AC/DC have sold over 200 million records worldwide and are one of Australia’s biggest exports, yet it took forever to salute them on the big screen. The story of the Aussie band that took over the world is ripe for a biopic with their humble beginnings in Melbourne, the tragedy of losing their lead singer Bon Scott (who’d warrant his own film) and their triumphant comeback with one of the highest selling albums of all time, Back in Black. Still, nothing, that was until 2004 when Thunderstruck arrived.
In Thunderstruck, five best friends and devoted AC/DC fans make a pact that if any one of them should die, the others will bury him next to their idol, the late Bon Scott. A decade later, the boys have drifted apart and life has not turned out how they thought it would. A tragedy brings them back together again and they decide to honour their pledge and begin their quest travelling across the country with the stolen remains of their mate to the resting place of Scott.
While Thunderstruck was the great hope for AC/DC fans yearning for film with the band in mind, it just missed the mark in matching the greatness of something as electric as one of Angus Young’s guitar solos. It exists in the Australian film landscape as a curiosity and features Sam Worthington before he broke out in Hollywood; but it didn’t scratch the AC/DC itch.
AC/DC have made significant contributions to cinema in another way: any film is made better by one of their songs – and we can prove it. They can’t work miracles on the whole film, but for 3–4 minutes the band can create bliss. It’s rare for the band to be used, mainly because the rights to use one of their songs is $500,000.
Here’s a guide to the art of using AC/DC in cinema.
The high school football drama from 1999 paid the big bucks to secure the rights to 'Thunderstruck'. The song is used in a montage where the team plays a brutal game while hungover. The riffs match the bone-crunching hits of the game perfectly. Slow-motion gridiron and AC/DC are the perfect match.
Iron Man/Iron Man 2/The Avengers
AC/DC are the band of choice for Tony Stark/Iron Man in his appearances in the Marvel movies. Stark listens to 'Back In Black' in Iron Man and 'Shoot to Thrill' in Iron Man 2, which is then used again in The Avengers (Marvel must have got a bulk deal). Iron Man in action matched with AC/DC is so damn cool. To celebrate the union, AC/DC released a special Iron Man 2 edition of their greatest hits that came in packaged in a comic book.
The best part of this horrible film is the sequence where a group of navy veterans help the heroes restart retired battleships to fight alien invaders who have destroyed the modern navy fleet. With a budget of $210 million – for a film based on a board game – they could afford AC/DC and it helped create the lone highlight in the film. It’s worth every cent. Sadly, you can’t get back any of the time you spent watching this movie.
Dukes of Hazzard
The good old boys were saved by AC/DC for a few minutes with the assistance of a decent car chase sequence in this Hollywood adaption of the classic TV show. Scott-era songs are rare in films, so it was a refreshing change from 'Thunderstruck' for 'If You Want Blood' to be picked. Scott’s scream increases the awe when the car takes flight during one of the film’s craziest stunts.
Last Action Hero
Why pay for an old AC/DC song when you can get a new one? Arnold Schwarzenegger called on the band for the soundtrack for Last Action Hero and appeared in the music video where he shows up at an AC/DC concert to jam. Last Action Hero got slammed by critics when it was released, but it’s an underrated deconstruction of action cinema of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Throwing in AC/DC added to the macho aesthetic the film was playing around with.
Another Australian film to take its name from an AC/DC song but it has nothing to do with the band. The crime film set in the 1960s features Bryan Brown, Toni Collette, Sam Worthington and John Goodman. In honour of AC/DC, the band You Am I collaborated with several Australian acts for a cover of the song 'Dirty Deeds' for the soundtrack. AC/DC gets kudos for this one for being there in spirit.
Howard Stern’s memoir made the leap to the big screen and it surprised everyone by being an entertaining account of his rise to fame. A great film is made even better by a surprise concert by AC/DC at the end.
The second appearance of 'If You Want Blood', but it works a treat in Empire Records, as the employees of a record store about to be sold to a corporate giant party together to AC/DC. It’s the band that brings people together.
The first and last time AC/DC ever scored a film. It’s also the only film author, Stephen King, ever directed. AC/DC is King’s favourite band, so he approached them when working on pre-production for the film to ask if they’d score the film and provide songs for the soundtrack. AC/DC went away and made the album 'Who Made Who', which served as the soundtrack for Maximum Overdrive. The film’s production was troubled and it failed critically and commercially at the box office. Rumour has it King showed up backstage at an AC/DC concert shortly after the film’s release to tell the band: “well, that was a bad idea, but at least the music was great”. AC/DC’s contribution to Maximum Overdrive has endured, while the film has lapsed into one of the essential must-see bad movies.
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