The 30 Best Music Movies Of All Time, Ranked

Miles Teller in Whiplash, George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou, Daveed Diggs in Soul
(Image credit: Sony, Pixar, Universal)

Music is an integral part of cinema – be it film scores, original songs and curated soundtracks – but there are some movies that take its importance to the next level. History is full of incredible features about the power of music, including stories about artists and fans alike, and we’ve put this list together to highlight the best of the best.

From biopics about both fake and real musicians to stories about teachers, record store owners and life after death, the field of movies about music is wide, but they provide us with amazing insight and powerful messages about one of the great artforms.

Terrence Howard raps on the mic in Hustle & Flow.

(Image credit: Paramount Vantage)

30. Hustle & Flow

Winning an Oscar for its song, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” which was written by underground legends Three 6 Mafia, and starring Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard before Empire, Hustle & Flow, as its title implies, is all about the hustle. Howard plays a pimp-cum-rapper who wants to leave his life of crime behind and get on the mic, while Henson plays one of his prostitutes who just so happens to kill it on hooks. They make beautiful music together, and everything seems to be going their way until drama just stomps right over all of their plans. Come for the story, stay for the amazing soundtrack.

The New Main Street Singers in A Mighty Wind

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

29. A Mighty Wind

Christopher Guest may be one of the best mockumentary filmmakers to ever do it, but he’s proven himself to be pretty good at music, too. A Mighty Wind tells the story of several folk musicians coming together to honor the memory of a famed music producer after his children organize a first-of-its-kind concert. This 2003 movie works even if you’ve never given folk music a second thought. In fact, it may be better that way, as it pairs Guest’s signature witty one-liners, a familiar cast of eccentric characters and a truly charming soundtrack of songs like “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” (which was Oscar-nominated) and “A Mighty Wind” (which won a Grammy).

Christian Bale in I'm Not There

(Image credit: The Weinstein Company)

28. I'm Not There

Bob Dylan’s story cannot be summed up into one traditional dramatization — something director Todd Haynes and co-writer Oren Moverman understood. Thus, they took inspiration from the many personas the folk singer adopted at various stages of his career and went in their own direction. The result is an anthology of bold, bizarre tales each led by a different member of the star-studded cast, including Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Richard Gere, Ben Whishaw, and Heath Ledger. Walking into I’m Not There with only a basic knowledge of Dylan’s legacy might leave one bewildered, but even in that regard, the film triumphs as a beautiful and audacious tribute to one of music’s most beautiful and audacious innovators.

Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in Ray

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

27. Ray

Overcoming adversity for the color of his skin and his inability to see, Ray Charles became a pioneer of soul, inspiring millions of musicians and a feature film about his life that is, admittedly, not much different than most music biopics. However, director Taylor Hackford’s Ray is still a standout for the genre, in particular for the breathtaking, Academy Award-winning lead performance by Jamie Foxx, whose own real musical talents certainly came in handy when portraying the singer and pianist. Charles passed before he could see this dramatization of his life in its completion, but few doubt that it would have made him proud.

Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb as Sid and Nancy in diner

(Image credit: StudioCanal UK)

26. Sid And Nancy

Much like the doomed couple on which it is based, Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy is an explosive, abrasive, drug-fueled exploration of one of punk rock’s earliest icons and the woman to which he will be forever tied. Starring Gary Oldman as Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and Chloe Webb as his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, this 1986 cult classic accomplishes a lot in a short amount of time. From diving into the unprecedented success of the Sex Pistols and the band’s disastrous and infamous American tour that was plagued by violence, to the tumultuous relationship that played out in the final year of Sid and Nancy’s lives, the movie does an excellent job of appealing for both fans of the legendary band and the uninitiated.

Oscar Isaac in Inside Llewyn Davis

(Image credit: CBS Films)

25. Inside Llewyn Davis

Oscar Isaac is an immensely talented performer, and Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis is a movie that capitalizes on all of his gifts: his pain and grief is palpable, his comedic timing is impeccable, and it even turns out that he is a skilled singer and guitar player. The film is a wonderful and weird character study that has the 1960s New York folk music scene as its backdrop, and Llewyn is a fascinating protagonist – full of incredible passion for his art but forever struggling against the ever-crushing forces of the world. Thanks to the looping structure of its story, this is also a particularly fun feature to watch over and over again.

Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

24. Baby Driver

In the very first sequence in Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver, everything, and I mean everything, is timed to the song “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and the the audience is immediately swept into Baby’s world. It's a world that’s driven by music, and Wright’s ability to make us feel like we’re literally wearing the protagonist’s headphones through the bumping soundtrack and immaculately timed action is masterful. While this film is not technically a musical, music is its driving force speeding us through Baby’s journey that delivers heart-pounding car chases, lovely romantic moments and a stunning shootout timed to the song “Tequila.”

Viola Davis in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

(Image credit: Netflix)

23. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Starring the incomparable Chadwick Boseman in his final role as well as the magnificent Viola Davis as the titular character, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a landmark film and another phenomenal entry in August Wilson’s famous Pittsburgh Cycle. The story concerns a powerful jazz singer (Davis) who is recording an album, only for members of her band to constantly get in the way of each other, mostly because of their egos. It also deals with how Black music was often reappropriated and fed into the mainstream. Besides the simmering tension, this movie also features some of the best jazz music of the roaring ‘20s. It's a must-see if you love period pieces, jazz music, and the wonderful Chadwick Boseman.

Taron Egerton in Rocketman

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

22. Rocketman

Rocketman is a gorgeous, fantastical musical all about the life of Sir Elton John, the man gorgeously portrayed by Taron Egerton. He not only belts his heart out with legendary songs like “I’m Still Standing” and “Crocodile Rock” as the life of the musical sensation is illustrated through song, but he also beautifully portrays the challenges John faced through his life and career.

One of the reasons why this movie is so magical is in how it applies John’s story. We learn all about his wonderful friendship with songwriter Bernie Taupin, his horrendous relationship with the toxic John Reid, and his turbulent childhood mixed in with heightened by fantastical musical numbers. The film is a marvel and it tells Elton John’s story in the most extra, fabulous, and lovely way.

Richard Dreyfuss stands taken aback with emotion in Mr Holland's Opus.

(Image credit: Hollywood Pictures)

21. Mr. Holland's Opus

In one of Richard Dreyfuss’ best movies, 1995’s Mr. Holland’s Opus takes moviegoers on a journey through the 30-year career of composer-turned-high school music teacher Glenn Holland. Right along with the characters, we experience the highs — like using rock ‘n’ roll to connect with his teenage students — and lows — Mr. Holland’s struggle to communicate with his deaf son — of the teacher’s life. That’s not to mention an issue every teacher can relate to: the fight for funding. We challenge you to get through that final scene, where he gets to conduct an orchestra of his former students in the premiere performance of his own symphony, without shedding a tear.

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender, and Domhnall Gleeson in Frank

(Image credit: Element Pictures)

20. Frank

Many talented musicians happen to boast enigmatic personalities, and the ultimate cinematic reflection of this — in both hilarious and heartbreaking ways — is Michael Fassbender’s titular role from Frank. The character is actually inspired by real-life papier-mâché head-wearing artist Frank Sidebottom, whose former band member, Jon Ronson, co-wrote the film.

His experiences were funneled into the real protagonist, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), whose ambition outweighs his actual talent but earns him a spot on Frank’s band. Unfortunately, his inclusion proves to be the beginning of the end for the experimental indie rock outfit in this thought-provoking story exploring the complexities of art and the consequences of chasing your dreams with a lead foot.

Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard in Once

(Image credit: Searchlight Pictures)

19. Once

More than a decade-and-a-half after its release, people are still finding out about Once and falling in love with its majestic and incredibly nuanced story filled with romance, music, and new beginnings. John Carney’s low-budget box office success follows two strangers (played by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) who become quick friends and perhaps something more after deciding to write music together.

For 86 minutes, the pair learn a great deal about each other, redemption, love, and the power of music as they craft one of the best songs of the 21st century, “Falling Slowly.” The lo-fi look and stripped-down nature of the film adds a rawness and realness that creates a beautiful and enchanting experience that still resonates all these years later.

Miguel singing "Un Poco Loco" in Coco.

(Image credit: Disney/Pixar)

18. Coco

When ranking Pixar movies, Coco certainly lands somewhere near the top. For one thing, the story is amazing, as the twists and turns are some of the best that Pixar has to offer. It’s also a really beautiful movie, despite the subject matter essentially being all about death. What really makes Coco shine, however, is its reverence for Mexican culture – particularly its music. “Remember Me” is one of the best songs to ever come out of Hollywood, and pretty much every moment in this movie is another chance to fall in love with its melodies.

Coco is an amazing fukn since it seems like it’s all about a boy who loves music – and it is! – but it’s also about how nobody really dies as long as somebody remembers them. And, how could you not love a message like that?

Robert Preston and Shirley Jones leading The Music Man

(Image credit: warner Bros.)

17. The Music Man

One of the most essential movies about music follows a man whose expertise in the craft is all a fabrication. In reality, Professor Harold Hill (Robert Preston, reprising the Tony-winning role he originated in the original 1957 stage production of The Music Man) is an expert con artist looking to profit off a quaint community in 1910 Iowa by posing as a young boys’ band leader.

The titular Music Man may know nothing about music, but the music in the film is anything but a trick — featuring Broadway favorites by Meredith Wilson like “Ya Got Trouble,” “Shipoopi,” and the rousing centerpiece track, “Seventy-Six Trombones.” If you do not like musicals, this toe-tapping, romantic, and inspirational experience might be the one that makes you into a fan.

Tom Hanks talks in a recording studio in That Thing You Do.

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

16. That Thing You Do!

In the wake of the British Invasion, every aspiring, American pop band wanted to be the country’s answer to The Beatles. That Thing You Do!, Tom Hanks’ feature-length debut as a writer and director, is a fictional tale about four musicians who nearly obtained that destiny with the pressures of fame and challenging constraints of the industry threatening to tear them apart.

Hanks also stars in the underrated ‘90s movie as the manager to The Wonders (formerly known as the more confusing “One-Ders” — played by Tom Everett Scott, Steve Zahn, Jonathan Schaech, and Ethan Embry), who cut a catchy hit tune that launches them into stardom beyond their wildest dreams. Also starring Liv Tyler and Charlize Theron, That Thing You Do! is a funny, infectious, and sometimes heartbreaking film set during pop music’s prime, anchored by the late Adam Schlesinger’s Oscar-nominated, titular banger.

John Cusack in Love and Mercy

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

15. Love & Mercy

We’ve all seen cookie cutter music biopics… but director Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy is a tremendous escape from the typical. The film is an examination of Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson during two separate eras of his life, and both are tremendous in their own special ways. Played by Paul Dano in his younger years, Wilson is depicted as a wonderful and creative force (witnessing the in-studio orchestration of the album Pet Sounds is awe-inspiring), but things take a dark turn as he falls victim to a controlling negative influence of his therapist, and John Cusack delivers one of the best dramatic performance of his career as the older Wilson opposite terrific work from Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks. While evoking a particular era, the music of the Beach Boys is timeless, and this film is a must-watch for any fan.

Prince in Purple Rain

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

14. Purple Rain

For many, Purple Rain is the musical film. And, while we’re reluctant to call it the greatest rock movie of all time, we definitely understand the sentiment. The story of a young musician named The Kid (played by Prince himself), Purple Rain is part drama, part rock opera, and quite possibly the crowning achievement in Prince’s fantastic career.

