The 10 Best Punk Rock Movies
Punk rock has been a part of cinema ever since the music blasted out of New York, Los Angeles, and London in the mid to late '70s. In film and on TV, portrayals of punk are often misguided or straight laughable (Hello Quincy! Hi C.H.I.P.S! Hey, CBGB movie!) But sometimes they get it kinda sorta right. Here now, our list of 10 punk movies we can live with. (Note: not included here are punk documentaries, only feature films.)
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. He 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.". 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 like 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 iconic 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 from 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 (spoiler alert!) and suicide by hanging himself in his parents' house, in May, 1980, just days before Joy Division was about to embark on their first 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.
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, shooting 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.
See also: 10 Things the CBGB Movie Got Wrong