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Readers’ Poll: The Best Rock Movies of All Time

Your picks include ‘Tommy,’ ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ and ‘School of Rock’

Spinal Tap photographed CBGB's in New York City on May 6th, 1984.

Ebet Roberts/Redferns

David Chase unveiled his new movie, Not Fade Away, this month; it's his first major project since The Sopranos ended in 2007. The story centers around a fictional rock band in the 1960s and Steve Van Zandt served as the musical supervisor. We figured this was a good time to poll our readers to determine their top 10 rock & roll-themed movies of all time. Click through to see the results. 

the who

The Who Films

10. ‘Quadrophenia’

The Who's 1973 rock opera was destined to be a film from the moment the album hit shelves. Unlike Tommy, the story is largely coherent from beginning to end, and it tapped into teenage angst in a real, universal way. Even people who had never heard of the war between Mods and Rockers could understand Jimmy's pain. 

By the late 1970s, there was a Mod revival in England and a film adaptation of the album made perfect sense. Wisely, the filmmakers decided not to make it a musical, though many of the original songs are heard in the movie. Roger Daltrey was too old to play Jimmy by this point, so 20-year-old Phil Daniels landed the part. Sting was cast as the Ace Face and Leslie Ash portrayed Jimmy's girlfriend, Steph. The movie became an instant cult classic, but it was difficult to find until a recent rerelease on DVD. 

school of rock


9. ‘School of Rock’

Jack Black was at the peak of his fame when he landed the role of Dewey Finn, a 30-something loser with huge rock & roll dreams. He winds up teaching a group of fifth graders and, after realizing they have actual musical talent, he enrolls them in a battle of the bands. Hilarity ensues and lessons are learned all around. It was also an early role for Miranda Cosgrove, who went on to massive tween fame on iCarly

20th Century Fox

8. ‘The Commitments’

Based on a 1987 novel by Irish writer Roddy Doyle, The Commitments tells the story of a working-class soul band in Ireland. They struggle, they rise, they fight, they fall. It's like a particularly good episode of Behind the Music. The soundtrack features the original cast playing classics by Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Mary Wells. 

TriStar Pictures

7. ‘The Doors’

Making a movie about a group as beloved as the Doors was bound to piss off a lot of people, especially when it was made by a director with a reputation for fudging history. The surviving members of the Doors felt Oliver Stone's movie turned Jim Morrison into a drunken caricature and critics were very torn, but young rock fans were enthralled by Val Kilmer's portrayal of the Doors frontman. Their music started selling in huge quantities once again.

United Artists

6. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

A Hard Day's Night could have been an absolute disaster. The Beatles were at the height of their popularity and United Artists could have easily made a quick cash-in no better than the crap Elvis Presley was churning out at the time. Thankfully, Alun Owen wrote a very clever screenplay after spending time with the band and getting a firm grip on their individual personalities.

The simple plot revolves around the band traveling from Liverpool to London for a TV show. Along the way, they dodge a small army of crazed fans. George Harrison met his future wife Pattie Boyd on the set, and Hollywood soon knocked off the entire thing and created the Monkees. 

Columbia Pictures

5. ‘Tommy’

When Pete Townshend wrote Tommy, he certainly didn't imagine Ann-Margret rolling around in chocolate and champagne as she strokes an extremely phallic-like pillow, but director Ken Russell had a very bold and bizarre vision for this movie. Roger Daltrey portrayed Tommy, and everyone from Tina Turner to Elton John to Eric Clapton took on supporting roles. Many Who purists despise the movie, but Ann-Margret was nominated for an Oscar for a reason. It's a wildly entertaining movie, even if it isn't the greatest possible adaptation of the album.     

spinal tap

Embassy Pictures/Studio Canal

4. ‘This Is Spinal Tap’

There was a lot of confusion when This Is Spinal Tap hit theaters in March of 1984. Audiences weren't that familiar with the concept of a mockumentary, and some viewers even left the theater thinking it was a real documentary about an actual band. When you think about it, "Big Bottom" and "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" weren't that much crazier than some of the metal songs of the time. Making matters even more confusing, Spinal Tap did (sort of) become a real band; they have three legit albums and many other fictional ones. The whole thing poses all sorts of existential questions. All that said, This Is Spinal Tap is a monumental movie that wasn't fully appreciated at the time. If anything, it's only gotten funnier with age. 

DreamWorks Pictures

3. ‘Almost Famous’

Back in the early 1970s, some random rock magazine was crazy enough to let a 15-year-old write long features about the Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Neil Young and many more of the biggest artists of the day. He went on to write Fast Times at Ridgemont High and direct Singles, Say Anything and Jerry Maguire. In 2000, Cameron Crowe decided to write and direct a slightly fictionalized account of his own time as a teenage rock journalist. The movie turned Kate Hudson into a star, made "Tiny Dancer" one of Elton John's most beloved songs and caused Rolling Stone's intern applications to skyrocket to record levels. 

Warner Bros. Pictures

2. ‘The Wall’

If you're an American male between the ages of 35 and 50, odds are very high that, at some point in your life, you got fantastically stoned while watching this movie. It comes across as very deep and important in your friend's basement at 3 AM while you make your way through a second sleeve of Double Stuf Oreos, but trying watching it straight sometimes; it's pretty freakin' weird. Roger Waters himself wanted to star in the film but, after a disastrous screen test, they gave the role to Boomtown Rats singer Bob Geldof. Twenty-three years later, Geldof convinced the classic lineup of Pink Floyd to reunite at Live 8 in London. 


1. ‘The Runaways’

Movies about hugely famous bands struggle to turn a profit, so it's unclear why anyone felt a movie about the Runaways would be a success. Granted, they hedged their bets by casting Kristen Stewart at the height of Twilight mania, but this was a tough sell. Most people forget this punk band even existed, and members Lita Ford and Joan Jett have had far more success in their solo careers. The film absolutely tanked, but that's not because it's poorly made. It's actually pretty fun, even though it plays fast and loose with the facts. (We suspect this won the poll because a certain actress from the film has a lot of Internet-savvy fans.)