The soundtrack to a movie can play a huge role in fleshing out the tone, mood, and emotional impact of the narrative.
From the sweeping orchestras of John Williams to the pounding rhythms of Hans Zimmer, the right score can elevate an already great movie to legendary status.
And when a film score is carefully hand-crafted for a specific film with love and meticulous detail, it's a uniquely grand phenomenon. Scene by scene, you can't help but be sucked into the experience.
But there's one type of film score that's become less common in recent years: the rock music soundtrack.
From Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights to Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, hundreds of past movies boast rockin' track lists for us to bang along to. Even directors like Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson have integrated their groovy music tastes into their works.
Here are our picks for the best movies with rock music soundtracks, some that mix classic songs with unexpected twists. Whether you're a fan of psychedelic, hardcore, or pop rock, there's a movie for you.
10. The Big Lebowski (1998)
In The Big Lebowski, The Dude (played by Jeff Bridges) maintains the constant level of chill we all wish we could have. The flip flop-wearing, White Russian-drinking stoner shrugs off the chaotic and violent antics that bear down on him.
Although The Big Lebowski is set in the 90s, The Dude and his buddies are still living vicariously through their memories of the 60s.
What better way to accompany a tale of burned-out baby boomers, acting like it's still the Summer of Love, than with Creedence Clearwater Revival?
Directors Joel and Ethan Coen took a slightly different approach to The Big Lebowski's soundtrack. While they usually rely on Carter Burwell compositions, a sometimes-chill sometimes-poppy-rock score was a much better fit for this film.
That means you'll hear the likes of Bob Dylan, Kenny Rogers, and The First Edition. There's even a little flamenco thrown in there, thanks to the Gipsy Kings.
9. Forrest Gump (1994)
When you think of rock movies, Forrest Gump probably doesn't jump to mind. But considering it follows Forrest's life from the 1950s through to the 1980s, you're bound to stumble on counterculture classics.
After all, the love of Forrest's life is a hippie, he lands an interview alongside John Lennon, and gives a speech (sort of) at the anti-Vietnam March on the Pentagon. Cue, "Jefferson Airplane."
Director Robert Zemeckis carries the near 150-minute runtime on a constant stream of rock masterpieces, including Four Tops, Elvis Presley, The Mamas and the Papas, and The Doors.
Forrest Gump was made for 1960s fanatics who have stacks of vintage psychedelic vinyls in their attic.
8. School of Rock (2003)
Jack Black's defining role of his acting career, which solidified his trademark energy and wobbly eyebrows, undoubtedly came in Richard Linklater's comedy School of Rock. And with the word "Rock" in its title, how could we not include it?
School of Rock opens to a grimy nightclub where guitarist Dewey Finn (played by Jack Black) stage-dives onto an empty, sticky floor. Like most aspiring musicians, he's skint... so he poses as a substitute teacher at a preppy school to cover rent.
As it turns out, upper-class parents will pay a lot of money to private schools to drill their kids into virtuosos, so Dewey decides to use them to win Battle of the Bands.
Before creating some new songs, Dewey has to teach the students the world of rock. He swaps their classical music sheets for lessons on the difference between punk and heavy metal. Their homework? Listen to CDs by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Rush.
If only school was really like that...!
7. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was a financial flop that later grew into a hailed cult classic. No film has ever quite matched its frenzied plot that involves speeding down the Nevada desert... on speed. And mescaline. And LSD. And cocaine. And alcohol.
Much of the film's belated success comes as much from its far-out music tracks as it does its wild characters. Big Brother and the Holding Company swoop in to warm us up, followed by The Yardbirds and Three Dog Night, with a little Buffalo Springfield added to the mix.
Being pumped to the eyeballs with drugs makes music somewhat overwhelming for Dr. Gonzo (played by Benicio del Toro), so Raoul Duke (played by Johnny Depp) offers to throw his radio into the tub when "White Rabbit" peaks. Probably not the best idea...
6. High Fidelity (2000)
Any film that's set in a record store has a high bar to meet when it comes to its soundtrack. Fortunately, in High Fidelity, director Stephen Frears pulled that off with ease—partly thanks to star John Cusack, who hand-picked 70 tracks himself.
