The Ten Best Fictional Bands in Film
Movies about fictional bands is a very rich genre. Sometimes, those movies are done mockumentary style, paying homage to the great music documentaries. Other times, they are done as spoofs of musical biopics (another rich genre). However, most of the time, fictional bands are brought to us cinematically through straight narrative. When you consider James Mangold’s Walk the Line or Taylor Hackford’s Ray, it is obvious that the personal journey’s of our greatest musical artists can provide superb entertainment. So, it makes sense that screenwriters would use that dynamic to formulate their own music, their own bands, and their own narrative arcs. Music is a very important part of art, and has been around long before movies were created. However, the cinema is a perfect medium to tell stories of how music can touch us, move us, and excite us. Here are the top ten fictional bands in cinema.
Spinal Tap in This is Spinal Tap (1984)
A list the best fictional bands has to include Spinal Tap. Rob Reiner’s outrageous 1984 rock-mockumentary really broke the mold of comedy. The film includes the great Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean as the titular band. Also, the brilliance of the film is that none of the characters know they are in a comedy. They are egomaniacal prima donnas, and their expectations and opulence come across so hysterically.
The film follows the band as they are being followed by a fan/documentarian. Spinal Tap is trying to re-inject life into their career only to see it slowly dwindling. Imagine Anvil: the Story of Anvil, but hilarious and ridiculous. Just scenes like the miniature Stonehenge situation and the malfunctioning stage pod are worth the price of admission. However, This is Spinal Tap’s legacy is almost assuredly their special amplifier, which allows them to turn it up to “11”.
Dewey Cox in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
As discussed above, Walk the Line and Ray are two of the greatest musical biopics of the modern era. Few people realize, that Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow PERFECTLY spoofed both films in 2007 with Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. John C. Reilly has never been funnier as Dewey Cox, and the way Kasdan and Apatow navigate the story through every single cinematic music trope is near-genius. Dewey stars as a simple 50s crooner, on to a Roy Orbison-type, to the iconic Johnny Cash, and onward to Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, and countless other legends. The way the film points out its cliches is comedy in the highest order.
However, none of it would work if the music wasn’t good. And, the music is REALLY good. Sure, the lyrics are punny and silly (Let’s Duet is a highlight), but Reilly is a superb vocalist and actually has the audience buying into Dewey Cox’s story. With his hilarious fictional band behind him (Tim Meadows, Chris Parnell, and Matt Besser), you almost believe Dewey Cox existed. That is how good the film is.
Stillwater in Almost Famous (2000)
Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous is a beautiful love letter to music and the culture of stardom. The film is semi-autobiographical since Crowe did write for Rolling Stone and Stillwater is an amalgam of The Allman Brothers band, the Who, and the Eagles. To see Stillwater, and most importantly, Billy Crudup’s Russell Hammond, through Patick Fugit’s William’s eyes is a delight. To see the groupies (band-aids), the drugs, the intra-band problems, and the business through the innocent eyes of a blossoming journalist is perfect. It puts a glossy sheen on an industry full of blood, sweat, and tears and shows us why music, and musicians, are so important to all of us. Also, it shows us how ugly it can be behind the scenes.
Infant Sorrow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) & Get Him to the Greek (2010)
One of the funniest films of the last decade is Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The story of how Jason Segel was dumped by his star girlfriend only to run into her on vacation is nearly pitch perfect. However, Russell Brand nearly steals the entire film as Aldous Snow, lead singer of Infant Sorrow. When Brand heads up to stage after being inappropriately coaxed by Jonah Hill, he serenades Kristen Bell’s Sarah Marshall with Inside of You. It is one of the most suggestively absurd songs you have ever heard in a film.
So good is Brand that they spun off his character and made another superb film with 2010’s Get Him to the Greek. Aldous Snow and his fictional band, Infant Sorrow, have fallen from grace after their disastrous album African Child. Jonah Hill’s Aaron has the idea to have a 10-year anniversary concert at the Greek theater. So it falls on Aaron to Get Him to the Greek. That proves quite difficult for a rock star who is always wasted and doesn’t want to do the show. He hardly remembers even agreeing to it. Again, the songs we get from Aldous Snow are fantastically silly. The Clap, Bangers, Beans & Mash, and Going Up are perfectly realized rock songs that exhibit how this fictional band rose to stardom.
The Wonders in That Thing You Do! (1996)
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Get Him to the Greek excelled through the realization of their fictional bands’ various hits. In perfect contrast to that, Tom Hanks’ directorial debut of That Thing You Do! Focused on one song so good that you never get sick of it throughout the film. The titular song is played by the film’s fictional band, The Wonders. It is performed over and over throughout the film, but it is so damn catchy. It has to be or the one-hit-wonder band narrative would not work. Such a great song DOES have the power to catapult a little band into the stratosphere.
The Blues Brothers in The Blues Brothers (1980)
Much has been written about John Landis’s classic comedy The Blues Brothers. It is hilarious, action packed, and one of the few cinematic gems where we got John Belushi in full force. However, few people realize how musical the movie is. Everyone thinks of the car chases and car wrecks when talking about The Blues Brothers. In fact, this film may have more musical appreciation in it than any other film on the list. It is as if Landis, Aykroyd, and Belushi just wanted to make a movie about loving the Blues, and the studio said, sure, but put SOME action in it. Jake and Elwood Blues are quite a legendary pair. Though, they can’t hold a candle to the likes of James Brown, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin. A lot must be said about a movie that can rope those artists in to it to perform.
Connor4real/StyleBoyz in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
It is a travesty that Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping bombed as hard as it did, because it is a fantastically hilarious mockumentary. The film tells the story of The Style Boyz, their breakup, and Connor’s solo career as Connor4real. The Lonely Island Guys (Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer) are not for everyone, but if you liked their SNL shorts or even Hot Rod, Popstar is their Citizen Kane in comparison.
The film pokes fun of the business incessantly. The idea of forcing albums onto smart appliances (skewering U2 in iTunes) is spot on. Exhibiting the uselessness of some band members on stage is hysterical. Also, the idiocy behind the headliner rings true for the world of pop music. The laughs keep on coming, and songs like Incredible Thoughts and especially Bin Laden are extraordinary.
The Soggy Bottom Boys in O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Only brilliant filmmakers like Joel and Ethan Coen could have pulled off what they did with O Brother, Where Art Thou? And the fictional band, The Soggy Bottom Boys. The film is an outrageous comedy adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey following three escaped convicts across the 1930s South. Throughout their adventure, there are various musical numbers that pop up. However, none are more iconic then when George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson find themselves on a stage, create their name on the fly, and belt out Man of Constant Sorrow.
That song catapulted the film’s soundtrack to a level of success that the film never reached. It sold 5 million copies, won 2 CMAs, 5 Grammys, and was on the Billboard top 100 for weeks. Not bad for a fictional band in an odd Coen Brothers comedy.
The Lone Rangers in Airheads (1994)
Airheads, of course, is a silly, juvenile comedy with Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler. However, who among us would not love to see a performance of a band comprised of these three actors? The Lone Rangers (Well, there’s three of you. You’re not exactly lone!) break into a radio station and take hostages. Their plan is to get their demo played on the air. Of course, nothing goes to plan. The film is populated with other hysterical actors like Michael McKean, Michael Richards, David Arquette, and Joe Mantegna.
The film is full of hijinks and absurdity. Still, there is a great sense of musical passion that sneaks in there. Also, to the extent a film as stupid as Airheads can have a message, it exhibits how hard musicians have to work to get their art appreciated. Message aside, the film is hilarious and the musical trio is a hoot.
Wyld Stallyns in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) & Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan have to make the list. Apparently, the duo’s band is the savior of humanity and is the basis of the future utopia. Unfortunately, they are on the verge of flunking out of high school. If that happens, Wyld Stallyns will never come to pass. The adventures of Bill and Ted in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the superb sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey are a whole lot of fun. The only song we hear the pair play is actually a Kiss song. Still, there may not be a more iconic fictional band in all of cinema.