10 Best Punk Movies
A few years ago, Fanatagraphics Press published an amazing book called ‘Destroy All Movies!’ This A-to-Z encyclopedia of punk rock in film lists everything from ‘Police Academy III’ to such genuine punk classics as ‘The Decline of Western Civilization’ and ‘1991: The Year Punk Broke.’ The hefty tome is an amusing oddity and a total hoot to flip through, but in all those alphabetized, deeply researched pages lies a truth: Films that portray punk rock in its truest form are few and far between. Below are our picks for the 10 Best Punk Movies. Some get a little goofy, but they honestly portray the spirit of the music while showing both its positive and negative sides.
‘Class of 1984′ (1982)
Timothy Van Patten is the leader of a violent group of punks who harass and terrorize the students of an inner-city school, one of them being a young Michael J. Fox. Although it’s nothing short of an exploitation film depicting punk rockers as violent mindless thugs, ‘Class of 1984′ does have its moments. It’s an over-the-top, often unintentionally hilarious piece of celluloid with live action from Canadian proto-pop-punkers Teenage Head to boot.
Penelope Spheris first explored the suburban California punk explosion in her intense 1981 documentary ‘The Decline of Western Civilization,’ which included live performances by Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, X and the Germs — all in their prime. With ‘Suburbia,’ her first fictional feature, Spheeris aimed the camera into the broken homes and disheveled lives of young punk fans to examine why they do what they do. It’s a disturbing yet empathetic look at the kids who packed the dance floors at Cali’s early punk clubs. It’s also noteworthy for the acting debut of Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and live performances from beach-punk bands D.I. and T.S.O.L.
‘Repo Man’ (1984)
In Alex Cox’s cult classic, young L.A. punk Otto Maddox (Emilio Estivez) scores a gig as a repossession agent with the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation and gets sucked into a world of drug use, car chases and space aliens. Check out the appearance of the Circle Jerks as a cheesy lounge act.
‘Made in Britain’ (1982)
In his acting debut, Tim Roth plays the lead role of Trevor, a nihilistic skinhead with racist leanings and absolutely no regard for authority. Accompanied by a soundtrack from the brash British hardcore band the Exploited, this film is shocking and thought-provoking — just what punk rock was supposed to be in the first place.
‘Times Square’ (1980)
Almost 35 years after its release, ‘Times Square’ is still one of the punkest films ever made. Two kids from different sides of the tracks meet in a hospital, bust out, steal an ambulance and proceed to form a rudimentary punk duo in an abandoned warehouse down by New York City’s East River. Throw in a soundtrack that features the likes of the Ramones, Patti Smith, Gary Numan and the Ruts, and you have the ultimate portrait of covert culture in the early ’80s.
‘Rock ‘N’ Roll High School’ (1979)
The Ramones’ full-length feature film might not be ‘Citizen Kane,’ but it’s a brainless good-time chuckle-fest worth checking out. During the concert scenes, be sure to scan the crowd for Darby Crash, vocalist for L.A. punk greats the Germs.
’24 Hour Party People’ (2002)
Some may look sideways at this film’s inclusion on the Best Punk Rock Movies list, but the story told in the first half — that of the evolution of Joy Division and the rest of the burgeoning Manchester post-punk scene — is riveting, and you can’t deny Steve Coogan’s portrayal of Factory Records president, Tony Wilson.
‘Breaking Glass’ (1980)
‘Breaking Glass’ is the story of Kate, an angry London punk who wants to make it in the music business while still holding onto her ideals, which she of course loses once the major labels start sniffing around. Set in the grey squalor of early-’80s London, the film is as true as they come. The film comes complete with council estates, skinhead riots and a cameo from Rat Scabies, drummer for the U.K. punk legends the Damned. In America, ‘Breaking Glass’ was relegated to late-night television, but it’s now available on DVD from Netflix. Don’t sleep on this one.
‘This is England’ (2006)
Director Shane Meadow snaps a shot of skinhead culture in early-’80s England just as it was being torn apart by the British Nationalist Party. Although the film can be both stimulating and jarring, the soundtrack — consisting of everything from the U.K. Subs to reggae icon Jimmy Cliff — is nothing short of amazing.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1982)
Topping our list of the Best Punk Movies is this excellent and overlooked film directed by rock svengali Lou Adler. Starring a young Diane Lane, ‘Ladies & Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains’ stands as the ’80s truest cinematic portrayal of punk. Lane plays Corrine Burns, an orphan with an atonal all-girl garage band who somehow manages to latch onto a cross country tour featuring a washed-up ’70s arena-rock band (featuring members of the Tubes and the Grateful Dead in acting roles) and an English punk band (consisting of member of the Sex Pistols and the Clash, with Ray Wistone as the vocalist). The film explores media exploitation and the roles of women in popular music in such a covert and erudite way that it’s no surprise everyone from Courtney Love to members of Bikini Kill consider it a favorite film. An absolute must-see.