From the drama of creating art to the debauchery of life on tour, rock ’n’ roll provides endless inspiration for movies and television shows. For every film and TV show that tells the story of a band, they’ve got to create that band from scratch, along with that band’s music.
Some movies and shows have done this so well, we wish their fictional bands were real. Bands such as Dethklok, Citizen Dick and The Stains have captured what we love about death metal, grunge and punk so perfectly that we’d listen to them in the same rotation as our favorite actual bands. So, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best for your listening enjoyment.
The Lone RangersFrom: 'Airheads'
Is it any surprise that a band made up of Brendan Fraser, Adam Sandler and Steve Buscemi would be epic? The trio’s band, The Lone Rangers (uniquely pluralized), is at the center of 1994 movie, Airheads, and while the guys’ unmitigated devotion to heavy metal is enough to root for, the fact that their music is actually pretty sweet makes their takeover of a radio station, holding everyone hostage (with plastic guns) until the DJ plays their song, strangely heroic. It was still a crime, though — here they are rocking out in prison.
Dethklok’s melodic death metal might have been so good because it was taken a little more seriously than your average cartoon show band. As the central characters of Adult Swim’s four-season show Metalocalypse, Nathan Explosion, Skwisgaar Skwigelf, Toki Wartooth, William Murderface and Pickles churned out brutal tunes courtesy of their real-life counterparts, Brendon Small, Mike Keneally, Bryan Beller and Gene Hoglan.
Thanks to these IRL musicians, Dethklok has ventured into nonfictional territory, touring with ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Chimaira, Soilent Green, Mastodon, High on Fire and Converge. They’ve also released three albums. Raise your invisible orange to their song, “The Galaxy.”
Steel DragonFrom: 'Rock Star'
The band from 2001’s Rock Star, Steel Dragon, is known as the only thing that the famously cheesy movie got right. Sure, the film really went to town with every rock ’n’ roll cliche, but Steel Dragon’s music was hard-driving and anthemic.
Considering Rock Star's story was inspired by that of Tim “Ripper” Owens, who replaced Rob Halford after being discovered in a Judas Priest tribute band, it was pretty essential for the film’s creators to make the music good.
It certainly helped that Mark Wahlberg’s lead singer, Izzy, (based on Ripper) and Dominic West’s guitarist, Kirk, were joined by actual musicians: Jeff Pilson from Dio and Dokken, Jason Bonham and Zakk Wylde.
Wyld StallynsFrom: 'Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure' + 'Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey'
It takes Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu Reeves) the span of two movies to actually get their band, Wyld Stallyns, rocking on stage, and it’s worth the wait. In fact (well, okay, a fact in the fictional world of the movie), Wyld Stallyns are so awe-inspiring that by the year 2688, the world is a utopia built on the band’s music.
Back in 1988, though, when Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure takes place, the rockin’ high school students have to do some time traveling to pass a history class to be allowed to keep playing in the band. The payoff comes at the end of the sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, when Wyld Stallyns shred for their adoring fans.
The StainsFrom: 'Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains'
Thanks to a less than successful run of early screenings, 1982’s Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains didn’t get a theatrical release and hasn’t been seen by many people. The band its story focuses on, though, The Stains, are so important that they’ve been credited with bolstering a link between punk and riot grrl.
Starring Diane Lane and Laura Dern, this film finds three young girls doing exactly what got punk started in the first place: lashing out against society, politics and conformity and using their voices to fight for what they believed in, garnering fans along the way even though they didn’t quite master their musical instruments.
The Stains improve musically throughout their journey, but never lose their edge.
Citizen DickFrom: 'Singles'
Dubbed “the definitive grunge movie” by Rolling Stone, Cameron Crowe’s 1992 film, Singles is like a time capsule for the early 1990s in Seattle.
Grunge is a thread running through Crowe’s depiction of relationships in the city, bringing our characters together and soundtracking their lives. With a subgenre of music playing such an important role, it was vital for the movie’s featured band to actually be good. Enter Citizen Dick, led by Matt Dillon as Cliff and, importantly, consisting of actual members of Pearl Jam.
Citizen Dick proved it could hold its own so well that on Record Store Day in 2015, its song “Touch Me, I’m Dick” received a commercial release as a 7-inch record.
Spın̈al TapFrom: 'This Is Spinal Tap'
What would a list of the best fictional bands be without the band whose mockumentary is arguably the most quoted movie among metalheads and rock fans? Spın̈al Tap got its start as a TV sketch before earning a bigger spotlight in 1984’s This is Spın̈al Tap.
The band was played by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, R.J. Parnell and David Kaff. Guest, McKean and Shearer also wrote the film along with director Rob Reiner.
As you probably know, This is Spın̈al Tap sends up the classic metal bands of the late 1970s and early 1980s with its borderline goofy theatrics, but while making us laugh with catastrophes like the diminutive Stonehenge and exploding drummers, Spın̈al Tap was — surprise, surprise — great.
The band combines powerful heavy rock with tongue-in-cheek humor, and that pairing has led to live shows and albums, as well as, most recently, reunion concerts in 2019.
The Ain't Rights'Green Room'
In the 2015 film Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier fused two genres that seem to often go so well together: horror and punk. The viewer is kept on the edge of their seat as a band called The Ain’t Rights are held hostage by neo-Nazi skinheads after the band witness a murder by some of the skinheads.
The story might be fiction, but Saulnier wanted the music to be as real as possible — an admirable priority that honors the authenticity of punk. He put actors Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner through a sort of punk boot camp with The Thermals singer-guitarist Hutch Harris.
Enjoy the fruits of this labor with The Ain’t Rights’ cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.”
Crucial TauntFrom: 'Wayne's World' + 'Wayne's World 2'
Discerning heshers Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar wouldn’t headbang to just any band, so you can trust their seal of approval for Crucial Taunt.
Wayne’s love for Crucial Taunt’s vocalist and bassist Cassandra Wong, played by Tia Carrere, provides our romantic plot for Penelope Spheeris’s 1992 classic, Wayne’s World.
Crucial Taunt rocks so hard, in fact, that Wayne’s World 2 involves the drama of record execs working to get Cassandra to go solo. One of the band’s best covers? “Ballroom Blitz.”
The Nasty BitsFrom: 'Vinyl'
Like Rock Star, HBO’s 2016 series Vinyl didn’t get such a warm reception from critics or viewers — in fact, it was canceled after only one season — but it succeeded in paying homage to the music its storyline hinged on.
The Nasty Bits represented the rise of punk in 1970s New York, catching record companies off guard as they scrambled to embrace and monetize this brazen new attitude and lack of technical musicianship.
Considering Martin Scorsese created the show with none other than Mick Jagger, it would have been quite embarrassing to let the quality of the music lag. They cast a real Brooklyn band, the Beach Fossils to back Jagger’s son, James, as frontman Kip Stevens.
The Nasty Bits capture the pissed off energy and sound of bands such as Dead Boys, which is, appropriately, best demonstrated by this cover of “What Love Is.”