9 Great Rock 'N' Roll Moments in Sci-Fi Movies - Mania.com

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9 Great Rock 'N' Roll Moments in Sci-Fi Movies

By Loren Dean     December 15, 2010

9 Great Rock 'N' Roll Moments in Sci-Fi Movies
© Mania/Robert Trate

Nothing sets the tone like a nice musical cue, and nothing says "Don't mess with this guy" like a nice rock cue. Movies and rock have gone together for a long time, but genre film too often indulges in big lush scoring or quirky-but-appropriate techno, missing the simple pleasures that a good rock lick can bring to a movie moment. Are these the best examples? Much like rock, no two fans will agree entirely. So let's compromise. Here's nine, in no particular order. You add the one that should totally be here but isn't, and then arrange them to suit your own taste. 

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

The Song: "Magic Carpet Ride," by Steppenwolf

Star Trek has always suffered from a certain stodgy air. Apparently along with eliminating poverty, disease, and hunger, they also dumped pop culture. Data plays the violin and paints? Screw that. If he want to understand the human experience he should be jamming with holodeck Hendrix and lighting guitars on fire. Either way, it's about time somebody on Trek played something cool, and equally fitting that it be the inventor of Warp Drive. Cochrane put a stereo in his warp prototype? Awesome! That's why the humans quickly established a leadership role in the Federation. They had their priorities straight.


Back to the Future (1985)

The Song: "Johnny B. Goode," by Chuck Berry, covered by Tim May and Mark Campbell

B2tF had a lot of sweet rock in it. Credit Huey Lewis, whose stuff is so timelessly cool that it's still getting radio play. But the big rock moment here is Marty going all Van Halen on Johnny B. Goode. It's got one of the greatest opening guitar licks in rock history, and when Marty cranks into it the whole movie goes from pretty darn awesome to wildly awesome. Those kids in 1955 sure loved it. And you know you loved it, too. Don't lie.


The Matrix (1999)

The Song: "Wake Up," by Rage Against the Machine

So you're a group of ragtag freedom fighters working against a huge computer-controlled alternate reality. And when your crew rolls into the matrix they like to indulge in awesome leather coats and hot sunglasses, and then somebody suggests that you soundtrack the moment. What do you pick? Say what you will about Rage Against the Machine (and you can say plenty), but the intro lick underneath that mass entry into the Matrix (and revisited at the very end of the film) is a line of finely cut awesome on a mirror. And it's a nicely layered moment: It's the right group name (the crew is Raging against the Machine, after all), with the right song name (they're there to Wake people Up), at exactly the right moment in the movie. Friggin' awesome.


Return of the Jedi (1983)

The Song: "Lapti Nek," by the Max Rebo Band

That's right. 1983. Not 1997. Not 2004. 1983. Want to realize how inescapably cool Lapti Nek was? Listen to Jedi Rocks (the inescapably stupid R&B number with the harmonica player and the backup singers from the inescapably idiotic special edition RotJ). Jedi Rocks almost bookends the special edition trilogy with Fail. Got your "Han Shot First" T-shirt? Now you need one that says "Jabba ain't runnin' no blues club". He's runnin' a disco strip joint, and if you don't like it there's a pit with a rancor in it that we'd like to introduce you to. Bitches.


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)


The Song: "Bad to the Bone," by George Thorogood and the Destroyers

George Thorogood gets a lot of love in the movies, and much of it devolves into silly cliches (children in leather jackets, for instance). But this one serves several purposes. Most importantly, the song is a celebration of bad-to-the-bone-ness. It's upbeat and cool, not mean and menacing. Its presence casts the T-800 (Ahnold) in a different light than the ominous music cues that introduce him. More important, the song accompanies him sparing the life of the bartender, even after mauling the thugs within. This is a different terminator, with a different purpose, and the cue helps us realize that quickly. It also makes it easier to stomach the quips Ahnold hands us for much of the rest of the movie. (Editor’s note: The genre also made good use of the song during its first-ever onscreen appearance: John Carpenter’s Christine.)


Armageddon (1998)

The Song: "La Grange," by ZZ Top 
(slide to 1:30 to find the song clip) 

Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) is as stock as stock characters get, but gets credit because he's one of the few characters introduced in Armageddon that isn't accompanied by indulgent Aerosmith crap (I love Aerosmith as much as the next guy, but come ON!). The snippet of "La Grange" that introduces Stamper is very small, but establishes him quickly as an old-school blue-collar hardass, exactly what we expect, and exactly the kind of role Willis can play in his sleep. Never mind that Willis actually does play Harry more or less in his sleep--Stamper's cool because ZZ Top tells us so. And we all know better than to disagree with ZZ Top.


