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From concert tours to in-depth behind-the-scenes into their lives, music documentaries bring fans into the lives of their favorite musicians. Some rarely get noticed, but many have an enduring legacy that will hold on for generations.
What are the best music documentaries? Find out below.
The 34 Best Music Documentaries
34. Dolly Parton: Here I Am
Streaming on Netflix, Dolly Parton: Here I Am is a documentary of the life of the famous country singer. It’s 90 minutes of everything that has gone into making Dolly Parton who she is.
From the fantastic costumes to the heartbreaking story behind her songs, this is one documentary the die-hard country fan won’t want to miss.
WHAM! Was a dramatic pop duo popular through the 70s and 80s, famous for their chart-topping song “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” Composed of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, this documentary, currently on Netflix, dives into the lives of the two stars, following them from friendship to fame.
This documentary has it all: funky costumes, hairstyles, and interviews with the stars themselves. Plus, we love listening to the background music, which spans the entire film.
32. Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy
The popular opinion of Kanye West has varied over the years, from love and admiration to annoyance over his interruption of Taylor Swift at the VMAs. But like with most musicians, there is more to the story, which is what this documentary seeks to uncover.
Beware, this documentary leans heavily on religious themes, but it is cool to see the origin story of one of the most famous rappers of all time.
31. GAGA: Five Foot Two
Netflix has really doubled down on celebrity documentaries, and GAGA: Five Foot Two is one of our favorites. Covering Lady Gaga’s journey from childhood to fame, it shows her struggles with being someone that others find sexy, as well as the pain of her fibromyalgia that fans can’t see on screen.
From interviews with the star herself to undercover visits to buy her album from the store, this documentary will have you crying and laughing at the same time.
Related: 16 Singers Who Suffer from a Disease
30. Tricky Dick and The Man in Black: Johnny Cash Story
Johnny Cash is a hard singer to explain to others. Although he was considered a country musician, his music was something completely new and unique. This documentary dives into the life of the singer during the 70s when he was requested to sing in the White House for President Nixon.
This documentary is a little different than the others on our list of best music documentaries since the namesake isn’t alive to be interviewed. But it is still an interesting deep dive into the life of one of America’s more controversial singers.
Related: How Did Johnny Cash Die?
29. Who Shot the Sheriff: A Bob Marley Story
Bob Marley’s life ended tragically, and this documentary on Netflix explores the events and emotions which led up to his death. Formatted like a true-crime documentary, it will have you on your seat until the very end, even as questions are left unanswered.
For Bob Marley fans, this documentary can be a difficult watch, but it is well worth it.
28. Metallica: Some Kind Of Monster
One of our few best music documentaries not available on streaming services, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is a DVD that came out in 2004 and follows the journey of the band Metallica.
This documentary is a little odd, as it started as a simple filming of an album but ended up as a deep inside look into the problems and issues existing within the band Metallica in the early 00s.
27. Who Killed Jam Master Jay: A Jason Mizell Story
Jam Master Jay was a hip-hop artist with millions of fans across the United States until he was shot in Jamaica. This documentary covers the incident of his death, investigating the whos as well as the whys.
Another tough watch, you’ll feel like a detective as you learn the details of a murder and a shocking coverup.
26. Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool
Miles Davis was a world-renowned jazz musician who passed away in 1991. The documentary Miles Davis: Birth Of The Cool covers his life, from birth to death, featuring interviews from those who knew and performed with him.
It also features interviews with some of the women he dated, revealing an entirely different side of this jazz king.
25. Travis Scott: Look Mom I Can Fly
A documentary by Netflix, Travis Scott: Look Mom I Can Fly, covers the life of rapper Travis Scott. The film covers his rise to fame, as well as his relationship with Kylie Jenner. Fans will especially love some of the footage of their daughter, Stormi, which is included in the film.
Additionally, this documentary features excellent cinematography of Astroworld, the festival put on by Travis Scott. Even non-fans will be awed by some of the amazing pictures and videos they included.
