How Tenacious D's satanic stoner comedy The Pick Of Destiny went from box office bomb to cult classic

Dave Grohl Tenacious D Pick Of Destiny
(Image credit: Tenacious D/YouTube)

By the early 2000s, Hollywood could not ignore Tenacious D and Tenacious D could not ignore Hollywood. The early TV appearances, the success of their self-titled debut album, rapturously received live shows – it was time for the D to dive in and make a movie. 

That movie would be Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny. Released in November 2006 and directed by musician/film-maker Liam Lynch, it centred around two metal-worshipping misfits on a cross-country quest to obtain the titular pick – a mythical rock'n'roll totem that transforms whoever holds it into a rock god. 

Though it tanked at the box office, today the film enjoys a second life among a niche but dedicated fanbase. Here is the story behind the movie by the people who created it: 

Jack Black: ‘We toured the first album for years… And then we were like, ‘OK, what’s next for the D?’ And it seemed obvious. Well, the next step is we need to make a movie.” 

Kyle Gass: “Anybody that’s making a movie, you start out and you want to make the greatest motion picture that’s ever been made because that’s where you’re at.” 

Jack: “No one had ever done a great comedy rock opera, and there are some fucking great rock operas in the history of rock and we wanted to put ourselves up in there.”

Kyle: “And we sat down for five years and didn’t do any writing and then in the last three weeks, we wrote it. Liam Lynch was the catalyst really, a friend that’s a talented composer and filmmaker.” 

Jack: “We were working with Liam on some short films for the concerts. He was like, ‘Dude, we’ll write [the script] together, it’ll be your vision,’ and we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s try it. We’ll have fun with Liam.’” 

Liam Lynch (writer/director, The Pick Of Destiny): “Jack and I had also done several things outside of the D – like writing with him, directing his episode of MTV Diary and writing music together that was used in the film School Of Rock. I also oversaw the creation of a DVD set called The Complete Master Works. When they came to me and asked me to help them write the movie, directing it was just a given.” 

Coming up with the plot proved surprisingly challenging at first. There was talk of placing the pair in the lost continent of Atlantis. But the secret ingredient of Tenacious D has always been the deep and uncompromising friendship between the two. How could they extrapolate that relationship into a feature film?

Jack: “The struggle was figuring out what the movie is and what it was about, and it took years of talking and toiling and going through different writers and different possibilities of what this thing could be. Finally, we figured it out, ‘You know what this is? It’s the fucking true story. Let’s just tell the actual true story of Tenacious D.’ Now, obviously a lot of that shit didn’t happen, but the emotional truth of how we met and the heroes’ journey to rock stardom… that’s kind of how we crafted it.”

Kyle: “With a bit of magic and sort of supernatural with our whole Devil and Satan fetish in there. I thought it was a nice kind of overlay.”

Liam: “Togetherness, that’s what it’s about. This whole movie is about them, as an act, together. And it’s about their incredible chemistry.“ Jack: “There’s a lot of Spinal Tap, because that is the benchmark. What’s a really funny rock movie since then? I’m gonna say zero. A big influence was Indiana Jones – part two, the bad one, with the Devil guy with the pumping heart. There’s a bit of Jaws.”

The Pick Of Destiny was not the greatest movie in the world, no. But hey, it was fun.

Kyle: “I’d say that we really wanted to err on the side of the fans – the people that knew our schtick and we knew what we wanted them to see. I think that was the impetus.”

Unsurprisingly, they found no shortage of suitors in the way of studios looking to back their project. It didn’t hurt that they had famous friends in the wings, including Hollywood A-lister Ben Stiller.

Jack: “We talked to an old ally and supporter of Tenacious D, Ben Stiller, who had been coming to see Tenacious D from the early days. He’s a big-time Hollywood producer at that point. We said, ‘Hey, remember how much you wanted to work with Tenacious D and we said, “No, we’re gonna go with [TV sketch series] Mr. Show instead?” We wanna come back to you now and make that big movie with you.’ He was like, ‘Yes! I’m in. I forgive you for not fucking doing this before ’cos I love you.’”

Liam: “We pitched it on my birthday to New Line. Then it took a year and a half for the lawyers to agree. They said, ‘Yes, we want to do it.’ But then the lawyers fought for a year and a half. Then they said, ‘We’ve come to an agreement. It’s all ready to go.’”

