Some of us like music. Some of us like movies… Okay, who am I kidding? We all love both and there’s no denying it. And what’s better than mixing two of our favorite things together into one – the lovely genre that is musical or music-based movies, of which there are plenty to choose from. There are those that are purely musical (you know, where there’s hardly any real talking and it’s a singing conversation), those that are inspired by bands, those that are about bands, those about people with dreams to become singers… The list goes on and on. But the following list appeals to our inner rockstars and dreamers. Let’s face it, documentaries and those originating from Broadway could have a whole list to themselves (though Rent, Mamma Mia!, Chicago, and The Phantom of the Opera are definitely worth a mention).
From films those that put a new spin on some of your favorite oldies to biographical films about some legendary people, these 11 films let us peek into the world that is the music – that crazy, messy industry we all wish we could be a part of.
Walk the Line (2005)
In my opinion, Joaquin Phoenix was born to play Johnny Cash, and Walk the Line is merely proof of this fact. Starring alongside Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, Walk the Line retells the story of Johnny Cash’s career from his early days at an Arkansas cotton farm, to his claim to fame as a country singer, and all the troubles in between. Both Phoenix and Witherspoon did their own singing for their characters.
Taking Woodstock (2009)
Back in 1969, the mother of all concerts took place on a 600-acre dairy farm in the Catskills of New York. When someone mentions Woodstock, everyone knows what it is. Based on memoir Taking Woodstock by real life attendee Elliot Tiber, the film follows the creation of the iconic concert through the eyes of Elliot, a young man working at his parent’s motel who was said to have introduced those putting the concert together to the person that owned the plot of land it was played on. While the truth about what really happened with Tiber is up for debate, Taking Woodstock is a great modernized look at the event that defined a generation and convince you that you were born in the wrong decade. Starring stand-up comedian Demetri Martin as Elliot, Emile Hirsche, Jonathan Groff (Jesse St. James from Glee) and Liev Shreiber in a role you wouldn’t expect from this seasoned actor.
Almost Famous (2000)
For those of us hoping to take on the journalism world within the music industry, Almost Famous is our holy grail. Starring Kate Hudson as the infamous Penny Lane, alongside many other big name actors, Almost Famous tells the story of William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a 15-year-old boy that lands the job that every music journalist hopes to land – getting hired by Rolling Stone Magazine to tour with (fictional) up-and-coming band Stillwater and write about them. The film is semi-autobiographical, as director Cameron Crowe was a teenage writer for Rolling Stone, and characters of the film are said to be based on some real musicians. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his best roles.
Across the Universe (2007)
Across the Universe is a Beatles lover’s dream … Well, other than Yellow Submarine or a A Hard Day’s Night, of course. Set in the 1960s amidst the Vietnam War and protests of the era seen across the nation, Across the Universe is about a young man from Liverpool named Jude who travels to America to search for his father, and gets so much more in the process. Incorporating songs by The Beatles, this musical combines live action and animation in a way that is entirely reminiscent of the trippy decade that is the 60s. Starring Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Another musical to grace the list, Moulin Rouge! is a special kind of film. While set in 1899 turn-of-the-century Bohemian Paris, Moulin Rouge! contains some of the most well-known tunes from modern-day artists and other sources (like The Sound of Music, Elton John, Madonna, and more, beautifully combined to create some incredible song mixes). With Ewan McGregor as the hopeful writer Christian and Nicole Kidman as Satine, the star courtesan of the Moulin Rouge club, Moulin Rouge! is sure to keep you entertained with music you know, but you’ll stick around to figure out the fate of the characters involved in a crazy love triangle. A film to make you believe in FREEDOM, BEAUTY, TRUTH, and LOVE, like a true bohemian.
Rock Star (2001)
Back in the day, there was a hip-hopper named Marky Mark with his group, the Funky Bunch. While his tighty whities were a nice view in music videos and concerts, I think Mark Wahlberg is better as rocker Chris “Izzy” Cole in Rock Star. Mirroring the “Behind the Music” show on VH1, Rock Star is about how tribute band singer Chris Cole becomes the actual leader of the band he worships – Steel Dragon – and how he discovers that what he’s dreamed of may not be exactly what he thought it was. Rock Star also stars Jennifer Aniston as Chris’s girlfriend Emily.
8 Mile (2002)
Said to be the true story of Marshall “Eminem” Mathers, 8 Mile is about a struggling rapper in Detroit. From failed relationships, moving back in with his mother in a trailer park, and being mugged, it seems Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith just can’t cut a break, not even in a rap battle. Or can he? Also stars Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Phifer, and Kim Basinger.
The School of Rock (2003)
In a pre-Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny flick (another fairly decent rocker film), Jack Black starred in The School of Rock as Dewey Finn, a rocker kicked out of his band and desperate for money. So what’s his solution? Obviously it is to become a substitute teacher for prep school 4th graders… by taking on the identity of his roommate and actual substitute teacher Ned Schneebly. While there, he discovers musical prodigies in the youngsters and believes they will be able to help him win a Battle of the Bands competition. Do they make it? You’ll just have to watch to find out.
August Rush (2007)
August Rush tells another story of musical prodigies. Freddie Highmore plays Evan Taylor, the unknowing son of cellist Lyla Novacek (Keri Russell) and guitarist/vocalist Louis Connelly (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). The two had had one night magic after connecting through musi. However, they couldn’t uphold the relationship, eventually went their separate ways, and their child put up for adoption by Lyla’s father (without her knowing) for fear of it ruining her career. Eleven years later, young Evan goes to New York to find his parents, whom he believes are waiting for him, using music to guide his way. Also stars Robin Williams and Terrence Howard.
Rock of Ages (2012)
If you’re looking for something entirely cheesy but with great tunes, Rock of Ages brings together some of the best songs of the 80s amidst the cliche story of a small town girl and a city boy that fall in love on the road to pursuing their dreams. With Julianne Hough alongside actors like Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, and Tom Cruise as the rocker hearthrob Stacee Jaxx, this film about rock and roll in 1987 will have you singing along the entire time.
Pitch Perfect (2012)
A new cult classic from the past couple of years, Pitch Perfect brings viewers into the world of collegiate competitive acapella. That’s right, acapella. Never have we enjoyed this type of music so much. With Anna Kendrick as the rebellious, aspiring DJ Beca, Pitch Perfect tells of an all-girls acapella group in need of a renovation and Beca providing them the energy they need, despite trying as hard as possible to ignore college life. Enter cutie Skylar Astin as the love interest, and Rebel Wilson for comedic relief, this movie is too entertaining for its own good… and totally worth watching repeatedly for days.
Honorable Mentions that I have not seen but have heard about: Velvet Goldmine, SLC Punk, Dreamgirls, Nine, Country Strong
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