This weekend sees the release of two musically-themed movies, with alt-rock superstar Billie Eilish's new Apple TV+ documentary, "Billie Eilish: The World's a Little Blurry," and Hulu's award contender "The United States vs. Billie Holiday," featuring a breakout performance from singer/songwriter Andra Day, who transforms into jazz legend Billie Holiday. We're here to help you keep the music going with our picks for more rockin' and rollin' movies, from hot docs and biopics to great stories with a killer backbeat. And, of course our list goes to 11!
1This Is Spinal Tap
Filmmaker Marty Di Bergi (Rob Reiner) takes us behind the scenes on a tour gone wrong with one of England's loudest bands, as their popularity wanes, the venues get smaller, and their fan base more niche. This classic mockumentary from Reiner rang very true for actual performers, as scenes from the movie (such as getting lost behind the stage) actually happened to real-life rockers like Robert Plant and Ozzy Osbourne.
Cameron Crowe's semi-autobiographical drama follows a teen writer as he lands the gig of a lifetime writing for "Rolling Stone" magazine while touring with the (fictional) band Stillwater. Crowe had a similar gig as a teen and based Stillwater on a number of different bands that he actually toured with and wrote about, including the Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd. It all culminates with that unforgettable scene when the road-weary warriors belt out Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" on the tour bus...
3Pink Floyd - The Wall
Pink Floyd's filmed companion to their 1979 album "The Wall" plays like a 95-minute long music video. Live action sequences – most prominently featuring rocker Bob Geldof – are mixed with surrealist animation and existential metaphors, producing a musical journey like none other. Hammers march, birds of prey become WWII bombers, and a rocker named Pink (Geldof) gets lost in his head. It all reaches a peak with Pink in his hotel room becoming "Comfortably Numb," before his "In the Flesh" rebirth, because, well, "The Show Must Go On." It's a trip, for sure – just make sure your mind's prepared.
Pink Floyd - The Wall
Drama / 1982 / R
The Altamont Raceway concert in 1969 was meant to be the West Coast's answer to the peace and love fest that came earlier that summer at Woodstock. What transpired, however, was a concert event that was anything but, mainly due to "security" provided by biker gang Hells Angels. Acclaimed documentarians Albert and David Maysles take us through the fire and fury, with a prominent focus on headliners the Rolling Stones. Interesting side fact: a young George Lucas was one of the camera operators. The concert was put on in December of 1969, and in many ways the free spirit of the '60s died that night, in the final weeks of the decade.
5A Hard Day's Night
The Beatles play caricatures of themselves in a faux day in the life of the biggest band of the '60s. The musical comedy features many hit songs that would be featured on the companion soundtrack, which itself would become one of the band's best-selling albums of all time. The film, and its swinging style, would go on to inspire many pop culture icons, including "The Monkees" TV show, popular British spy thrillers of the day, and numerous music videos to come.
6School of Rock
Jack Black schools a class of pre-teens in all things rock; and man, can those kids play their instruments! Sure, in real life Black would have gotten some hard jail time for impersonating a school teacher (the film actually does briefly touch on this), but that doesn't matter. The chemistry between Black and the kids was enough to overshadow any plot holes. The filmmakers also scored a major win, securing rights to a Led Zeppelin tune ("Immigrant Song"). The heavy metal band had been notorious for holding on tight to its songs and rarely letting them be used in commercial media. But, with front-man Robert Plant pleased with where and how the song was being used, this wouldn't be the last time cinema would get the Led out, especially with "Immigrant Song." You can find the song's heart-pounding drums and guitar once again being perfectly applied to a thrilling action sequence in Marvel's "Thor: Ragnarok."
The Who's rock opera about "deaf, dumb and blind" Tommy Walker and his spiritual journey is more than just a story of a boy who sure could play a mean pinball. The band's epic album became a musical film event in 1975, starring Who frontman Roger Daltrey as Tommy, and the rest of the band members in supporting roles. Also appearing were a host of top talent from the era, including Ann-Margret, Tina Turner, Jack Nicholson, and Elton John, who cameoed as the Pinball Wizard, wearing his trademark big loopy glasses and 7-ft. tall platform shoes. To give the film an extra layer of authenticity, the songs were performed live on set. The album and film's popularity lead to an equally successful Broadway revival in 1991.
Oliver Stone's biopic of '60s icon Jim Morrison and his band was perfectly cast and wonderfully acted, even if it was largely historically inaccurate. "The Doors" focuses mainly on the man behind the legend, and it's Val Kilmer's performance that truly shines the brightest as he becomes the late Lizard King. His singing performance, especially, was so on-point that even real band members we're thinking they were hearing the real Morrison on certain vocal takes.
9Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Following a spate of music biopics in the early '00s (most particularly 2004's "Ray" and 2005's "Walk the Line"), the format was more than ripe for parody. Enter this musical comedy that explores the fictional life and times of country crossover star Dewey Cox, an amalgamation of the lives of Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Glen Campbell, Brian Wilson and more. And, while the film could have easily gone the way that many parody films of the day did go – as just another "[Blank] Movie" – it was handily steered in the right direction by producer Judd Apatow and director Jake Kasdan, who co-wrote the screenplay. In spite of its critical success, "Walk Hard" struggled in theaters until finding a cult audience later on home video. Nevertheless, the soundtrack was just as well received, critically, and in many ways more successful, as the songs perfectly reflected and satirized the styles they were aiming to jab.
Those that missed the event of a generation got the chance to experience it a year later on the big screen; and those that went, got the chance to relive its glory – this time up close and on the stage with the musicians. The film's use of split-screen allowed for the doc to showcase not just the performances, but the crowd's reactions, seemingly in real-time. Interesting sidenote: A young Martin Scorsese helped with the editing, along with his own soon-to-be long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker.
11The Last Waltz
The concert film of concert films opens with a simple title card: "This film should be played loud!" Following on from his editing work on "Woodstock," Scorsese took to the stage at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco in 1976 to document what was hailed as the final performance of seminal folk-rock band, the Band. For the event, the group was joined by a handful of special guests including Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Muddy Waters, and the Staple Sisters. The beautifully staged performances were intercut with behind-the-scenes reflections from The Band members, as they recalled their beginnings and pondered their legacy. Upon release, who would have known that this film would become one of the greatest rock and roll documentaries of all time, nor that only seven year's later the Band (sans Robbie Robertson) would get back to the stage and tour once again? So, it wasn't a total last waltz after all, but they're forgiven. We leave you with arguably one of the best moments from "The Last Waltz," with the Band and the Staples playing a soulful and powerful rendition of their hit "The Weight." Rock on and enjoy!
About the Author
Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.