Movies hold a lot more meaning and emotional value when they have a good soundtrack. Music and movies go hand in hand. So, it’s no surprise that movies about music are at an advantage of hooking me. I should be clear that I’m not referring to musicals but movies where music is a central point of the plot. I love to watch people follow their musical dreams. I love seeing the atmosphere, the vision, the failures and triumphs, and of course, the performances. If I were to make a list of movies about music, the length would get out of hand. To avoid that, I decided to narrow it down to 10 of my favorites from the last 21 years.
Almost Famous (2000)
This movie struck me immediately when it began. It was recommended to me because the main character wants to be a music journalist. And of course, I loved it.
Set in the 70s, 15-year-old William is assigned by Rolling Stone magazine to do a profile of a rising rock band. They aren’t aware of his age when they assign it to him. When he attends a concert in town, he isn’t taken seriously because of his age but he catches the attention of the guitarist of the band Stillwater, and he’s let backstage. From there, he meets Penny Lane, a groupie for the band, who becomes a sort of guardian to him. As he’s exposed to this new world, he finds himself following the band on their tour, looking for opportunities to finally get an interview with the band who keeps putting it off. Through it all, he sees the rock world through a personalized lens.
The story is about the world of rock, but it’s also a compelling coming-of-age film. You get to watch what it’s like being in the music world but also a story of a kid seeing the harsh realities of life and the world he grew up idolizing. Yet still, finds much room for hope. He finds beauty in the world with all the beauty and the ugly.
The character William and the entire story are based on the life of Cameron Crowe, the film's writer-director, who was lucky enough to be a teenage Rolling Stone writer. This movie is a must-watch for anyone who loves music and compelling characters. And for any fans of Kate Hudson.
You can watch the trailer.
Raise Your Voice (2004)
I always loved Hilary Duff growing up. So, when my mom purchased Raise Your Voice, I was excited to watch it! I soon learned how devastating elements of the film truly are. I don’t want to give any of it away in case any readers would like to watch it. That said, a general spoiler-free summary would be that this movie tells a coming-of-age story centered around a small-town singer who ends up going to a performing arts academy in Los Angeles against her father’s wishes. In the performing arts academy, she experiences a whole new way of life in the big city, far from the small-town lifestyle she's used to. It also focuses on her coming into her own and working to fulfill her singing dreams.
It’s so emotionally gripping and powerful, and it’s a movie that may hold some early 2000s cringe, but it’s still a beautiful movie. Watch the trailer.
Walk the Line (2005)
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash, need I say more? Walk the Line is a biopic about the success and struggles of Johnny Cash. It follows the direction of many biopics—brief background, music beginnings, obscurity, rise to fame, addiction, or another form of hardship, and then beating it. The music industry can be a toxic place where musicians are exposed to parts of life they’d never known before. Walk the Line shows the degradation Cash faces as he struggles with addictions to booze and pills. What elevated the movie for me was Reese Witherspoon portraying June Carter, Cash’s second wife, and charismatic singer. The chemistry between Witherspoon and Phoenix was electric, and I loved that both actors worked hard to emulate the singing styles of the roles they were playing.
I learned a lot about Johnny Cash’s life from this movie, and I really enjoyed it from start to finish. It’s worth a watch for Johnny Cash fans (although remember it’s only based on his life, so some creative liberties were taken). Honestly, it’s a good watch for anyone, whether you knew and liked Johnny Cash or not. Check out the trailer.
8 Mile (2002)
As someone who grew up loving Eminem, this movie was always interesting to me. You learn a lot about Eminem through the lyrics of his songs but to see it played out on-screen gave fans a better understanding of his upbringing. Although the movie is loosely based on his life with some details changed, it still gives you a perspective on his experience getting into the rap scene. Plus, we got the legendary track “Lose Yourself” because of this movie, so that alone makes it great to me.
The movie follows the character Jimmy (B-Rabbit) as he tries to break into the rap game and get taken seriously. B-Rabbit goes through some rough patches with his mother, has a soft spot for his younger sibling, and has a tumultuous on-again-off-again relationship with a charismatic but severely damaged young woman. It’s an underdog story where Eminem plays the main character. Although it’s based on his life, he wanted to separate Jimmy from Marshal Mathers (Eminem), so he covered up his tattoos and altered some of the details to make for a more interesting story to follow.
It can get pretty heavy sometimes, but it’s definitely a must-watch for Eminem fans.
Check out the trailer.
A Star is Born (2018)
One of the brightest stars of recent music-related movies, A Star Is Born really captivated me. The performances are spectacular, the plot is both beautiful and heartbreaking, and the actors do an amazing job adding incredible emotion to the film. The movie follows a musician named Jackson (Bradly Cooper) who discovers -- and falls in love with – a struggling artist named Ally (Lady Gaga). She has just about given up on her singing dreams until Jackson coaxes her into the spotlight. But as Ally's career takes off, the personal side of their relationship breaks down as Jackson fights with his internal demons.
