12 Music Films to Watch

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12 Music Films to Watch


Movies help to unify us as a society. The universal themes explored in the stories teach us empathy, and illuminate our values and dreams.

What defines a music film? One thing we can probably all agree on is that music should play a central role in the story. Concert videos don’t make the grade because there is no story arc. While live footage can be both exciting and interesting, and has value as a historical document, it’s basically a visual extension of what’s on the album. The same goes for video compilations. 

On the flip side, a music film doesn’t have to include a live band performance.  Singing aside, Broadway musicals, for example, fit the profile without featuring musicians front and center.

Here's my list of Top 12 music related films to watch again and again (in no specific order):


Pirate Radio boat
The Boat That Rocked – AKA Pirate Radio (2009)


1. The Boat That Rocked – AKA Pirate Radio (2009)

An illegal offshore radio station broadcasting from the North Sea in the 1960s.  A comical tale of the industry of the day. DJs, record producers, and a long list of whacky characters including the late Philip Seymour Hoffman round out this comic offering. It really highlights the political forces that shaped the UK and produced a new breed of European musician. A triumphant, multi-layered, feel good film.

2. Crossroads (1986)

Eugene is talented, but he dreams of being a famous Blues guitarist. He's heard of a lost song and wants Blues musician Willie Brown to help him track it down. Brown wants Eugene to really experience the blues travelling on the way to its birthplace: the Mississippi Delta. Eugene doesn't know yet about Willie's deal with the devil. The movie culminates in an epic battle between the original Karate Kid and Steve Vai. 

3. The Music Never Stopped (2011)

Gabriel suffers from a brain tumour that prevents him from forming new memories. A father must learn to embrace his son's choices and try to reconnect with him through music. Awesome soundtrack and a well-paced story that traverses the spectrum from regret to redemption.  You might cry.

4. The Decline of Western Civilization: Part II - The Metal Years (1988)

The middle film of the Decline trilogy, generally considered the best one.  This Penelope Spheres documentary examines the culture of the late ‘80s Los Angeles metal scene.  It intercuts short clips of familiar ‘70s and early ‘80s stars with unknowns trying to make it.  Clearly they are all living life to excess, unaware that the grunge/alternative scene is just around the corner and their heyday is coming to an end. It's almost impossible to pick a best scene - I'm split between Chris Holmes in the pool and Ozzy making breakfast.

5. Jason Becker - Not Dead Yet (2012)

A retrospective documentary about a guitar hero if there ever was one.  Jason Becker, a creative mastermind, fights for his life after being diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) at age 20. His family banded together and developed new tools for communication. Eventually Jason lost his ability to play guitar, but with the help of computer technology found a way to keep composing. All guitarists should see this film. Heartbreaking and inspiring - Go Jason!

6. Detroit Rock City (1999)

Set in the late 1970s, this film tells the story of 4 friends in a band struggling to attend a KISS concert.  I really identified with this movie. It captures the camaraderie between band mates and the isolation one might have felt as a KISS fan. The situations are hilarious and the soundtrack is stacked. They do whatever it takes to see the band that has inspired them.

7. Walk The Line (2005)

The Johnny Cash biopic.  From tragic and humble beginnings to a cultural icon.  Starring Joaquin Phoenix as the Man in Black. The early scenes are very powerful – and give you a deeper understanding of why he followed such a self-destructive path.  From the lows to the highs and back.

8. Warning: Parental Advisory (2002)

I love that Dee Snider plays himself in this made-for-TV movie. The year is 1985; senatorial hearings to place warning labels on rock/rap music are ambushed by an unexpected opposition of "rock stars" including John Denver, Frank Zappa and Dee Snider. This movie will make you seek out the YouTube clips of the original senate hearings and see how much they underestimated "dumb" rockers. 

9. Shock 'Em Dead - AKA Rock'em Dead (1991)

An HBO film.  Geeky Martin wants to be a rock ‘n’ roll star with all the attendant trappings.  With the help of a voodoo priestess, Martin makes a deal with the devil. Now he's got the fancy car and the snazzy clothes, but what he really wants is to be in the local band that rejected him at the audition.  Needless to say, he wins the lead guitarist spot.

Michael Angelo Batio (voted #1 shredder of all time by Guitar World magazine) plays the dark one and contributes a metalized version of “Purple Haze” to the soundtrack. This is a great party movie, and the scenes are way over the top.  Starring B movie queen Traci Lords and Steven Quattro, this is a must-see – unless you’re looking for good production, or believable acting.

