On October 5th, 1991, the Dublin-based soul band known as the Commitments hit their peak position on the Billboard 200 when they cracked the top 10 to secure the number eight spot on the music chart, wedged between Ozzy Osbourne and Bonnie Raitt. The biggest difference between those two legendary artists and the Irish newcomers? The Commitments were a work of pure fiction — at least, they were originally.
Originally created by writer Roddy Doyle for his 1987 novel of the same name, director Alan Parker brought The Commitments to life 25 years ago — on August 14th, 1991 — with a cast of (mostly) musicians who had the acting chops to carry a movie. But those R&B road dogs are hardly alone: From Pitch Perfect‘s a capella champions to the punk Irish preteens of Sing Street, the movies are full of amazingly talented musical artists and groups who we only wish existed in real life.
So we’re counting down 25 most amazing “movie bands” — those fake metalheads, glam divas, bluegrass crooners and underage rock superstars that have graced the screen, and a few cases, the actual stage. Some of them ended up touring (big up Jake and Elwood Blues!); others played their final note the minute they heard “That’s a wrap.” But all of them go to 11. Play this list loud.
25. Sing Street, ‘Sing Street’ (2016)
Like an 1980s pop version of the Commitments, the title band in the latest from Irish filmmaker John Carney (Once) channels much of what there was to love about the decade — from the omnipresence of Duran Duran to an ever-changing lineup of pouffy-hair icons. It’s the early MTV era as seen through the eyes of Conor, a misfit Dublin teen who decides to form a band for the oldest of reasons: to impress a girl. Despite his hormonally charged reasons, he and his classmates manage to produce some catchy tunes — complete with state-of-the-art D.I.Y. music videos, of course.The fact that the prom clip for “Drive It Like You Stole It” wasn’t actually a Buzz Bin clip back in the day feels like a crime.
24. Marvin Berry & the Starlighters, ‘Back to the Future’ (1985)
Really, the band should be known as Marty McFly and the Starlighters, as it’s Michael J. Fox’s time-traveling teen who gives the Starlighters’ lead singer, — Marvin Berry, fictional cousin to Chuck — a lesson in “oldies” mixed with some Eddie Van Halen-style electric guitar pyrotechnics. Which means that, in addition to forcing his parents to fall for each other and ensuring his own existence, Marty technically pioneered rock & roll music, too. (We’ll leave the plutonium and Libyan terrorists out of it.)
23. Steel Dragon, ‘Rock Star’ (2001)
Mark Wahlberg was no stranger to standing in front of a stadium full of music fans by the time he took on the role of Chris “Izzy” Cole, a superfan-turned-lead singer of Eighties metal band Steel Dragon. Though the movie, based on the story of Tim “Ripper” Owens — a Judas Priest superfan who briefly replaced Rob Halford as lead singer — pretty much tanked, it at least got the music right; in addition to Walhberg and Dominic West (yes, seeing The Wire‘s McNulty with a full-on metalhead ‘do is a sight to behold), the bulk of the band is filled out with actual musicians, including (ex-Dokken-er) Jeff Pilson, Jason Bonham (son of John), and Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde. Feel the vibrations.
22. The Weird Sisters, ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ (2005)
It may not seem like there’s much room for a cool alt-rock group amidst all the wizardry, Quidditch, and other made-up things that Muggles will never understand in the world of Hogwarts. Then along came the Weird Sisters. In the fourth installment of the book series-turned-film franchise, an impressive all-star Britpop band showed up – featuring Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker on lead vocals and members of Radiohead, All Seeing I, and Add N to (X) — to show those little wizards kids how to “Do the Hippograff.” Imagine the Harry Potter version of the African Anteater Ritual, and you’re halfway there.
21. The Carrie Nations, ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ (1970)
Three years after Mark Robson turned Jacqueline Susann’s trash-lit Valley of the Dolls into a box office hit, sexploitation legend Russ Meyer and soon-to-be Pulitzer Prize-winner Roger Ebert teamed up to create a psychedelic sequel that followed the sex, drugs, and rock and roll-fuelled lifestyle of an all-girl power trio. Though they were as badass as their namesake — a leader of the temperance movement who toted around a hatchet — they weren’t nearly as conservative. Ebert himself, who was surprised that it ever got made in the first place, once explained that in Meyer’s mind, the film “should simultaneously be a satire, a serious melodrama, a rock musical, a comedy, a violent exploitation picture, a skin flick and a moralistic expose (so soon after the Sharon Tate murders) of what the opening crawl called ‘the oft-times nightmarish world of Show Business.'”
