Whiplash and the 15 best drum movies
15th Jan 2015 | 14:10
The 15 greatest drumming movies
Whiplash may be headed for an Oscar for its portrayal of a young drummer pushed to the edge of his limits by a harsh music professor, but it's not the first time drums have been the star of a movie. Well, okay, there aren't too many that are totally about drumming. But here, in no particular order, we present 15 of our favourite movies heavily featuring drums, drumming or drummers!
Wayne's World (1992)
Dana Carvey, Mike Myers’ mulleted sidekick Garth in the Wayne’s World films, got his first drum kit at an early age and is a pretty proficient drummer – as evidenced by the fact that he played Garth’s drum solo in the film himself.
Garth wanders over to the music store drum section and sits down behind a huge double-kick drum Yamaha kit. He launches into a truly awe-inspiring drum solo – stage lights and all – to an audience of one long-hair, who tells him, “You’re… gulp! Amazing, dude.” “Thanks,” says Garth, returning to his meeker self, “I like to play.’ He tings the crash, the punchline to one of Wayne’s World’s very best and funniest scenes. Party on, Garth.
The Gene Krupa Story (1959)
Sal Mineo does a great turn as Krupa, though the man himself provided the real drum soundtrack.
The honesty of Mineo’s portrayal of the drummer was a thing seldom seen in celebrity biopics, and he pulled out all the stops for a warts-and-all performance that conveys a sense of Gene’s flaws as well as his genius. Swing and bebop great Shelly Manne also appears as Krupa’s mentor Dave Tough. In this clip, Gene returns to the stage after his drugs arrest, comes in for a bit of stick, then enters into a crowd-winning drum battle.
Spinal Tap (1982)
Trading off the tragic habit of rock drummers to die young at the height of a band’s popularity, this 1984 ‘rockumentary’ features one of the best running gags of all time.
The Tap have terrible, fatal, luck when it comes to drummers. John ‘Stumpy’ Pepys was the band’s first drummer (died in a bizarre gardening accident), but he was followed to the drum riser in the sky by Eric Childs (choked to death on someone else’s vomit), Peter ‘James’ Bond (spontaneously combusted) and Mick Shrimpton (again, spontaneous combustion).
A grim tale for drummers, but the film is still practically a How-To guide to being in a rock band. One of our favourite bits is the ’60s pop-show footage of first drummer ‘Stumpy’ Pepys. His look to camera after his drum break gets us every time.
That Thing You Do (1996)
Tom Hanks’ fable about a ’60s band is set a year after The Beatles took America by storm, when the US was looking for its own ‘British Invasion’ pop hit-makers.
The film’s main character is the drummer, Guy, a jazz-schooled player who upon joining the band injects a 4/4 rock beat into the band’s lacklustre ballad and sends them stratospheric. In this scene, Guy stays back after a band argument in the studio and does a nice bit of shedding, whereupon a jazz drumming legend walks in the studio and asks to jam with him. Nice!
Step Brothers (2008)
We love Will Ferrell for three main reasons: his SNL ‘more cowbell’ gag, his resemblance to and drum-off with Chad Smith and his 2008 slapstick buddy movie with John C Reilly.
After an argument Ferrell rubs his ‘nutsack’ on Reilly’s drumset, shouting, “John Bonham’s playing Moby Dick for real!” The two fight, crashing through the kit; Reilly gets knocked to the floor and hit repeatedly on the head with the bass drum pedal beater…
More Bad News (1988)
For The Comic Strip’s rockumentaries Bad News and More Bad News, Peter Richardson gets the rock drummer stereotype spot-on.
‘Spider’ Webb is typically hyperactive, yet strangely zen when it comes to the rest of the band’s dysfunctionality. He dresses like Simon Kirke, plays like Keith Moon, drinks like a fish and has some of the best lines, while the band’s in-studio joke about how long it takes to set up the drums falls flat when Spider admits he’s actually forgotten to bring them at all.
Vice Versa (1988)
Cheesy film based around the old kid-and-parent-swap-bodies staple of 1980s movies.
A man with the body of Judge Reinhold (another staple of ’80s movies) and the mind of a child gets on the kit in a music store and trades licks in a mall music store with a guy on a weird guitar/computer/synth hybrid that was probably obsolete technology even by the time the film went to VHS. Reinhold’s genuine schoolboy enthusiasm for the drum kit is actually quite endearing, though.