I remember feeling so moved after finishing this movie. It made me want to go to a concert. It made me wish I could sing. While the musical elements were obviously compelling, seeing the relationship between Jackson and Ally is what really kept me hooked in this movie. For fans of great music/performances, Lady Gaga, and a compelling story, A Star is Born is worth checking out.
Check out the trailer.
If there’s a recent movie I’d recommend everyone to check out, it would be Soul. This movie was so enlightening and beautiful. There aren’t very many animated movies where the focus is on the musical dreams of a character. Sure, there are plenty of movies with songs built-in that move the plot forward (and I love those too), but not many following music as the central plotline.
Joel Gardner is an aspiring jazz musician who finally gets his chance for a gig that could jumpstart the career he’s been chasing for years. But then, he falls into a coma and finds himself in a form of an afterlife where he learns about how souls and personalities and formed. I don’t want to give anything away, so, unfortunately, I’m going to keep it vague for you to figure out for yourself. I will say that is a story of discovering what makes you, YOU, and about what our spark and purpose in life can mean.
It’s a movie that’s about music but also not about music, and I love that about it. I love that Pixar is working to add deeper meaning to their movies so that older folk who still love and support them can glean important lessons and meanings from it too. It’s a must-watch for anyone and everyone. The animation is unique, the plot is deep, and the voices bring so much life to the characters.
Watch the trailer.
And, we welcome you to read other other blog post about Soul here.
Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
Of all the recent biopics, this one is my favorite. Bohemian Rhapsody follows the life of Freddie Mercury and the events leading up to him joining the legendary rock band Queen and how the popularity and fame affected him over time. While it focuses a lot on his music career, you also get a look at his personal life including his struggles with substance abuse and an AIDS diagnosis. I think what makes it so interesting to watch is the well-plotted story and great acting. Rami Malek does a really good job of imitating Freddie Mercury. After finishing the movie, I wanted to listen to Queen’s entire discography. I’ve always loved learning the story of a worldwide phenomenon, especially bands.
For fans of Queen, this is clearly a must-watch. For anyone else who’s into biopics or simply compelling stories, this is a great movie to watch.
Watch the trailer.
Pitch Perfect (2012)
This is such an iconic and fun movie. Grossing about 588 million dollars over three movies, this was a huge movie franchise. For many Gen-Z kids and millennial teens, it was a favorite, for me included, of course. Pitch Perfect follows the story of a college freshman, Beca, whohas little interest in college and wants to be a DJ, but has agreed to “try” college first. With little interest in being part of a group, Beca still finds herself thrown into an a cappella group after meeting a few off-the-wall girls determined to bring her into the group. The story follows the group as they prepare for an a cappella competition and Beca encourages them to break out of traditional barriers to come up with stronger harmonic combinations.
The a cappella renditions are super fun to watch and listen to. If you’re not much for covers, the plot is fun and goofy enough to keep it interesting. For fans of Anna Kendrick, lively covers, and lighthearted stories, Pitch Perfect is worth checking out.
Watch the trailer.
School of Rock (2003)
This is another movie from my childhood that I’ve always loved. Jack Black is a chaotic music teacher in it, and you get to see Miranda Cosgrove pre-Drake and Josh as a sassy little band manager. Rock lover and guitarist Dewey (Jack Black) is desperate for a job after getting kicked out of his bar band. He becomes a substitute music teacher where he shares what it means to be a rock god and creates a band with the students. The principal does not agree with his teaching methods despite the students’ love for the class. It’s full of goofy and iconic moments that I still remember and love to this day. One of my favorites is Jack Black singing, “You’re not hardcore unless you live hardcore.”
For rock music lovers, it’s a must-watch! Jack Black’s explosive performance will have you rolling on the floor with laughter. Watch the trailer.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
I just to put this movie on the list. Is it ridiculously goofy and cringy at times? Yes. But that’s kind of the point. Andy Samberg with the other two members of The Lonely Island came together to create a mockumentary parodying the modern pop star. The Lonely Island is known for parody songs such as “Mother Lover” and “I’m On A Boat” so it was no surprise when they announced they’d be making a full-length film. Andy Samberg is one of the modern comedians that I feel always nails it, whether it’s in this movie, in The Lonely Island, in his SNL days, or in his role on the hit show Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
The movie follows the three members of the Lonely Island playing characters that are in a group together called The Style Boyz. When Conner (Andy Samberg) leaves the band to pursue a solo career, the group falls apart and being a pop star begins to get to his head. Like many real pop stars, Conner Friel (stage name Conner4Real) faces controversy and plummeting record sales as he loses his spark. As this is happening, he is filming a documentary about his life while he's still on top. When his second album flops, the camera is there to capture his world come crashing down.
If you go in knowing that none of it should be taken seriously and you’re looking for a good laugh, this is a fun movie to try out. I’d especially recommend it if you enjoy Andy Samberg’s form of comedy. Watch the trailer.
What do you think of this list? Are they any essential movies from the 2000s that I missed? Sound off in the comments!
Written by Kristen Petronio