20. The Ain’t Rights, ‘Green Room’ (2016)
Filmmaker Jeremie Saulnier put his film’s fake band — consisting of Callum Turner, Peaky Blinders‘ Joe Cole, Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat and the late Anton Yelchin — through a punk-rock boot camp prior to shooting this modern exploitation-movie classic, and man, does it show. Watch this gnarly hardcore quartet tear through the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” with abandon — made all the more impressive by the fact that they’re doing the number for a room full of white-supremacist skinheads.
19. Citizen Dick, ‘Singles’ (1992)
Cameron Crowe has long had his finger on the pulse of the music scene, and never was that more evident than his Gen X rom-com that practically predicted the cultural impact of the Seattle grunge scene. Though much is made of the film’s soundtrack — which became a hit months before the movie was even released — the movie’s true rock stars are Citizen Dick, Matt Dillon’s up-and-coming grunge group, which features Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Stone Gossard, and Jeff Ament (who were still known as Mookie Blaylock at the time). That the group’s big hit would be a riff on Mudhoney’s era-defining single, here renamed “Touch Me, I’m Dick” only ups the bona fides.
18. Eddie and the Cruisers, ‘Eddie and the Cruisers’ (1983)
In a way, you almost have to feel bad for John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band. The Rhode Island-based rockers were still just finding their way in the business when they were approached about creating the soundtrack for a musical mystery about the rise and fall of a formerly famous band named Eddie and the Cruisers. Though the movie took its time in gaining a cult following (almost a year after the film’s release, thanks to multiple HBO viewings), the soundtrack immediately became a huge hit. But fans of the film thought of the music as Eddie’s — not John’s. To this day, it remains the (real) band’s biggest hit.
17. The Wonders, ‘That Thing You Do!’ (1996)
Had Tom Hanks taken a different path in life, he may very well have become a successful music producer. In 1996, he released one of cinema’s great earworms onto an unsuspecting public with the title track from That Thing You Do!, courtesy of the movie’s fake British Invasion-style band the Wonders. (Also known as the “Oneders,” the movie’s cheekiest in-joke regarding its one-hit-wonder group.) Seriously, who knew Steve Zahn looked that good playing in a Sixties pop band?
16. Sex Bob-Omb, ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ (2010)
While it’s Scott Pilgrim’s love life that drives the narrative in Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series, it’s his band — Sex Bob-Omb — that gets taken along for the ride, as much of the film’s action moves from one (sometimes literal) battle of the bands to the next. How good is this Le Tigre-meets-the-White-Stripes-meets-the-Buzzcocks power trio? Cartoon lightning bolts shout out as they play. That’s good!
15. Maxwell Demon and Venus in Furs, ‘Velvet Goldmine’ (1998)
Todd Haynes’ tribute to the glam rock scene of the 1970s gives the Ziggy Stardust-ish Brian Slade/Maxwell Demon (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and his Iggy-like friend Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor) top billing. But it’s the Venus in Furs, Demon’s backup band, who make the movie’s soundtrack. In reality, the band — which has a penchant for Roxy Music covers — is a bit of a British supergroup that counts Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, Suede’s Bernard Butler, and even Roxy Music’s Andy Mackay among its members. It’s a glam slam, to say the least.
14. CB4, ‘CB4 (1993)
Give it up for MC Gusto, Stabmaster Arson and Dead Mike — the trio behind Chris Rock and writer Nelson George’s hilarious mockumentary about gangsta rap, public handwringing over crime-pays rhymes and a host of Clinton-era hip-hop fads. Everyone from MC Hammer to X-Clan gets ribbed here, and while the titular group is a nice amalgamation of the age’s alpha male rap star — a little bit of Naughty by Nature and Ultramagnetic MCs here, a whole lot of N.W.A there — they also know how to rock a stage on their own. Not anybody can get the crowd moving to a classic like “Sweat From My Balls,” people.
