It seems that the only reason bands appear in movies is as a way for a record label to get their music directly to a target demographic. It's been done time and time again on television programs (Remy Zero on Smallville, the Flaming Lips on Beverly Hills 90210, the Shins on Gilmore Girls, Cibo Matto on Buffy, et al.), but the in-program shilling at least dovetails nicely with the commercial interruptions. In movies, it seems that most musical acts make glaring, irritating appearances that, at best, serve no purpose and, at worse, take you out of the film entirely.
Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath may now be the host of Don't Forget the Lyrics, but I imagine he'd probably prefer to forget both Sugar Ray's pop-speed metal past and the band's appearance in the film Father's Day. When this came out the summer of '97, it seemed like a sure-fire win: Robin Williams and Billy Crystal team up in a comedy! In reality? Terrible.
There were exactly two good things about this movie. First, it was so bad that when I saw it the weekend after it opened, my girlfriend and I were the only ones in the theater, allowing me to spend most of the movie's middle third making out and feeling her up. Secondly, there's a great, hilarious cameo from Mel Gibson right near the end. See this picture? You've just been saved an hour and a half of misery.
Kansas City's own Season to Risk appears in the Ralph Fiennes vehicle, Strange Days, doing "Undone." The band performs in a club scene, being that "band in the background" that's also been done well by such luminaries as Cannibal Corpse in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Save Ferris in 10 Things I Hate About You, Fishbone in Tapeheads, or My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult in The Crow (OG version). They serve as background material, but seeing Steve Tulipana thrashing around onstage in the middle of a big Hollywood flick is pretty damned cool.
Speaking of the Crow, when Deftones appears in Crow: City of Angels, it seemingly serves no purpose. Why is a post-rock, sort of emo hardcore band playing "Teething" at a Day of the Dead festival? Who knows? It's one of those questions that has no rational answer, much like "Why did a sequel to The Crow sound like a good idea?"
Are there any bands that randomly appear in a movie and don't look totally out of place? The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in Clueless fit that "band in a club" scene perfectly. You hear a few snippets of "Someday I Suppose," see Ben Carr do a little dance, and then Dicky Barrett stage-dives. Fairly innocuous, and the band fits in with the movie's fairly lighthearted mood.
In Baseketball, Reel Big Fish serve some sort of purpose. It's essentially the house band for the Beers (the team that is the focus of the film about the fake sport) but exists in the film mainly because it was the biggest name on Mojo Records -- which, not so coincidentally, was the label that released the film's soundtrack.
The best appearance of a band in a movie has to go to Pearl Jam, in 1992's Singles. One of the characters (Matt Dillon's Cliff) fronts a band called Citizen Dick, which is pretty much just Pearl Jam fronted by Matt Dillon. The scene where band members are reading their show review is classic. The film itself, however, is awkward and terribly dated.
Anything we left off the list? Leave your suggestions in the comments.