18 Best Music Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
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

If you’ve never seen Walk Hard before but still get déjà vu from just its first 10 minutes, that's the point. This riotous pastiche parodies every musician biopic ever made — and even many that came after it. Its ability to predict the future is thanks to its sharp observation of all the clichés that are typically wheeled out when a musical artist’s life story gets the big screen treatment. Walk Hard skewers everything from the tropes of preternatural musical abilities and galvanizing childhood trauma to the formulaic three-act structure that follows the musician’s rise, inevitable fall, and triumphant rise again.

Absolutely no chances are left unseized to lampoon the genre: the film is told in an incredibly long flashback, for example, and features multiple groan-including moments in which characters say the movie’s title out loud, all but winking at the camera. The danger with a parody is that the joke can get old quickly, but Walk Hard is blessedly full of laughs that would stand up even outside of the spoof framework, displaying incredible devotion to even the most throwaway of jokes (as when The Temptations make a cameo for one five-second gag). Not just a brilliant satire, then, but a terrific comedy of its own.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Adam Herschman, Amber Hay, Angela Little, Cheryl Ladd, Cheryl Tiegs, Chris Parnell, Clement Blake, Conner Rayburn, Craig Robinson, David Doty, David Krumholtz, E.J. Callahan, Ed Helms, Eddie Vedder, Frankie Muniz, Gerry Bednob, Gerry Black, Ghostface Killah, Gregg Lee, Harold Ramis, Ian Roberts, Jack Black, Jack Kehler, Jack McBrayer, Jack White, Jackson Browne, Jacques Slade, Jane Lynch, Jason Schwartzman, Jenna Fischer, Jewel, John C. Reilly, John Ennis, John Maynard, John Michael Higgins, Jonah Hill, Justin Long, Kristen Wiig, Lyle Lovett, Margo Martindale, Martin Starr, Matt Besser, Molly C. Quinn, Morgan Fairchild, Nat Faxon, Neil Ironfield, Odette Annable, Patrick Duffy, Patrick Faucette, Patrick J. Adams, Paul Bates, Paul Feig, Paul Rudd, Philip Rosenthal, Rae Sunshine Lee, Rance Howard, Raymond J. Barry, Ron Tyson, Serria Tawan, Simon Helberg, Skyler Gisondo, Stacey Scowley, Steve Bannos, Terrence Beasor, Tim Bagley, Tim Meadows, Tyler Nilson, Willow Geer

Director: Jake Kasdan

Rating: R

I’m Not There is an unusual biopic in that it never refers to its subject, Bob Dylan, by name. Instead, Todd Haynes’ portrait of the singer mimics his constant reinvention by casting six separate actors to play as many reincarnations of the same soul. It’s an ingenious spin on a usually stale genre, one that liberates the film from the humdrum restrictions of a literal retelling of Dylan's life.

