12 Best Music & Concert Documentaries Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
Living in the Material World tells the story of one of the most influential musicians of recent history, the “quiet Beatle” George Harrison. It is, in turn, told through the eyes of one of the most prominent filmmakers of recent history, the always amazing Martin Scorsese. Famous for his feature films, Scorsese has been a champion of documentary films and an avid maker of them. Drawing on archive footage, home movies, and many newly recorded interviews, including with Paul and Ringo, Eric Clapton, Phil Spector, and Terry Gilliam, he tells the complete story – and this is to be taken quite literally – of an indeed quiet, torn, and searching human being as well as an immensely talented, inspiring, and spiritual artist. This heart-felt and intimate 3.5-hour documentary is an awe-inspiring exploration of Harrison's time with The Beatles as well as his subsequent solo career as a musician and as a philanthropist. In case you had your mind made up on who's your favorite Beatle, Scorsese might make you rethink.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Astrid Kirchherr, Billy Preston, Bob Dylan, Brian Epstein, Cynthia Lennon, Dhani Harrison, Dick Cavett, Eric Clapton, Eric Idle, George Harrison, George Martin, Jackie Stewart, Jane Birkin, Jeff Lynne, Jim Keltner, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Julian Lennon, Klaus Voormann, Linda McCartney, Louise Harrison, Mick Jagger, Olivia Harrison, Pattie Boyd, Paul McCartney, Peter Harrison, Phil Spector, Ravi Shankar, Ray Cooper, Ringo Starr, Roy Orbison, Terry Gilliam, Tom Petty, Yoko Ono

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: Not Rated

The Tragically Hip was a deeply beloved band from Ontario that peaked in the 90s with hits like Grace, Too or Nautical Disaster. The Hip, as their fans refer to them, had just finished recording their latest album in 2015 when the lead singer was diagnosed with a fatal disease. This movie is about them deciding to go on one last tour to say goodbye to their fans and country. Mostly, it’s about the singer, Gord Downie, and how his personality and love for the music shined through his illness. Picture someone who is giving an immaculate performance despite being a few weeks away from death, and a packed stadium of people singing along in tears - this is this movie. It’s truly an incredible story of human ambition, empathy, and the bond that music can create between an artist and a whole nation.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Bobby Baker, Gord Downie, Gord Sinclair, Jennifer Baichwal, Johnny Fay, Justin Trudeau, Nicholas de Pencier, Paul Langlois, Rob Baker

Director: Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier

Rating: N/A

“As fragile as she was strong, as vulnerable as she was dynamic, she was African royalty. How does royalty stomp around in the mud and still walk with grace?”. What Happened, Miss Simone? will surprise you no matter how much you thought you knew about the soul singer - not only in its exploration of Nina Simone’s personal life and complexities, but by being both a personal and political documentary. As you discover an original singer with talents that reach all the way to performance art, you will also learn about a Civil Rights activist’s journey and an unstable woman’s struggle. The documentary is not about answering the question of what happened, Miss Simone? – it’s an exploration of why that question is so important.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Dick Gregory, Elisabeth Henry-Macari, James Baldwin, Lisa Simone, Liz Garbus, Nina Simone, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Cronkite

Director: Liz Garbus

Rating: Not Rated

Even if you’re a huge Broadway fan, you’ve probably never heard of the “industrial musical." While it no longer exists in practice, in the 1970s industrial musicals were shows that corporations commissioned for some of the biggest Broadway names to produce. The script would be based on the company’s offerings and history, and privately performed by real Broadway actors to audiences made up exclusively of company and factory staff.

Now, a documentary about industrial shows doesn’t scream “entertaining,” but to describe Bathtubs Over Broadway in such a manner would be selling it way short. It’s really about Steve Young, a comedy writer for David Letterman, and how his life changed when he found his first industrial musical LP when leafing through a crate of old records for a Late Night segment he was working on.

Ultimately, what makes this such an enjoyable watch is the protagonist’s enduring passion over what at first appears to be nothing but a niche obsession. But with time, as he connects with other collectors and the people who were involved in the original industrial musical productions, his passion breeds community and lifelong bonds. Even if you’re no fan of Broadway, this makes for a great pop culture documentary and an unexpectedly touching story of human connection.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Chita Rivera, David Letterman, Florence Henderson, Jello Biafra, Martin Short, Melody Rogers, Sheldon Harnick, Steve Young, Susan Stroman

Director: Dava Whisenant

Rating: PG-13

, 2023

For a short while in the ‘80s, the pop scene benefited from the sheer musical joy created by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, known together as Wham! With confectionary hits like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Last Christmas,” the  British duo sang about the escapism that a generation desperately sought out. Their songs were dismissed by pundits as shallow (“How can the country be in love with these two idiots?”), but as young people flocked to their concerts in droves, it was clear that Wham! struck a chord with the worn-out youth. 

They were no Beatles or Bowie, not heavyweight enough to make a lasting impression in our collective pop culture memory, but theirs is a story rich with meaningful lessons. Wham!, the film, is as much about the personal lives of the duo as it is about the difficulty of making it as independent artists; about the saving grace of music; and about the importance of authenticity. 