10. Pink Floyd The Wall (1982)

Epic.  A beautiful and chaotic collage of images and scenes strung together with an engaging narrative, and wrapped in the sonic blanket that is Pink Floyd. The story revolves around an artist named Pink who suffers from relationship difficulties having grown up with an overbearing mother amidst the working class mindset of 1950s Europe. Partially animated and wonderfully produced, this film keeps on giving with every viewing.

11. Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008)

Robb and Lips made a pact to rock together forever. Their band, hailed as the "Demi-Gods of Canadian Metal," influenced a musical generation that includes Slayer, Anthrax, and Metallica. Although never becoming a household name, Anvil kept grinding.  The story picks up as Lips and Robb, now in their fifties, record their 13th album in one last attempt to rock the world.

12. The Wizard of Oz (1939) 

This charming family favourite, based on a story by L. Frank Baum, follows Dorothy and her dog Toto up, up and away as they are caught in a tornado and carried off to the Land of Oz.

She encounters memorable friends and foes on her journey to meet the Wizard, who, the Good Witch of the North informs her, can help her get back to Kansas. And, Dorothy hopes, provide a brain, a heart, and courage to her new friends the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. This musical stands well enough on its own but . . .

Dark Side of the Moon cover art
Dark Side of the Moon cover art:  Dorothy’s rainbow?

An urban legend has grown up around a remarkable series of coincidences that occur when the original soundtrack is subbed with Pink Floyd’s 1973 album, Dark Side Of the Moon. 

The key is to making this work is to pause track 1 @ 00:00:00 and press play simultaneously with the 3rd roar of the MGM lion.

A few examples of what to listen for: 

• The sound of pigs when Dorothy falls into the pigsty. 

•  Alarm bells going off suddenly when the witch character is first introduced. 

• The cash register in the track Money chiming in perfect sync with the switch to colour when Dorothy arrives in Oz.

Although dismissed as "amusing" by the band, the coincidences do seem to pile up.

To round out the list, here are 88 more movies you might want to check out:

1. Rocky Horror Picture Show

2. Ray

3. The Blues Brothers

4. Good Ol Freda

5. Grease

6. Moulin Rouge

7. The Sound of Music

8. Yellow Submarine

9. Mary Poppins

10. All That Jazz

11. Hail Hail Rock and Roll

12. Heavy Metal Parking Lot

13. Rockstar

14. Shine

15. Oliver

16. Tommy

17. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

18. The Phantom of the Opera

19. Fame

20. Purple Rain

21. The Wiz

22. August Rush

23. Across the Universe

24. Sweeney Todd

25. Beach Party

26. The King and I

27. This is Spinal Tap

28. Labyrinth

29. Amadeus

30. Beware of Mr. Baker

31. Hairspray

32. The Full Monty

33. Saturday Night Fever

34. 8 Mile

35. Dazed and Confused

36. Light of Day

37. KISS: Exposed

38. Oh Brother Where Art Thou

39. The Red Violin

40. The Piano

41. Captain Corelli's Mandolin

42. School of Rock

43. Coyote Ugly

44. Rock of Ages

45. Almost Famous

46. Eddie and the Cruisers

47. Popeye

48. Annie

49. Footloose

50. Dirty Dancing

51. La Bamba

52. Crybaby

53. The Pick of Destiny

54. Moonrise Kingdom

55. Les Miserables

56. Staying Alive

57. The Devil’s Violinist

58. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

59. It Might Get Loud

60. Fantasia

61. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

62. The Forbidden Zone

63. Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

64. Flashdance

65. The Muppets Take Manhattan

66. Peter and the Wolf

67. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

68. Top Secret

69. The Saddest Music in the World

70. Imaginaerum

71. Jesus Christ Superstar

72. Pete's Dragon

73. Evita

74. Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem

75. High Fidelity

76. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

77. The Buddy Holly Story

78. Great Balls of Fire

79. Sid and Nancy

80. Immortal Beloved

81. What's Love Got To Do With It?

82. Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

83. Coal Miner's Daughter

84. 24 Hour Party People

85. The Rocker

86.The Runaways

87. Wayne’s World

88. Lemmy

Shane Carter is a recovering KISS fan. Recording guitarist, engineer, philosopher and teacher, he enjoys studying vintage instructional videos and has recently discovered a passion for grinding stone guitar picks. Currently celebrating 19 years with Long & McQuade and nowadays working at the Windsor location, Shane can be contacted for movie recommendations through [email protected].

Keywords: moviesfilmmusicals

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