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 20 Best Music Documentaries
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.
Related: Jennifer Lopez: Her love life, net worth, kids, and more
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.
Watch Amy on Amazon Prime. Don’t have Amazon Prime? No worries, start a free trial today.
Related: How Did Amy Winehouse Die? The True Story Behind the Singer’s Tragic Death
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.
Related: The Rolling Stones: A Wild Story of Struggle and Success
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.
Related: 41 Interesting Facts About Madonna
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.
Related: Musicians Who Died in Plane Crashes: The Musicians the World Lost Too Soon
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.
Related: The History of the Greatest Musicians of All-Time: Led Zeppelin
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.
Related: Johnny Cash’s Complete Story of Life and Death
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.
Related: Best Bob Dylan songs from Time Out of Mind to Rough and Rowdy Ways
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.
Related: 27 Fascinating Facts About Bob Dylan
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!
You might also enjoy: