Sick and tired with what’s on telly? Then you should check out our list of the greatest punk documentaries ever made – and find out what new documentary is likely to be the next big box office hit!
10: American Hardcore
Based on a book of the same name, this 2007 film looks at…. well, American Hardcore… obviously! The amount of footage that is featured in this documentary is impressive and it is no wonder when you find out that a lot of the footage was sent in by the bands themselves.
The most notable footage according to the filmmakers is of the final show by Boston straight edge band Negative FX that caused a near riot when it was cut short due to a power cut. The band only played half a dozen shows in their lifetime, so any footage is a rare thing indeed.
Featuring footage of your hardcore favourites Bad Brains, Minutemen and DOA amongst others, do not watch if your neighbours are sensitive about noise.
9: Filth and The Fury
In 2000, Julian Temple directed his own film exploring the career of the Sex Pistols and the result is a fascinating look, not just at the band themselves, but of the general state of the UK at the time of their inception.
Providing an interesting amount of context about industrial strife, poverty and the general malaise that swept through the U.K. in the 1970s, this is as much a documentary about British social history as it is just about the Sex Pistols or punk in general.
That is not to say that there is not plenty of information about how the band came to be; the vastly different temperaments and attitudes of the core members and how this played out over a relatively short yet significant career.
The film also addresses the untimely death of bassist Sid Vicious and features some poignant footage of a young man who ultimately lost his life to addiction.
8: The Other F Word
This 2011 documentary by American writer and producer Andrea Blaugrund Nevins explores what happens when punks grow up and become fathers (‘Fatherhood’ being the other F word of the title). The documentary explores how punk stars have to navigate the line between setting appropriate boundaries for their children and becoming the very authority that they themselves railed against.
Featuring an impressive cast of interviewees such as Mark Hoppus (Blink 182), Fat Mike (NOFX), Lars Frederiksen (Rancid), Tim McIlrath (Rise Against), Ron Reyes (Black Flag) and more, this film is sweet, wholesome, and very funny.
Watching Jim Lindberg (Pennywise) chastise his daughter for using a cuss word whilst showing footage of him encouraging the very same at one of his gigs, Lars Frederiksen taking his toddler to the park in full punk gear and Flea’s daughter recalling the time the RHCP bassist picked her up from ballet class with green hair, are all heart-warming images.
There are more emotional and less frivolous topics explored too – the death of Duane Peter’s (US Bombs) son in a car accident, stories of abuse and neglect from some of the interviewee’s own parents, as well as a look at the mental impact of having to tour frequently to put food on the table and thus risking becoming the absent fathers that they swore they would never be.
7: Punk’s Not Dead
Focused primarily on the American punk movements, this film by Susan Dynner is expansive in its definition of punk and celebratory about its influence.
Paying homage to the original cohort of punk bands that started the movement in the 70s, Dynner’s film traces a more American interpretation via hardcore and pop-punk and specifically addresses the issue of mainstream co-option of the punk aesthetic and major label interference.
Featuring everyone from Mike Ness (Social Distortion) to Wattie Buchan (The Exploited) this film examines some big questions that punk fans have to reconcile when weighing up the need to keep an authentic punk ethos with risking accusations of elitism and clique building.
Watch this not just for the awesome footage that tends to accompany these documentaries but also to consider both sides of a debate that has dogged punk since the beginning.
6: Pick It Up! Ska in the ’90s
If ska is your thing or even if you just wonder how it became so bloody popular throughout the ’90s, then this independent documentary film from 2019 is for you.
The official word from the makers claim that this is for ska fans, by ska fans and in terms of contributor integrity, there are some huge names in the ska community here.
Think of a ska band from the ’90s and the chances are they contributed to this film- members of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Mad Caddies, The Aquabats, Less Than Jake, No Doubt…..the list goes on and demonstrates a pretty high level of endorsement from the scene.
A great film to capture the fun, eccentricity and vibrancy of the mid-’90s ska-punk scene featuring joyous footage of raucous skanking, black and white fashion and obnoxious trombones. The film also addresses the apparent decline in interest for the genre pinpointing the popularity of Nu Metal in the late ’90s as one of the main reasons.
