From the painfully realistic to the fancifully sensational, these are team Mixdown's favourite movies about bands.
I would venture to say, that when trawling streaming in search of movies about bands, one is hunting for films that fall into one of two camps.
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There’s the painfully realistic; stories that provide catharsis to those of us who have struggled and been burnt by entering into what can feel like a four/five way relationship, where you argue about lead tones and single artwork over in-laws.
And then there’s the second category, exaggerated zero to hero tales that provide heady escapism; comically fanciful scenes of hot-shot record executives spotting a wide-eyed ingenue at a dive bar, exclaiming, “hey… you’ve got something, kid. I’m gonna make you a star.”
Disclaimer: I am a lover and endorsee of both types. And hence, this list of films is sure to satisfy your band movie cravings across a broad spectrum, from the dark and broody to classic campy wish fulfilment titles. Let’s rock! (from the comfort of the couch.)
Sound of Metal – Darius Marder (2019)
Sound of Metal is a profoundly authentic portrayal of the challenges and realities of being in a band. The film, directed by Darius Marder, immerses viewers in the turbulent world of a heavy metal drummer, Ruben, who loses his hearing and is forced to leave the duo he performs in with his partner, which then leads to the dissolution of their relationship. Riz Ahmed’s exceptional performance captures the emotional turmoil and isolation that musicians can experience when faced with unexpected setbacks.
Often, portrayals of bands on screen either offer a behind the scenes look at the highs and lows of megastardom, or a rags to riches story that showcases a performer in the rocky beginnings of their career. This film feels particularly unique, and relatable for IRL musicians, as it showcases a band who are middlingly successful, not entirely unknown, yet still on the precipice of quite breaking through.
Sound of Metal is a poignant reminder that the pursuit of art often comes at a cost, and its realistic depiction of band life serves as a testament to the resilience and passion that drive musicians to overcome adversity.
Frank (2014) – Lenny Abrahamson
Frank (2014), directed by Lenny Abrahamson, offers a surreal and heightened depiction of being in a band; the complexities of creativity, mental health, and the pursuit of artistic expression exaggerated in scale with Michael Fassbender’s giant papier-mâché head at all times. With a whole lot of humor and heart, the film delves into the quirky dynamics between band members, and presents the highs and lows of the creative process, from the initial burst of inspiration to the challenges of staying true to one’s artistic vision. Frank ultimately serves as a poignant reminder that the music industry can be a place of both camaraderie and isolation, where unconventional artists find solace in their craft, even amidst their peculiarities.
Sing Street (2016) – John Carney
Sing Street is a heartwarming and relatable film that brilliantly captures the essence of being in a band. Directed by John Carney, it tells the story of a young boy forming a band in 1980s Dublin to impress a girl and escape the familial and school yard challenges of his everyday life. The film beautifully portrays the journey of self-discovery, creativity, and the magic of music, showcasing how a group of misfit friends comes together to find their voices and forge a path toward their dreams. Sing Street resonates because it not only celebrates the power of music but also portrays the universal experience of young musicians navigating the ups and downs of band life, making it a great movie about the band experience.
Her Smell (2019) – Alex Ross Perry
“Her Smell” is a gripping and raw portrayal of the more tumultuous realities that can come with the experience of being in a band. Directed by Alex Ross Perry, the film delves into the chaotic life of Becky Something, a Courtney Love-esque fictional rock star played by Elisabeth Moss, as she grapples with her dwindling fame, addiction, and personal demons. This movie authentically captures the highs and lows of the music industry, from the electric energy of live performances to the corrosive effects of substance abuse and ego. Through its intense storytelling and Moss’s riveting performance, “Her Smell” offers a harrowing but compelling look at the pressures, conflicts, and ultimate redemption that playing live music for a living can bring.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1982) – Lou Adler
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains is a cult classic film that offers a unique and gritty perspective on the band experience. Directed by Lou Adler, the film follows the rise of a young, fictional, all-female punk band, The Stains, as they navigate the music industry’s challenges. What makes it great is its fearless exploration of themes like rebellion, feminism, and the commodification of music. The film’s unapologetic attitude and punk rock ethos capture the essence of the DIY spirit of bands first breaking into their given scenes. Its raw energy and social commentary make it a timeless portrayal of the trials and triumphs of making a go of playing music with your friends, resonating with music enthusiasts and rebels alike.
“Vi är bäst!” (We Are the Best!) – Lukas Moodysson
Vi är bäst! (We Are the Best!) is a delightful and authentic portrayal of starting a band out of sheer, unbridled adolescent excitement, directed by Lukas Moodysson. Set in 1982 Stockholm, it follows three teenage girls who form a punk rock group despite having little musical experience. What makes it so great is its genuine depiction of the simultaneous awkwardness, camaraderie, and rebelliousness that come with being young. The film captures the essence of DIY punk culture and the power of music as an outlet for self-expression and resistance. With a charming mix of humor and heart, it celebrates the irrepressible spirit of young musicians discovering their voice and identity through music.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) – Edgar Wright
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a cinematic gem that offers a unique and stylised portrayal of being in a band. Directed by Edgar Wright, the film infuses the world of music with video game aesthetics and pop culture references, creating a visually dynamic and immersive experience. It captures the exhilaration of live performances, the complex dynamics that exist within a band, and the passionate pursuit of music. What sets it apart is its ability to blend the fantastical elements of epic battles with the relatable struggles of young musicians. This unique approach makes it a standout representation of band life, appealing to both music enthusiasts and gamers, offering a fresh take on the journey of musical self-discovery.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984) – Rob Reiner
This Is Spinal Tap is a brilliant mockumentary that stands as one of the best movies about being in a band ever made. Directed by Rob Reiner, the film hilariously satirizes the music industry and the quirks of rock and roll life. Its deadpan humor and unforgettable characters, particularly the bumbling members of the fictional band Spinal Tap, provide a sharp and affectionate commentary on the absurdities of fame, ego clashes, and the chaos behind the scenes. The film’s enduring appeal lies in its ability to simultaneously entertain and lampoon the rock and roll world, making it a timeless classic for music and comedy lovers alike.
A Mighty Wind (2003) – Christopher Guest
A Mighty Wind stands as one of the best mockumentaries about being in a band due to its unmatched blend of satire and heart. Directed by Christopher Guest, the film masterfully parodies the folk music revival scene, complete with quirky characters, absurd songs, and hilarious misunderstandings. What sets it apart is its deep affection for the genre and the genuine love the characters have for their music. The film’s deadpan humor and exceptional ensemble cast, many of whom are talented musicians in their own right, create a charming and endearing portrait of aging folk musicians reuniting for one last gig. It’s a loving homage that celebrates the enduring power of music and the eccentricities of those who make it.
The Runaways (2010) – Floria Sigismondi
The Runaways (2010) is an important film about being in a band, because it sheds light on the titular, real life pioneering all-female rock group that defied norms and paved the way for women in the music industry. Directed by Floria Sigismondi, the film tells the true story of the teenage band’s rise to fame, led by Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. It captures the struggles they faced in a male-dominated industry, including sexism and exploitation at the hands of predatory industry figures. Their journey, marked by rebellion, empowerment, and trailblazing talent, serves as a crucial narrative in the history of women in rock and roll, inspiring future generations of female musicians and highlighting the importance of breaking down gender barriers in the music industry.
Read an interview with Cherie Curie about her experience in The Runaways here.