If there’s anyone who warrants such an inventive approach to biography, it’s Dylan, whose public and private personas are so numerous that it’s only by angling six different mirrors at him that Haynes can hope to catch some of his essence. Impressionistic editing toggles freely between these vignettes, each visually distinct: from the 11-year-old Woody Guthrie-obsessive (Marcus Carl Franklin) and the black-and-white Super 16mm-shot poet (Ben Whishaw) to the aging cowboy outlaw (Richard Gere), all by way of Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and Cate Blanchett’s incarnations. To be sure, this is a somewhat challenging film, reflecting, in places, the enigmatic surrealism of Dylan’s lyrics and his refusal to be pinned down to one thing. But, as Blanchett’s embodiment says, “Mystery is a traditional fact,” and that’s no more true than of Dylan, making Haynes’ film a fascinatingly fitting spiritual biopic.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alison Folland, Andrew Shaver, Andrew Simms, Angela Galuppo, Arthur Holden, Ben Whishaw, Benz Antoine, Bill Croft, Bob Dylan, Brett Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Cate Blanchett, Catherine Colvey, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Bale, Craig Thomas, Danny Blanco Hall, David Cross, David Gow, Dennis St John, Dominic James, Don Francks, Emmanuel Schwartz, Eric Newsome, Eugene Brotto, Fanny La Croix, Garth Gilker, Gordon Masten, Graham Cuthbertson, Greg Kramer, Heath Ledger, Holly Uloth, Ivan Freud, Jane Gilchrist, Jane Wheeler, Jason Cavalier, Jennifer Rae Westley, Jesse Todd, Jessica Kardos, Jim James, Jodie Resther, Joe Cobden, John Koensgen, Julianne Moore, Kathleen Fee, Kim Gordon, Kim Roberts, Kris Kristofferson, Kristen Hager, Kyle Gatehouse, Kyle Switzer, Larry Day, Leif Anderson, Leigh Ann Taylor, Lina Roessler, Lisa Bronwyn Moore, Lorne Brass, Maggie Castle, Marcus Carl Franklin, Marie-Julie Rivest, Mark Camacho, Matt Holland, Matthew Boylan, Matthew Harbour, Melantha Blackthorne, Michelle Williams, Nathalie Girard, Noel Burton, Patrick Costello, Paul Cagelet, Paul Johnston, Paul Spence, Pauline Little, Peter Friedman, Phyllis Gooden, Pier Paquette, Pierre Leblanc, Pierre-Alexandre Fortin, Richard Gere, Richard Jutras, Richard Robitaille, Richie Havens, Rob Burns, Roc LaFortune, Sharlene Royer, Shawn Baichoo, Steve Godin, Susan Glover, Terry Haig, Thiéry Dubé, Tim Post, Trevor Hayes, Tyrone Benskin, Vito DeFilippo, Wyatt Bowen, Yolonda Ross

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: R

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis, Jacob Ming-Trent, Oswin Benjamin, Peter Kim, Peter Y. Kim, Radha Blank, Reed Birney, Stacey Sargeant, T.J. Atoms, Welker White, William Oliver Watkins

Director: Radha Blank

Rating: R

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

Plenty of films have been made about the grueling climb to rock-and-roll fame, but few carry the effortless charm that That Thing You Do! has. Written and directed by Tom Hanks, the film is as cookie-cutter as it gets, dodging the dark depths that typically haunt rock biopics. But that isn’t to say That Thing You Do! is boring—just the opposite, its simplicity and nostalgia make it wholly enjoyable. It’s a confection of a film that goes down easy, and it will have you smiling and bopping your head from start to end.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: Alex Rocco, Barry Sobel, Benjamin John Parrillo, Bill Cobbs, Brittney Powell, Bryan Cranston, Charlize Theron, Chris Ellis, Chris Isaak, Claudia Stedelin, Clint Howard, Clive Rosengren, Colin Hanks, Dawn Maxey, Elizabeth Hanks, Ethan Embry, Gedde Watanabe, Gina Aponte, Giovanni Ribisi, Heather Hewitt, Holmes Osborne, Johnathon Schaech, Jonathan Demme, Kathleen Kinmont, Kevin Pollak, Lee Everett, Liv Tyler, Marc McClure, Mars Callahan, Michael P. Byrne, Obba Babatundé, Paul Feig, Peter Scolari, Renée Lippin, Rita Wilson, Robert Ridgely, Robert Torti, Robert Wisdom, Sarah Koskoff, Sean Whalen, Steve Zahn, Tom Everett Scott, Tom Hanks, Tracy Reiner, Warren Berlinger

Director: Tom Hanks

Rating: PG

Beastie Boys Story, a live documentary that runs for two hours and consists entirely of two speakers presenting a PowerPoint onstage, shouldn't be as enjoyable and enthralling as it is, but with the help of director Spike Jonze, remaining band members Mike D and Adam Horovitz pull off the impossible and draw in a rapt crowd by chronicling how the iconic hip-hop group came to be.

