Queen, Eminem and Jack Black feature among Happy Mag’s picks for the best concert scenes in movie history.
With the seemingly endless list of musical biopic subjects as proof, it’s abundantly clear that Hollywood loves a musical movie moment. Since 2021, a host of movie directors have set their sights on film treatments for everyone from Freddie Mercury to George Michael, with varying levels of success.
While there’s certainly merit in celebrating the origin stories of the industry’s most memorable figures, the best music scenes in movies are often those confined to a single concert. Whether they’re affirming a character’s talent à la Eminem in 8 Mile, or reimagining an iconic concert of yesteryear, these are Happy Mag’s picks for the best concert scenes in movies.
Battle of the Bands — School of Rock
Few films capture the glory of making music quite like School of Rock. The story of an imposter substitute teacher who leads a class of eager rockers to Hall of Famer status reaches its noisy conclusion at the climactic ‘Battle of the Bands’ concert. Armed with a punk rock attitude, deft instrumentalists and absolutely no completed homework, the Jack Black-led cohort unleashes a killer setlist including AC/DC’s It’s a Long Way to the Top.
Live AID — Bohemian Rhapsody
Though it can’t help but pale in comparison to the real thing, Bohemian Rhapsody’s take on Queen’s Live Aid concert is at least a faithful recreation. The 1985 Wembley Stadium show drew in some 72, 000 attendees, and is widely believed to be one of the best rock concerts in history. The Freddie Mercury biopic does well to emulate the atmosphere of the crowd, with the welcome addition of Queen setlist favourites We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions.
Rap battle — 8 Mile
Eminem’s semi-autobiographical film 8 Mile was responsible for solidifying the rapper’s first-ever Oscar nomination, but it also birthed what is arguably the best rap battle caught on film. Eminem’s performance of the track Lose Yourself not only brought success to his fictional character Jimmy, but also resulted in the rapper’s debut chart-topper, becoming his first number one single on the 2002 Billboard charts. It’s a concert scene that summoned the Rap God.
Curtain Call — Whiplash
No film underscores the pains of being a musical prodigy quite like Whiplash. The tenuous — and often downright frightening — road to drumming glory is laid bare across the film’s increasingly tense runtime, and reaches its equal parts euphoric and alarming climax at the final concert. Miles Teller’s Andrew delivers a dazzling post-car accident finale drum solo, as JK Simmons’ Fletcher provides his first-ever look of approval. But at what cost?
Cleveland concert — Almost Famous
The soundtrack of 2000’s Almost Famous is good enough to make us collectively wish that the Stillwater rock band wasn’t fictitious. The film is littered with great songs throughout, but the standout arrives when the band performs a concert in Cleveland. Welcomed to rapturous applause, the scene is evidence of the film’s affinity for rock and roll, and establishes Almost Famous as one of the best love letters to music in Hollywood history.
Canned Heat — Napoleon Dynamite
Jon Heder summoned the comedy gods when he waltzed on stage to perform a choreographed rendition of Jamiroquai‘s Canned Heat in Napoleon Dynamite. The title character’s now-infamous dance scene is enough to rival that of the Australian Ballet, and quickly became a cultural sensation upon the film’s release in 2004. Interestingly, Heder revealed in an interview that he “just sought of winged-it” while filming the Jamiroquai hit.
Jingle Bell Rock — Mean Girls
Who thought Christmas could be this eye-popping? When Lindsay Lohan and company saunter to the stage at Mean Girls’ fictional North Shore High talent quest, they unknowingly revived a festive carol usually reserved for boozed-up grandmothers at Christmas lunch. Though it ranks among the comedy film’s raunchier moments — and surely rubs shoulders with some of the best Christmas covers — the concert scene was actually intended to be sexier, given that Mean Girls was originally R-rated.