If there was any era in which music and cinema combined for the greater good, it’d have to be the ’90s – hands down. Whether it was the influence of movements like grunge, hip-hop or rave seeping into mainstream consciousness or solely just the by-product of merging multimedia technologies, the decade proved to be an incredibly prosperous era for films with a strong musical backbone; some becoming huge box office hits, and others fading into cult-like obscurity.
Today, we’re turning back the clock to explore some of the finest music-related films of the era, as well as looking at some of their best moments and what makes them great. To keep things fair, we’re going to omit all proper documentary films from consideration – that can be saved for another day – and before you ask, we’ve already covered our favourite music videos of the ’90s here. So, without further ado, let’s dive in and explore the seven ’90s movies that every music lover should watch: starting with….
Wayne’s World (1992)
A holy relic of Saturday Night Live’s finest era, Wayne’s World is commonly cited as being one of the best films of the ‘90s and honestly, that’s not even up for debate. The film follows the exploits and endeavours of Wayne and Garth, two loveable metalhead losers who operate their own music-themed public TV show and get up to all kinds of shenanigans, with Mike Myers and Dana Carvey lampooning every hard rock and metal cliche of the ‘70s and ‘80s in the process.
Although there’s an endless amounts of music, guitar and pop culture quotables peppered throughout the film (including a memorable cameo from Alice Cooper himself), Wayne’s World is probably best known for its iconic ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ singalong scene, which sent the Queen classic skyrocketing to #2 on the US charts after the film hit cinemas in 1992.
Fear Of A Black Hat (1993)
Released amid the golden age of hip-hop in the early ‘90s, Fear Of A Black Hat is essentially a rap remake of the cult-classic ‘80s mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, focusing on a fictitious rap trio known as NWH (the H stands for Hats – we’ll leave you to figure out the rest). Directed by Chapelle Show writer Rusty Cundieff, the film lampoons several of the era’s biggest rappers, featuring characters such as Tasty Taste, Ice Cold, Vanilla Sherbet and Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme; no points for guessing who they’re ripping on.
Like its spiritual predecessor Spinal Tap, Fear Of A Black Hat both celebrates and criticises varying aspects of hip-hop culture, with Cundieff toying with notions of misogyny, censorship, corporate greed, violence and racism in a way that’s side-splittingly funny and acutely self-aware. It might have been a box office flop, but there’s no denying Fear Of A Black Hat was one of the best hip-hop films of its era.
I still can’t tell whether this film is total garbage or silently genius, but nevertheless, it’s a fun watch for music fans. Boasting a ‘90s holy trinity of Brendan Fraser, Adam Sandler and Steve Buscemi in lead roles, Airheads follows a group of dropkick musicians in a band called The Lone Rangers who take a radio station hostage in an effort to get their demo tape played.
As you’d probably expect, the plot for Airheads is very predictable, and no one in the film really turns in a notable performance (although Adam Sandler, funnily enough, comes close to being good), but if there is one redeeming strength here, it’s the cameos. White Zombie appear in a bar scene with the late great Chris Farley, and Lemmy Kilmister himself pops up for a brief yet memorable appearance. Peak mid ‘90s musical stupidity at its best.
Dazed And Confused (1993)
This iconic coming-of-age flick was once cited by Quentin Tarantino as being one of the greatest films of all time, and features one of the best ensemble casts of the decade: from Matthew McConaughey and Milla Jovovich to Ben Affleck and Joey Adam Laurens, Dazed And Confused has got it all.
In regards to plot, there’s not much done in Dazed And Confused that you haven’t seen done before – the film essentially revolves around a bunch of Texas teenagers trying to shag, smoke, drink and rock their way through their final day of high school. However, it’s the way the film integrates music and uses its soundtrack that makes it great: Bob Dylan’s ‘Hurricane’ makes a noted appearance, Aerosmith pop up here and there, and the movie ends with a classic scene centred around Foghat’s ‘Slow Ride’
Human Traffic (1999)
Human Traffic is considered by most to be a defining document of the UK’s rave era, tapping into the energy of the Summer of Love in ’89 and every genre, DJ or movement that preceded it until 1999. Set in Cardiff, Wales, Human Traffic revolves around the social lives of a group of twenty somethings attempting to escape the mundanities of real life by spending the weekend raving away to the finest house, techno and jungle of the era while getting off their heads on all kinds of pills and powders.
What’s great about Human Traffic, however, is that it isn’t so much a film that glorifies drug use and raving; rather, it’s an exploration of the alienation, abuse, loneliness and despair that makes it all seem alluring. The film also features one of Danny Dyer’s best performances to date, as well as a great cameo from Carl Cox and – like all good music films – a standout scene in a record shop that might go down as being the best reference to jungle music captured on film.
The Commitments (1991)
Based on the 1987 Roddy Doyle novel of the same name, The Commitments traces the tale of Jimmy Rabbitte, a young music fan living in Dublin who fantasises about creating an Irish soul group to rival the legacy of Motown’s roster in the 1960s. Through a series of chance encounters, he starts his dream band, The Commitments, and begins to chart the group’s path to superstardom, which of course, falls apart in the most spectacular fashion imaginable.
While it ultimately ends with the failure of the group (as so many good music films do), if anything, The Commitments proves that making a band and aiming for the starts is all about the journey, and not at all about the destination – although many of the film’s stars did go on to enjoy their own professional musical careers. It also features one of the most ubiquitous movie soundtracks of the ‘90s, with the original CD selling over 12 million units worldwide and proving to be quite a comprehensive launchpad for discovering the greatest soul and RnB of the 1960s.
This romantic comedy might seem like a bit of an odd pick at first, but there’s a perfectly apt reason for its inclusion. Singles explores the various romances experienced by a young group of friends living in Seattle in the early ‘90s, with the film paying tribute to the city’s increasing cultural relevance as grunge continued to takeover the American consensus.
As you’d expect from any American film from the early ‘90s, the fashion in Singles is bang on – there’s plaid, worn leather, torn shorts and Doc Martens galore – and the soundtrack is peppered with tracks from Mudhoney, The Smashing Pumpkins, Alice In Chains, Screaming Trees, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. In fact, Singles even features appearances from Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder throughout, with the latter being joined by his Pearl Jam bandmates Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard to play the film’s fictional band, Citizen Dick. It might be cheesy at times, but for ‘90s fetishists, there’s no greater grunge time capsule than Singles.
Written by Will Brewster via Mixdown Magazine.