As the elaborate live performance scenes in Elton John biopic Rocketman demonstrate, you can’t deny the power of a well-executed concert, one of cinema’s most rousing tropes. It can be anything from a poignant moment to a climactic triumph, so long as it follows one of Hollywood’s golden rules: if it’s worth saying, say it with a song. Here are the 15 best on-screen gigs.

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Whatever you think of the ham-fisted history and sexual politics in this Freddie Mercury biopic, Rami Malek’s perfectly mimicked Live Aid performance is stirring stuff. We’d have gladly taken the full Live Aid set and cut 15 minutes of other cheesy dross from this film.

The Sex Pistols – 24 Hour Party People (2002)

Michael Winterbottom’s postmodern take on Factory Records uses new and archive footage to spin this legendary 1976 real-life gig at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall into an epiphany. In the crowd are the Manchester music scene’s soon-to-be most influential players: Tony Wilson, the future Joy Division/New Order producer Martin Hannett, and, er, Mick Hucknall.

The Barden Bellas – Pitch Perfect (2012)

The triumphant underdog story gets some fine tuning as Anna Kendrick’s a cappella group sing their way to the college national championships. Essentially Rocky with singing, their climactic sing-off is the final fight, throwing harmonies and pop mashups instead of right hooks.

Buddy Holly and the Crickets – The Buddy Holly Story (1978)

Buddy (Gary Busey) is booked to play the Harlem Apollo after the promoter mistakenly assumes – based on his tunes – that he’s black. But Buddy wins over the audience with his brand of stuttering, high-energy rock’n’roll, including hits (sung live by Busey) Oh Boy and It’s So Easy.

Sing Street – Sing Street (2016)

This 80s-set story about an Irish high-school band is as much about the nostalgia of being a lovelorn teenager as it is about music. It would take a heart of stone not to be moved by the final gig, as Cosmo (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) rocks the school dance and wins back sweetheart Raphina (Lucy Boynton).

The Clash at Demonhead – Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010)

Scott (Michael Cera) must fight his girlfriend’s evil exes, including actual Superman (well, Brandon Routh), who’s playing bass in a punky, vegan-powered band fronted by a Gwen Stefani-like Captain Marvel (well, Brie Larson). Their performance is impossibly sexy, as director Edgar Wright deploys his trademark hyperactive visuals and a thumping soundtrack.

Jack Robin – The Jazz Singer (1927)

“You ain’t heard nothing yet,” says Al Jolson’s cabaret singer before crooning Toot, Toot, Tootsie. And he was right. It was the first sequence in a feature-length film to have synchronised speech, singing and music. A technical landmark as Jolson sings cinema into the talkie era.

Wild Stallyns – Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)

After returning from the dead, saving the world and learning to play the guitar, Bill and Ted unite the world with the triumphant stadium banger God Gave Rock & Roll to You at the San Dimas Battle of the Bands. Excellent!

Sonic Death Monkey – High Fidelity (2000)

High Fidelity goes through all the emotions of a great compilation tape and ends up with a sleeper hit when Jack Back’s loudmouth irritant Barry delivers a blistering vocal of Let’s Get It On. Partly responsible for the popularity of Tenacious D. Don’t let that put you off.

Billie Holiday – Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

They say the best way to get to Carnegie Hall is to practise. Unfortunately, what Billie Holiday (Diana Ross) practises for most of this tragic biopic is drink and drugs. Even this redemptive encore of God Bless the Child is tinged with sadness – newspaper headlines flash up to reveal that Holiday died soon afterwards.

The Soggy Bottom Boys – O Brother Where Art Thou (2000)

The Coen brothers rework Homer’s Odyssey with the tale of three escaped convicts in depression-era Mississippi. But O Brother has a lot in common with big-screen musicals, so it naturally peaks with a song – a farcical rendition by George Clooney and co of the folksy knee-slapper Man of Constant Sorrow.

Spinal Tap – This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Setting the bar for gloriously un-self-aware musicians tragically low – just 18 inches, in fact – a bewildered Spinal Tap play on as a miniature replica of Stonehenge descends to the stage mid-song.

The Commitments – The Commitments (1991)

The final gig for the Dublin soul band before it implodes as a result of all the in-fighting and saxophonist Joey “The Lips” Fagan’s love-rattery. Joey promises the band his old pal Wilson Pickett will show up. He doesn’t, but they bang out skin-prickling versions of Mustang Sally, Try a Little Tenderness and I Never Loved a Man.

Johnny Cash and June Carter – Walk the Line (2005)

A sweet duet of It Ain’t Me Babe is the beating heart of this otherwise by-the-numbers biopic. Cash and Carter (a perfect Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon) make eyes at each other while Cash’s permanently disappointed father and soon-to-be-cheated-on wife watch from the front row.

The Revolution – Purple Rain (1984)

What more could you want from this bonkers vanity project than Prince himself – as Revolution bandleader the Kid – in an unflinching four-minute closeup belting out Purple Rain? The song ties the film up nicely: dedicated to the Kid’s abusive father and credited to the female Revolution bandmates whose songs he’s spent 90 minutes ignoring.

NWA – Straight Outta Compton (2015)

Despite warnings from Detroit cops beforehand, the NWA boys drop Fuck tha Police. Loaded with defiance, the beats and lyrics of their gangster anthem blast out like gunfire – until the sound of actual gunfire forces cops to rush the stage and start a riot. The film in a mother-effin’ nutshell.

The Blues Brothers Band – The Blues Brothers (1980)

Jake and Elwood – shouty SNL star John Belushi and a do-wopping Dan Aykroyd – complete their “mission from God” with a feelgood performance of Everybody Needs Somebody to Love. Extra musical kudos thanks to Belushi and Aykroyd’s legitimately brilliant R&B supergroup. Even the cops, who are there to arrest Jake and Elwood, are toe-tapping along.

The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

After more than an hour of messing around, the Fab Four finally take to the stage for a concert performance, finishing with She Loves You. It’s classic Beatlemania as the fans go wild. A huge influence on the future of music videos and music on film.

Jackson and Ally – A Star Is Born (2018)

Jackson invites Ally on stage for a duet of Shallow. Brilliantly performed by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, it’s like a dizzying dream come true: X Factor gone Hollywood. There’s a tragic poignancy – for Jackson, this is the last great performance before his ruin; for Ally, a star-making moment that catapults her to fame.

Marty McFly – Back to the Future (1985)

Marty saves his parents’ marriage – thus ensuring his future existence – and makes music history with a rendition of Johnny B Goode at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. It’s all the magic of Back to the Future chucked into a blast of rock’n’roll. The 50s teenagers aren’t ready for it, but their kids are gonna love it.

Tom Fordy

The GuardianTramp