Top 10 Rock Documentaries: Anvil, Nirvana, Daniel Johnston, Wilco, and More (With Video!)


This Friday the summer movie blockbuster season kicks into full swing with the release of Iron Man 2. Yes, there will be plenty of explosions, CGI special effects, sequels and remakes to last eager movie goers for the next few months.

But just in case you want to skip the long lines, expensive ticket prices and $20 buckets of fat-covered popcorn, here is a list of movies ready for you, the music lover, to watch in the comfort of your own home.

As far as movie genres go you can't do much better than the rockumentary. You get the educational value of a documentary combined with your favorite subject: rock music.

It's difficult to pick ten films in this category to put on a "best of" list. There are arguably a lot of other movies that many will feel should have been included on the list. That said, these ones are definitely the best.

10. American Hardcore
Hardcore punk is probably best experienced in a small club with a shitty sound system and cheap beer. But if you're more of a homebody an acceptable substitute is this documentary which examines the early-'80s hardcore punk scene. Punk fans will enjoy the rare concert footage and killer soundtrack.

9. End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones
From the hardcore scene to one of punks originals. Probably the most complete look at the history of the seminal punk quartet as heard from the band itself. Particularly interesting and horrifying at the same time are the stories of the Ramones recording sessions with producer Phil Spector. The film was luckily completed just before the passing of Dee Dee Ramone.

8. The Rolling Stones: Gimmie Shelter
While Gimmie Shelter was originally meant to be about The Rolling Stones' 1969 American tour, there is usually only one concert on that tour people are ever really interested hearing about. When the Stones decided to throw a free concert at the Altamont Speedway some 300,000 fans showed up and the Hells Angels were hired to do security. The result would be one of the most infamous concerts in rock history.

7. loudQuietloud: A Film About the Pixies
It'd be nice to think that the members of your favorite band were always the best of friends and that life on the road is non-stop fun. Sadly, that is not reality. Just as is the case in this documentary about the Pixies. From watching this film you'd think the last thing the Pixies would ever want to do is go on another tour with each other, but amazingly they still tour every so often. Still waiting on that Phoenix date, though.

6. The Decline of Western Civilization Part 2: The Metal Years
Perhaps the lasting legacy of the hair metal era will not be the music but the decadence and excess. Nowhere is this better documented than in this film. In particular the scene where W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes is shown lying in a pool next to his mom, fully clothed and completely wasted, downing a whole bottle of vodka.


5. This Is Spinal Tap
Okay, sure, technically speaking this isn't a true documentary since Spinal Tap isn't a real band. But while the film is intended as satire it is also incredibly accurate. Everyone from Jimmy Page to Glenn Danzig have said that many of the events parodied in the film, such as getting lost in the backstage area at concerts, have all happened to them.

4. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco
The story of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is almost to strange to be true. After finishing what is arguably their best album to date, their then record label Reprise refused to release the record for fear that it wouldn't sale. Eventually Yankee Hotel Foxtrot would be released by another record label to both enormous critical and commercial success. An interesting subplot of the film includes the internal conflict between Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and former guitarist Jay Bennett.

3. The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Sometimes the most interesting musicians are just a little off. Case in point singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston. Gaining a cult like status in the '80s with home made cassettes like Hi, How Are You this film documents Johnston's struggle with his musical genius and mental illness.


2. Kurt Cobain About A Son
Of all of the films on this list Kurt Cobain About a Son takes the most unusual approach to its subject. The film combines audio interviews of Cobain along with film of various locations where Cobain lived, but never actually showing the late Nirvana singer. The unique approach totally works and the audio provides an intimate portrait of Cobain making this a must see for Nirvana fans.

1. Anvil: The Story of Anvil
If there is one thing people love it's an underdog story. And there is no better underdog story than Anvil. The moderately successful metal band may not have been blessed with success but they make up for it in optimism. And the best part is that their story has a happy ending. After the release of theism film the band scored a record deal, became overnight celebrities and even had a few of their songs included in Guitar Hero.

Sponsor Content


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >