Editor’s Note: Thank you to our readers for making this one of our most-visited posts. Bookmark it for your one-stop reference for grunge flicks. We’ve since newly reviewed (and hyperlinked) several of the films referenced within each of the reviews to discover.
Before Nirvana, the Spin Doctors, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Pearl Jam, no one knew the meaning of grunge, or even cared where Seattle was: flannel was a fashion no-no. Do you remember the days of post-modern and cutting-edge rock, when everyone wore black and they were always depressed? Remember the days when Gen-X’ers were confused, unable to decide if they were “alternative” or “progressive,” so they stumbled through the X-decade, trying to be both? Well those days may be gone but they live on in spirit with these films encompassing documentaries, comedies, and dramas about the ‘90s alt-rock scene—and mostly issued during the ‘90s decade.
1. 1991: The Year Punk Broke (1991 documentary)
Director David Markey (Desperate Teenage Lovedolls starring Redd Kross of Sprit of ‘76) chronicles the 1991 European festival tour of several U.S alternative rock and punk bands, just prior to the Seattle grunge rock explosion of the early ‘90s. Features music and behind the scenes footage of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Kurt Cobain with Nirvana, along with Dinosaur Jr., Babes In Toyland, Gumball, and the Ramones. Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Nirvana’s Dave Grohl musically masqueraded as the Beatles in Backbeat, while J.Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. appears in Allison Anders’s (Border Radio starring John Doe of X and Chris D. of the Divine Horsemen) Gas Food, Lodging. Moore and Gordon first worked on camera in ‘89s Weatherman and there’s more Kurt Cobain and Nirvana to be had in Hype!.
2. Airheads (1994 comedy/radio)
Dog Day Afternoon goes (well, it’s not totally grunge: the sounds of alt-rockers D-Generation double for the faux-rock of the Lone Rangers) rock: only this time, instead of a bank, it’s a radio station as three aspiring alt-metal heads (Brandon Fraser, Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler) launch a desperate attempt to have their music aired on Los Angeles’ KPPX “Rebel Radio.” Michael McKean of This is Spinal Tap and Light Of Day is the station program director, Joe Mantegna (U.S TV’s Criminal Minds) is (excellent as) radio personality “Ian the Shark,” and Judd Nelson is the record executive. MTV’s Kurt Loder, Motorhead’s Lemmy (Down and Out with the Dolls), and Howard Stern’s Stuttering John Melendez (Stuttering John, the band, placed a song in the film) appear in cameos. White Zombie performs while Anthrax and Primus appear on the soundtrack. Director Michael Lehmann returns with the radio station rom-com, The Truth About Cats and Dogs.
3. All Over Me (1997 drama)
Claude and Ellen are best friends making their way through the ‘90s subculture with replete with drug problems, homophobia, and clubbing. That all changes when one of their friends dies a violent and meaningless death (read: The Gits’ Mia Zapata). Claude has a poster of alt-rockers Helium in her room; the band’s Mary Timony appears as the singer of the fictional band Coochie Pop and performs Helium’s “Hole in the Ground.”
4. Bandwagon (1997 comedy)
This Sundance Festival favorite examines the life of an introverted North Carolina (see Immortal) songwriter who, upon losing his day job, is pressed into service by his best friend to get his music out of the bedroom and into the clubs. After a series of adventures stealing equipment from a loan shark and bombing at frat parties, the band Circus Monkey convinces a legendary band manager to back a cross-country tour.
5. Clerks (1994 comedy)
It’s a day in the life of directionless Generation X’ers Dante Hicks, a New Jersey convenience store clerk, and his best friend, Randal, a clerk in the video store next door. The main goal of the duo: they want to play street hockey, and they do—on the roof of the strip mall itself. Getting in the way is a dead customer in the bathroom, funerals, ex-girlfriends, and the irrepressible Jay and Silent Bob. Jay and Bob turn up in the loose “New Jersey” sequels: Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (we’ve reviewed Reboot). The soundtrack is an alt-rock wet dream spewing the Jesus Lizard, Seaweed, Girls Vs. Boys, and Soul Asylum.