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Andrew Ridgeley, Aretha Franklin, Bono, Boy George, David Bowie, Elton John, Freddie Mercury, George Michael, Helen DeMacque, Jerry Wexler, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Sting, Terry Wogan, Tony Hadley

Director: Chris Smith

Rating: NR

Documentaries about musicians — or anyone famous, for that matter — are often mythologizing puff pieces, essentially feature-length airings of PR material. But Against All Odds has more to it than flattery. It chronicles the rise of Australia’s first drill rappers, five young men of Samoan origin who soared to fame from their disadvantaged Sydney neighborhood after going viral and catching the eye of artists like the UK’s Skepta and Australia’s own The Kid Laroi. 

ONEFOUR’s rise from “the trenches” is compelling in itself — far more so than some of the dull origin stories that often pad out this kind of movie — but the documentary is given even more weight by its examination of the forces that sought to put out their fire: New South Wales police. ONEFOUR’s lyrics, which often reference violence, put them in the crossfires of a police tactical unit determined to, in one officer’s words, “make [ONEFOUR’s] life miserable until [they] stop what [they’re] doing.” Amazingly, the on-camera police interviews feature even more brazen admissions of the ways they “lawfully harass” ONEFOUR, a fact that makes this documentary an eye-opening portrait of both aggressive (and allegedly racist) policing and the resilience of the group in the face of it.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Celly, J Emz, Lekks, Spenny, YP

Director: Gabriel Gasparinatos

Rating: R

Directed by Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Carol), The Velvet Underground takes an avant-garde approach to tell the story of the 1960s rock band. Like their music, nothing about this documentary is linear and expected. Screens are split to show two different things at once, seemingly unrelated clips are stitched to create a patchwork of feelings, and strobes of light flash multiple times onscreen. It's like an art installation come to life.

The film is dynamic and dazzling, infused with the same underground atmosphere as their early performances. If you’re looking to know more about the band, this film might not be for you. But if you’re looking to experience the band, to feel and see and hear what it was like to catch them at their peak, then this is for you.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Allen Ginsberg, Amy Taubin, Andy Warhol, Bill Graham, Billy Name, Cass Elliot, Danny Fields, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, Jackson Browne, John Cale, John Waters, Jonas Mekas, Jonathan Richman, Lou Reed, Marian Zazeela, Mary Woronov, Nico, Sterling Morrison

Director: Todd Haynes

Jennifer Lopez believes that her latest album and its movie accompaniment, This Is Me…Now, are her magnum opus, so she gives the joint project her all. She funds, writes, produces, directs, and choreographs everything with the help of her team, which amusingly includes her lover and muse Ben Affleck. Whether or not it actually is her greatest work of all time doesn’t matter; it doesn’t even matter that people get it. What matters is that she creates it with the undivided fervor of an artist possessed with the knowledge that this is their last chance to make a mark. And it’s that energy that makes this documentary, which is a behind-the-scenes look at This Is Me…Now, so captivating. Lopez is in her element directing the movie-musical of her life. At 54 years old, she’s completely candid (sometimes, amusingly, to Affleck’s dismay) and abandons all need to conform to industry norms. She follows her heart first and her mind second, which explains why her project is as big-hearted and relatable as it is bonkers and all over the place. It’s a bit like The Disaster Artist in that way: watching Lopez’s creative chaos is far more interesting than the creation itself.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ben Affleck, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, Jane Fonda, Jennifer Lopez

Director: Jason B. Bergh

Rating: R

This documentary is about the life of New York rapper Nas around the time of the release of his first album, Illmatic.

It spans a quick and summarized 74 minutes and, while embellished by the direction of street artist One9, it remains a great snippet of recent American history. Nas’s album was a reflection of many realities that characterized his upbringing, while the movie serves to further explore those very realities.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Cornel West, DJ Premier, Fab 5 Freddy, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., M.C. Serch, Marley Marl, Mrs. Braconi, Nas, Pete Rock, Pharrell Williams, Q-Tip, Skip Gates, Jr., Swizz Beatz

Director: One9

Rating: TV-14

What does a highly successful 20-year-old musician have to say about life and the industry? As we learn from Laroi, a lot apparently. Throughout this film, which documents his rapid rise from hopeful Aussie to international star, Laroi shares observations that are at turns earnest, endearing, and self-aware. Unfortunately, these likable traits aren’t enough to make Kids Are Growing Up staple viewing beyond Laroi’s fanbase. If you’re not part of the club, you might find it hard to grasp the necessity of this production at all. Though pleasantly intimate and amusingly animated, there is nothing innovative nor insightful about it. The Australian leg of his origin story seems to have been largely skipped, as are some parts of his musical process. And though it's the most interesting part about him, the documentary doesn't focus too much on him being a prodigy. Laroi is talented to be sure, but this documentary seems like a premature attempt at capturing him in his presumed prime. As a result, the filmmakers betray a lack of confidence in Laroi's future, even though it's clear it'll burn brighter than ever.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Justin Bieber, Katarina Demetriades, Lil Bibby, Post Malone, The Kid LAROI

Director: Michael D. Ratner

Rating: R