These 12 maybe are not the best, but they are quite interesting for a variety of reasons. I have included documentaries in the list.
In no particular order.
A Hard Day’s Night (1964) The Beatles in their first film. A cheeky semi-documentary and a classic. Millions had seen the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and many had witnessed the Beatles in concert, but this was an up close peek inside their humor and personality, written to showcase them to the world. The humor and originality never gets old. The film catapulted director Richard Lester into the big time.
The Wrecking Crew (2008) The documentary about the fabled group of studio musicians that played on a vast number of hit singles and classic albums of the 1960s and early 1970s. You’ve heard the songs, but likely never knew who was playing behind the singer. Even The Beach Boys used the Wrecking Crew on their albums. Directed by Danny Tedesco, son of legendary guitarist Tommy Tedesco, this is a marvelous tracing of that incredible story with many of the musicians from that era.
This Is Spinal Tap (1984) The pseudo-documentary by Rob Reiner with Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. An over-the-top look at the life of a metal-hair band. Crazy funny and more accurate than many realize.
Rock and Roll High School (1979) Riff Randell wants to give her song to The Ramones at their upcoming concert. The students revolt against their adult administrators, successfully up until this point. The Ramones help the students take over the school and reduce it to rubble. Produced by low-budget king Roger Corman. The film is campy and fun.
American Graffiti (1973) Directed by George Lucas, starring Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfus and Cindy Williams, the film is wall to wall music of the early 1960s. The film celebrated the last passage of youth and the innocence of America. The soundtrack helped trigger the nostalgia craze of the early 1970s, and energized the rerelease of the Golden Era of rock and roll.
It Might Get Loud (2008) Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White talk guitars, their influences and their music. Ninety minutes pass quickly as these three, from different periods of rock, talk collectively and individually about their careers and how they developed their unique guitar styles.
School of Rock (2003) Jack Black is in his element. A rock and roller who dreams of success, but he is dismissed from his band and finds himself teaching rock music to gifted musical students at a prep school. Directed by Richard Linklater, music is at the forefront of the film in some very good covers.
That Thing You Do (1996) Tom Hanks revisits the mid 1960s, in this homage to rock and roll garage bands that finally achieve some degree of success, but implode. A very satisfying journey through the still innocent 1960s. The songs from the film, modeled on the pop, rock and soul of the era, are quite good in their own right.
Woodstock (1970) What can you say about this film, or the cultural event, that hasn’t already. This was a generational statement. We can all debate the lasting impact, but it stands as a landmark concert film, and the soundtrack unleashed performances that still reverberate more than 50 years later. Concerts were not filmed or recorded like his before.
La Bamba (1987) Lou Diamond Phillips does a credible job as Ritchie Valens, who died with Buddy Holly in a plane crash. A young life, and career, was forever silenced. The film is earnest and does not back away from the underside of the era. The soundtrack sold over two million copies, with songs performed by Los Lobos, one of my favorite bands.
Runnin’ Down A Dream (2007) Feature film director Peter Bogdanovich assembled this four-hour journey through Tom Petty’s life and career, from Gainesville, Florida to arenas around the world. This is an incredibly detailed deep dive into Mudcrutch, the Heartbreakers and Petty’s solo work. For hardcore fans, it’s nirvana, for the casual fan, you might need to view it in parts. It’s a lot, but it’s good.
The Kids Are Alright (1979) One of the best rock documentaries ever. By the end of the 1970s, after the death of Keith Moon, The Who was a different band. Their heyday of influence was waning, but what a glorious previous 15 years! Director Jeff Stein spent two years collecting film and video performances and interviews, and persuaded the band to record some new performances for the film.
Honorable Mention: Help! (1965), Monterey Pop (1968), Yesterday (2019), Singles (1992), Echo in the Canyon (2018), Easy Rider (1969), Wattstax (1973), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Fifty By Four (2014), Produced By George Martin (2011), The Terry Kath Experience (2017), The Grateful Dead Movie (1977), The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip of Bob Weir (2014)
What films did I leave out? The Last Waltz, Rust Never Sleeps, Jailhouse Rock, Saturday Night Fever, The Song Remains the Same, Almost Famous, High Fidelity, FM, True Stories, Phantom of the Paradise, Tommy, The Buddy Holly Story, The Wedding Singer, The Wall, Quadrophenia, The Blues Brothers, Wayne’s World, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Pirate Radio.