Iconic Guitar Parts In Movie Soundtracks

Check out this article from guest writer Shawn Leonhardt!

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This article is by Shawn Leonhardt from Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer!

If you are a guitar player or fan of the instrument, it is always nice when it pops up in movies. Sometimes fitting guitar riffs show up in the soundtrack while other movies feature the guitar being played; either way, it is always a treat for music fans. Even if you are only starting out with online guitar lessons, you’ll know and appreciate these guitar movie moments. Here are some iconic guitar moments in movies and their soundtracks.

Blow: “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”

This Rolling Stones hit was about drugs and partying, so it makes the perfect opening to the movie Blow. That opening riff is one of the greatest in rock and it’s not too hard to play if you tune your guitar to open G. Many Keith Richard guitar riffs are in that rock-friendly tuning!

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Even if you are not a fan of Wes Anderson films, one can’t deny his gift for soundtracks. He uses memorable and even hidden rock tracks of the past in many of his movies. In The Life Aquatic, he has a character (Sue George) who plays nothing but acoustic Bowie songs. Anderson often features David Bowie's music, and this unique acoustic fingerstyle approach is quite memorable. Perhaps the highlight of the film for guitarists!

Wayne’s World

The most famous guitar scene here is the “may I help you” shred and later when "Stairway to Heaven" is denied! However, there are plenty more 70’s hard rock guitar moments on this soundtrack. And Tia Carrere plays a featured female guitarist, which honestly isn’t done often. If you want a similar era and genre of guitar, try the movies Dazed and Confused and Guardians of the Galaxy.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?: “Big Rock Candy Mountains”

This song starts the movie out and sets the mood for the “old-timey” country folk music that dominates the soundtrack. It is simple to play with basic alternate bass folk guitar strumming. If you like bluegrass, folk, or country guitar, this movie is filled with songs that are perfect for guitar in those genres.


This movie with Ralph Macchio is literally about a guitarist traveling in the deep south in search of a Robert Johnson blues tune. The film is especially famous for his guitar duel with Steve Vai. If you like a mix of genres with old blues and modern 80’s guitar shredding, this will be the movie to watch!


This film was the second in the series that followed El Mariachi or the guitar player. It opens with fantastic Latin fingerstyle guitar played by the lead character but soon devolves into violence and mayhem. Eventually, the guitar case is used as a concealed gun, so we get lots of guitar action and music in this film!

Back to the Future

This movie has many guitar-featured songs on the soundtrack, and the main character Marty is a kid who longs to shred at high volume. At the start, we have more 80’s inspired guitar pop and metal influences, but later when he goes back in time, we get the 50’s rock and doo-wop styles. There is even a joke of the main character being the inspiration for Chuck Berry.

School of Rock

This entire movie is an ode to the guitar and Rock’n’Roll! The main character, played by Jack Black, teaches students how to rock with a great soundtrack of past hits. It is possible for the audience to learn some basic music theory and the main pointers of rock music if they simply pay attention to the plot!

Howard the Duck: The Cherry Bombs

Lea Thompson plays the lead role opposite the alien Howard the Duck, and she also happens to front a band as a guitar player. It’s corny and, in some places, not so great, but it’s also a nice slice of 80’s style, music, and guitar riffs. The main song that The Cherry Bombs sing also features Thomas Dolby.

Blackboard Jungle: “Rock Around the Clock”

This movie is what helped start 50’s rock and rockabilly: the opening credits featured Bill Haley and His Comets with their hit, and everyone flocked to see it! Sadly the reviews for the movie aren’t as great as the historical importance of the soundtrack.


If you like the Latin music of Desperado but want less violence, then the movie Coco is a much better choice. This is especially a great guitar-oriented movie and soundtrack for kids. The main character is so inspired to play music that it creates a heartfelt movie that is enjoyable and musically inspiring.

Pulp Fiction

After some initial dialogue, the film begins with the surf rock classic “Misirlou.” This classic guitar piece sets the tone for the mayhem and pulp madness that is about to ensue. The movie continues with great rock guitar selections from Ricky Nelson, country 60’s guitar pickin’ and banjo rolls by The Statler Brothers, and even soul guitar with Al Green. Many Quentin Tarantino movies often use guitar riffs from various eras to emphasize scenes.

Animal House

This movie has a fantastic contrast of 60’s folk guitar music, like when John Belushi smashes the guitar, and then early 50’s rock that they party with. “Shout,” which was originally from the Isley Brothers, is a great guitar riff that has a strum that is a mixture of rock with early hints of funk and reggae. It is the type of song that is the exact opposite of “I Gave My Love a Cherry.”

This Is Spinal Tap

This mockumentary follows a hard rock band around, and while it comically lampoons rock musicians, it also happens to have good proto-metal guitar riffs. Another great Christopher Guest film with the same characters as Spinal Tap is A Mighty Wind. Rather than heavy metal, it deals with the genre of early 60s light guitar folk. Either way, both movies are very guitar-centric!

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

This movie and its sequels have two characters that often talk about guitar but initially have little ability to play it! In fact, this film helped popularize the air guitar that people pretend to play. The soundtracks have a wide range of styles and often focus on music saving the world, so all together they are fine movies for guitar fans.

These were some of the most iconic guitar parts and scenes in movie soundtracks, but there are plenty more to find. Any biopic about a famous guitarist will surely have a great soundtrack and, of course, period pieces of the 20th century may also feature the instrument. As always, when you hear the guitar part in a movie, pay close attention, as the music was likely added to make the scene that much better!