In Luc Besson’s French language film, Jean Reno (Leon) plays a drummer mooching about the Paris Metro saying nothing but tapping out a rhythmic beat with his sticks wherever he can.
While hiding out in the Metro, tuxedo-clad blackmailer Christophe Lambert finds the time to assemble a band to play a gig in the subway. Reno’s drummer is simply the coolest character, and at the end of the film, he lets loose with a great drum solo while inexplicably dressed as a big game hunter.
This flick about an American college drumline is full of great moments and cool, energetic drum corps playing.
It’s an emotive movie focussing on a young snare drummer-wannabe whose unorthdoxy and attitude help the school band win a national competition with an awesome drum-off. Star Nick Cannon did some of the drumming himself, although the trickier close-up shots were done by drummer Jason Price, and in preparation Cannon apparently slept with sticks taped to his hands!
Live action and CGI-combined story about the Easter Bunny’s son and heir who decides that rather than distribute chocolate eggs round the world, he’d rather be a drummer.
Wabbit goes to the human world and gets to audition for a talent show in front of judge David Hasselhoff. One for the kids, obviously, but it does contain the best drumming by a rabbit since the Duracell adverts – to Taio Cruz’s ‘Dynamite’ and Good Charlotte’s ‘The Anthem’. He also poops jelly beans. And who wouldn’t want that in their band?
The Rocker (2008)
Twenty years after being kicked out of an ’80s hair metal band, Rainn Wilson (from the US Office) gets a second chance at fame with his nephew's band.
He’s refused to grow into middle age with any dignity, while his old band have attained massive rock fame without him. When the young band rig up laptops to rehearse separately, online, Wilson, not realising there's a camera as well as a microphone, plays the drums naked. The video of this gets posted on YouTube, which makes the band famous. Crude, but I think we can all relate to the naked drumming thing. Can’t we?
The Muppets (2010)
Aside from the total awesomeness of Animal (see also his drum battle with Buddy Rich back in the ’70s), The Muppets film is also epic for the cameo by Dave Grohl as Animool, in counterfeit Muppets band The Moopets.
Other great scenes for drummers to enjoy include Animal’s lengthy drum solo that sends everyone to sleep, and the moment he finally is allowed his sticks back at the end of the movie. “Drum? No drum! Drum? No drum!” Drum, Animal, definitely drum!
Adam Sandler puts in his best film role ever as the idiot drummer of a band that breaks into a radio station and forces the station by gunpointto play its record.
Sandler doesn’t do much for the drummer stereotype though as his character, Pip – drummer with the stupidly named Lone Rangers (there's three of them for a start) – delivers some of the film’s funniest/dumbest lines, including: “I ain’t farting on no snare drum!” Sandler also wears a cape while playing the drums, something we feel there’s definitely not enough of in modern drumming.
The Mambo Kings (1992)
Antonio Banderas’s English language debut about a pair of Cuban brothers arriving in the US in the 1950s, hell-bent on becoming stars of the Latin music scene.
Percussionist brother Armand Assante gets up on stage with legend Tito Puente and does a furious percussive battle – it’s fantastic to watch Puente in action, obviously, and the duet gets so heated it results in a knife versus gun fight in the club. So caught up in the heat of his own playing is Assante, that he hasn’t noticed the ensuing panic and emptying of the club around him.
A talented young drummer attends a prestigious jazz conservatory and cops abuse from a harsh music professor, who pushes the lad towards throwing his every fluid-ounce of sweat and every bit of his energy and passion into being good enough for the big band jazz ensemble.
Oscar-nommed and much talked about, the film is pretty authentic – the film’s writer/director Damien Chazelle is a drummer; star Miles Teller has played drums in rock bands, while his co-star/rival in the film is Nate Lang, drummer with New York blues-rockers The Howling Souls, who also coached Teller in how to play convicingly on screen.
Whiplash isn’t really a film about music. It has much more in common with sports movies in which the hero must push harder and jump higher than everyone else to earn the coach’s approval and prove their worth. Applied to jazz, this boils down to Fletcher pitting Neiman against the two other drummers to see who can play ‘Caravan’ the fastest. It’s jazz as an extreme sport. Simmons plays the drill sergeant part to perfection and eats up the screen, and it’s great to see any film that puts the drummer in the spotlight.
Read the 25 Best Drumming Films in February’s Rhythm!