What truly makes this movie is its titular soundtrack, which just may be the greatest album of the 1980s (And yes, we’re aware that Michael Jackson’s Thriller also came out in the ‘80s. We said what we said!). And look, the soundtrack must be phenomenal since the plot itself is a little uneven. Yes, the story of a troubled musician with a rocky home life is fertile ground for cinema, but the music (and Prince!) is the true star of Purple Rain.

Kate Hudson as Penny Lane in a fur coat and blue sunglasses in Almost Famous.

(Image credit: Columbia)

13. Almost Famous

Cameron Crowe’s 2000 coming-of-age drama Almost Famous not only features one of the best movie soundtracks of all time, but it also introduces one of the greatest fictional bands in the history of cinema with Stillwater. Described as a “mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom,” the group at the center of this Academy Award-winning film (Best Original Screenplay) serves as the perfect representation of a ‘70s rock band on the verge of true success.

At the same time, the story of William Miller (Patrick Fugit) going from a young and naive reporter lying his way into a Rolling Stone article is one of the best explorations of what happens when you meet and befriend your heroes. Basically, everything about this movie works and it works well, creating an unforgettable and unparalleled experience.

Jack Black teaching class in School of Rock

(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

12. School Of Rock

If you want to watch movies that rock, Richard Linklater's School of Rock is a must. While Jack Black’s Dewey Finn is by no means a good substitute teacher in the conventional sense, his love for music is infectious, and he teaches his class of kids about its awesomeness. Featuring an absolutely incredible cast of young actors, its hilarious, heartfelt and packed with energy. Watching Dewey teach them how to play their instruments, adopt a rock persona and “stick it to the man” is a joyful experience, and it capitalizes on everything we love about Black as a star.

Ahen mix of Black’s musical talents and physical comedy skills, Mike White’s wicked smart script and Richard Linklater’s stellar direction delivers a banging musical movie.

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal playing drums

(Image credit: Amazon Prime)

11. Sound Of Metal

In 2020, The Place Beyond the Pines writer Darius Marder unleashed upon the world one of the best and most impactful directorial debuts with Sound of Metal. This loud, powerful, and raw drama film centers on Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed), the drummer of the avant-garde metal band Blackgammon as he begins to lose his hearing, which has a detrimental effect not only his profession but also his life in general.

Winner of two Academy Awards – Best Film Editing and Best Sound – and nominated for several more including Best Picture and Best Actor, Sound of Metal does an incredible job capturing the heart and soul of underground music, as seen in the various performance sequences and collection of great band shirts. But more than that, it perfectly captures human resiliance, as seen in Ruben’s difficult journey upon going deaf and the father-son relationship he develops with Joe (Paul Raci), a recovering alcoholic who runs a deaf support group.

The Sound of Music

(Image credit: Disney+)

10. The Sound Of Music

It’s no secret why The Sound of Music won five Academy Awards and two Golden Globes following its 1965 release. One doesn’t even need to have seen the based-on-a-true-story musical to be familiar with the von Trapp family singers and their greatest hits, from “My Favorite Things” to “Do-Re-Mi” and “Edelweiss.” Julie Andrews, in one of her best roles, stars as Maria, the young nun in training who is assigned to serve as the governess of the seven children of Capt. Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer).

In the film, which was adapted from a stage production of the same name, Maria teaches the children to sing, which serves to warm the hard heart of the widowed captain not only to his children but to their governess as well. The Sound of Music is all at once a spirited sing-along, a romantic comedy (the lead actors’ chemistry is off the charts), a drama depicting Austria on the cusp of World War II, and a family favorite worthy of infinite rewatches.

The Blues Brothers sitting together at a diner counter.

