In a few short months, Rami Malek will grace the silver screen as the iconic Freddie Mercury in the music movie Bohemian Rhapsody. Music movies give us a peek behind the curtains of stardom. We relate to the characters, whether they’re based on real musicians or not, skirt temptation, fall prey to addiction, or crumble under the weight of their success.
At the heart of the best music movies, however, are human relationships — friendships, romances, and family. Here are five such masterpieces you need to watch before making your way back to the theater for more.
Heavily inspired — and scorned — by David Bowie, Velvet Goldmine takes the audience on a magic, tragic ride. Musician Brian Slade finds his tribe, but it leads him down a path of destruction. The film idolizes the carefree, sexually fluid, over-the-top showmanship of glam rock while taking a dark look at the consequences of that idolatry.
Excellent performances by the film’s stars, including Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ewan McGregor, Christian Bale, and Toni Collette, are supported by an incredible soundtrack. Littered with legends, old and new, the soundtrack immerses the audience in a different decade, long gone.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Not all comic-book adaptations feature a caped crusader fighting for justice. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a coming-of-age tale that blends elements of magic-realism with images rooted in the gamer world.
Tensions mount as Scott Pilgrim, played by Michael Cera at his most Michael Cera-ish, battles for Ramona’s love all over a stylized Toronto. He has to fight each of Ramona’s evil exes to get a chance at dating her. His band’s journey is accompanied by a soundtrack that swings manically between high-octane, pump-you-up madness and romantic almost-ballads. The pacing and plot keep viewers on their toes in this movie all about love, music, and love of music.
Josie and the Pussycats
Only the early 2000s could give birth to a confection so frothy yet filled with irony and bite as Josie and the Pussycats. Female friendships are superficially examined as the titular characters’ music careers suddenly soar.
But a deeper dive happens around the movie’s themes of predatory government and corporations. Marketing and the media’s influence are carried out to ridiculous extremes and create an unsettling, if slightly familiar, cocktail. This cautionary cult comedy is relevant now more than ever. Oh, and it stars Rachael Leigh Cook — no one can be mad at that.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Hedwig and the Angry Inch tackles the story of Hedwig, a talented transgender woman trying to exact revenge on the young man who wronged her. The audience is taken on an odyssey that highlights the resilience and persistence of the human spirit, starring a fully three-dimensional character.
She’s not there as a prop or just to play the victim. Hedwig has her own agency, responsible for her mistakes and victories alike. One can hope that, in the future, roles like this will be played by trans women. But in the meantime, this film packs emotional and musical heat that can’t be denied.
Aging Brit rockers “Strange Fruit” had their chance at glory in the 70s, but due to their pettiness, it slipped through their fingers. Still Crazy explores their rollicking exploits on the way to redemption.
The movie is both crazy quotable and emotionally sneaky as it gives viewers the sense they’re watching something private. Bill Nighy gives a particularly heartwarming turn as the insecure, new-age-steeped frontman. The cast as a whole works well to convey the feel of chosen family and the stakes of pursuing a lifelong dream for the second time.
Music movies bring the faraway fantasyland of music stardom down to the masses. It gives access, even if it’s only for a few hours, to a world most of us will never experience. The great ones, though, end up showing us the feelings and obstacles we all know. They just package it differently.