Star Trek (2009)

The Song: "Sabotage," by the Beastie Boys

Again we get a moment where the right song by the right group is played at exactly the right moment in a film. In this case, a whole new Jimmy Kirk, having been Sabotaged by timeline shenanigans, has become a Beastie Boy. Get it? The whole cue serves to inform us in a matter of moments that this is not the Kirk we knew, boldly going where no man has gone before. This one's a narcissistic sociopath--the only genius level offender in the midwest--and he doesn't care a whit what you think. Or how classic your car is. Or whether he's just an academy cadet. Or if your skin is green (as long as you're hot). Bring it, Jim.

The Lost Boys (1987)

The Song: "People are Strange," by The Doors, covered by Echo and the Bunnymen

"I think you're really gonna like living in Santa Carla," says mother-of-two Lucy. Such a simple, hopeful line. And it's followed by a cavalcade of Cali-coast misfits, freaks, and weirdos for two straight minutes. And in those two minutes we establish a heck of a lot, most notably that this little family on the mend is most certainly not in Kansas (or in this case Arizona) anymore. "People are Strange" establishes Santa Carla as exactly the kind of dead-end community where self-styled individualists can get lost in the haze and a gang of punk vampires can thrive.  This is a town where a horror movie is about to happen, and "People are Strange" clues us in right off the bat.


Flash Gordon (1980)


The Song: "Flash's Theme," by Queen


Sweet breakdancing angels! Does it get better than this? I say thee NAY! Ultimately, the entire soundtrack to Flash Gordon is just one massive great rock moment, but Queen's main theme has the iconic "AH-ahhhh!" lyric we all know and love. It really cannot be denied that without the Queen soundtrack, this movie would have been terrible, consigned to the dusty corners of the bargain VHS bin at the skeezy indie video store you used to visit for porn. But Mercury, May and company put this movie on their backs and carry it to rock-operatic heaven. With Queen on board, it effortlessly transcends bad into camp classic territory that'll keep it in our movie libraries forever. He'll save every one of us, indeed. 




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samurai1138 12/15/2010 12:54:58 AM

I dont know if this counts, but Prince's "Party Man" playing whilst Nicholson's Joker re-models the Guggelheim museum in "Batman" was a great scene made better by a cool tune. Also, while i agree with Queen taking the top spot in this list, American Grafitti should be on the top of every list. Every single scene in that movie was made better by the killer 60's soundtrack. It wasa the first movie to use an all-rock soundtrack, and it did it so well, that no one scene stand out any better than any other. Simply the best use of rock music in any movie to date. 

samurai1138 12/15/2010 12:59:42 AM

Also, let's not forget Macy Gray kickin' it in Spider-Man. (I'm just kidding, that was terrible, who's idea was that anyway?)

SarcasticCaveman 12/15/2010 1:13:56 AM

I honestly don't understand the fascination with the Flash Gordon movie on this site.  Even when I saw it as a kid on HBO I thought it was just Meh.  The most enjoyment I've ever gotten out of it was a couple of jokes on Family Guy.  Glad you included the Zephram Cochran scene though...very cool.

HotDogs 12/15/2010 2:10:26 AM

So, where is Maximum Overdrive?  Where is Highlander? 

RedHood2010 12/15/2010 4:05:19 AM

Hey, no need to hate on Flash.  Fun movie with interesting characters with music and sounds that when you hear you recoginize where it came from.  How can you not like a one on one battle on a tipping floor where you fall into the sky?

I too would think MO and Highlander might make this list over a Star Wars movie.  I just have NO recolection of anything rock from Star Wars.

American Grafitti, then how about Forest Gump?

3rdSBS6 12/15/2010 4:21:23 AM


 Oh yeah...cant forget the scene when Kruger is takin a chicken ride with dear old grandma through the streets of New York, all the while Queen kickin it in the background...lol...priceless. And who could forget the begining of Maximum Overdrive and the toll bridge scene as "Who Made Who" is playing to the distruction...great stuff.

Fun list man...good thoughts in it (=

LocoLobo73 12/15/2010 5:42:29 AM

Highlander has a ton of great songs , "Dust in the wind", being one and "Princes of the Universe" the other. Oh yeah and "you could be mine" from T2 and Salvation.

Ryodin 12/15/2010 6:06:24 AM

Yeah, Princes of the Universe from Highlander is the missing one from this list, IMO.

Oh, and "Dust in the Wind" was used in the Highlander tv series, not the movies. This list is only covering movies, right?

gutsmgee 12/15/2010 6:46:39 AM

LOL...My band Plays LaGrange every show. People really dig that song for some reason, which is fine. Now and forever, when we play that song, all I'm gonna think about is giant space rocks....

kinetoscope 12/15/2010 7:03:19 AM

Wonderful list yet again.

Keep them coming. Something for me to talk about at work all day.

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