6. Clubland (1999 drama)
Mary Lambert (American Psycho) directs this drama written by record producer Glen Ballard of Aerosmith, No Dobut, and Alanis Morissette (Jagged Little Pill) fame. This gritty account concerns an aspiring singer/songwriter who leaves his small town for a troubled rise in the music business (Kurt Cobain, natch). His success is impeded by his misguided, music-executive alienating manager/brother, a drummer who involves the band with drug dealers, and clubs who book by the rules of pay to play. When a record deal comes down, he must decide to remain loyal to those who got him there, or take the solo deal.
7. Colin Fitz (1997 comedy)
The tragedy of Kurt Cobain’s life and the ongoing vandalism at Jim Morrison’s Paris gravesite inspired this indie flick that questions the effect rock stars have on modern society. The philosophizing is courtesy of two security guards pulling duty to watch over the grave of newly buried rock star Colin Fitz.
8. Dig (2004 documentary)
First, it was the trials, tribulations and personality conflicts of Wilco in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Dig takes viewers on another “group therapy session” in this seven-year study on the friendship and eventual meltdown between musicians Courtney Taylor of the Dandy Warhols and Anton Newcombe of the Brain Jonestown Massacre. Dig pays little attention to the music, instead concentrating on the interpersonal relationships between the band members and the resentments created when the Dandy Warhols scored a deal with Capital Records in the grungy ‘90s while BJM imploded at an industry showcase.
9. The Doom Generation (1995 drama)
It’s a “bit of the ultraviolence” with an alternative-era appropriate soundtrack as a gothic club girl Amy (Rose McGowan, Marilyn Manson’s ex) and her boyfriend (James Duval of U.S TV’s Twin Peaks) meet a psychotic bisexual (Jonathon Schaech, That Thing You Do!) who leads them into a murderous crime spree of convenience stores, burger joints and shopping malls. Along the way a gang of punks (alternative-industrial rousers Skinny Puppy) rape Amy—with a religious trinket, no less. The Doom Generation is the second film in Greg Akaki’s “Gen-X trilogy”: the first being 1994’s Totally F***ed Up and 1996’s Nowhere.
10. Down and Out with the Dolls (2001 drama)
If it sounds like writer/director Kurt Voss (Sugar Town with John Doe; Strutter with J. Mascis of Dinosaur, Jr.) is using the life of Kurt and Courtney as plot fodder, he probably is. The grunge scene of the Pacific Northwest serves as a backdrop in the tales of Fauna (Zoe Poledouris), a longtime, infamous fixture on the ‘90s Portland, Oregon, rock scene with her Goth rock outfit, the Snogs. Before her rock ‘n’ roll dreams are realized, she’s kicked out of the band, but rebounds with an all-female band, the Paper Dolls: guitarist Kali, bassist Lavender, and drummer Reggie. Meanwhile, Kali’s boyfriend, Levi (Coyote Shivers of Empire Records), fronts the Suicide Bombers, a band signed to a local indie label that’s ready to go national, courtesy of a major label distribution deal (read: Sub Pop via DGC). Ever the opportunist, Fauna exploits all the angles for that coveted deal. Zoe Poledouris composed the music and contributed to the soundtracks for Bully, Cecil B. Demented, Shadow of a Doubt, and Starship Troopers. Lemmy of Motorhead (as “Joe”) and the Nymphs’ Inger Lorre appear.
11. Eldorado (1995 drama/radio)
This Canadian grunge romp follows a disc jockey who serves as the background for multiple storylines. Lloyd is a disc jockey for an alternative station who’s in love with a bartender at a local punk club, who’s involved with a liquor store clerk. The rest of the Gen X slackers: a rollerblading criminal with a wealthy friend who cares for the homeless, and a shrink with an uncooperative patient.
12. Empire Records (1995 comedy)
Allan Moyle (Times Square; featuring Tim Curry as a DJ) moves from the pirate radio station in Pump Up the Volume and into the indie record store as the staff of twenty-somethings thwart their takeover by a nationwide chain (read: Blockbuster Music). Stars Liv Tyler, Rory Cochran (Dazed and Confused, Love and a 45), Renee Zellweger (Love and a 45), Ethan Randall (That Thing You Do!), Maxwell Caulfield (The Boys Next Door) as a washed-up, ‘80s new wave singer, and Sugarhigh’s Coyote Shivers (Down and Out with the Dolls).
