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25 Greatest Punk Rock Movies of All Time

From U.K.-to-L.A. scene rockumentaries to riot-grrl portraits and the Ramones’ fictional alma mater, our favorite portrayals of punk on screen

Punk started as a sonic flipped bird to the Rock Inc. industry who many said had become bloated beyond repair — and like its Elvis/Beatles/Stones ancestors, punk's scenes and subcultures would ended up leaving its mark on the movies. From seminal concert movies to rockumentaries, the underground shock cinema that found fertile ground in its DIY aesthetics to the mainstream movies that smelled an exploitable trend, we're counting down the 25 best punk-rock films of all time. 1-2-3-4!


‘Sid and Nancy’ (1986)

It’s tough to watch Gary Oldman portray Sid Vicious, the doomed bassist of the Sex Pistols, less than a decade after the iconic punk’s demise — but man, can that actor nod off! A classic biopic that chronicles the relationship of punk's original celebrity couple, Sid and Nancy achieved almost instant cult status due to its critical reception and gritty portrayal of addicts in love. Chloe Webb embodies eternal punk groupie Nancy Spungen, nailing her caustic squeal (though up-and-comer Courtney Love was originally vying for the role) and Oldman easily pulls off singing like Sid on covers like “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “My Way.” But what makes the film a classic is the skill with which the leads are so believable as heroin addicts, pivoting from intense love to hatred and dope sickness, all while maintaining the couple's signature snarl. EGP


‘Ladies and Gentleman the Fabulous Stains’ (1982)

Revolutions have been started with less than hair dye, a few catchy songs and attitude to spare — so why shouldn't singer Corinne "Third-Degree" Burns kick off a mass rebellion? Lou Adler's look at a smalltime punk band who strikes a chord is filled with real-life musicians from the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Tubes. But it's Diane Lane's portrayal of the Stains' frontwoman, all skunk-style 'do and first-rate sneer, that's turned this movie into a punk-cult classic. Everyone from underground-cinema legend Sarah Jacobson to Courtney Love have pledged allegiance to Burns; her quote "They have such big plans for this world, and they don't include us" could be a punk mantra, whether uttered in 1982, 1999, or 2016. DF


‘The Blank Generation’ (1976)

New York City, 1976: Bands like Television, Talking Heads, Blondie, the Ramones and Patti Smith are making CBGBs their home away from home, turning the downtown club into a musically experimental laboratory. Amos Poe and Ivan Král's black-and-white 16mm flick is essentially a home movie of the moment, with bands hanging out, palling around and occasionally playing, albeit without sync sound — which just makes it more punk. (Note: This should not be confused with the 1980 movie Blank Generation produced by Andy Warhol, which does feature a brief performance of the title song by Richard Hell and the Voidods.) DF


‘Repo Man’ (1984)

Wherein punk goes sci-fi. Perhaps the pinnacle of weird in Emilio Estevez's career, his antihero Otto is a L.A. hardcore kid for whom slam-dancing with his squatter friends no longer fills the void. So he reluctantly teams up to steal cars with a repo man named Bud (a perfectly grizzled Harry Dean Stanton), only to end up at the center of a government conspiracy involving aliens. Director Alex Cox makes the soundtrack as oddball and California-dystopian as the rest of the film, showcasing Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and Fear long before they hit the aboveground radar. But the best one, perhaps, is the Circle Jerks' head-tilting cameo — performing as a lounge act, they cover their own "When the Shit Hits the Fan" in sequin tuxes. Keith Morris even scats for a moment. EGP


‘Rock and Roll High School’ (1979)

The 2003 documentary End of the Century does a fine job laying out the ins and outs of the Ramones' career. To see the beautifully sloppy, brilliantly simplistic band at its best, however, you head straight to this Roger Corman-produced teensploitation gem, in which Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Marky help P.J. Soles and the student body of Vince Lombardi High stand up to authority, three chords at a time. They even include singalong lyrics to "Teenage Lobotomy" so kids can croon in unison with them! Joey serenading our heroine with "I Want You Around" still makes us swoon, and the explosive (no, really) version of the title track remains a pitch-perfect wish-fulfillment scene. DF


‘Suburbia’ (1983)

The antithesis to the parent-friendly punks of Valley Girl, director Penelope Spheeris' stark, sobering look at the new generation gap pits aging California hippies against their disillusioned kids. "The Rejected," as the gang of runaways in the film call themselves, build the kind of supportive, loving family they never had at home. But most of the adults in the neighborhood see the mohawks and vandalism as proof of their delinquency — no, it does not end well. Spheeris cast real-life punks to play the kids — including the future Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea — and included sets by scene luminaries like D.I., TSOL, and the Vandals, who do a great version of "Pat Brown." T.R. for life. EGP


‘The Filth and the Fury’ (2000)

There are numerous movies that feature the Sex Pistols in all there anarchic glory, from Lech Kowalski's punk primer D.O.A. (1978) to the that-was-the-tour-that-was epitaph The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (1980). But no movie puts the Pistols into the proper context, or demonstrates why we're still talking about this band decades later, than Julien Temple's history of the group's supernova moment in the spotlight. The "God Save the Queen" boat trip, the Bill Grundy interview that baited the band to notoriety, the self-destructive cult of Sid, the doomed U.S. tour — it's all here, as well as candid interviews with the members. (John Lydon's tearful "He died, for fuck's sake" plea about tearing away Vicious' druggie-chic allure is absolutely heartbreaking.) Never mind the other docs. Here's the definitive one. DF


‘The Decline of Western Civilization’ (1981)

Black Flag, X, the Germs, Fear, Circle Jerks — Penelope Spheeris' look at the Los Angeles scene is a virtual roll call of the MVPs who'd help turn the region into a hardcore/punk Mecca. (Missing in action is the Minutemen, who'd thankfully get their own stem-to-stern study, We Jam Econo, in 2005.) The performance footage alone makes this worthy of study by musicologists and historians. There are too many great scenes to mention: Chuck Dukowski's Colt 45-induced giggling, Fear baiting their audience (then getting into a massive fistfight), Darby Crash bonding with a tarantula and bantering about injuries, the what-me-worry vibe of the candid li'l punker interviews. But what makes this doc invaluable, however, is the way the movie's you-are-there portrait drops you right into moment of maximum combustion, as volatile performers and violent crowds feed off each other in a nihilistic free-for-all. People talk about how dangerous, disruptive, damaged, often damaging and, for many, defining American punk was in the early Reagan era. Watch this, and you'll know why. DF

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