(Image credit: Universal)

9. The Blues Brothers

Several Saturday Night Live sketches have inspired movies, to varying degrees of success, and not only is 1980’s The Blues Brothers one of the best, but more than 40 years later, it stands as one of the Top 10 music movies of all time. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd star as the sunglasses-wearing Jake and Elwood Blues, who are on a mission from God to save the orphanage where they were raised. To do so, they’ve got to get the band back together, literally, which proves to be pretty difficult as they try to outrun a vengeful country and Western band (yes, both kinds of music), the Illinois Nazis and Jake’s scorned lover.

The Blues Brothers boasts some truly epic cameos from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Carrie Fisher; the best soundtrack that will have everybody wanting to sing the blues, plenty of hilarious quotes, and one of the highest numbers of crashed cars in movie history. Hit it!

the stars of sing street

(Image credit: The Weinstein Company)

8. Sing Street

Sing Street is a simple coming-of-age story about a boy who forms a band to impress a girl. However, don’t let that fool you, it’s actually a very nuanced, lovely love story about a boy and his love for his crush and rock ‘n roll. Seeing Conor (played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), discover his love for music is wonderful, and the love story between him and Raphina (played by the then-up-and-coming Lucy Boynton) is so sweet. It’s a classic and universal story that so many can relate to, and once you mix that with the stellar ‘80s nostalgia, you really have something special.

What really drives this movie though is the music. These kids turn out to be quite the band, and with each passing track, you realize that they really have something special. Sing Street oozes with ‘80s energy through its synth-y songs and over-the-top outfits, and it’s the major reason why it’s so great. Also, if “Drive It Like You Stole It” isn’t stuck in your head for weeks after watching this film, something might be wrong.

Andrew Garfield in tick, tick BOOM

(Image credit: Netflix)

7. Tick, Tick... Boom!

Critics and fans alike love Tick, Tick…Boom! and specifically Andrew Garfield’s performance as the late great Jonathan Larson. The lead actor put his heart and soul into this adaptation of Larson’s autobiographical musical, and it is palpable. With Lin-Manuel Miranda’s caring direction, this love letter to musical theater and the writer of Rent bursts off the screen.

Songs like “30/90” and “Therapy” will get hearts pumping, and in the more vulnerable moments of the film, tracks including “Come To Your Senses” and “Louder Than Words” hammer home the emotional stakes that come with wholeheartedly pursuing your passion. This film is for artists, and it depicts the ever-relatable struggle of trying to make it. Simultaneously, it’s also a tribute to one of our greatest writers who we lost too soon whom Andrew Garfield embodies with great care.

John Cusack in High Fidelity

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures)

6. High Fidelity

While the majority of the movies on this list are about the creation of music, Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity is essentially a music appreciation course unto itself, and it’s ivy-league level brilliant. Based on the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby, it presents fascinating insight about the medium from the very first line – “What came first: the music or the misery?” – and proceeds to ponder love through the protagonist’s deep love of rock, pop, techno, and soul.

John Cusack’s Rob Gordon is an asshole, as we learn over the course of the film, but he’s also an entirely relatable asshole who has a deep passion for what he loves and legitimately learns to put behind his selfishness through the introspective journey of his romantic past. It’s a wonderful movie for all those reasons (as well as an endless stream of terrific music-driven moments) … but also because it had a huge role in teaching the world about the brilliance of Jack Black and setting the stage for his amazing career.

The main cast members of O Brother, Where Art Thou?

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

5. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

If you’re looking for a movie inspired by Greek mythology that also pays homage to the early days of American folk, blues, and roots music, then Joel and Ethan Coen’s O Brother, Where Art Thou?... is really your only option. Loosely based on Homer’s The Oddysey, this Great Depression-era dramedy follows a trio of escaped convicts (played by George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson) as they set off to find a hidden treasure and live the rest of their lives as free, and very rich, men.