13. Encino Man (1992 comedy)
Pauly Shore was an MTV VJ during the rise of the alt-rock nation, so why not? Timothy Hutton’s sci-fi flick The Iceman receives an MTV makeover with Shore and Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings) as a pair of high school geeks unearthing a caveman in a back yard pool. The Suicidal Tendencies’ alt-funk spin-off, Infectious Grooves, featuring Mike Muir (TV’s Miami Vice), perform at the prom climax.
14. Fall and Spring (1996 drama)
Cameron Crowe’s superior Singles inspired this low-budgeted Gen-X flick that’s just down the street from Eldorado and Floundering with its concerns about a destructive but talented rock musician who is at odds with his bandmates (read: Kurt Cobain).
15. Floundering (1994 comedy)
John Boyz (James LeGros, Phantasm II), a Gen-X slacker, is floundering amid the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots: he can’t find a job, his unemployment ran out, the IRS is harassing him, his brother (Ethan Hawke, Reality Bites) skipped out on a drug rehab, and his girlfriend is sleeping around. Features musician cameos from Dave Alvin (Border Radio), Exene Cervenka (Salvation), Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro, Zander Schloss of the Circle Jerks (Tapeheads), and director Alex Cox (Sid and Nancy). The “actors” of the cast include John Cusack (High Fidelity), Steve Buscemi (Airheads), and Olivia Barash (Repo Man).
16. The Four Corners of Nowhere (1995 comedy/radio)
In A Matter of Degrees, shenanigans at the campus radio station served as the backdrop for a group of misguided college students in Providence, Rhode Island. In Singles, the grunge rock scene of Seattle served as the backdrop. In The Four Corners of Nowhere the romantic comedy takes place in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as a college radio disc jockey uses the lives and relationships of his local coffee shop friends as fodder for his radio program. It’s the usual collection of aspiring musicians, law students and artists searching for the meaning of live.
17. Georgia (1995 drama)
Jennifer Jason Leigh (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) teams with her screenwriter-mother, Barbara Turner, to star as Sadie, a struggling substance-addicted grunge rocker (read: Hole) living in the shadow of her popular folk-singing sister, Georgia (read: Cowboy Junkies), played by Mare Winningham. John Doe (Sugar Town) and Ted Levine (Silence of the Lambs) appear alongside the cameos of Seattle musicians Marc Olsen and Kevin Stringfellow of the Posies. The soundtrack features tunes sung by Leigh, Winningham and Doe: Doe and Leigh duet on Lou Reed’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and “Sally Can’t Dance,” while Jen solos with some Van Morrison and Elvis Costello’s “Almost Blue.”
18. Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns (2003 documentary)
The 20-year career of the John Flansburgh and John Linnell-fronted, nerd-college rock outfit They Might Be Giants is traced from its beginnings in Lincoln, Massachusetts, and up through their appearance on NBC’s Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
19. Girl (2000 drama)
The lives of the students of Porter High School are seen through the eyes of an upper class high school girl. Desperate to escape the boring world of jocks, keg parties, and the pressures of impending college, Andrea decides to take advantage of being irresponsible for one last time and discovers her womanhood for the first time. Immersing herself in the loud and dingy-grungy local club scene frequented by her hip pal Sybil, Andrea falls for the handsome, resident Cobain in Todd Sparrow, (Sean Patrick Flanery; The Boondock Saints and the Christian-rock flick Raging Angels).
20. The Gits (2005 documentary)
The Seattle-Portland scene suffered the devastating, too soon deaths of its stars: Mother Love Bone’s Andy Wood, Layne Stanley of Alice in Chains, Elliot Smith of Heatmeiser, and, of course, Kurt Cobain. But it was the senseless murder of the Gits’ Mia Zapata that brought Seattle’s music community together: in a common goal to find her killer. While the shocking, then unsolved murder of the charismatic Zapata was chronicled on several true crime/reenactment TV programs, this document offers a deeper examination into her career that was ready to break onto the national scene: just as major labels expressed interest, Mia was raped and murdered on July 7, 1993. The story follows Matt Dresdner and Zapata forming the band in the fall of 1986 at Ohio’s Antioch College and their relocation to Seattle in 1989—just before the scene exploded across mainstream America. Epic record issued the various artist compilation Home Alive: The Art of Self Defense (1996), a forty artist, two-disc CD featuring unreleased tracks by Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden (Singles), 7 Year Bitch (Mad Love), and Evil Stig (“Gits Live”), an impromptu regrouping of the Gits with Joan Jett.
21. Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King (1993 documentary)
It’s the rise of underground college radio favorites Half Japanese: We travel with Fair brothers, Jad and David, who began their careers with bedroom-recorded and distributed, low-fi songs via mail order cassette tapes. They eventual split: David marries and pursues a mainstream life as Jad’s stature grows in alt-rock circles—without the mainstream success experienced by his contemporaries. The Velvet Underground’s Mo Tucker and Penn Jillette, who produced Hap Jap albums, appear. A companion watch: The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005), which chronicles their fellow, low-fi cassette colleague, Daniel Johnson.
22. Hype! (1995 documentary)
Beginning in 1992 A.N (After Nirvana) and filmed during a three-year period, this film chronicles the rise of the Seattle scene from its local beginnings in the warehouses and basements of the Pacific Northwest, to its eventual mainstream acceptance. (The scene in which a music fan constructs a web site charting the history of Seattle bands should not be missed.) Interviews and concert clips abound with scene trailblazers: Mudhoney and the Melvins, along with the Fastbacks, the Gits, Hammerbox, Love Battery, the Posies, and Young Fresh Fellows. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, exclusive Soundgarden footage, and Nirvana appear in their first ever live performance of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Soundgarden and Pearl Jam appear in Singles and the Young Fresh Fellows show up in Rock n’ Roll Mobster Girls. Cobain serves as the inspiration in Last Days. Director Doug Pray, explores ‘90s hip hop DJs in Scratch.
23. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (2002 documentary)
Wilco, the (well-deserved) pride of the college rock era, star in this ‘90s inversion of the Beatles’ Let It Be: Jeff Tweedy and Jay Bennett of the acclaimed country-alt-rockers struggle with the artistic frustrations of recording their fourth album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
24. I Crave Rock n’ Roll (1996 comedy)
Carmen Santa Maria of the band Blue Renegade produced, wrote and directed this rock inversion of The Parent Trap about a burnt-out grunge star that wants to get away for a while: the chance comes in the form of a look-alike slacker with rock ‘n’ roll aspirations. MTV VJ Nina Blackwood and Prescott Niles of the Knack appear.
25. Immortal (1998 horror)
In this grungy vampire flick, Dex Drags is an aspiring musician on the North Carolina (see Bandwagon) college music scene struggling with an obsessive addiction to blood. To quench his thirst between gigs: Dex munches on groupies, guitar students, and A&R executives (Greg Humphreys of N.C’s Dillon Fence), and his club-managing girlfriend. North Carolina college rockers Archers of Loaf, Reverb-a-Ray, Vertigo Joyride, June, and Squirrel Nut Zippers appear.
26. Instrument (1999 documentary)
Courtesy of music video and filmmaker Jem Cohen (R.E.MW.T Morgan, who directed the alt-essential concert doc, X—The Unheard Music and shooting in “grungy” 16mm—we revisit the heights of the influential Washington D.C. band Fugazi’s popularity during a 10 year period from 1987 until 1996—the year the “punk broke” bubble, burst. Ian MacKaye was also the respected leader of Minor Threat and the founder of Discord records; he continually rejected overtures from major labels for signings and distribution deals for both his band and label.
27. Kurt Cobain: About a Son (2006 documentary)
As with the 2006 American-punk document American Hardcore being inspired by a book, this documentary about the grunge god was inspired by the book Kurt Cobain: About a Son. The book was drawn from twenty-five hours of audio tape interviews gathered for Micheal Azzerrad’s Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. This isn’t the first attempt at a Nirvana document: Controversial British documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield found his “tribute” Kurt & Courtney sabotaged by Ms. Love, thus it became, not a document about “Kurt,” but a chronicle of the sad hangers providing no true insight to the band. About a Son gives Kurt an opportunity to recount his life in his own words, combined with footage of his home: the Washington State cities of Aberdeen, Olympia, and Seattle that provide a new understanding into his life. The film features a score by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, and tunes by some of Cobain’s influences: the Melvins and David Bowie.
