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A film’s soundtrack can play a huge role in shaping the tone, mood, and emotional impact of the narrative.
From the sweeping orchestras of John Williams to the pounding beats of Hans Zimmer, the right score can elevate an already great film to legendary status.
And when film music is carefully handcrafted for a specific film with love and meticulous detail, it is a unique and awe-inspiring phenomenon. Scene after scene, you can’t help but be sucked into the experience.
But there is one type of film music that has become less common in recent years: rock music soundtrack.
By Paul Thomas Anderson boogie nights at Richard Linklater Dazed and confused, hundreds of past movies offer mind-blowing tracklists for us to enjoy. Even directors like Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson have incorporated their groovy musical tastes into their works.
Here are our picks for the best movies with rock music soundtracks, with some mixing classic songs with unexpected twists. Whether you’re a fan of psychedelic, hardcore, or even pop rock, there’s a great movie for every type of viewer.
In The great Lebowski, The Dude (played by Jeff Bridges) maintains the consistent level of chill we all wish we had. The flip-flop-wearing White Russian drinking stoner shrugs off the chaotic and violent antics hanging over him.
Although The great Lebowski is set in the 90s, The Dude and his pals are still living vicariously through their memories of the 60s.
What better way to accompany a story of exhausted baby boomers, acting like it’s always the summer of love, than with Creedence Clearwater Revival?
Directors Joel and Ethan Coen took a slightly different approach to The Big Lebowskis soundtrack. Although they generally rely on the compositions of Carter Burwell, a sometimes cold, sometimes poppy-rock score suited this film much better.
That means you’ll hear from artists like Bob Dylan, Kenny Rogers and The First Edition. There’s even a bit of flamenco in it, thanks to the Gipsy Kings.
When you think of rock movies, Forrest Gump probably doesn’t jump to mind. But given that it follows Forrest’s life from the 1950s to the 1980s, you’re bound to stumble upon some counterculture classics.
After all, Forrest’s love of life is a hippie, he lands an interview alongside John Lennon and gives a speech (of sorts) at the anti-Vietnam march on the Pentagon. Cue, “Jefferson Airplane”.
Director Robert Zemeckis brings the runtime to almost 150 minutes on a steady stream of rock masterpieces including Four Tops, Elvis Presley, The Mamas and the Papas and The Doors.
Forrest Gump was designed for 1960s fanatics who have stacks of vintage psychedelic vinyl records in their attic.
Jack Black’s defining role in his acting career, which solidified his energy and quivering eyebrows, undoubtedly came in Richard Linklater’s comedy. school of rock. And with the word “Rock” in its title, how not to include it?
school of rock opens with a grimy nightclub where guitarist Dewey Finn (played by Jack Black) dives onto an empty, sticky floor. Like most budding musicians, he’s skinny… so he poses as a substitute teacher at a preppy school to cover the rent.
It turns out that upper-class parents will pay private schools big bucks to turn their kids into virtuosos, so Dewey decides to use them to win Battle of the Bands.
Before creating new songs, Dewey must teach students about the world of rock. He trades their classical music scores for lessons on the difference between punk and heavy metal. Their duties? Listen to CDs from Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Rush.
If only school were really like that…!
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a financial flop that later became a hailed cult classic. No film has ever matched its frenetic plot of speeding through the Nevada desert…in speed. And mescaline. And LSD. And cocaine. And alcohol.
Much of the film’s late success stemmed as much from its distant music tracks as it did from its wild characters. Big Brother and the Holding Company rushed in to warm us up, followed by The Yardbirds and Three Dog Night, with a bit of Buffalo Springfield thrown into the mix.
Being pumped to the eyeballs with drugs makes the music somewhat overwhelming for Dr. Gonzo (played by Benicio del Toro), so Raoul Duke (played by Johnny Depp) offers to throw his radio in the tub when “White Rabbit ” culminates. Probably not the best idea…
Any movie that’s set in a record store has a high bar to uphold when it comes to its soundtrack. Fortunately, in High fidelitydirector Stephen Frears pulled it off with ease, thanks in part to star John Cusack, who picked 70 titles himself.
