The 10 best punk rock movies
Punk rock has been a part of cinema ever since the music was created in places like Los Angeles, New York, and London in the mid to late '70s. Aside from the music, either live or on record, the big screen provided another medium to convey what punk truly stands for: not giving a fuck what anyone else says or thinks, having integrity, staying true to your identity, and rebelling against the status quo. Note that this list doesn't include documentaries on punk, only feature films. We now present our list of top 10 punk rock movies.
10. Pump Up the Volume (1990) This films follows the story of protagonist Mark Hunter, played by a young Christian Slater. Hunter is a high school student in Phoenix, Arizona, who starts up his own pirate FM radio station a decade before the internet took over when underground radio stations meant a lot to younger people on the fringe of society. His leads two lives in the film: one is the shy, unspoken loner, and the other is the iconoclastic, angry, free-thinking DJ known as "Happy Harry On," a pseudonym that the anonymous shock jock takes on. After stirring things up at the school, with a suicide heard live on air, and revealing the dirty politics on the school campus involving grades and SAT scores, Hunter also pushes the boundaries with prank calls, simulated sounds of masturbation, vulgar jokes, rants about society, and most importantly music.
Hunter refused to play the New Kids on the Block, Luther Vandross, or Vanilla Ice, what was popular on the radio at the time. Instead he blasted listeners' speakers with artists such as the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Beastie Boys, Soundgarden, Primal Scream, Ice-T, Rollins Band, Bad Brains, and the Pixies, among many others. Hunter shows the influence of Rodney Bingenheimer, Lenny Bruce, and Howard Stern all in one. Eventually the FCC gets involved, to stop Hunter's illegal radio show.
9. Control (2007) This is a biopic about the life of the late Ian Curtis from the seminal yet short-lived U.K. band Joy Division. Married at a young age to his girlfriend Debbie, Curtis becomes a reclusive, depression-prone poet. In 1975, he is influenced directly by a live performance by the Sex Pistols to join a band put together by his friends, as the lead singer.
The film is a very sentimental tale of the manic ups and tragic downs of this charismatic, enigmatic, and suffering soul. Antics of Joy Division's early days are portrayed, including all the melodramatic infidelities, dysfunctional relationships, and instances of health problems and substance abuse. The film is based on the book Touching from a Distance by Deborah Curtis, and is named after the Joy Division song "She's Lost Control."
In real life as in the film, Curtis suffers from debilitating seizures, and is diagnosed with epilepsy, which leads to his eventual drug abuse and suicide by hanging himself in his parents' house, in May, 1980, just days before Joy Division was about to embark on a North American tour.
8. SLC Punk (1998) This film is a tale of two friends, ostensibly the only two punk rockers in ultraconservative Salt Lake City in 1985. "Stevo" and "Heroin Bob" struggle to find themselves and constantly explain their identities to family, friends, and society at large, who take their ripped clothes, Mohawks, tattoos, and colored hair as signs of mental illness.
Stevo finds himself amid a sea of casual sex, alcohol, drug abuse, nihilism, and the numerous cliques to which he doesn't belong: long hairs, neo Nazis, mods, new wavers, and red necks. Stevo also resents his unsupportive parents, who were former hippies, turned Reagan Republicans.
After the ironic and tragic accidental death of Heroin Bob, who was afraid of needles and never touched heroin, it is implied in the narration that Stevo, in his own screwed-up sense, finally settles down. The film does have a great soundtrack, which includes bands like Blondie, Fear, the Descendents, the Exploited, Generation X, the Stooges, the Ramones, Minor Threat, and Dead Kennedys.
7. Sid and Nancy(1986) A very thin Gary Oldman stars as Sid Vicious, the heroin addicted, unpredictable bass player for the Sex Pistols, in this exploration of his toxic, passionate, and violent relationship with Nancy Spungen. The film opens with Vicious being taken into police custody in New York City in 1978, where Spungen was allegedly stabbed by Vicious, while both were high on heroin in a room at the infamous Hotel Chelsea.
The details of the fights, injecting heroin, and other turmoil between Nancy and Sid, as well as the other members of the Sex Pistols, are detailed in the film and are vivid, even if exaggerated or dramatized. Courtney Love has a cameo as Gretchen, one of the couple's junkie friends in the punk scene. The film leaves the exact circumstances of Nancy's death by stabbing up to viewers, as well as Sid's own death from a heroin overdose in 1979, before he was to go on trial for killing Nancy.
6. Rock n Roll High School (1979) Perhaps this film might seem nostalgic and cheesy to younger fans, but keep in mind the context: There were no cell phones, DVDs, internet, You Tube, digital cameras, free downloads, or polished-sounding rock bands. This is a classic tale of youth rebellion and the potential passion that all teens inherently have for rock 'n' roll music.
The Ramones were one of the biggest rock bands, and the founders of punk rock, when the film was released. The band members star as themselves (Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky) as they take control over Vince Lombardi High School and celebrate a student body that cares more about rocking out than hitting the books. The band's performances are of the same quality as the videos from the same era, and musically the Ramones are at their peak.
Part cheesy teenage coming-of-age comedy, part punk rock history, this musical punk rock comedy gives younger people who weren't around to experience it a taste of the Ramones mania of the early '80s.