28. Kurt & Courtney (1998 documentary)
Controversial British documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield (Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam and Fetishes) peeks into the dark corners of Kurt’s life: from his Aberdeen childhood and up through his 1992 marriage and 1994 suicide. What starts out as a conventional portrait turns into a document about Broomfield’s efforts to get the film made in spite of Love’s sabotage efforts. The film features no Nirvana tunes or interviews and MTV refused to provide footage or insight, so Bloomfield takes an unapologetic look at the grunge duo’s drug addiction and the various conspiracy theories regarding Cobain’s death: The Mentors’ El Duce claims Love tried to hire him to kill Cobain. As the wrath of Courtney continued with no definitive biographical drama in sight, Gus Van Sant formulated a loose account on Kurt’s final days in Last Days. The controversy and speculations regarding Kurt’s death continue in Soaked in Bleach (2015), while his daughter crafted Montage of Heck (2015). The Mentors: Kings of Sleaze and The El Duce Tapes (2019) chronicle El Duce’s career.
29. Last Days (2005 drama)
Until Gus Van Sant’s (Good Will Hunting) take on Kurt Cobain’s final days, the only cinematic document on the troubled Nirvana leader was Kurt & Courtney. As with his previous effort, Elephant, which was a thinly-veiled account of the Columbine tragedy, Van Sant crafted this faux-bioflick of Cobain’s “last days.” The narrative dispenses with the usual rise-and-fall tales of the major-studio bios Ray or Walk the Line—with Michael Pitt (Hedwig and the Angry Itch) as the mythical-rocker, Blake, of grunge superstars Pagoda, living his last days in his Pacific Northwest home. Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon (1991: The Year Punk Broke) makes her dramatic acting debut, while her band mate-husband, Thurston Moore (We Jam Econo), supervised the soundtrack (they also scored France’s Demon Lover, along with Backbeat, Heavy, Made in the USA). Moore’s supervision assisted in the Cobainesque songs “That Day” and “Death to Birth” written and performed by Michael Pitt. The DVD release features an additional song, “Happy Song,” along with a mock video for Blake’s Pagoda, which recreates the Seattle-styled videos that permeated MTV’s airwaves in the 120 Minutes crazed 90’s.
30. Love and a 45 (1994 drama)
The grungy, Tarantinoesque “ultraviolence” of The Doom Generation returns—backed by an expansive alt-rock soundtrack—as Watty, a crook that makes his living robbing convenience stores, makes a run for Mexico with Starlene (Rene Zellweger) after his psycho-partner, Billy Mack (the Indian-Eagle head-tattooed Rory Cochran, Empire Records), murders a clerk. Now they’re on the run from the cops, Mack, and loan sharks to the sounds of the Butthole Surfers, a solo-bound Kim Deal of the Pixies and the Breeders, Mazzy Star, the Flaming Lips, Jesus & Mary Chain, the Meat Puppets, Reverend Horton Heat, and Television’s Tom Verlaine.
31. Mad Love (1995 drama)
Washing up on Seattle’s shores in the backwash of Singles, this grungy take on Romeo and Juliet concerns Matt and Casey (Chris O’Donnell, Drew Barrymore) as they find love, only to have it destroyed by Casey’s clinical depression. Obviously, this script met with the approval of Courtney Love: Nirvana’s “Love Buzz” appears during the opening title cards as Drew (The Wedding Singer) . . . jet skis across a lake? The grunge connection continues with Seattle rockers 7-Year Bitch (The Gits) appearing in a club scene. Selene Vigil of 7YB also thesps-dramatic in The Year of My Japanese Cousin and appears in Hype!. Her spouse, Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, contributed to the score/soundtracks of Collateral, ’98 Godzilla, and The Matrix: Reloaded.
32. Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore (1997 comedy)
Written, directed, and produced by Sarah Jacobson, we meet a Twin Cities teen, Mary Jane, who’s experiencing a sexual awakening and is on a mission to become one of the cool kids by having sex. The Dead Kennedy’s Jello Biafra (We Jam Econo) appears in this well-received Sundance Film Festival hit that was financed, in part, by Tamra Davis (CB 4, The Punk Singer), the then wife of Mike D. of the Beatsie Boys.
