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11 best fictional rock bands in movies: Blues Brothers, Spinal Tap, more

Spinal Tap, still the king of all fake

Spinal Tap, still the king of all fake rock bands. Credit: BPI / STF

When "Jem and the Holograms" arrives in theaters next Friday, it will be the first big-screen adaptation of the music-themed cartoon series from the 1980s. Produced in part by Marvel and Hasbro, the show revolved around a girl whose alter ego was Jem, leader of the all-female band the Holograms -- and although her bandmates were real humans, Jem did have the ability to project 3-D images using special earrings. In the film version -- reportedly a little less fanciful -- Aubrey Peeples will lead a cast that includes Molly Ringwald and real-life rocker Juliette Lewis.

It's a ridiculous-sounding premise, but rockers have always been ridiculous -- from Led Zeppelin's orchestral pomp to the Sex Pistols' semiskilled racket to Prince's androgynous squeal. And we love it all. Maybe that's why Hollywood can't resist putting its own fictional rockers on screens, either as spoofs, cautionary tales, reflections of reality or impossible fantasies.

Here are some of the best fictional rockers in the movies, from the 1960s through the new millennium. There are really too many to name, so honorable mention must go to the headbanging Wyld Stallyns of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure," the nihilistic Autobahn of "The Big Lebowski" and many others. So who took the top slot? Here's a hint: This list goes to 11.

11. The Oneders They're pronounced "The Wonders," and one hit is all they have in the charming 1996 film "That Thing You Do!," a love letter to the mid-1960s from writer-director Tom Hanks. (Tom Everett Scott plays the band's drummer.) The ridiculously catchy title song was written by pop-savant Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne.

10. Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations This unbearably pretentious band performs the title song of "Bedazzled," a Swingin' London update of the Faust tale written by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Cook plays an ice-cold, utterly bored front man who inexplicably drives teenage girls wild. "I'm self-contained, just go away," he drones to his adoring fans. "You fill me with inertia."

9. Steel Dragon "Rock Star," a fictional biopic from 2001, starred Mark Wahlberg as Chris "Izzy" Cole, a metalhead who becomes the front man for his favorite band, Steel Dragon. Based on the true story of superfan Tim "Ripper" Owen and Judas Priest, "Rock Star" was panned by critics but is full of sly jokes and real-world parallels; Judas Priest bassist Ian Hill called it "a work of true fiction."

8. The Carrie Nations Screenwriter Roger Ebert and director Russ Meyer concocted this female power trio for their 1970 schlock classic, "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." The band's style ranges from fuzzed-out pop ("Come With the Gentle People") to angry rock ("Find It"), but the band's secret weapon is its black female drummer, Marcia McBroom -- a rarity in any band, real or fake.

7. The Juicy Fruits Brian DePalma's "Phantom of the Paradise" (1974) spoofs nearly every recent trend of the era: doo-wop, surf-pop, glam-rock, even Meatloaf (a diva named Beef) and KISS (a band called The Undead). The film's Satan figure is played by Paul Williams, who wrote the songs.

6. Soronprfbs This avant-rock band is so underground, so anticommercial that its name is impossible to pronounce or remember. In the marvelous film "Frank" (2014), the group is led by a Theremin player (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and a mentally ill singer (Michael Fassbender, wearing a giant fiberglass head). When fame finds them anyway, they angrily change their name to The Oeccscclhjhn Bar Band.

5. Marvin Berry and the Starlighters They were just another prom band until Nov. 12, 1955, when time-traveling Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) hopped onstage and invented not only Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" but Eddie Van Halen's shredding guitar technique. It's a watershed moment in fictional rock from "Back to the Future" (1985).

4. The Blues Brothers John Belushi as "Joliet" Jake Blues and Dan Aykroyd as Elwood Blues were early examples of a spoof band becoming so popular -- first on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" -- that they became real, releasing several albums and opening for The Grateful Dead. Genuine R&B legends Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles appeared in their now-classic comedy, "The Blues Brothers" (1980).

3. The Fabulous Stains Lou Adler's 1981 punk-rock fable, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains," never had a proper theatrical release, but late-night television showings and VHS bootlegs made fans of future riot grrrls like Courtney Love and Kathleen Hannah. The band members were played by a barely pubescent Diane Lane, plus Laura Dern and Marin Kanter. Members of the Sex Pistols, The Clash and even The Tubes play secondary roles.

2. Dewey Cox "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" (2007) stars John C. Reilly as a Johnny Cash figure who morphs into Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison and possibly Johnny Rotten over his improbably long career. Co-written by well-known rock geek Judd Apatow and director Jake Kasdan, this is the mock doc that separates serious music heads from casual fans.

1. Spinal Tap Still the king of all fake rock bands, thanks to Michael McKean as singer David St. Hubbins ("the patron saint of quality footwear"), Christopher Guest as guitarist Nigel Tufnel (whose amps go to 11) and Harry Shearer as bassist Derek Smalls (he of the smuggled cucumber). "This Is Spinal Tap," directed by Marty Di Bergi (actually Rob Reiner), made such merciless fun of musicians and their industry -- but with such affection and good humor -- that the band wound up playing with everyone from Mick Fleetwood to David Gilmour.

And the three worst . . .

3. Stillwater The rock gods of Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous" (2000) were meant to resemble Led Zeppelin, but their songs -- mostly written by Crowe and his wife, Nancy Wilson of Heart -- sound like a soupy blend of post-1960s "rock." Plus, the band has the least-exciting name since Bread.

2. Eddie and the Cruisers In the 1983 film of the same name, Michael Paré plays Eddie Wilson, a once-popular '60s icon who vanishes. He looks like Dion -- so why does he sound like Bruce Springsteen? The anachronistic music came from the roots-rock outfit John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, another contender for the worst band name in history.

1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band The Beatles' version was great, of course, but the 1978 film adaptation remains an infamous disaster. Peter Frampton plays Billy Shears, Steve Martin goofs through "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and George Burns narrates as Mr. Kite in what feels like a hallucinatory television variety show. It's a quasi-disco, pseudo-rock atrocity.


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