When an attempt to make some quick cash turns them into an overnight sensation known as the Soggy Bottom Boys, the three men find themselves responsible for the most popular song in the American South. What follows is a journey through the heart of the South and the heart of man as the three escaped prisoners encounter otherworldly situations and a collection of colorful characters ranging from a bluesman who made a deal with the devil, an over-the-top gubernatorial candidate, and a ruthless sheriff who wants nothing more than to bring them to justice.

Tom Hulce in Amadeus

(Image credit: Orion Pictures)

4. Amadeus

Movie fans regularly reflect on the times that the Oscars “got it wrong,” but 1985 was definitely a year that they got it right. Miloš Forman’s Amadeus famous won a stunning eight Academy Awards, and it deserved every single one of them, as the movie is a phenomenal cinematic achievement about an unquestioned genius.

Amadeus is so gorgeous that it would be breathtaking to watch on mute – the period production design, costuming and theatrical staging is dazzling – but that’s obviously not something that you should do when watching a movie about one of the most gifted composers to ever walk this planet. Despite all of its fancy dressings, it’s a movie that is the opposite of stuffy (it’s regularly laugh-out-loud funny), and packs a powerful story of immense talent and poisonous professional jealousy. F. Murray Abraham won the Oscar for his performance as Antonio Salieri, but Tom Hulce in the eponymous role is unforgettable.

Rob Reiner in This is Spinal Tap

(Image credit: Embassy Pictures)

3. This is...Spinal Tap

Making a movie about music that stands the test of time is no small feat, and not only did legendary filmmaker Rob Reiner do that — on his first try, no less — he gave us possibly the funniest movie about music of all time in This Is... Spinal Tap. Alongside Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer wrote and star in this 1984 rock mockumentary about the titular band trying to crank their fame back up to 11.

Its soundtrack holds up decades later, with tunes like “Gimme Some Money” that are guaranteed to get stuck in your head, and the whole ensemble masters the fine line between stupid and clever with dialogue that is witty and endlessly quotable. This Is... Spinal Tap also gets the credit for being the beginning of a beautifully hilarious relationship between Christopher Guest and several players who would go on to make more brilliant mockumentareies like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and — another entry on this list — A Mighty Wind.

The two main characters of Soul.

(Image credit: Disney+)

2. Soul

Our pick for the best movie of 2020, Soul is also probably Pixar’s greatest movie ever And hey, it’s also a film about music. The story of a middle school music teacher who dies just before he gets his big break, Soul has more to say about mortality than a vast majority of films aimed at adults (which just may be why Soul is Pixar’s most mature movie to date).

At the same time, it’s also about living in the moment, since you never know when your run of moments will end. Unlike a lot of the movies on this list that use music as a centerpiece, Soul is that rare film that uses music to explore the entire meaning of life. And why not, as music is so rich and complex that it’s one of life’s few universal languages. We have a feeling that people will be singing this movie’s praises for years to come.

Miles Teller in Whiplash

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Whiplash

What would you sacrifice for true greatness? Your friends? Your family? Your health? Your sanity? It’s a big question that can yield some disturbing answers, and filmmaker Damien Chazelle makes you feel every ounce of its weight in his directorial debut. Inspired by the writer/director’s own experiences, the movie immerses you in the intense and competitive world that is being a part of an esteemed collegiate Studio Band, and when you walk away from it, there’s a part of you that is surprised that your hands don’t sport drumstick blisters.

As young and ambitious percussionist Andrew Neiman, Miles Teller's empathetic performance makes you feel every iota of his passion and pain – and it's still somehow only the second best turn in the movie. J.K. Simmons’ Terence Fletcher is an antagonist that will be remembered in cinematic history alongside Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter and Kathy Bates’ Annie Wilkes, and it’s what ultimately cements Whiplash’s place at the top of this ranking.

Be on the lookout here on CinemaBlend for more of our ranked features, such as our ranking of the 30 Best TV Game Shows, the 35 Best Sci-Fi Movies, the 50 Best Horror Movies, and more.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.

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