Told with intimate detail and blithe humor, Beastie Boys Story has the easygoing charm of a dear friend recounting the good old days with you. Mike D and Adam Horovitz are skilled storytellers, and with Jonze operating the technicals to a tee backstage, everything comes together in a satisfyingly smooth and utterly watchable take. You don't have to know much (if anything at all) about the Beastie Boys to enjoy this documentary, and whatever your opinion is of them beforehand, you'll leave this film knowing a bit more about the creative process, necessary growth, and unbelievable luck all artists go through.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Adam Horovitz, Adam Yauch, Afrika Bambaataa, Ben Stiller, Bill Hader, David Cross, Dick Clark, Don Cornelius, Joan Rivers, Karen Duffy, Kurt Loder, Kurtis Blow, Madonna, Michael Diamond, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Stipe, Money Mark, Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons, Spike Jonze, Steve Buscemi, Tenzin Gyatso

Director: Spike Jonze

Rating: TV-MA

While most media outlets would rather talk about Taylor Swift’s love life and never-ending feuds, the fact remains that Swift is a dedicated artist. She’s a prolific songstress and an astute writer, and regardless of what you think of her, it’s always a treat to see someone with that much passion and talent delve deep into their craft. 

This is precisely what she does in Folklore. Between cozy conversations with co-producers and rustic live sessions, Swift lets her guard down to reveal how she works on each song, from the backstory to the melody. The result is a mesmerizing documentary about how Swift spent the secluded year of 2020 working on a record that would go on to win Album of the Year at the Grammys. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music

Actor: Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, Justin Vernon, Taylor Swift

Director: Taylor Swift

Rating: TV-14

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

After directing George Harrison: Living in the Material World and No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese brings to the fore yet another singular musician, this time New York Dolls frontman David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter). More of a concert film than anything, this feature takes place during a live performance Johansen gives during his birthday; his raspy voice and poetic punk songs already tell a story in themselves, but Scorsese intercuts them with the occasional archival footage and interview, careful not to disrupt a glorious musical moment with cheesy throwback scenes. 

A Dolls or punk fan will be moved by the resulting film, a fittingly jagged but meaningful oeuvre of a tenacious artist. But if you're coming to this documentary without much prior knowledge about Johansen, his band, and the era from which he came, you might find it somewhat niche, but overall impressive, informative, and musically thrilling.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: David Johansen, Debbie Harry, Hal Willner, Morrissey, Sylvain Sylvain

Director: David Tedeschi, Martin Scorsese

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

This is Me…Now is more than just a glorified music video. It’s a personal confessional for one, and a surprisingly effective comedy for another. In parts, Jennifer Lopez speaks to her therapist (Fat Joe) about the dreams she’s been having, which then give way to surreal sequences of Lopez singing songs off her latest album, all about love and personal growth. You’d have to be a fan of Lopez’s pop style to appreciate the music, but the choreography is mesmerizing and, dare I say, Lopez’s true strength. When she’s not regaling us with her thoughts on love, we have the Council of Zodiac Signs, played by a stacked cast that includes Jane Fonda, Sofia Vergara, and Trevor Noah, to humor us with their genuinely funny observations. Lopez obviously has a vision, and it’s admirably big and earnest, but the technical side of the film fails her. Except for the ornate storybook opener, most of the dream sequences are gray and sludgy, and they rarely reflect Lopez’s rose-tinted view of life. I wish the film had more light, but instead, we get melty, inferior CGI work that is just painful to look at. Some people might be able to forgive this, but because film is largely a visual medium, I find that it ultimately detracts from the experience.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alexander Pelaez, Alix Angelis, Ashley Versher, Ben Affleck, Brandon Delsid, Carlito Olivero, Danielle Larracuente, Derek Hough, Fat Joe, Jane Fonda, Jay Shetty, Jenifer Lewis, Jennifer Lopez, Jocelyn Marie, Keke Palmer, Kim Petras, Matthew Law, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Paul Raci, Post Malone, Sadhguru, Sofia Vergara, Trevor Jackson, Trevor Noah

Director: Dave Meyers

Rating: PG-13