7 Best Music Documentaries, According To Fans

Music documentaries have a unique way of capturing the essence and magic of the music industry, offering viewers a behind-the-scenes look at their favorite artists and bands. From intimate portraits of legendary musicians to in-depth explorations of iconic albums, these films provide a window into the creative process and the stories behind the music. Today, we at StudyFinds decided to take a closer look at some of the best music documentaries of all time, diving into the compelling narratives and unforgettable moments that have made these films essential viewing for music lovers everywhere.

But what are some of the best insights into the music industry? To delve further into that question, we have researched across 10 expert sources to bring you today’s list of the seven best music documentaries of all time. Did we miss you favorite? We would love to hear from you in the comments below. Now, onto the list! 

two people eating popcorn and watching a movie
Two people watching TV (Photo by JESHOOTS.com on Pexels)

The List: Best Music Documentaries You Should Watch Next

1. “Gimme Shelter” (1970)

“Gimme Shelter” (1970)

Described by Rolling Stone as being “both hypnotic and terrifying” due to its intensity, the documentary “Gimme Shelter” is up first on our ranking. With a final “haunting” shot of Mick Jagger, this music documentary leaves a lasting impression on viewers long after the credits roll. The film captures the chaos and violence of the infamous free Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, showcasing the darker side of the 1960s counterculture movement. Through raw and candid footage, “Gimme Shelter” offers a chilling glimpse into the downfall of the peace and love era, making it a must-watch for music and history enthusiasts alike.

Though the music and performances are noteworthy, it was the stabbing of fan Meredith Hunter who was killed by Hells Angel Alan Passaro, that sparked controversy overshadowing that fateful night. The documentary serves as a sobering reminder that even in the midst of a movement focused on peace and love, darkness and danger can still lurk. “Gimme Shelter” forces audiences to confront the harsh realities of the era, shedding light on the complexities of the counterculture movement and its ultimate unraveling (U Discover Music).

Billed as “a tour to rival Woodstock,” The Rolling Stones had surely seen their fair share of documentaries and retrospectives, but “Gimme Shelter” stands out (Factual America). The film captures not only the chaos of the Altamont concert but also the disillusionment and loss of innocence that followed in its wake. As the final scenes fade to black, viewers are left with a sense of unease and a reminder that even the most idyllic movements can be tainted by tragedy. 

2. “Homecoming: A Film by Beyoncé” (2019)

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“Homecoming: A Film Beyoncé” is the next music documentary we will be absolutely raving about today. Noted by Entertainment Weekly as being the first time a black woman headlined the two-night festival, Beyoncé’s iconic performance at Coachella in 2018 is captured in breathtaking detail in this film. The documentary showcases not only Beyoncé’s unparalleled talent as a performer but also her dedication to celebrating black culture and history on a global stage. “Homecoming” is a powerful and inspiring tribute to the importance of representation and inclusivity in the music industry.

Lovingly referred to as Beychella by Esquire, the concert and documentary themselves were a “cultural reset.” Beyoncé’s performance at Coachella was a groundbreaking moment in music history, with her incredible talent and powerful message resonating with audiences worldwide. This documentary beautifully captures the essence of the iconic performance. This film serves as a reminder of the importance of diversity and representation in the music industry and Beyoncé’s impact as a trailblazer and cultural icon.

Noted as a “landmark concert” by Mashable, the two-hour film was also directed, written, and executive-produced by Beyoncé herself. Fans get to experience the meticulous planning and dedication that went into creating such a monumental event. Beyoncé’s unwavering dedication to her craft and her ability to inspire and empower others through her music is evident throughout the film. Beyoncé’s influence extends far beyond the stage, making her a true force to be reckoned with. 

3. “The Last Waltz” (1978)

"The Last Waltz" (1978)
“The Last Waltz” (1978)

Revolving around the legendary final performance of the country rock group The Band, Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz” is next on our list. Noted as having an “infectious drive” by Entertainment Weekly, this concert documentary captures the energy and passion of The Band’s farewell show. The film features iconic performances by musicians such as Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Neil Young, making it a must-watch for fans of classic rock.

Noted by Rolling Stone as being nostalgic with rich music, “The Last Waltz” is a true celebration of the end of an era in music history. The film beautifully captures the camaraderie between the musicians on stage as well as the raw talent that made The Band such a beloved group. With its stunning cinematography and unforgettable musical moments, “The Last Waltz” is a timeless tribute to the magic of live performances and the power of rock ‘n’ roll. It is a film that will leave viewers feeling inspired by the enduring legacy of The Band and their legendary final concert.

Reported by U Discover Music as being both a magnificent concert and a “feat of daring cinematography,” this film continues to be celebrated as a masterpiece in the world of music documentaries. Director Martin Scorsese expertly captures the energy and emotion of the evening, allowing viewers to feel as though they are right there in the audience, witnessing history being made. “The Last Waltz” is a must-see for any music lover, serving as a reminder of the timeless impact that great music can have on the world.

4. “The Decline of Western Civilization” (1981)

“The Decline of Western Civilization” (1981)

Chronicling the lives of punk bands like the Germs, X, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, and Fear, “The Decline of Western Civilization” is the next doc on our ranking, and for good reason. The film captures the raw energy and rebellion of the punk scene in Los Angeles during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Through interviews and live performances, viewers are given a glimpse into the chaotic and exhilarating world of these groundbreaking bands. “The Decline of Western Civilization” is a must-watch for any music lover looking to understand the roots of punk rock and its enduring impact on popular culture (Entertainment Weekly).