With financing in place, it was time to cast the film. They didn’t need to look far. Ben Stiller, Saturday Night Live stars Fred Armisen and Amy Poehler, Boogie Nights actor John C. Reilly and more all signed up, as did Meat Loaf, Ronnie James Dio (playing himself) and Dave Grohl (playing Satan). 

Jack: “We cast it with all of our favourite people, and pretty much everyone who we wanted was there doing it as our first choice.” 

Liam: “Dave [Grohl] is just a friend of ours so it wasn’t like we had to recruit him or anything. It was just a given that he’d be Satan. We all hang out and we’re friends and we love laughing and jamming together.” 

Meat Loaf: “For five years, Jack Black has been saying he wanted me to play his father. In every interview he did he always [said], ‘I’m gonna make the movie ‘Tenacious D’, and I want to make Meat Loaf play my father.” Every interview. And my daughters, Pearl and Amanda, they kept reading it and [would] call and say, ‘Jack said it again, Jack said it again.’ I said, ‘When he calls me, I’ll tell him I’ll do it.’ He did call. He called me himself.” 

Jack: “John C. Reilly was down with the D from early on. He saw us at [LA club] Largo back in the way back. He would come to our shows and we worshipped him because we loved Boogie Nights, and we loved him because he’s so funny and great. What a great actor.” 

John C. Reilly (Sasquatch in The Pick Of Destiny): “Jack and Kyle turned to me when they needed someone to be a technical consultant to make the Sasquatch stuff as real as it could be. Luckily, we found a Sasquatch to appear in the movie. I wouldn’t want to give that away, but Sasquatch actually appears. I’m not talking some grainy, Zapruder shit. I’m talkin’ you get to know Sasquatch in the movie.” 

Kyle: “[Dio] actually comes out of a poster and he’s pretty charismatic in that, I think. I’m glad we captured him in one of his last film roles… We got to hang out with him and he was a super-nice guy, totally cool guy. Really funny, but grounded. He was a talented dude with a great career for years and years, so influential really when you think about how there are so many people trying to sound like him, and that’s the greatest tribute.” 

Dave Grohl (Satan in The Pick Of Destiny): “It was great because the whole time I sat in the chair and drank Jäger and listened to Slayer, Unleashed, Mercyful Fate. I just listened to metal for six hours so when it was like, ‘Mr Grohl, you’re on’, I was just like the Devil!”

Tenacious D 2006

(Image credit: Hal Horowitz/WireImage)

Tenacious D In The Pick Of Destiny debuted at the Austin Film Festival on October 26, 2006, with the full global release starting in the US a month later. In the run-up, Tenacious D began their promotional tour, performing as the musical guests on Saturday Night Live and launching a Pick Of Destiny tour with a full band. They were on a flight to a show in the Midwest when the first box office returns (aka figures) arrived. 

Kyle: “Up to that point, it felt like we were on a magic carpet ride of success.” 

Jack: “We’re on the plane and we’re making predictions about opening night box office returns. We’re going high/low, how’s it gonna do? I’m saying it’s gonna make at least $30 million opening weekend. We’re just feeling very cocky, very cocksure. When the plane comes down and we’re, like, in Cincinnati, the first reviews come in and the reviews are bad.” 

David Jenkins (Time Out magazine): “Clearly intended to be viewed through a haze of marijuana smoke, it’d be against the law for us to recommend this film.” 

Peter Howell (Toronto Star): “Begins with flatulence, ends with flatulence and is one big gaseous emission in between.” 

Simon Crook (Empire magazine): “For fans, a crowdsurf over Tenacious D’s best bits. For the unbaptised, a novelty movie of a novelty band, big on spirit but in search of a script.” 

Jack: “We don’t really care. OK, the critics aren’t into it. Big surprise. But the numbers start coming in and we realise pretty quickly: no one is going to see the movie. The movie was a bomb and it was fucking depressing. So there we are, unsure about the future of Tenacious D. Then we’re like, ‘No. You know what? This is an incredible opportunity.’ Even though it was a big belly flop, there’s something so perfect about a belly flop for Tenacious D. There’s something that’s funny about it. If we were a normal band, this could be trouble, but we’re not a normal band, so in a weird way, the failure might make us stronger.” 

Kyle: “People wrote us off as dead. The critics panned us. Our movie was not as well received as it should’ve been – I think time is proving them wrong – but we rose from the ashes.” 

Jack: “In the end, the true Pick Of Destiny – the true, powerful magic – is our friendship. It’s not Satan, it’s not this or that or the other thing. It’s about the powerful bond between Jables and Kage.”

Tenacious D play the O2 on June 16.

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.