33. A Matter of Degrees (1990 comedy/radio)
The first flick of the grunge generation that started it all plays as a ’90s update of The Graduate (1967), as directed by W.T Morgan, who directed the alt-essential concert doc, X—The Unheard Music. Ayre Gross stars as the lost, about-to-graduate Max who begins to question his future—and finds solace in WXOX 90.6 FM, his university’s about-to-be-torn down campus station run by Peter Downs (John Doe of X). (Be sure to check out our “John Doe Week” of film reviews.)
34. Pump Up the Volume (1990 drama/radio)
A high school loaner, nicely played by Christian Slater, leads a double life as “Hard Harry,” a sarcastic pirate disc jockey bunkered in his parent’s basement. He soon invites the wrath of the school’s administration as he begins to question the school’s operating methods. Those parents: they just don’t understand. He spins “Titanium Expose” by Sonic Youth and the Pixies’ “Wave of Mutilation,” along with Soundgarden, Peter Murphy, and Henry Rollins fronting the Bad Brains on “Kick out the Jams.” It’s all from the pen of Allan Moyle, who brought you Times Square and Empire Records. Less effective ‘70s radio piracy-by-van is to be had in the USA Network/Night Flight favorite, On the Air Live with Captain Midnight.
35. The Punk Singer (2013 documentary)
An exploration on the life of one of the Pacific Northwest’s take-no-prisoners, take-no-mainstream B.S stars: musician and social activist Kathleen Hanna, the leader of the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre and the founder of the ‘90s “riot grrl” movement. Kim Gordon and Joan Jett appear, along with music from the Beastie Boys and Sonic Youth. A companion watch: 2012’s Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death of Patty Schemel—the equally don’t-give-a-fuck drummer of Hole.
36. Reality Bites (1994 comedy)
Ben Stiller’s directing debut is this Singles without-the-grunge knockoff that stars Winona Ryder as Lelaina, fresh out of college and learning about romance and careers. After she’s fired by an egomaniacal TV host, she’s romanced by Stiller’s pseudo-MTV executive, much to the disgust of Troy (Ethan Hawke), her slacker-musician roommate. Yes, this is the movie that rebooted the Knack’s career via a gas station quickie mart dance. Hawke impresses with a rendition of the Violent Femmes’ “Add It Up” during a coffee house gig. MTV VJ Karen “Duff” Duffy appears as Elaina, the Lemonheads’ Evan Dando (Heavy) as Roy, and Dave Piener of Soul Asylum shows up on a couch. Steve Zahn stars in That Thing You Do! and Jeannie Garofalo stars in The Truth About Cats and Dogs.
37. Roadside Prophets (1992 drama)
Abbe Wool (Sid and Nancy) scripts-directs this ‘90s version of a ‘60s counterculture buddy flick that borrows from Easy Rider to chronicle the motorcycle road trip of Joe (X’s John Doe) transporting the ashes of his fellow biker pal for a Nevada burial. Along the way: Joe meets Sam (The Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz of Lost Angels) and the duo, in a similar fashion to Fonda and Hopper, meet eclectic characters.
38. Rock and Roll Mobster Girls (1988 comedy)
While Singles is the obligatory grunge flick, this film was the original, first grunge flick before “grunge” lexicon-mainstreamed. (Those were the days no knew the meaning of grunge . . . or even cared where Seattle was.) This pseudo-This is Spinal Tap concerns the all-girl Seattle band, Doll Squad, and their brief moment of fame with the song “Psycho Girls.” The film looks back to the early 80’s, as the quintet, lead by Linx Lapaz, can’t find work and are reduced to eating out of garbage dumpsters. Their fortunes changed for the better (and even worse) when they signed with local promoter Bruno Multrock—who just so happens to be the feared psycho killer stalking Seattle. Reminiscent of numerous ‘50s rock films, it haphazardly edits stock footage, band interviews, and performances between segments to pad its non-script and short running time. It’s nice to see Scott McCaughey of Seattle’s college radio/indie-rock darlings, the Young Fresh Fellows, thespin’ on screen. Then, three years later: Seattle’s music scene exploded—punk broke!—and Singles was born.
39. Rude (1995 drama/radio)
A Canadian radio romp similar to Eldorado, only with the on air banter of a pirate radio disc jockey, Rude. He’s the plot-connective between the lives of several people living in Toronto’s tough inner city: an ex-drug dealing mural artist tries to reconnect with his family after being released from prison, an aspiring boxer destroys his career by participating in the assault of a gay man, and a woman faces the outcome of an abortion.