Catching its subjects while they were still on the ground, Penelope Spheeris’ documentary of the Los Angeles punk scene is a raw and gritty look at the rebellious spirit of the era, according to Rolling Stone. The energy passion of the musicians, as well as the fervent dedication of their fans, are palpable throughout the documentary. “The Decline of Western Civilization” serves as a time capsule of a turbulent and vibrant period in music history, showcasing early creative innovation happening at its roots.

Noted as Penelope Spheeris’ “magnum opus” by U Discover Music, this three-part documentary captures the essence of the punk movement with unflinching honesty. Spheeris’ intimate interviews and candid footage provide a glimpse into the lives of the artists who lived and breathed the music. The film’s unapologetic portrayal of the struggles and triumphs of the scene cements its status as a groundbreaking and essential piece of cultural documentation. Through “The Decline of Western Civilization,” Spheeris immortalizes a moment in time that continues to resonate with audiences today.

5. “Stop Making Sense” (1984)

The Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense,” directed by Jonathan Demme, is the next masterpiece on our ranking. Noted by Rolling Stone as capturing the band at their creative peak, this film showcases David Byrne’s unique stage presence and the band’s innovative musical style. The dynamic cinematography and energetic performances make “Stop Making Sense” a must-see for any fan. 

U Discover Music says “Stop Making Sense” won the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Non-fiction Film in 1984, further solidifying its place as one of the best. The film “pioneered the use of 24-track digital sound,” allowing for a high-quality audio experience that truly enhances the viewer’s immersion in the concert footage. This technological innovation, paired with Demme’s artistic vision, creates a film that not only captures the essence of Talking Heads’ live performances but also sets a new standard for concert films in general.

Roger Ebert describes how the film caught the “intensity and intimacy” of the band in a way no filmmaker had done before. “Stop Making Sense” magnificently captured Demme’s meticulous attention to detail, choreography, and lighting design, creating a visually stunning experience that mirrors the energy of Talking Heads’ performances. The film’s seamless editing draws viewers into the world of the band, making them feel as though they are in front of a concert.

6. “Amy” (2015)

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“Amy,” the documentary showcasing the short life of British sensation Amy Winehouse, is next. The film, which is so raved about that it even won an Oscar, delves deep into the complexities of Amy Winehouse’s personal struggles, her rise to fame, and ultimately her tragic downfall (Factual America). Through a combination of interviews, archival footage, and her own music, viewers get an intimate look at the talented yet tormented singer.

IndieWire raves about how Director Asif Kapadia managed to dive beneath the “splashy tabloid headlines” and obituaries to paint a “judgment-free” portrait of Winehouse. The documentary provides an honest portrayal of Amy’s battles with addiction, mental health issues, and the pressures of fame. It humanizes her in a way that goes beyond the public persona to which she was often reduced. Viewers are left feeling a mix of admiration for her undeniable talent and sadness for the tragic end of her life. Overall, the film serves as a powerful reminder of the destructive nature of the music industry and the toll it can take on those who find themselves in its spotlight.

Described by Esquire as an “enigma” of a performer, “Amy” perfectly captures the later singer’s complex and tumultuous journey. It sheds light on the dark side of fame and the relentless scrutiny that ultimately contributed to her downfall. “Amy” is a heartbreaking and poignant tribute to a talented artist whose struggles resonated with so many, serving as a cautionary tale for those who aspire to follow in her footsteps.

7. “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” (2015)

“Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” (2015)

Brett Morgen’s multimedia mix of Kurt Cobain’s life, wittingly titled “Montage of Heck,” takes the final spot on our ranking. Described by Rolling Stone as a collection of Cobain’s home movies, journal entries, drawings, notebook scrawlings, and audio recordings, the documentary provides an intimate look into the life of the late rocker. Morgen’s innovative approach to storytelling allows viewers to truly connect with Cobain on a personal level, shedding light on his struggles and creative process. “Montage of Heck” offers an unfiltered glimpse into the mind of a struggling artist, solidifying its place as one of the most compelling music documentaries of all time.

Described as a must-see for Nirvana fans by Radiox as it features many unseen materials, “Montage of Heck” is a raw and emotional journey that delves deep into the mind of a musical genius. The film showcases Cobain’s vulnerability and humanity, painting a complex portrait of a troubled soul. Viewers are able to witness the highs and lows of Cobain’s life, from his rise to fame to his battles with addiction and mental health issues. Overall, “Montage of Heck” is a gripping and poignant tribute to an iconic figure in music history.

Called “one of the greats” by Audio Socket, this film is a great watch even for non-Cobain fans who may not be familiar with his music or story. In the end, viewers are left with a profound sense of empathy for Cobain and a greater understanding of the complexities that shaped his life and ultimately led to his tragic end. It is a must-watch for music lovers and anyone interested in exploring the darker side of fame and creativity.


Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.

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About the Author

Jilly Hite

New York raised and Florida-based Jilly Hite studied screenwriting and theatre at The Lee Strasberg Institute before becoming a full time content creator and podcaster. She loves old movies, musical theatre, and her pup Ted.

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