24. Whitney: I Wanna Dance With Somebody
Created by Sony, this documentary covers the life and career of singer Whitney Houston. From her meager beginnings to her performances in front of millions, this movie has it all. The music will give you chills, and you’ll be dancing along by the end.
Although Whitney’s life tragically ended in 2012, this documentary enumerates her effect on society and the legacy she left behind.
23. Freddie (2023)
This documentary takes fans deep into the life of Freddie through the eyes of his bandmates and friends. With amazing footage of Freddie Mercury performing on stage, fans will be left breathless as they enjoy this film.
Related: How Did Freddie Mercury Die?
22. Eminem AKA
Eminem is one of the most prominent rappers of all time, but his rise to fame wasn’t without its challenges. Covering his entire life from childhood to meeting Kim, this documentary has it all.
It’s a little bit older than the other best music documentaries on this list, but if you are a true fan of Eminem, this isn’t a movie to miss!
Related: 45 Interesting Facts About Eminem
21. Keith Richards: Under the Influence
Available on Netflix, fans of classic rock will love learning about the origin of this talented musician.
Last on our list of the best music documentaries is Keith Richards: Under the Influence, which is about none other than musician Keith Richards. Covering his life from his beginnings to his addictions, this documentary features interviews with Keith himself.
20. Miss Americana
Streaming on Netflix, Miss Americana, released in 2020, is a music documentary about Taylor Swift’s career.
Throughout the documentary, Swift remains vulnerable, addressing her former struggles with body dysmorphia, the toxicity of the internet, her sexual assault trial, media scrutiny, and more.
Directed by Lana Wilson and produced by Tremolo Productions, the film received critical acclaim and several award nominations, winning three of them between 2020 and 2021.
19. Jennifer Lopez: Halftime
Another recent entry on our best music documentaries list, Jennifer Lopez: Halftime is a Netflix original documentary film released in 2022.
Directed by Amanda Micheli, it follows the career of popular actress, singer, and dancer J. Lo, particularly her 2020 Super Bowl LIV halftime show and the making of her 2019 film Hustlers.
The film was released on Netflix on June 14, 2022, debuting at No. 2 worldwide on its second day of streaming.
In just the first two weeks, it was watched for a total of 27.25 million hours, the equivalent of watching the 95-minute film more than 17.2 million times.
Amy is the gripping story of the late, great Amy Winehouse. It is about her life, career, and struggle with substance abuse, which led to her untimely death.
The 2015 British documentary film, directed by Asif Kapadia and produced by James Gay-Rees, received critical acclaim upon its release, winning 30 of its 33 award nominations, including Best Music Film at the 58th Grammy Awards.
It broke the UK box office record for the highest opening weekend of any British documentary film, grossing more than $600,000 across 133 cinemas.
17. Searching For Sugar Man
Searching For Sugar Man is a documentary film written and directed by Malik Bendjelloul that was released in 2012.
The film documents the late 1990s efforts of South African fans Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom as they investigated the rumored death of American musician Sixto Rodriguez.
In the 1970s, incorrect stories circulated among the community that he had committed suicide not long after the release of his second album.
The efforts of Segerman and Strydom to discover the truth revamped Rodriguez’s career.
The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012 and won the Special Jury Prize and the Audience Award for Best International Documentary.
In 2013, it won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary and the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Stream Searching For Sugar Man on Amazon Prime.
16. Buena Vista Social Club
Learn all about the spicy music of Cuba with the 1999 documentary Buena Vista Social Club.
The film, directed by Wim Wenders, tells how Wenders’ long-time friend Ry Cooder recorded the album Buena Vista Social Club with an ensemble of legendary Cuban musicians.
In 2020, the Library of Congress chose the film to be preserved in the United States National Film Registry because it is “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Stream Buena Vista Social Club on Amazon Prime.
15. Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, a Song
Another recent entry on our best music documentaries list, Hallelujah is a feature-length biographical documentary film telling the story of Canadian singer Leonard Cohen.
