowie. Directed by Nicolas Roeg, this film tells a haunting and visually stunning tale of an extraterrestrial being’s journey on Earth, and Bowie’s performance as the alien protagonist is nothing short of remarkable.

At the heart of the film is Bowie’s portrayal of Thomas Jerome Newton, an enigmatic figure who crash-lands on Earth from an alien planet. With his ethereal presence, androgynous beauty, and unique charm, Bowie brings an eerie and captivating quality to the character. His performance goes beyond the realms of traditional acting, embodying the essence of a being who is both alien and profoundly human.


20. The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

“The Buddy Holly Story” is a biographical film that celebrates the life and enduring music of one of rock and roll’s most influential pioneers, Buddy Holly. Directed by Steve Rash, the film is anchored by a remarkable performance by Gary Busey, who brings the iconic musician to life with uncanny accuracy.

Released in 1978, the film chronicles the meteoric rise of Buddy Holly, a young musician from Lubbock, Texas, who played a pivotal role in shaping the early landscape of rock and roll. Gary Busey’s portrayal of Holly is nothing short of transformative. He not only captures Holly’s distinctive physical appearance but also channels his energetic stage presence and heartfelt musical talent.

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