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Who doesn’t love a film about music? We certainly do.
Combining two of our favourite things, we have previously brought you a selection of our favourite ever music biopics, our favourite ever music documentaries, as well as 15 documentaries that you might not have seen but definitely should.
With Martin Scorsese’s new HBO record label drama Vinyl not due for release until 2016, we thought we would give you our list of the best ever fictional films about music to tide you over in the meantime.
We’ve also put together a Spotify playlist of songs from these films, which you’ll find at the end of the post.
Almost Famous (2000)
No list of fictional movies about music would be worth your while without Cameron Crowe’s 2000 classic Almost Famous heading it up. Following 15-year-old aspiring music journalist William Miller (Patrick Fugit) as he embarks on a journey to write a cover story for Rolling Stone magazine, we meet Stillwater. Possibly the greatest fictional band, ever. And a special mention must go the Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) and the ‘band aids’ (not groupies). An inspiring coming of age tale of friendship, love and life on the road.
We love this film so much we also listed 18 quotes that perfectly capture its carefree spirit to mark its recent 15th anniversary.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Starring John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd as The Blues Brothers, this musical masterpiece should be on everyone’s ‘films to see before you die’ list. Featuring classic R&B, soul and blues numbers from heavyweights such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, the songs blend seamlessly with the storyline. Opening with their release from prison, the plot follows paroled Jake (Belushi) and Elwood (Ackroyd) as they embark upon a “mission from God” to save the orphanage they grew up in from closure. To raise enough funds, the brothers decide to reunite their band: cue brawls, bottles, Nazis and one of the greatest car chases in movie history. Hit it!
Directed by John Carney, Once tells the story of a Dublin busker (Glen Hansard) and a Czech immigrant (Markéta Irglová) who bond over their love of music, and a broken hoover. A modern day musical, their unusual love story unfolds over the duration of a week as they write, record and rehearse songs together – all of which were written by the actors in real life. One for the romantics.
High Fidelity (2000)
A must for all music lovers, High Fidelity, based on the Nick Hornby novel, is set in a failing Chicago record store run by owner Rob Gordon (John Cusack) and his two employees – the ‘musical morons’ – Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black). Vinyl nerds, these guys have a ridiculous knowledge and some very firm opinions – sometimes to the detriment of the business. When Rob is dumped by his girlfriend, he sets out on a mission to examine why his previous relationships have failed, set to the backdrop of his favourite music.
Pink Floyd – The Wall (1982)
Pink Floyd -The Wall is a surreal psychological horror musical based upon the 1979 album of the same name. Directed by Alan Parker, the screenplay was written by former Pink Floyd vocalist/bassist Roger Waters. Bob Geldof plays Floyd Pinkerton, a depressive struggling to cope with the death of his father, building both a metaphorical and literal wall to protect him from the setbacks of life. A cult favourite, it’s one of the most out-there musical productions of all time, combining surreal animation and fantasy with the emotions and issues of real life.
Begin Again (2013)
Another from John Carney (Once), this 2013 comedy stars Keira Knightley as Gretta and Mark Ruffalo as Dan. Singer Gretta is ditched by her boyfriend when he lands himself a record deal in New York. Dan, a struggling record label executive, discovers Gretta performing live and is captivated by her voice and talent. Their chance encounter leads to them producing and recording an album together, all over New York city.
That Thing You Do (1996)
That Thing You Do is written and directed by Tom Hanks, who also stars as Mr White – a band manager who helps a Beatles style foursome hit the commercial big time. Set in 1964, Mr White’s band “The One-ders” become an overnight sensation with their hit single ‘That Thing You Do’. The song, written by the Fountains of Wayne bassist, was actually released in real life in 1996 – it did not do as well as it did in the fictional world of Hanks’ film.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
A mockumentary parody of the classic rock documentary This Is Spinal Tap is a hilarious spoof about a once-famous British heavy-metal band as they return to America to tour their new album, Smell the Glove. Director Rob Reiner also plays the on-screen fictional director, Marty Di Bergy. This Is Spinal Tap combines anarchic gig footage, laugh-out-loud interviews, and endless memorable quotes. “Lick my Love Pump.”
School of Rock (2003)
Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, a loser guitarist who has been kicked out of his band after having ideas above his station, and is in serious need of a job. Somehow, he manages to convince a school that he is a teacher, and attempts to turn a class of students into worthy winners of an upcoming Battle of the Bands competition. As you can imagine, old Dewey turns out to be not so bad after all. Perfect feelgood musical goodness.