Focusing on his 1984 song “Hallelujah,” the 2022 film is about the song’s success, which came after John Cale recorded a new version of the song in 1991.
That version gave the song even more widespread popularity after being featured in the 2001 DreamWorks Pictures animated film Shrek.
The documentary debuted at the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals in September 2021 and was later shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in June 2022.
Stream Hallelujah on Amazon Prime.
14. Hitsville: The Making of Motown
Are you a fan of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “The Tracks of My Tears” or “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations? You can learn the history of what inspired songs such as these with the 2019 documentary film Hitsville: The Making of Motown.
The film starts with the birth of Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan, in 1958, until it shifted to Los Angeles in the early 1970s.
Watch Hitsville: The Making of Motown on Amazon Prime to learn the full story of the most successful record label of all time.
13. Gimme Shelter
Relive the final days of The Rolling Stones’ 1969 US tour as it leads up to the Altamont Free Concert that proved to be disastrous. The concert that was thought to be “Woodstock West” turned violent, ending in four deaths and several injuries.
Gimme Shelter, released in 1970, was directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, and was the opening film of the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.
Rotten Tomatoes states the documentary is “equal parts essential and chilling.”
Watch Gimme Shelter on Amazon Prime.
12. Madonna: Truth or Dare
Relive Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition World Tour as Alek Keshishian chronicles the life of the “Like a Virgin” singer in the two-hour documentary film.
Learn the behind-the-scenes secrets of the tour as color-popping performance scenes shift to black and white to emulate the Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch cinéma vérité documentary style.
The film, funded and executive produced by Madonna herself, became an instant commercial success, earning $2.8 million in the first weekend of its nationwide release.
Watch Madonna: Truth or Dare on Amazon Prime.
11. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
Follow the tumultuous years of the heavy metal band in the 2004 documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.
Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky take viewers through the band’s unstable years from 2001 to 2003.
The film highlights the production of the band’s 2003 album St. Anger, James Hetfield’s rehabilitation stint for alcoholism, the exit of bass player Jason Newsted, and the finding of his replacement.
Winner of the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2005, discover what Entertainment Weekly called “one of the most revelatory rock portraits ever made.”
Watch Metallica: Some Kind of Monster on Prime Video.
10. Amazing Grace
Dive behind the scenes as legendary singer Aretha Franklin records her 1972 live Amazing Grace album in this 2018 documentary concert film of the same name.
For years, the footage was vaulted up at Warner Bros. studios, but after Franklin’s 2018 death, her family gave fans what they’d been waiting for more than four decades.
Much like the Queen of Soul herself, it received critical acclaim with several nominations for Best Documentary and is considered one of the best music documentaries in several award circles.
Watch Amazing Grace on Prime Video.
9. The Day the Music Died
Who doesn’t know the legendary October 1971 hit by Don McLean?
It’s known as “one of the great musical touchstones of the 20th century.”
Hear the story behind the legendary song in the 2022 documentary The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s American Pie.
Directed by Mark Moormann, McLean shares all the secrets behind the iconic song.
Stream the film on Paramount+.
Don’t have a Paramount+ subscription? No problem. It’s easy to sign up and they offer a free trial.
In 1973, Stax Records organized a benefit concert to commemorate the anniversary of the 1965 riots in the black community of Watts, Los Angeles.
Featured artists and speakers included Jesse Jackson, Kim Weston, The Staple Singers, and more, as they came together at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Aug. 20, 1972.
The concert featured several genres, including soul, gospel, R&B, blues, funk, and jazz.
The concert became a film in 1973 and was directed by Mel Stuart.
In 2020, because it was “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” the Library of Congress selected it to be preserved in the United States National Film Registry.
Stream Wattstax on Prime Video.
7. Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same
The Song Remains the Same documents three nights of concerts performed by Led Zeppelin in the summer of 1973 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The film debuted three years later at select cinemas in New York, Beverly Hills, and London. A soundtrack album of the same name was also released.