5: The Decline of Western Civilisation
Full of energy, excitement, and anger, no punk film captures the L.A. punk zeitgeist better than The Decline of Western Civilisation. This documentary totally immerses you into the Los Angeles underground music scene in 1979-80.
From the circle pit to the stage, the film converses with California’s punk stars and their fans and deep-dives into what was then a misunderstood sub-culture. The documentary is narrated by the director Penelope Spheeris giving the dialogue a very intimate ‘chatty’ feel.
Featuring X, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, The Alice Bag Band, Fear and the Germs, Decline puts California punk’s significance into a historical context to ensure L.A. punk’s importance will never be forgotten.
4: Salad Days
Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90) is a documentary written and directed by Scott Crawford and funded via Kickstarter in 2014. It is 103 minutes of pure hardcore energy placing the origins of the scene in the political and social context of America in the 1980s.
Featuring never before seen footage, photos and interviews this film makes the case that the brand of hardcore punk that came out of Washington in the decade 1980-1990 is more influential and powerful than it was ever given credit for.
The cast is a who’s who of the punk and straight edge scene including Ian Mackaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Brian Baker (Bad Religion) amongst many others- some you know and some you need to get to know.
3: The Punk Rock Movie
The movie is full of rare clips including live footage of Sid Vicious playing with the Sex Pistols for the first time, backstage footage of Generation X, The Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and clips of The Clash, Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, Generation X, Slaughter and the Dogs, The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Eater, Subway Sect, X-Ray Spex, Alternative TV and Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers playing live.
Raw, poor quality and gritty, the film has been released a few times since it was first shown at the cinema in 1978—on VHS in the ’80s and DVD in 2006. Try to find an early copy of this documentary because the later versions’ live music scenes have rather sadly been over-dubbed in the studio!
This is the documentary that started the AfroPunk movement. This short but sweet 66-minute documentary explores race identity within the punk scene.
More than your everyday, run-of-the-mill, documentary AfroPunk tackles the hard questions, such as racism, exile, inter-racial dating and black power.
It follows the lives of four people who have dedicated themselves to the punk rock lifestyle. They find themselves in conflicting situations, living the dual life of a person of colour in a mostly white community.
The documentary inter-cuts interviews from black punk fans with scenes from our four protagonists’ lives. They come from different regions, generations, genders, and sexual preferences but their stories are very similar.
AfroPunk features performances by Bad Brains, Tamar Kali, Cipher, and Ten Grand. It also contains exclusive interviews by members of Fishbone, 247- spyz, Dead Kennedys, Candiria, Orange 9mm and TV on the Radio to name a few.
1: Westway to The World
Grammy Award-winning, Westway to the World – another Don Letts’ movie – is the story of one of the greatest punk bands ever – The Clash.
Filmed in 2000, it is still the most interesting and comprehensive view of the career of the band to be committed to film. Featuring interviews with all members of the band – past and present – it follows their contrasting childhoods spent amongst either the cultural diversity of inner-city London (Simonon and Jones) or the international boarding schools of Surrey (Strummer) through to the formation and then the ultimate dissolution of one of the most influential bands in the history of music.
There’s warmth, humour, anguish, and regret as each member explains the impact their time in the band had on them and their reflections on the way the journey ended.
POLY STYRENE: I AM A CLICHE
Bi-racial, female, working-class and possessing an unforgettable warrior-cry voice (not to mention the most satirical perspective in punk), X-Ray Spex founder Poly Styrene was, as Billboard proclaimed, “one of the least conventional front-persons in rock history”, says the documentary makers website.
For the first time, the jigsaw pieces of Poly’s fascinating life are brought together by her daughter Celeste Bell, as she sets out across three continents to explore her mother’s artistic legacy. The film combines original interviews, new research, music and previously unseen archive material to present a thrilling, poetic and at times impressionistic portrait of a singer, seeker, a maverick and a mother.
This documentary is still in production and you can support the production company to finish this film by becoming a Patron – click the button below!
I’m Molly Tie- I am the UK Editor for Punktuation and a general punk enthusiast! I play drums (badly), write a lot about punk (not as badly) and I’m particularly interested in issues relating to women in the music scene.