While making this list, I realized it was nearly impossible to pick just five films. I have an immense love for music, and when a filmmaker seems to share that love, magical things can happen. I knew I wanted to avoid musicals (such as The Muppet Movie) because that just seemed like cheating. I wanted to avoid documentaries (such as It Might Get Loud) because, again, it’s easy for music to take center stage when the filmmakers are talking directly about it. I wanted to avoid biopics (such as Walk the Line or Beyond The Sea) because, frankly, I can’t stand biopics, and finally, I wanted to avoid movies that simply had amazing soundtracks (such as Garden State) because that’s just a brilliant music supervisor doing his/her job.
This list is solely comprised of fictional movies that are about music. Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, all the time awesome, here are my desert island, all-time top five favorite movies about music. (Feel free to disagree with me in the comments! I would love to watch your favorite movies!)
#5 That Thing You Do (1996)
I’m kicking off the list with an easy pick. Following the exploits of The Wonders — a young, naive, flash-in-the-pan music group — That Thing You Do is a great movie showing how rapidly a band can rise and fall from glory. Following the band from its infancy, through shady record deals, radio play, and collapse, That Thing You Do is about musicians being absolutely awful at navigating the music industry (and their own relationships).
Despite being made in the ’90s, and set in the ’60s, most of the crap The Wonders go through is still relevant because money will always be a major motivator in any industry, music included. The best part about this movie, though, is its awesome faux-’60s soundtrack. The Wonders’ single is, of course, the most catchy song ever written, and the rest of the soundtrack matches the tone of the movie perfectly. For a film about a fake band, the soundtrack is surprisingly legit. I’m not saying That Thing You Do is the best movie of all time, but it is certainly one of my favorites about music.
#4 This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
The ultimate “mockumentary,” fake filmmaker Marty DiBergi’s investigation into the lifestyle of pretend band Spinal Tap is absolutely flawless. Even if you have never seen it, you’ve certainly heard quotes. Amps being louder because they “go to 11.” D minor being “the saddest of all chords.” Sound familiar? The movie is rife with these kinds of hysterical moments, and it’s a perfect send-up of both the genre of rock documentaries and the bands at the centers of such films.
Everything about this movie is fake, including the British accents (all but one of the band members are played by Americans), but despite this, the music is actually pretty great. Simultaneously rocking and hilarious, notable tunes include “Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight” and “Big Bottoms.”
#3 Blues Brothers (1980)
For a movie based on an SNL skit, Blues Brothers has an amazing character of its own that far surpasses any other film like it. It follows the exploits of two brothers (played by Dan Akroyd and John Belushi) who set out to save the Catholic orphanage they grew up in by getting their blues band back together. Despite claiming they are on a “mission from God,” the brothers land themselves in hot water with the police, as well as a group of “Illinois Nazis.”
As a zany 1980s caper, Blues Brothers works; the script is sharp, the characters memorable, and the car chases unforgettable. But, once again, the music takes center stage by enlisting the help of Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and so many others. The movie is filled to the brim with musical genius, and it became a classic for good reason. If you havent seen this film, and you have any interest in blues, soul, or, you know, laughing, you owe it to yourself to make a viewing happen.
#2 Almost Famous (2000)
The first movie on my list not directly about musicians, this film follows a music writer instead. Almost Famous centers on an almost-unbelievable premise (a 15-year-old becomes a writer for Rolling Stone?) that becomes all the more amazing when you find out the movie is semi-autobiographical. The director, Cameron Crowe, really did land that gig as a teenager and was able to recreate some of his experiences for the audience now that he’s a filmmaker.
The movie is phenomonal. It won an Academy Award for best screenplay, and just from watching the clip above, you can easily see why. It is a perfect coming-of-age tale, using the lurid rock tour scene as a backdrop. As young William explores sex, drugs, and rock and roll, we see everything as real as we can. Nothing is glamorized, as everyone’s choices have real consequences. It took me WAY too long to see this movie (I saw it for the first time last summer). Don’t make the same mistake I did.
#1 High Fidelity (2000)
This is not my favorite music movie. This is my favorite movie of all time, period. I watch High Fidelity at least once a year, and it always (strangely) makes me feel better about my own love life. Following an underachieving record store owner, the movie breaks the fourth wall by allowing Rob to share with the audience his “desert island, all-time, top 5 worst break ups” directly.
Although this movie is not about the music industry at all, it does feature wall-to wall music references, and it explores the relationship between heartbreak and songs about heartbreak. That opening monologue hit me in the gut the first time I heard it, and I have never forgotten the feeling.
High Fidelity definitely takes a serious tone at times (it is entirely about a break-up), but ultimately it is a comedy. Jack Black appears in what is easily his funniest role, and the rest of the cast is perfect as well (Catherine Zeta Jones’ brief turn as Charlie absolutely kills me every time). I cannot give this movie enough love. It has a brilliant soundtrack and a beautiful story, and it will be a movie I return to for the rest of my life.