Skip to main content

See also:

Memorable top 10 classic rock films for excellent viewing

What better way to enjoy a movie then with great classic rock music. Music and movies have always gone hand in hand since the silent pictures. Starting in the 1950s, it was rock and roll movies followed by Elvis’ long string of musicals featuring his many hit songs, and the advent of rock music documentaries beginning in the mid ‘60s.

The life of early rocker Ritchie Valens.
Promotional image
The front cover of 'A Hard Day's Night' (Criterion Collection) (Blu-ray + DVD) (1964)
Promotional image

Ten of these films cover the eras of pioneering rockers to pre-British Invasion to music festivals and glam to punk rock. Get ready to enjoy what these musical films have to offer. Be sure to check some out through your public library or streaming source.

“La Bamba” (1987)

The story of Ritchie Valens’ rise to fame as one of the rock and roll pioneers is an excellent place to start. “La Bamba” starts out with the Valenzuela family working hard as migrant workers. Later they move to Pacoima in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. From there Ritchie has a real talent for music that’s encouraged by members of his family.

At his high school he meets a girl who becomes an inspiration for one of his biggest hits. While in Tijuana, Mexico, he hears a Mexican folk song. Later on his rendition of it becomes another hit and turns his career completely around. The pioneering Latin rock band Santana with its leader, Carlos Santana, was inspired by Ritchie Valens growing up.

“24 Hour Party People” (2002)

In the city of Manchester in northwest England, you get to know its contribution to the classic rock music scene. “24 Hour Party People” is a comedy that starts in the 1970s to the early ‘90s, pre-Oasis. Manchester or better known as “Madchester, has contributed greatly to punk rock and new wave. A local television news reporter has just witnessed a concert for an unknown band at the time called “The Sex Pistols” that will change his life.

Tony Wilson, the reporter, decides to feature the Sex Pistols live on his music program. Afterwards, punk bands throughout northern England want to be managed by him. This is the start of Factory Records and the music venue, The Hacienda Club.

“American Graffiti” (1973)

Set in the summer of 1962, before the Beatles and its British Invasion of music, you get to listen to a great soundtrack from an all-night AM radio station. Throughout the film a popular radio deejay plays a wealth of rock and pop songs that’s authentic for this era. You’ll hear the classic rock and roll hits in “American Graffiti” of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” and Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” to the current Beach Boys “Surfin’ Safari.”

“Monterey Pop” (1968)

Now fast forward to the Summer of Love in 1967 with the first rock concert documentary on the list. Before there was Woodstock, there was the Monterey Pop Festival in Monterey, California. In its inaugural festival, “Monterey Pop” features soon-to-be legendary classic rock stars with performances by Jimi Hendrix with his flaming guitar (literally), The Who actually smashing up their musical instruments, Janis Joplin wailing the blues like no one can, and the introduction of R&B/soul singer, Otis Redding.

“Sid & Nancy” (1986)

Sex Pistol’s Sid Vicious and his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen is the subject of this biopic centering primarily on their Romeo and Juliet-esque fatal relationship. There are musical performances of the band intermittingly, yet the portrayal of Sid by actor Gary Oldman is what draws you into “Sid & Nancy.”

“That Thing You Do!” (1996)

Riding on the wave of the bursting pop music scene in 1964, a group of musicians in Eire, Pennsylvania have a hit on their hands with a single titled “That Thing You Do!,” which happens to be the tile of this film. It’s a catchy tune and they appear on what is likely “The Ed Sullivan Show,” much like the Beatles first appearance on that same show. It’s even complete with the caption “Careful girls, he’s engaged,” derived from John Lennon’s introduction of “Sorry girls, he’s married.” The band is called The Wonders, and they live up to becoming a one-hit wonder. This was typical of many bands from that era.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” (2001)

It’s the only bona fide rock musical on this list that’s currently enjoying a successful Broadway revival. The winner of best musical revival and best leading actor in a musical at the 2014 Tony Awards, this film version came in between its stage productions. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is originally adapted from the off-Broadway musical of the same name.

John Cameron Mitchell wrote, directed and starred in this musical comedy about an East German transgender who marries a U.S. Serviceman to escape communist East Germany. They move to Kansas where the marriage later dissolves. Hedwig embarks on forming a rock band called the Angry Inch. All of the songs are original compositions from composer and songwriter Stephen Trask. This is an outstanding film about glam rock at its finest.

“This is Spinal Tap” (1984)

This is one of the greatest classic rock mockumentaries and comedy films of all time. Spinal Tap is a fictional British heavy metal band. Once they were a famous band riding the British Invasion wave. After a 17-year absence from being on the charts and touring, they embark on a U.S. tour. “This is Spinal Tap” fully satirizes heavy metal and the rock music scene complete with all its egos, wild behavior, and pretensions. One of the memorable scenes takes place at the airport’s detection area.

“Woodstock” (1970)

Before classic rock or any popular music became heavily corporatized, this is the purest rock film ever done. You see pure artistry blossom before your eyes in “Woodstock.” Be sure to carefully watch stellar performances from Santana in their instrumental “Soul Sacrifice,” Richie Havens opening set on the festival’s first day, Joe Cocker’s soul-wrenching version of the Beatles “With a Little Help From My Friends,” Alvin Lee of Ten Years After powerful rendition of “I’m Going Home,” and closing out the festival Jimi Hendrix's powerful "The Star-Spangled Banner" are some of the memorable highlights.

“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964)

Now into its 50th year of release, “A Hard Day’s Night” has received a complete restoration for its theatrical and DVD/Blu-ray re-releases. This is by no means the first rock film ever made. It is, however, the first one to be deemed a classic. Set in a clever black-and-white documentary style of the times, it’s the day in the life of the fab four getting ready for their television appearance. On the journey from a train station to the TV studio, the audience is treated to exceptional hits by the Beatles such as the film title’s “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “I Should Have Known Better,” and the stirring ballad “If I Fell.”