If you know me, there are two things you know that I truly love: movies and drums. So why not take an article to completely ignore 'Ghostbusters' and cross the streams?
There have been countless movies about musicians, many of which include drummers. But there's also the select few that actually have some really cool drummers that double as fun, fascinating characters. Whether on massive kit setups or just on a few pieces of percussion, these are the drummers that have lasted on the silver screen. That's what today's list is all about; finding the best drummers across cinema, and examining both their drum styles and character arcs.
What are the rules? Well, these have to be fictional drummers within the narrative of their respective films. In other words, no portrayals of real-life drummers will be allowed on the list, such as Ben Hardy's Roger Taylor in 'Bohemian Rhapsody.' This also excludes fictional characters played by real-life drummers, such as Willie Hall's fictionalized portrayal in the 'Blues Brothers' films. As far as things I will be judging on, that revolves around things like genre fluidity, energy,
Before the main list, here are a few Honorable Mentions (some of which contradict my criteria, but I'm letting them slide):
- Devon Miles (played by Nick Cannon) - 'Drumline' (2002)
- Garth Algar (played by Dana Carvey) - 'Wayne's World' (1992) / 'Wayne's World 2' (1993)
- Michael Burry (played by Steve Carell) - 'The Big Short' (2015)
- Nana (played by Carla Azar) - 'Frank' (2014)
- Freddy "Spazzy McGhee" Jones (played by Kevin Clark) - 'School of Rock' (2003)
- The Various Drummers from 'This Is Spinal Tap' (1984)
- ANTony (Unknown) - 'Ant-Man and The Wasp' (2018) [he's an ant that plays drums, of course, he's included here]
ON TO THE LIST!!!
5. Dale Doback (played by John C. Reilly) - Step Brothers (2008)
Photo Credit: abate16 – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZR6Z6q8RjBs
Dale Doback is, to put it lightly, a complex figure. He's prone to a multitude of anger management issues, nearly kills his step brother Brennan (played by Will Ferrell) on a multitude of occasions, and, to be frank, feels a bit more concerned with pounding volume into his kit than actual finesse. But I have to give him credit that he also shows great growth throughout 'Step Brothers,' realizing that coming to terms with maturity doesn't necessarily mean throwing away his passions, just re-orchestrating them.
His playing style is clearly influenced from some of the great hard rock idols like Keith Moon and Alex Van Halen, but he also seems to have a bit of classical taste to him, likely leaning towards Bill Ward's ethereal grooves on the early Black Sabbath projects. Eventually he even performs with Brennan at the [EXPLETIVE] Catalina Wine Mixer to audience acclaim and respect, solidifying their bond as brothers and showcasing his own maturity behind the kit. Yes, 'Step Brothers' is hilarious and well-written, but it also never forgets that a drummer is one of its most distinctive elements.
4. Guy Patterson (played by Tom Everett Scott) - 'That Thing You Do!' (1996)
Photo Credit: Movieclips – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7o40za1wAlI
I simply don't know why we don't talk about 'That Thing You Do!' more often. Tom Hanks' directorial debut is a fabulously entertaining portrait of 60's-era one-hit wonders with a fun ensemble cast (including Hanks himself as manager Mr. White), a great story about musical ambitions, and, of course, a ridiculously catchy title song. It also doesn't hurt that Hanks decides to shift focus shortly after the film starts to the drummer of The Wonders, Guy Patterson, who quickly proves himself to be much more than just a solid backbeat with great shades.
While Hanks has said The Wonders were based largely on The Beatles (and thus Patterson has a bit of Ringo Starr to him), his overall playing style also has hints of other 60's drummers like Dave Clark (The Dave Clark 5). He's a jazz enthusiast, even getting to jam with one of his idols, Del Paxton (played by Bill Cobbs), reigniting his love for music when his band mates seem unresponsive and inspiring him to open a jazz conservatory. Even with the simplicity of that "catchy pop tune," it's Patterson's on-the-spot improvisation that turns "That Thing You Do" into the hit of the day. Sure he can seem a bit too "nice" in contrast to some of the rest of the film's drama, but as a drummer, his style and creativity more than responded to me.