Although you’d hardly know it, Michael Fassbender stars in Frank as the title character in this comedy based loosely on the real life Frank Sidebottom (aka Chris Sievey), who was also known for wearing a huge paper-mâché head when he performed. Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) – inspired by Sidebottom’s one time keyboardist Jon Ronson (who co-wrote the screenplay) – is a young wannabe musician who joins Frank’s band and begins to question whether he’s a bit of out his depth with the eccentric bunch of musicians.
Directed by Damien Chazelle, Whiplash is one of the finest music movies of recent years, and was well worthy of its three Oscars. Telling the story of a tumultuous relationship between a dedicated music student Andrew (Miles Teller) and his mentally and physically abusive tutor Mr Fletcher (J.K, Simmons), the film wonderfully depicts the effect that ruthlessly striving for perfection can have on other aspects of the lives of musicians.
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Back after their Excellent Adventure, Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan are targetted by an evil conqueror from the future, who sends robot doubles of the teenage dirtbags back in time to eliminate them. A journey that involves outwitting the grim reaper, time travelling to save their “bodacious babes” and a visit to heaven and hell, all culminates in the most important task of all: winning the Battle of the Bands with a song inspired by their new pal, God. ‘God gave rock and roll to ya’, indeed.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Another Coen brothers masterpiece, Inside Llewyn Davis is a fictional story that was loosely inspired by the life of folk singer Dave Van Ronk (the young Bob Dylan’s muse). Oscar Issac plays the title character as he tries to make it as a folk musician, dealing with the varied issues of pregnancy, cats and heroin along the way. A brilliant soundtrack, and most of the songs performed in the film were recorded live.
Wayne’s World (1992)
This cult classic tells the story of metal heads Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey), and their exploits as they broadcast a public access television show from a basement every week. Rob Lowe comes along and attempts to commercialise their show, and steal Wayne’s guitarist girlfriend Cassandra. In one film the rock and roll loving pair coined a few cult phrases, delivered a rather catchy theme tune and brought ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ to a whole new generation of cinema-goers.
With a star-studded cast including Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls is based on the award-winning Broadway musical of the same name. It tells the story of the ‘Dreamettes’ as they are taken under the wing of record label boss Curtis Taylor Jr. (Foxx) and given the opportunity to sing for famous pop star James Taylor Early (Murphy). Friendship, loyalty and talent are all put to the test.
The Commitments (1991)
Despite many viewers not being able to understand the thick Irish accents, The Commitments was received with widespread acclaim. Based on the hit Roddy Doyle novel, it’s very funny and warm-hearted. Alan Parker directs the story of the hard-working band as they try to bring their version of Soul music to Dublin.
8 Mile (2002)
Almost a biopic, but not quite, 8 Mile just makes it on to the ‘fictional’ list. Eminem puts in a brilliant performance as Jimmy ‘B-Rabbit’ Smith Jr, a young white male attempting to leave behind the no-hope Detroit trailer park he has been brought up in. Kim Bassinger plays his alcoholic mother and B-Rabbit feels his only shot is to take a chance on his aspirations as a rapper. Filmed in 2002 but set in 1995, it explores the American hip-hop grassroots scene, featuring some of the best rap battles in film history. The late Brittany Murphy plays Eminem’s love interest.
Based on The Who’s rock opera album, Tommy is a surreal musical tale of a young boy of the same name, played by the band’s lead singer Roger Daltrey. Tommy has grown up unable to speak or hear, due to an incident that happened earlier in his life. Despite being emotionally scarred, he manages to find fame as a pinball champion and is subsequently hailed as a messiah, going on to lead a religious movement. All sounds reasonable, right? Cast members include Eric Clapton, Elton John, Tina Turner and Jack Nicholson, as well as other members of The Who.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
A parody poking fun at the traditional music biopic from Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan, this spoof stars John C. Reilly as typical troubled rock star Dewey Cox. With similarities to the plot lines of the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line and the story of Ray Charles, as told in Ray, Walk Hard isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but does provide it’s fair share of funny moments.
With Cameron Crowe starting and ending the list in style, his 1992 rom-com Singles tells the story of a group of 20-somethings living in a Seattle apartment block with the soundtrack embodying the essence of the grunge scene of the time; set to a backdrop of bands such as Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins. Bridget Fonda plays the love interest of Matt Dillon, an aspiring rock star in the ficitonal band Citizen Dick. By no means a masterpiece, but it’s worth checking out for the soundtrack.