We love movies, and we love music, so what could be better than a good music movie? Here are five movies about music that are quite fantastic, and just to make it interesting we selected ones that are set in each of the last five decades. While most of these are fairly mainstream, if you by chance have yet to see any of them, make haste in getting down to the nearest Vulcan Video and pick one or all of them up (hell, they’ll likely even have them on VHS if you want a truly vintage experience). Even if you’ve already seen these classic stories of one-hit wonders, "band aids," enigmas, record-store snobs, and an a-hole music professor, all of these gems are most definitely worth a re-visit. So pop some corns, grab a tasty beverage and zone out to these period-specific and musically diverse tales of The Wonders, Stillwater, The Revolution, Championship Vinyl, and the Shaffer Conservatory of Music Studio Big Band. And if the stories themselves weren’t great enough already, these films all have really rad soundtracks.
The 60s | That Thing You Do! | Released 1996
Every kid who’s ever picked up an instrument in their parent’s garage has dreamed of making it big – and in 1996, thanks to “The Wonders,” we all vicariously got that chance. About a Pennsylvania quartet that scores a hit in 1964, That Thing You Do! (written and directed by Tom Hanks) is everything a movie about a pop song should be: perfectly paced, wildly entertaining, and most importantly, easy to love. From its brilliantly lampooned music industry stereotypes to its dynamic and diverse original soundtrack, That Thing You Do! is a hit we’re sure will stand the test of time.
The 70s | Almost Famous | Released 2000
“Tell him, you know, it’s a think piece about a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom. He’ll wet himself.”
Building on the momentum of the 60’s, the 1970’s brought music’s now cliche holy trinity - sex, drugs and rock’n’roll - into the mainstream like no decade before. The decade is famous for its extreme debauchery on the road and anti-establishment sentiment among the now famous rock bands - from Led Zeppelin to The Allman Brothers Band. And even though we’re really excited at the recent vinyl revival, the 1970’s were also the golden era in the home listening experience, bringing vinyl records to more living rooms than televisions.
Almost Famous chronicles the story of 15-year-old rock journalist and high school senior, William Miller, who gets his big chance...to write a Rolling Stone article on an up-and-coming rock band, Stillwater. After a night backstage with the band, William joins his newfound romantic interest, Penny Lane, and the rest of the “band aids” (not groupies!) on tour with Stillwater from New York to San Francisco and everywhere in between. Along the way, William loses his virginity, falls in love with the band and learns a little bit about the meaning of life with help from his mentor and partner in the un-cool, Lester Bangs (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Load up a mind-altering evening experience for yourself and put this baby on. It’s legit - writer and director Cameron Crowe was himself a rock journalist during this special era in music. The soundtrack is killer, featuring classic hits from the period as well as the fictional band Stillwater’s hit single, “Fever Dog.”
The 80s | Purple Rain | Released 1984
Just over 30 years ago the planets aligned, soon-to-be stars collided, silver-lined clouds parted, and the world was drenched in Purple Rain. The story follows up-and-comer Prince, er… “the Kid” as he escapes a troubled home life through music – all while navigating the rough and tumble Minneapolis club scene and more than his fair share of rocky relationships. But enough about that… what really shines here is the music. With arguably one of the best soundtracks ever, and one incredible performance after another (including those from rivals “Morris Day & The Time”), Purple Rain is nothing short of watching a genius realize his vision.
The 90s | High Fidelity | Released 2000
“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”
One of our favorite movies of all time (and perhaps subconsciously the loose origin of TSF’s ‘5 Things We Love’ lists…), this film has everything: great writing that includes some classic quotes about music, stellar performances by a great cast, a killer soundtrack, a Bruce Springsteen cameo, Jack Black, Darlene from Roseanne and a band called Sonic Death Monkey...
High Fidelity - based on the book of the same name - follows the lovesick mid-life crisis of main protagonist Rob Gordon (John Cusack), set against the backdrop of a struggling record store employing music-obsessed, snobby record store clerks played by Jack Black and Todd Louiso. The film also boasts performances by Tim Robbins and Catherine Zeta-Jones in supporting roles.
Complete with a ridiculous autobiographically organized vinyl collection that would make even the most serious collector envious, if you’ve ever spent any time hanging out in a record store, this movie is right up your alley. Now, what are your top 5 songs for a Tuesday afternoon…?
The 2000s-Present | Whiplash | Released 2014
On paper, the story of drummer and jazz student (Miles Teller) and the relationship with his conductor (JK Simmons) may not seem like Best-Picture-nominee material. But you don't need to be a music major see why we think Whiplash is one of the most up-tempo, entertaining music movies released in a very long time.
Like any great jazz tune, Whiplash has a driving theme - achieving greatness at any cost - that is powerfully elevated by its respective soloists. But this track hits its stride when both actors duel with one another on stage, bringing the audience to unexpected levels of uneasy, albeit exhilarating, anticipation. We found Whiplash well worth the journey, even going so far as to inspire a guttural “HELL YES!” from us as the film ended.