Best music documentaries: How to watch and stream the greatest ever pop, rock and hip-hop films of all time

From Amy to Anvil! and Metallica to Beyoncé, here's our rundown of the greatest ever music documentaries to watch and stream on Netflix, Prime Video, BT TV and NOW.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 27 April 2021 - 3.00pm
Getty Amy Winehouse performing live

The best music documentaries are a time capsule for a band or performer – taking viewers closer than they’ve ever been before to the artist and musicians they love.

A great film might capture an act at the very peak of their musical and creative powers, looking at how the magic happens under a microscope.

Other films can showcase a new side to a band or musician, highlighting the intensity, emotion and occasionally the ridiculousness, of the music industry.

They’ll make you laugh, cry, dance around your living room with joy and cause you get out all your classic records. They’ll make you feel something indescribable in the special and mysterious way that only great music can.

On May 1, AMC releases Before We Was We: Madness by Madness, the story of the British pop icons based on their acclaimed biography.

To celebrate the three-part series, here is our list of the greatest ever music documentaries that you can watch on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, NOW, BT TV and more.

Before We Was We: Madness by Madness

First released: May 1, 2021

Watch and stream on: AMC and the BT Player

What’s it about?

The docuseries traces the humble beginnings of the band that would go on to set the record for the biggest audience ever for the BBC’s Live New Year’s Eve Broadcast – the most watched TV music event of 2018 - and perform on top of Buckingham Palace as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.

Looking back at his career, lead singer Suggs said “I don’t remember ever thinking about whether it was going to last. You see this polished Madness that's been going for years and people would think, ‘course you knew’. But I didn’t have a clue. I wasn’t taking it the slightest bit serious.

“That’s why I got thrown out of the band at the start, because I just thought it was a laugh and just something to do - hanging out with pretty cool geezers. The idea that I was ever going to make a career out of it was totally beyond my comprehension.”

Dig!

First released: 2004

Watch and stream on: YouTube

What’s it about?

In theory Dig! is about the ups and downs of US rock bands the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

But Dig! Is less concerned with the sounds of the 90s indie scene and more interested in the battle of egos between frontmen Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Anton Newcombe, and the concept of ‘selling out’ for success.

Frequently hilarious, director Ondi Timoner’s film embodies the wild and chaotic underbelly of the ‘90s alternative music scene perfectly.

Amy 

First released: 2015

Watch and stream on: Prime Video, YouTube

What’s it about?

Asif Kapadia’s film about the life and tragedy of Amy Winehouse is beautiful. Capturing the fragility, humour and spark of a once-in-a-generation talent, Amy shows a side of the singer the public so rarely saw when she was still alive.

But Amy isn’t just a celebration of Winehouse as an artist and an individual, it’s also a pointed critique of those around the singer who let her down and the damage caused by the media and music industry to a young star.

Style Wars

First released: 1983

Watch and stream on: Prime Video

What’s it about?

Viewed by many as the definitive movie about early hip-hop culture, the movie examines the birth of the scene in the 70s and 80s and in particular the work of young graffiti artists and breakdancers.

With music from The Sugarhill Gang, Fearless Four, Grandmaster Flash, Rammellzee and more, the film captures a golden age of youthful creativity as MCs, DJs and B-boys rock New York and annoy the hell out of the police, mayor and authorities. 

Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé

First released: 2019

Watch and stream on: Netflix

What’s it about?

Produced by, starring and directed by Beyoncé, the biggest popstar on the planet offered the world a rare glimpse behind the shiny videos and dazzling live performances in this concert film.

The performance at Coachella is breathtaking, capturing a musical icon at the peak of her powers, but it’s the intimate glimpses of Beyonce’s personal life that are really gripping.

Beyoncé has enough star power to let her music do the talking and keep her private life private, so it’s really surprising for her to expose herself during a pregnancy and her build-up to performing live again.

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest

First released: 2011

Watch and stream on: Prime Video

What’s it about?

Hip-hop pioneers A Tribe Called Quest and director Michael Rappaport come together in a candid look at life inside the band as they head out on a reunion tour.

Focusing on the personal relationships and tensions in the band, the film becomes far greater than just a mere celebration of the group’s influential music and style.

Some members of the group weren’t happy with the final outcome, which we would suggest is more down to the raw and awkward footage that was captured rather than any controversial scenes.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

First released: 2009

What's it about?

You don’t need to be a metalhead to love this story of teenage dreams and middle-aged delusions.

Anvil were a briefly popular and influential mental band, who wouldn't let go of their dreams.

Although the film earned the group the tag of ‘the real-life Spinal Tap’, singer Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner are hugely endearing in the film and the film succeeds because it captures the poignancy of two men who simply won’t give up.

Metallica: Some Kind Monster

First released: 2004

Watch and stream on: Prime Video

What’s it about?

A decade on from their musical and commercial peak, heavy metal icons Metallica are back in the studio and attempting to pull themselves back together.

Therapy sessions, walk-outs, rehab and power struggles come to the fore as the rock icons are stripped of their star power and we witness the real old, grumpy and broken men.

Rarely will a group allow such unfiltered access – it’s something the band may even regret with hindsight – but that’s what makes the movie such an essential watch.

