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Rock Music in Film: Home

Rock Music in Film

Listen to the director drop the needle on a dramatic scene:

  • Pulp Fiction's John Travolta and Uma Thurman cutting a rug to Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell"
  • A tearful reunion from The Killing Fields set to John Lennon's "Imagine"
  • Judd Nelson's raised fist in The Breakfast Club to "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds
  • Sonny and Cher's "I Got You, Babe" repeating every morning, much to Bill Murray's chagrin, in Groundhog Day
  • Celebratory Gen-X angst set to "My Sharona" by the Knack in Reality Bites

Directors use music, and specifically popular music, for a number of reasons: to provide overall structural unity or coherence to a story; to set the mood or manipulate the viewer's emotions; to affect our interpretation of a scene through a juxtaposition of music and imagery; to enhance the pace or tempo of the film; or to serve as a reminder to the viewer of a time period or place. Directors who are well known for using popular music to score their films include Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, John Hughes, Cameron Crowe, Tom Tykwer, and the Wachowskis. Not only is popular music being used to score film, but popular musicians are being asked to go one step beyond and write the scores themselves, including the likes of Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo), Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), Randy Newman, Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead), Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), RZA (Wu-Tang Clan), and Nick Cave.

The resources below will assist you in doing research in the areas of popular music in film and the specific genre of rock films.

Jailhouse RockMister Rock and RollSpinal Tap

Rock Musicals

The Wiz / Ease on Down the Road / Michael Jackson, Diana Ross

Tommy / Pinball Wizard / Elton John

Grease / Greased Lightning / John Travolta

The Rocky Horror Picture Show / Sweet Transvestite / Tim Curry

Phantom of the Paradise / Phantom's Theme / William Finley

Once / Say It to Me Now / Glen Hansard


Film Scores by Rock Musicians

Social Network / Trent Reznor

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford / Nick Cave

Ghost Dog / RZA

Into the Wild / Eddie Vedder

Rock Musicians on Composing for Film

Mark Mothersbaugh on scoring for Wes Anderson films

Archival Resources

Rock, Rock, Rock article

Prince in Graffiti Bridge

Scenes from Rock Films

Rock Around the Clock, 1956 / Bill Haley & His Comets

Rock Rock Rock! / Alan Freed

Jailhouse Rock / Baby I Don't Care / Elvis Presley

Beach Blanket Bingo / Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello

Head / Porpoise Song / Monkees

Rock 'n' Roll High School / The Ramones

This Is Spinal Tap / Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer

Scores Using Rock Songs

Hamburger Hill / We Gotta Get Out of this Place / The Animals

The Breakfast Club / Don't You Forget About Me / Simple Minds

Reality Bites / My Sharona / The Knack

Pulp Fiction / You Never Can Tell / Chuck Berry

Almost Famous / Tiny Dancer / Elton John

The Life Aquatic / David Bowie covers / Seu Jorge

The Matrix / Spybreak! / Propellerheads

Magnolia / Wise Up / Aimee Mann

Perks of Being a Wallflower / Heroes / David Bowie

Directors on Popular Music in Film

Quentin Tarantino

Jim Jarmusch

Anatomy of a Scene / Begin Again / John Carney

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