40. S.F.W. (1994 drama)
R.E.M’s Michael Stipe produced (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Velvet Goldmine) this loose adaptation of Andrew Wellman’s satiric Generation X novel on the price of fame and reckless tabloid journalism. Stephen Dorff (Blade) is the apathetic-reluctant hero, Cliff Spab, whose catch phases—his stock answer to everything is “So Fucking What”—during his captivity of a televised hostage crisis, transforms him into a media sensation. Australian rockers Mantissa (‘90s hit “Mary, Mary”) appear through a quick video clip, but fail to appear on the soundtrack, which features Soundgarden with “Jesus Christ Pose” and Radiohead with “Creep,” along with Babes in Toyland, GWAR, Hole, and Marilyn Manson.
41. Singles (1992 comedy)
Cameron Crowe’s pen captured the ‘70s with Almost Famous and the ‘80s with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, so it follows he’d chronicle the ‘90s in this grungy-hybrid of the U.S TV series Friends and Beverly Hills 91210—about a group of friends in a Seattle apartment complex. Resident Matt Dillon (Over the Edge) stars as a grunge hopeful with his band, Citizen Dick. The grunge comes by way of Alice in Chains (“It Ain’t Like That,” “Would”) and Soundgarden (“Birth Ritual”) on film, while Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and Screaming Trees are on the soundtrack.
42. Slaves to the Underground (1997 drama)
The fourth and final northwestern film in the unofficial “grunge flick” cycle, proceeded by Rock N’ Roll Mobster Girls, Singles and Georgia (and not counting the documentaries Hype! and Kurt & Courtney). Shelly and Suzy are two musicians in the Seattle music scene, in love and leading the band, No Exits. When Shelly decides to get back with her slacker ex-boyfriend/fanzine publisher, the band begins to fall apart under Suzy’s jealousy. If you want more troubled female rock groups, check out Scenes from the Goldmine (1987) and Ladies and Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains (1982).
43. Suburbia (1997 drama)
Actor/writer Eric Bogosian adapted his stage play Talk Radio for the big screen and repeats the process with this grungy tale of ‘90s angst-ridden teens facing an uncertain future—directed by Richard Linklater of the ‘70s coming-of-age flick, Dazed and Confused. A group of Gen-X’ers deal with life after high school the only way they know how: hanging out in the parking lot of local quickie mart. When their grungy-folk singer buddy returns home as a successful rock star, they realize their aimless lives. The soundtrack: Sonic Youth, Beck, Skinny Puppy (The Doom Generation), Superchunk, Butthole Surfers and Flaming Lips.
44. Velvet Goldmine (1998 drama)
R.E.M’s Michael Stipe producerd (Happiness and Saved) this fictitious tome based on ‘70s rock idols David Bowie and Iggy Pop, as personified by glam rocker Brian Slade and his band Venus in Furs and U.S garage-punk, Kurt Wylde. The New York Doll’s “Personality Crisis” and “20th Century Boy” by T.Rex are reinterpreted by ‘90s alt-rockers Teenage Fanclub and Placebo. Placebo appears as “T.Rex” to perform their soundtrack entry. Grant Lee Buffalo’s “The Whole She-Bang,” Radiohead’s Tom Yorke’s “Sebastian,” and Shutter to Think’s “The Ballad of Maxwell Demon” double for Slade’s “Bowie.” Writing and performing the music for the Kurt Wylde and the Wylde Rats is an alternative supergroup featuring Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, Ron Asherton of the Stooges, Mike Watt of Firehose, Don Fleming of Gumball, along with Thurston Moore and Steve Shelly of Sonic Youth; most of which did the same for the Beatles’ “what if” flick, Backbeat.
45. The Vigil (for Kurt Cobain) (1994 drama)
The fact that the company incorporated to produce this film is called “Come As You Are, Ltd.” should clue you in that this low-budget Canadian film is concerned with a group of Nirvana fans that travel from Lethbridge, Alberta to Seattle for Cobain’s vigil. Caveat emptor: Courtney Love wasn’t on board, so no Nirvana songs appear in the film; however that doesn’t stop the film’s message about the love of music. Caveat #2: The trip to Seattle is merely a backdrop for the emotional decay between two brothers, so if you’re expecting a full-on man-love tribute to Cobain, keep on driving south to Portland. The Canadian alt-rock one-hit wonder by the Pursuit of Happiness (“I’m an Adult Now”) and Bughouse 5, spins.