5.Suburbia (1983) Directed by Penelope Spheeris, who also directed the Decline of Western Civilization series, this film is a fictional portrayal of life in the early '80s in a suburban L.A. area where runaway punks are living in an abandoned building off the 605 freeways.
As wild rabid dogs kill a toddler, angry citizens come to the area to shoot the dogs, leading to confrontations with the punks. Stealing food, alcohol, and anything else they can get their hands on, these young punks do anything they can to survive. The film explores the drug use, squalid living conditions, and broken families of these kids, who all live in the "TR House" and treat each other like family.
Among the madness, violence, crime, and aggression, the film contains several live musical performances by hometown OG punk bands DI, TSOL, and the Vandals. The movie is a tragic, angst-ridden portrait of the not so glamorous lifestyle of these young punks.
4.Repo Man (1984) This movie is a cult classic, starring a young Emilio Estevez as an L.A. punk rocker who is unhappy with his job as a grocery store clerk and ends up landing a gig as a repo man, which involves driving fast, partying, sleeping with tons of women, and living in the fast lane.
With one repo assignment, however, the movie turns into a bizarre, twisted sci-fi action thriller, centering on a mysterious radioactive weapon that might be used for nefarious reasons as it is raced in the back trunk of a car throughout downtown L.A. and eventually the Southern California desert area.
3.Summer of Sam (1999) Written and produced by renowned film maker Spike Lee, this is a fictionalized tale of the real life Son of Sam Killer David Berkowitz, who terrified residents of New York City's Bronx in the summer months of 1977. The victims were men and woman shot to death at close range, many in parked cars. The brutal, horrific killings caused an extreme episode of fear, panic, anger, and paranoia among residents, and this film captures the essence of this vibe on film beautifully.
The film stars John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino, and Jennifer Esposito, along with Adrian Brody as one of the central characters: a punk rocker who is thought to be a Son of Sam suspect because of his punk fashion, including a Mohawk, dyed hair, chains, and leather.
Son of Sam also centers on the disco movement, and all its excesses of cocaine, sex, and the escapades of Studio 54. The real-life CBGBs was used, where the newly formed but thriving punk rock scene first erupted in New York City. Heroin use, violence, vinyl records, sex, and being ostracized by society was all a part of the underground; this was a time when being different in any way was dangerous and people were on extra alert due to the Son of Sam murders.
2.The Runaways (2010) Another biographical drama, this one is about the origins and formation of the L.A. all-girl rock band in 1975. The Runaways were a rock band, but managed to become a huge influence on not just rock but also punk and metal. Formed by guitarist and songwriter Joan Jett (played by Kristen Stewart), the band was also made up of singer Cherie Currie (played by Dakota Fanning), drummer Sandie West, and guitarist Lita Ford.
The movie depicts the band's early days and prior to its formation when music producer Kim Fowley is interested in Jett's aspirations to form an all-girl rock band. Eventually, the band auditions the young, blond Cherie Currie, who at first fails to impress the band, until the song "Cherry Bomb" is written on the spot; after singing the impromptu lyrics she joins the band.
The Runaways land a major record deal within two years, and become an overnight sensation across the world, especially in Japan, where the girls perform to rabid fans rivaling those of the Beatles. This success hits the girls hard, and is sequenced among dramatic scenes of infighting, fame, groupies, drug and alcohol abuse, and life in the fast line, including an overdose by Currie while in Japan, from pills and booze. The movie chooses to look closely at the loving yet fractured dynamic between Jett and Currie, who eventually chooses to go into acting as the band breaks up, while Jett has no choice but to remain in the world of rock music, forming her own Joan Jett and the Black Hearts.
1.What We Do Is Secret (2007) This movie is an accurate portrayal of the explosive L.A. punk band known as the Germs, and a look at the life and death of the band's volatile yet poetic lead singer, Darby Crash.
Known as one of the most dangerous, hated, and unpredictable bands on the L.A. punk scene from the beginning in the late '70s, the Germs brought violence, aggression, broken glass, blood, and fist fights to each show they performed, and soon the band was notorious for starting riots, eventually getting banned form most clubs and venues throughout L.A. The movie is a definite punk rock history lesson, with scenes depicting the Damned playing at the Whisky and many live specially recreated performances at the Masque in Hollywood, and for the film The Decline of Western Civilization.
The band's singer was viewed as a more nihilistic, sociopathic version of Jim Morrison, and would regularly perform after shooting up crystal meth, heroin, ketamine, or any other drugs he could find. The band, and other punks form the scene, lived off of cigarettes, malt liquor, and chili dogs from a popular punk rock eatery/ hangout in L.A. known as Oki Dogs.
The Germs also included Lorna Doom, Pat Smear, and Don Bolles, who created the magic and aura that was the spirit of the punk movement, before they knew it was a movement. But unfortunately, Darby Crash had other plans in mind, and in 1980, on the same day that John Lennon was assassinated, Crash was found dead, of a self inflicted heroin overdose in Hollywood. It is rumored that before he collapsed from the fatal hit, he wrote "Here Lies Darby Crash" on an adjacent table. Actor Shane West, who portrayed the late Darby Crash, was so convincing that since he has toured and played several shows with the surviving members of the Germs.
GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.