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Kurt on Film: A Guide to Cobain’s Cinematic Legacy

From ‘Montage of Heck’ to “inspired by” movies, here’s a complete breakdown of the Nirvana singer’s screen appearances

Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana during the taping of MTV Unplugged at Sony Studios in New York City on November 18th, 1993.

Frank Micelotta/Getty

While Montage of Heck will soon be considered the definitive Kurt Cobain documentary, it's not the only time the Nirvana singer has either appeared on the big screen or been a primary influence for a character in a film. In fact, the rock star's history with Hollywood goes back to late 1993, when Quentin Tarantino considered casting the Nirvana singer and his wife Courtney Love in the drug dealer roles later filled by Eric Stoltz and Rosanna Arquette in the 1994 classic Pulp Fiction. (Cobain later thanked "Tarentino, Quentin" in the In Utero liner notes.)

While the man who wrote "Smells Like Teen Spirit" missed out on co-starring in that particular pop-culture touchstone, his presence and essence has appeared in nearly a dozen films, whether it was grunge-era time capsules, unauthorized docs, or movies inspired by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend. Here's a quick breakdown of Cobain on film.

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American singer and guitarist Kurt Cobain (1967 - 1994), performs with his group Nirvana at a taping of the television program 'MTV Unplugged,' New York, New York, Novemeber 18, 1993. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)


The Authorized Concert Films (1993-2011)

While Nirvana only released three albums and an odds-and-sods compilation during their short time together, the past two decades have seen a treasure trove of posthumous and officially licensed Nirvana concert videos hit shelves. Two of the band's greatest live performances are readily available on DVD: Their beautiful swan song MTV Unplugged in New York and Live at Reading, which captures Nirvana's historic 1992 concert at the famed British festival.

Nirvana's legacy is also captured in the rehearsal footage DVD that accompanied 2004's With the Lights Out; the 1994 live comp Live! Tonight! Sold Out!!; the shot-on-16mm Nevermind reissue companion concert Live at the Paramount; and, most recently, a DVD of the band's long-out-of-print Live and Loud concert special that was originally broadcast on MTV to celebrate New Year's Eve 1993.

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‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck’ (2015)

The unanimous acclaim that greeted Brett Morgen's documentary after its Sundance Film Festival premiere last January tells you all you need to know about the first Cobain film made with complete cooperation from Courtney Love. Packed with heartbreaking never-before-seen home movies and lots of Kurt's own tape recordings, journals and drawings — as well as interviews with close friends and family — this intimate look at the man behind the music presents offers an unprecedented peek into his life. Not only is this the definitive film about the singer, it's on a shortlist of the best music documentaries of all time. This is the Gimme Shelter that Cobain's life has long deserved.

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