By 1977, the film has grossed an estimated $10 million at the box office.
On Dec. 31, 1999, it was released on DVD, with promotional materials stating that it was Led Zeppelin’s “special way of giving their millions of friends what they had been clamoring for.”
The Song Remains the Same was released on DVD and Blu-ray by Warner Home Video on Nov. 20, 2007, and included previously unreleased bonus footage.
Stream Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains The Same on Prime Video today.
6. The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash
Like many of the best music documentaries on our list, there are several to choose from about some of the world’s greatest artists.
Johnny Cash is no exception, but we had to go with the 2019 documentary film The Gift: The Journey of Johnny Cash.
The 94-minute film directed by Thom Zimny focuses on the man behind the legendary country artist.
With a 94 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film is noted as “Cash’s 71-year reckoning with the wages of sin and salvation.”
Fans of the “Walk the Line” singer can stream the entire documentary, both the original and the bonus cut, for free on YouTube.
5. Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back
This 1967 documentary, directed by D.A. Pennebaker, follows Bob Dylan’s 1965 concert tour in England.
Along with tour footage, documentary viewers glimpse Dylan singing Hank Williams songs with John Baez in a hotel room, his pre-concert philosophical battle with the later co-founder of Chrysalis Records Terry Ellis, and more.
The 96-minute film was named the ninth-best documentary of all time by film critics for the 2014 Sight & Sound poll.
Stream Don’t Look Back on Prime Video.
4. Elvis: That’s The Way It Is
Almost any documentary film about the King of Rock n’ Roll can easily make it on any list of the best music documentaries of all time, but we chose this one.
The 1970 documentary film Elvis: That’s the Way It Is by Denis Sanders focuses on the singer’s summer festival in Las Vegas in August 1970. Although most of the footage is of his shows at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, viewers can also see rehearsal footage between Presley and his band, footage of an Elvis Appreciation Society convention, and more.
Upon its release, the nearly two-hour concert film grossed more than $1 million at the box office.
Stream Elvis: That’s The Way It Is on Prime Video.
Related: The Life and Music of Elvis Presley
3. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan
We couldn’t narrow it down to just one Bob Dylan documentary.
The more-recent No Direction Home: Bob Dylan traces the early life and career of the legendary artist, culminating in his famous move to go electric.
The three-hour film by Martin Scorsese features never-before-seen footage and rare concert performances.
The acclaimed series focuses on the period between January 1961, when Dylan arrived in New York, and his touring retirement after a motorcycle accident in July 1966.
The film received several accolades, including the Peabody Award in April 2006, a Columbuia-duPont Award in January 2007, and a Grammy Award for Scorsese in direction for best long-form video.
It is truly one of the best music documentaries of all time.
Stream No Direction Home: Bob Dylan on Amazon Prime Video.
2. The Last Waltz
The Last Waltz is a concert film about The Band’s Thanksgiving Day concert held on Nov. 25, 1976, at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco.
Advertised as their farewell concert appearance, The Band was joined by several guests during the show, including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, and more.
Along with the concert, the film focuses on The Band’s influences and career over the previous decade.
Since its release, the film has been hailed as one of the greatest concert films of all time and still holds a 98 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Stream The Last Waltz on Amazon Prime Video.
1. The Beatles: Get Back
There are many other documentaries about The Beatles, but this most recent one had to be the one we chose for our best music documentaries list.
The Beatles: Get Back is a 2021 documentary series directed and produced by the Lord of the Rings’ Peter Jackson.
The documentary takes viewers behind the scenes to the legendary groups making of their 1970 album Let It Be.
The docuseries consists of three episodes that last two to three hours each for a total runtime of close to eight hours. Much of the footage came from unused footage and audio from Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s original 1970 documentary of the album.
Upon its release, the docuseries received rave reviews and won 13 of the 16 awards it was nominated for across several award accolades.
Disney+ subscribers, pop the popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the show!
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