Like Nick Hornby (author of the original 1995 novel), Rob is a music lover whose life moves to the beat of his vinyl records. But his vinyls don’t just play for fun; each song is used to reflect the moods and experiences of the protagonist.
When Rob is in the dumps, expect to hear the 13th floor elevators and Bruce Springsteen. Among well-known classics like “Town Called Malice” and “We Are the Champions” there is a selection of independent picks for rock connoisseurs (eg “Suspect Device” by Stiff Little Fingers).
Also titled The boat that rocked In certain regions, pirate radio is a true British comedy through and through, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman leading an ensemble cast. Here we get a taste of London during the Swingin’ Sixties.
Well we say London, but pirate radio has no official location; exactly! While the BBC cracks down on immoral rock n’ roll influences, Radio Rock plays pirated beats from international waters that censorship boards can’t reach.
Richard Curtis’ star-studded comedy may have slipped your radar, but if you’re a fan of The Kinks or dry British humor, be sure to check it out. Radio Rock plays The Turtles, Cream, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues and more.
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Here we have the King of Rock himself, Elvis Presley. Despite his stint as an actor, Elvis Presley was still better suited to the music scene.
While such a legendary cultural icon as Elvis is nigh impossible to piece together, we finally got an interesting performance in a film centered on the King himself (instead of the several half-decent shots of actors playing him in supporting roles over the years).
Elvis is as fast-paced, glitzy, and SFX-infused a movie as it gets, but considering the singer’s legacy was built on Las Vegas glamour, director Baz Luhrmann’s over-the-top style is more than fitting and the singer is captured from impressive manner by a budding Austin Butler.
As you’d expect, nearly all of Elvis Presley’s discography is woven throughout the film. Yet it’s not so much his songs that are powerful, but rather the way they are synthesized, exaggerated and remastered in the smoky blues bars of Memphis and the scintillating remixes of Doja Cat.
Quadrophenia is based on the 1973 rock opera by The Who. That description alone is enough to have us sitting down with popcorn ready, but don’t crack so hard you miss The Kingsman singing “Louie Louie.”
Most record stores still sell the Quadrophenia album, but why not enjoy it with a little slice of cinema? For all his anguish and amphetamines, Quadrophenia is actually a heartfelt coming-of-age drama with an ambiguous tragic ending.
Frank Roddam directs Phil Daniels as a bored young Mod who spends his days in scooter rallies and brawls with the Rockers. While the BSA riders herald old-school 50s rock, the Mods prefer the more current soul sounds that for us are no longer relevant (but still great).
Whether it’s the movie or the album you like, Quadrophenia captures a vibe quite unique to 1960s urban Britain.
We’ve mentioned the 1960s often throughout this list, and that’s because that decade was a pivotal time for rock n’ roll!
Mindsets were changing, minds were broadening, and young people would rather ride motorcycles smoking weed than be married and settled down at 20.
That was certainly the case for Wyatt and Billy (played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper), who coasted to LA to smuggle drugs.
Not only was Easy Rider a revolutionary film for the cinema – ending the golden age of heavily censored studio films – but also for music. Steppenwolf’s soundtrack perfectly matches the laid-back, love-free attitude of its characters on LSD in a hippie community.
Alongside Steppenwolf are tracks from The Electric Prunes and Fraternity of Man. Not only do we hear The Byrds perform ‘Wasn’t Born to Follow’, but Roger McGuinn wrote ‘The Ballas of Easy Rider’ especially for the movie…with a little help from Bob Dylan.
In almost knownwe explore a branch of the music industry: music journalism.
The reporter at its center is a 15-year-old kid from San Diego, played by Patrick Fugit. Cameron Crowe’s acclaimed comedy is partly based on his own experiences writing for rolling stone.
This coming-of-age drama is quintessentially American, with cheesy Elton John car chants. If The Who isn’t your kind of rock, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin might be.
Crowe chose at least 50 different songs to back his award-winning film, including “Fever Dog” and “Mr. Farmer” by The Seeds. It’s a road trip we’d love to take!