8 Classic Big-Screen Hard Rock + Heavy Metal Concert Movies

Before MTV, before VHS tapes, before DVDs, and way, way, way before YouTube, the only way for fans to see hard rock and heavy metal bands in concert was just that—in concert. For those who couldn’t make it to live shows, a handful of late-night TV programs offered respites, most prominently ABC in Concert, The Midnight Special, and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Then there was the concert movie.

Beginning with The T.A.M.I. Show and its all star lineup in 1964 (performers include the Rolling Stones, James Brown, Beach Boys, and the Supremes; Jan and Dean host atop skateboards), then hitting a critical peak in 1978 with Martin Scorsese’s chronicle of the Band’s farewell show in The Last Waltz, concert films packed mainstream theaters for long initial runs and then remained in circulation as midnight movies for years thereafter (some are still going strong).

Alas, with all the aforementioned technology developments putting live band performances constantly no further away than one’s typing fingertips, the last major rock concert movie of the original era remains the Talking Heads in Jonathan Demme’s 1984 Stop Making Sense.

Along the way, of course, hard rock and heavy metal contributed their share of enduring big-screen barnburners to the genre—with Metallica even reviving the theatrical live performance film for the 21st century (in 3D no less!). Here now are eight hard-and-heavy, history-making, headbanging concert film favorites.


The Song Remains the Same (1977)
The grand magi of hard rock, Led Zeppelin, naturally pulled off the grandest, most magisterial of concert films with The Song Remains the Same.

Filmed at Zep’s mighty three-night 1975 Madison Square Garden stand, Song is Biblically-proportioned from its opening visits with the band members at home (including Jimmy Page playing a hurdy-gurdy and flashing red eyes by a lake) on through their jetting out on tour and hitting the stage with a ferocious run-through of “Rock and Roll.”

Aside from one musical highlight after another (e.g., Page whips out the violin bow during “Dazed and Confused”), Song’s documentary aspects are uniformly enthralling, supply up-close insights into Zep manager Peter Grant’s notorious (yet somehow charming) strong-arm techniques, as well as the backstage drama of a thief making off with the group’s $350,000 cash haul for the gig.

Greater still are Song’s long, elaborate fantasy sequences, if only because they would likely come off ridiculous if attempted by a mere mortal rock band. Plant engages in Viking swordfights. Page scales a mountain alongside Loch Ness. Bassist John Paul Jones rides with 18th century masked horsemen at midnight. Drummer John Bonham, in stark contrast, just hangs with his family on their farm.

The Song Remains the Same pulls off its every minute to perfection—and in the case of Bonzo’s “Moby Dick” drum solo, the number of minutes is just over eleven.


AC/DC: Let There Be Rock (1981)

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