13. The Soggy Bottom Boys, ‘O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?’ (2000)
More than a decade before Inside Llewyn Davis, Joel and Ethan Coen made music the star of one of their period films — specifically, the old-timey music that colours this Great Depression-era tale of escaped convicts who accidentally strike it big on the bluegrass scene. George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson may not have had the pipes to pull off the singing on their own, but their commitment to the art form is commendable — and the soundtrack featuring their rendition of the Americana standard “Man of Constant Sorrow” helped lead to a renewed interest in the genre.
12. Sonic Death Monkey, ‘High Fidelity’ (2000)
There are many things to love about Stephen Frears’ adaption of Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name (with a quick location switcheroo from London to Chicago). At the top of that list: Jack Black’s impressive cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” with the band formerly known as Sonic Death Monkey, soon-to-be-known as Kathleen Turner Overdrive, and currently known as Barry Jive and the Uptown Five. The fact that the comedian was doing double duty in the metal-comedy duo Tenacious D hadn’t quite reached the mainstream at that point — so when the funny man suddenly busted out a soulful rendition and proved he had some serious pipes? You could see people in the audience swoon.
11. The Barden Bellas, ‘Pitch Perfect’ (2012)
Three years after Glee brought some long overdue respect to the instrument-less art form, Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson helped turn what could have been a quickly forgotten musical comedy about competitive melody-making into a worldwide hit that is still the third highest-grossing musical comedy of all-time (its 2015 sequel currently holds the top position). When it comes to vocal breakdowns, you simply can’t mess with the Bellas. And though a riff-off is the only way to determine which one of Pitch Perfect‘s most popular a capella ensembles reigns supreme, it’s hard to mention one without the other — so give it up as well for the Treblemakers, the Bellas’ all-male counterpart.
10. Jim and Jean, ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ (2013)
First things first: In the 1960s, there really was a folk duo known as Jim and Jean, who were romantically involved and married for a time. Though they’re a likely source of inspiration for Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan’s folk duo (not to mention Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara’s Mitch & Mickey from A Mighty Wind), the Coen brothers’ duo are not that Jim and Jean. But hearing them perform together, it would have worked — especially since Mulligan has the era’s gorgeous, female-songbird trilling down pat. And that Timberlake guy isn’t too bad, either.
9. School of Rock, ‘School of Rock’ (2003)
The Tenacious D rocker Jack Black never seems more in his element — even onscreen — than when he’s given a microphone and left to his own devices. Which is exactly what he does in Richard Linklater’s School of Rock, where he cons his way into a job as a substitute teacher and sets about giving his students an education in the history of music, eventually turning them into the academically named band of the title. Whereas Black, if left to his own devices, could have taken the film to a much more adult sense of humor, the fact that he’s constrained by a PG-13 rating is part of the charm (and made the movie a family-friendly hit). if you wanna be the teacher’s pet … baby, you just better forget it.
8. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, ‘The Muppet Movie’ (1979)
Sure, the Muppets may be best known for sentimental tunes like “Bein’ Green” and “The Rainbow Connection,” but don’t count them out when it comes to finding a harder sound. Kermit gets the headlines, yet the true musical geniuses in Jim Henson’s furry puppet playland are Dr. Teeth, Animal, Floyd Pepper, Janice, and Zoot – a.k.a. the Electric Mayhem. And not only do they bring the Seventies boogie-funk with the best of them; they’re also great at dropping exposition in key moments of the story, per above. These cats could have toured with Leon Russell or April Wine back in the day. Can you picture that?
7. The Commitments, ‘The Commitments’ (1991)
When it comes to Irish music, Bono and bodhráns might be the first images that come to mind. But director Alan Parker decided to give the country a bit more soul when he adapted the 1987 book about a wayward group of Dubliners forming into a first-class R&B band. They face the inevitable challenges — equipment issues, uncomfortable romances, band member rivalries — but it’s the music that matters. Parker’s decision to record all of the vocals live on set helped give the movie a sense of authenticity, as did the casting of singer Andrew Strong, just 16 years old at the time, as the band’s lead vocalist. And yes, that’s the Frames/future Once star Glen Hansard on guitar.
6. Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, ‘Star Wars’ (1977)
All things considered, Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (a.k.a. the Cantina Band) were just a blip in the Star Wars universe. Yet this baldheaded gathering of Bliths somehow managed to make their presence known — even when their repetitive little ditty faded into the background of the Mos Eisley Cantina. Perhaps it’s the oddly anachronistic, ragtime-like beat that plays in stark contrast to the sinister dealings that are happening right in front of them. Or that the tune comes courtesy of composer John Williams, in prime intergalactic-lounge mode. But it says something that your ear remains trained to it, even when Han Solo going on and on about making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.
5. The Folksmen, ‘A Mighty Wind’ (2003)
Though it wasn’t until 2003 that moviegoers got a taste of the clean-cut, folk music stylings of the Folksmen, the band’s origins go back nearly 20 years earlier. Like a bizarro version of Spinal Tap, the fictional folk trio is comprised of Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer. They made their debut (in 1984) on Saturday Night Live, and in the decades that followed, the fake band put on many real performances — things even got meta on a few occasions when they served as the opening act for the Tap. Though it may seem unfair to single the Folksmen out amidst the other entertaining acts featured in Guest’s A Mighty Wind (namely: The New Main Street Singers and Mitch & Mickey), this trio has the seniority.
4. Hedwig and the Angry Inch, ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ (2001)
This indie film (and its namesake band) began life on the New York stage, and like any worthwhile musical, the movie’s narrative progresses through song. But Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about as far away from Singin’ in the Rain as you can get. The film operates more like a rock opera, which is part of what allows Hedwig and her band to pivot from hard-rock tunes to moving ballads without losing a step, go-go boots and all. Since becoming a movie, Hedwig has once again returned to the stage, this time on Broadway, with marquee names like Neil Patrick Harris taking over the lead. But nothing compares to John Cameron Mitchell’s original, especially when you see him front the band in the closest thing the movie has to a title song. Six inches forward, five inches back … .
3. Stillwater, ‘Almost Famous’ (2000)
In real life, a 15-year-old Cameron Crowe had the opportunity to interview Poco for Rolling Stone. In the director’s most personal movie, the 15-year-old in question is a wide-eyed kid named William Miller and the band is Stillwater (which was, in fact, a real band in the 1970s, but that’s just a coincidence). What makes the band (featuring Billy Crudup and Jason Lee, in primo Seventies duds) such a standout in the landscape of fictional rock groups is not so much their music; it’s the depths to which music, on a holistic level, drives the members’ every decision. In the end, the movie stands as more of a testament to an era in music than one particular band, and Stillwater is the embodiment of that age of rockers — the good, the bad and the Golden God-like.
2. The Blues Brothers, ‘The Blues Brothers’ (1980)
Introduced to television audiences on Saturday Night Live some 40 years ago, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s black-suited soul men were initially a lark. But they proved popular enough that they recorded a full album, Briefcase Full of Blues, then made the leap to the big screen with John Landis’ iconic 1980 comedy. And the rest is history, with the duo do a few shows as Jake and Elwood Blues and assembling a dream-team band (featuring members of Booker T and the MGs, the Bar-Kays and Blood, Sweat and Tears) to back them up. That’s when they weren’t trading licks, of course, with Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles. Belushi’s death in 1982 didn’t stop Aykroyd from resurrecting the brothers occasionally, but really, it’s the original siblings on a mission from God — the guys making that Stax-style revue swing — that have earned a prime placement on this list.
1. Spinal Tap, ‘This is Spinal Tap’ (1984)
Spinal Tap didn’t invent the concept of the parody band — but for many, they’re the still standard to which all others are held. While comedy-inclined audiences loved the band for their bitingly funny song titles and lyrics — “My baby fits me like a flesh tuxedo / I love to sink her with my pink torpedo” — dozens of famous musicians have been frank about just how accurately the movie depicts the life of a career musician. (Metallica’s Lars Ulrich famously classified the flick as a horror film and swore that “Every single functioning band out there has sat and looked at that movie and cringed.”) But look beyond its humor, its accuracy and the fact that the miniature version of Stonehenge is in danger of being crushed by a little person, and the fact remains that the band’s actually good. Really good. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer have recorded and played live in character for so long as the metal trio that you sometimes forget they started life as a fictional band. Still, all these years later, their songs remain the same, the jokes are still funny — and in terms of fake movie bands, they still go to 11.