Buena Vista Social Club

First released: 1999

Watch and stream on: BFI Player, Prime Video

What’s it about?

In chronicling the meeting of guitarist Ry Cooder and a group of Cuba’s finest musicians, filmmaker Wim Wenders not only captures the sights to match the beautiful sounds, he also creates a compelling human story.

Taking the viewer into the studios and lives of Havana’s awe-inspiring musicians, the film also follows the club as they head on tour with performances in Amsterdam and New York.

The Oscar-nominated film shines a light on a musical community which was nearly lost in time to the political battles between Cuba and the USA.

Searching for Sugar Man

First released: 2012

Watch and stream on: Prime Video

What's it about?

A touching, humbling and stranger than fiction story about the little known folk-soul singer Rodriguez. It’s likely you haven’t heard of him and know little about him and the film is more enjoyable for it.

The filmmakers become fascinated by Rodriguez’s surprising popularity among anti-apartheid activists in South Africa and go on the hunt for the forgotten singer to discover his fate.

The music is beautiful, as is the movie, which will tug at your heartstrings as it slowly unravels the truth about the performer and showcases the timeless power of great songs.

Scratch

First released: 2001

Watch and stream on: YouTube

What’s it about?

Explaining the power, skill and story of turntables, Scratch is a must-watch for anyone with an interest in hip-hop, sampling or DJ culture.

Featuring early innovators and more avan-garde artists, the film captures the incredible skill of the greatest scratchers and explores what it means to the story of hip-hop culture.

Innovators Afrika Bambaataa, Grand Master Flash and DJ Shadow are among the artists interviewed for the film.

Starshaped

First released: 1993

Watch and stream on: Prime Video

What’s it about?

The early years of Britpop stars Blur are captured in the unfiltered footage, which blends performances, backstage antics and stories on the road with a group who are about to explode into the big time.

The 60-minute film records uninhibited interviews, worse-for-wear gigs and festival shows and occasional electrifying moments which hint at the stardom still to come.

More than anything, the film showcases the energy and effort required to make it as band, as the four-piece slog it out across the UK and Europe.

Don’t Look Back

First released: 1967

What’s it about?

Considered by many to be the inventor of the ‘rockumentary’, DA Pennebaker’s masterpiece is a must-watch for both fans of classic cinema and music fans interested in the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.

Following a 23-year-old Bob Dylan on his tour of the UK in 1965, it captures the man behind the myth as he moves from folk hero to rock innovator.

The black-and-white 16mm film remains magical and influential more than 50 years on from its original release.

Bros: After the Screaming Stops

First released: 2018

Watch and stream on: BritBox

What’s it about?

Bros: After the Screaming Stops became one of the most talked- and tweeted-about films of 2018 when it was first screened by the BBC.

Twin brothers Matt and Luke Goss reunited for a comeback show at the O2 Arena and this 90-minute film follows the build-up, but ends up showcasing two men who are more David Brent than David Bowie.

The 80s boyband stars are now in their 50s, but the passing of time and dwindling of fame hasn’t dampened their ambitions or self-belief. Out-doing Spinal Tap for classic quotes (“Rome wasn’t built in a day … but we don’t have the time that Rome had”), the film is an unintended comedy masterpiece.

Supersonic

First released: 2016

Watch and stream on: Prime Video

What’s it about?

The wild and chaotic rise of Oasis, from Burnage to Knebworth.

Frequently funny, the film is a startling reminder of quite how famous the Gallagher brothers were in the 90s and the incredible and unlikely journey that got them there.

The rare footage of Noel and Liam mucking around backstage is a must-watch for fans, but the hedonistic story of Britpop makes it intriguing even for those who aren't the group's greatest admirers.

Gimme Shelter

First released: 1970

What’s it about?

Two films in one, Gimme Shelter captures the excitement and thrill of The Rolling Stones at their bad-boy peak, touring the US in 1969

However, it is the dark events of Altamont, where a fan was stabbed to death, that make the film an important piece of music history.

A time-capsule moment where the dreams of the 60s turned dark and sour, the film caught one of the ugliest points in rock history and doesn’t shy away from them.

Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams

First released: 2018

Watch and stream on: Prime Video

What is it about?

It’s won’t shock you or reveal a hidden dark side to Chris Martin’s indie stars, but this film proves, just like the band did, that you don’t have to be wild and hedonistic to make beautiful music with an emotional clout.

Digging deep into the group’s early years, the movie stitches together the story of a gang of mates who transformed themselves from pub strummers into one of the most electrifying live acts in the world and one of the most successful bands of their generation.

The friendship between the group is at the heart of their success and the film lifts the lid on their bond and chemistry.

Tina

First released: 2020

Watch and stream on: Sky Documentaries with NOW

What is it?

Tina is the ultimate celebration of a global superstar and an intimate portrait of a woman who overcame extreme adversity to define her career, her identity and her legacy on her own terms.

From her early career as the queen of R&B to her record-breaking sell-out arena tours of the ’80s, Tina Turner draws back the curtain to invite us into her private world in a way she has never done before.  Revealing her inner-most struggles, and sharing some of her most personal moments, Tina is the defining and inspirational record of one of the greatest survivors in modern music.

Tina review: A triumphant farewell from a remarkable rock icon

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