3. Kim Pine (played by Alison Pill) - Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Photo Credit: Movieclips – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7vyrudcgOQ&list=PL60D88D615C74FD28&index=9
"WE ARE SEX BOB-OMB AND WE ARE HERE TO WATCH SCOTT PILGRIM KICK YOUR TEETH IN!" is a quote that will forever be engrained in my mind.
Kim Pine has a long and tired history with her band mate Scott Pilgrim (played by Michael Cera), having been his first love and never letting him forget her ire towards him. Yet despite being the quiet member of the trio, Kim's playing roars onto the stage with almost an unfair amount of minimalism. Kim's playing is the kind of fit that Scott and vocalist/guitarist Stephen (played by Mark Webber) needed to take Sex Bob-omb to new heights, but always ready for a fight if the situation shows itself.
While the Meg White comparisons are obviously there, I hear more of players like Scott Asheton (The Stooges) and Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) in her playing a lot more, between the reliance on open hi-hats and noisier, fuzzier snares, but also with the sense of air-tight timing of someone like Chris Frantz (Talking Heads). What's that? You were unaware of Sex Bob-omb's existence? Don't worry, Kim will fill you in, and then drum so hard that she summons a giant holographic gorilla to knock you on your feet.
2. Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller) - Whiplash (2014)
Photo Credit: AcademyAwardClips – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZZY-Ytrw2co
I fully admit that 'Whiplash' is not necessarily the cornerstone of musician realism, but at least for me, it plays to those ideas of glory-ridden dreams and crippling nightmares that professional musicianship can bring amongst it's many strengths. Andrew Neiman is the focal point of those emotions, an audience surrogate that is also so deeply engaged in his craft you begin to feel a bit uneasy rooting for him. If Guy Patterson is a jazz enthusiast, than Andrew Neiman is a jazz connoisseur; he doesn't love jazz, he submits himself to it, and it shows in his playing.
The spiritual successor to Buddy Rich? I wouldn't go that far, but he definitely has plenty of Rich-isms to his playing between the speed of his ride symbol, ghost note placements, and his ability to almost hijack a band rather than lead it. It's also not too difficult to see bits of Tony Williams (Miles Davis) or Jeff Porcaro (Toto) scattered throughout the rhythms. Teller himself is being helped by some expertly-crafted editing, but the character of Andrew stands tall amongst 'Whiplash's odes to percussion and music dedication (but please, take a rest dude, you are overworking yourself too much for someone like Fletcher).
1. Animal (played/voiced by Frank Oz and Eric Jacobson) - The Muppets Franchise (1975 - Present)
Photo Credit: The Muppets – YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgbNymZ7vqY
You might think this is cheating because Animal isn't exclusively a film drummer, but I consider this to be the biggest of exceptions. How could I, in all good conscience, make a list of movie drummers and NOT put Animal at the top spot? Yes, Andrew Neiman is beyond technical with his work, but Animal goes beyond technical prowess.
No really, think about it for a second; in his over 40 years with The Muppets (specifically his tenure with Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem), he has done everything between rock, jazz, orchestral, pop, funk, metal, and country just to name a few, and he's been excellent at it all. The Catalina Wine Mixer and battling the Katayanagi twins are legendary gigs, but Animal's resume includes Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and even Outside Lands (and those are just in the last decade), in addition to drum battling the likes of Dave Grohl and even Buddy Rich himself!
Animal somehow has figured out a way to filter his temper and ecstatic personality into just the right grooves for any occasion. The influences of John Bonham and Mick Fleetwood are certainly strong with him, as is Jimmy Chamberlin (Smashing Pumpkins) and his chaotic sense of fill placement. Sensitive as he may be, Animal is the drummer you want in your corner: loads of experience and legacy, loyal to the core, fantastically diverse, and as solid of a sense of groove as any drummer worth their salt. Animal, we salute you and hope you have many kit destroying solos to come.
Who are some of your favorite movie drummers, and did any of them appear on my list?
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