Like Nick Hornby (author of the original 1995 novel), Rob is a music lover whose life moves in rhythm to his vinyls. But his vinyls aren't just playing for the fun of it; each song is used to mirror the protagonist's moods and experiences.
When Rob is down in the dumps, expect to hear the 13th Floor Elevators and Bruce Springsteen. Among well-known classics like "Town Called Malice" and "We Are the Champions" are a selection of indie picks for rock connoisseurs (i.e. "Suspect Device" by Stiff Little Fingers).
5. Pirate Radio (2009)
Also titled The Boat That Rocked in some regions, Pirate Radio is a proper British comedy through and through, featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman leading an ensemble cast. Here we get a taste of London during the Swingin' Sixties.
Well, we say London, but Pirate Radio doesn't have an official location; that's the whole point! While the BBC clamps down on immoral rock n' roll influences, Radio Rock broadcasts pirated beats from international waters that censorship boards can't reach.
Richard Curtis's star-studded comedy might have slipped under your radar, but if you're a fan of The Kinks or dry British humor, be sure to check it out. Radio Rock blasts out The Turtles, Cream, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Moody Blues, and so much more.
4. Elvis (2022)
Here we have the King of Rock himself, Elvis Presley. Despite his stint as an actor, Elvis Presley was always better suited to the musical stage.
While a cultural icon as legendary as Elvis is near impossible to re-enact, we finally got a worthwhile performance in a film centered on the King himself (instead of the several half-decent stabs by actors playing him in supporting roles over the years).
Elvis is a film that's as fast, glitzy, and SFX-soaked as they come, but considering the singer's legacy was built on Las Vegas glamour, director Baz Luhrmann's over-the-top style is more than fitting and the singer is impressively captured by a budding Austin Butler.
As you'd expect, pretty much all of Elvis Presley's discography is woven throughout the movie. Yet, it's not so much his songs that are powerful, but rather the way they're synthesized, exaggerated, and remastered across smoky Memphis blues bars and glittery Doja Cat remixes.
3. Quadrophenia (1979)
Quadrophenia is based on The Who's 1973 rock opera. That description alone is enough to get us seated with popcorn at the ready, but don't crunch so loudly that you miss The Kingsman singing "Louie Louie."
Most record stores still sell the Quadrophenia album, but why not enjoy it with a little slice of cinema? For all its angst and amphetamines, Quadrophenia is actually a heartfelt coming-of-age drama with an ambiguously tragic ending.
Franc Roddam directs Phil Daniels as a bored young Mod who spends his days in scooter rallies and brawls with the Rockers. While the BSA riders herald old-school 50s rock, Mods prefer more current soul sounds that, to us, are no longer current (but still great).
Whether it's the movie or the album you enjoy, Quadrophenia captures a vibe wholly unique to 1960s urban Britain.
2. Easy Rider (1969)
We've mentioned the 1960s often throughout this list, and that's because the decade was such a pivotal time for rock n' roll!
Attitudes were changing, minds were expanding, and young people preferred to ride around on motorcycles while smoking weed than to be married and settled down by 20.
That was certainly the case for Wyatt and Billy (played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper), who freewheel towards LA to smuggle drugs.
Not only was Easy Rider a groundbreaking film for cinema—ending the Golden Age of heavily censored studio films—but also for music. The Steppenwolf soundtrack matches perfectly with the chilled-out, free-loving attitude of its characters on LSD at a hippie commune.
Alongside Steppenwolf are tracks from The Electric Prunes and Fraternity of Man. Not only do we get to hear The Byrds play "Wasn't Born to Follow," but Roger McGuinn wrote "The Ballas of Easy Rider" specifically for the film... with a little help from Bob Dylan.
1. Almost Famous (2000)
In Almost Famous, we get an exploration into an off-branch of the music industry: music journalism.
The journalist at its center is a 15-year-old kid from San Diego, played by Patrick Fugit. Cameron Crowe's famous comedy is partially based on his own experiences writing for Rolling Stone.
This coming-of-age drama is distinctly American, complete with cheesy Elton John car singalongs. If The Who isn't your kind of rock, perhaps Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin are.
Crowe chose at least 50 different songs to support his award-winning movie, including Stillwater's "Fever Dog" and "Mr. Farmer" by The Seeds. That's one road trip we'd love to be on!