46. We Jam Econo (2005 documentary)
While major label acts like Guns N’ Roses take 11 years to release an album, the Minutemen—a little rock trio from San Pedro, California—issued an amazing 11 albums during their 5 year existence. Eighteen years after the tragic death of leader D. Boon in a December 1985 van accident, the band receives a justified document of their accomplishments that revisits from its 1979 inception, to its opening tour slot for then hot college radio-to-mainstream darlings, R.E.M. Features appearances from Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat/Fugazi (Another State of Mind, Instrument), Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore (1991: The Year Punk Broke), Jello Biafra (Terminal City Ricochet) of the Dead Kennedys, Mascis of Dinosaur, Jr., Richard Hell of the Voidoids, and John Doe of X.
47. Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995 comedy)
Dawn Wiener is the picked-upon ugly duckling middle child who falls in love with high school hunk, Steve Rogers, the front man of her brother’s garage band, the Quadratics. The ‘60s garage rock-cum-grunge-inspired soundtrack is courtesy of Daniel Ray (producer of Ramones) who wrote the original tunes “Sweet Candy” and “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”
48. Won’t Anybody Listen (2001 documentary)
This feature-length chronicle stared out as a video project for a California rock band to be sold at concerts, but evolved into an in-depth study on the hard truths about the music industry. The film follows the dreams of the Rogala brothers, Frank and Vince, who left Michigan for California, in the hopes they would secure a contract for their band NC-17. What follows is a sad portrait of the fate that befalls musicians: dead-end part time jobs, slick managers, and nothing to show for the hard work.
49. X-Gen (2006 comedy)
And the tales of the Grunge-filled Generation X years continue—a decade after its demise. This time it’s the trials and tribulations of Kirk (read: Kurt, as in Cobain) as he loses his friend to a new suburban, sell-out lifestyle of mini-vans and khakis. All Kirk wants is to sit back with his bud and have a bottle of his favorite beer, “Eddie’s Black Circle” (read: title derived from the singer of Pearl Jam and its hit, “Spin the Black Circle”), and listen to grunge music—but everyone is obsessed with the immensely popular boy band, “Teen Spirit.” As for Kirk’s sell-out friends: they think all Kirk needs is a hit of X-Gen, a new designer drug that helps everyone “deal.”
50. The Year of My Japanese Cousin (1995 comedy)
Stevie is a singer with little talent and lots of attitude as she fronts a Seattle grunge band, Scuba Boy. Her leadership of the band is threatened when Yukari, her musically gifted cousin from Japan, visits and joins as guitarist. The band’s fortunes change when they get a video deal, but at the expense of Stevie possibly losing her boyfriend and guitarist to Yukari. Selene Vigil of 7 Year Bitch (Mad Love) and Kurt Bloch of Seattle’s Fastbacks appear.
Even though they were released—and loved—during the grungy ’90s, and/or had soundtracks that appealed to Gen-X’ers, these films took place outside of the “‘90s,” in most cases, and were not concerned with the “grunge” era: Another State of Mind, The Basketball Diaries, Dazed and Confused, The Decline of Western Civilization, duBeat-e-o, Dudes, High Fidelity, Kids, Mallrats, Scenes from the Goldmine, SLC Punk!, The Stoned Age, Suburbia (‘83), Ten Things I Hate About You, Terminal City Ricochet, and Trainspotting.
You need more rock ‘n’ roll on film? Then check out our musical tributes:
As well as our “Exploring” features:
And our “Drive-In Friday” features:
And there’s even more films!
Hanging on a Star*
Karn Evil 9*
Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park
Prey for Rock & Roll*
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School
The Running’ Kind*
Sci-Fi High: The Movie Musical
Slumber Party Massacre
Song of the Succubus*
Voyage of the Rock Aliens
* Reviews by R.D Francis.
And don’t forget our “Radio Week” and our three-part “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” blowouts (clickable images).
Banner by R.D Francis. Overlay courtesy of PineTools.com and text courtesy of PicFont.com. Cobain image available on multiple websites. All “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” banners credited on those individual pieces.