What makes a good music documentary?
Is it unfiltered talking head interviews from an artist’s inner circle, narrating their rise to fame and filling in the gaps with unheard tales of tragedy and triumph? Is it hundreds of hours’ worth of archival footage that transports fans back to the tour buses and motels and the chaotic marathon of on-the-road, small-town gigs? Is it the artist themselves taking control of the camera to give us a more intimate, insightful look into their creative process — the highs, the lows, the sacrifices, and the perks of fame?
Is it a combination of all of these?
Whatever that magical “it” factor is, all of the docs on this list — from tranquil recording sessions to cinematic road trip movies to dramatic reenactments to reels of film that have been hidden away for decades — have it in some form or other.
These are the best music documentaries streaming on Disney+ and Hulu.
Run Time: 468 min
There’s a kind of mythos surrounding The Beatles, their meteoric rise, and their complicated break-up. Much of that is fueled by the untimely death of their founding member, John Lennon, but more still stems from the group’s prolific lyrical output — something that’s on full display in Peter Jackson’s biographical epic, Get Back. The three-part six-hour-long documentary is a musical odyssey, one that peels back the veneer of nostalgia and gives us a raw, moving, and at times unbearably intimate look at the four lads whose influence is still being felt, decades after their initial peak of stardom. Subdued and unstructured but made with purpose, the series gives us a glimpse of these figures with episodes of genius on full display — like when Paul riffs on his bass and produces one of the band’s biggest hits in just a few minutes. The best moments come when we get an unedited look at the strife, tension, and profound connection these musical icons shared, though.
Run Time: 65 min
Billie Eilish has had a prodigious career. That’s not hyperbole, it’s simply a fact. She’s ticked off everything from Grammy wins and Oscars trophies to headlining the world’s major music festivals and being interesting enough that not one, but two documentaries have attempted to distill her star power to something us mere mortals can understand. In this doc, which stands as Billie’s love letter to her hometown, director Robert Rodriguez throws animation into the mix, creating a kind of hybrid doc/album concept film that’s both beautifully straightforward and deceptively insightful.
Run Time: 118 min
Go all the way back to the consequential summer of 1969 as Roots crew drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson brings the incomparable Harlem Cultural Festival to life with his Oscar-winning Summer Of Soul. Filled with a collection of performances from iconic musicians like Stevie Wonder and Gladys Knight, this doc doubly rewards viewers by diving into the intersection between current events and music, showcasing the power of music and an event that has been shockingly under-remembered until now.
Run Time: 76 min
The only female artist who’s had a bigger breakout than Billie Eilish is this Disney star whose catchy-as-hell breakup track, Driver’s License catapulted her to the top of the charts during a pandemic that had us all feeling a little blue. This doc shares some of the same qualities that made that song, and its accompanying music video, such a hit. There’s a barren feeling to all of the deserts and flatlands Rodrigo drives through while on her way from the recording studio where she created her debut album Sour, back home to California. There’s also a vintage, grainy filter imposed on all of the vistas she stops at along the way, performing some of the album’s biggest hits to intimate crowds and fan gatherings. It’s a vibe – and a worthy entry into the music doc space from an artist who’s just getting started.
Run Time: 105 min
Of the two stellar albums Taylor Swift dropped in 2020, Folklore was the one with the least fanfare surrounding it — a record Swift quietly unveiled that guided fans even deeper into the fantasy-like wood she’d escaped to during quarantine. And with this doc — an intimate, no-frills recording session in a rustic cabin by a lake, somewhere north of New York City – Swift doubles down on this new era of her career she’s knowingly entered into. This is a doc about Taylor Swift, the songwriter – not the pop star or tabloid target. Stripped down and raw, the doc merges some home videos of Swift recording the album years earlier with frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff and newcomer (to the Swift scene) Aaron Dessner with live performances from Swift, held in between chats that dive deep into her musical knowledge and her artistic process. It’s illuminating in the best way and Swift has never been better.
Run Time: 90 min
Before Lin Manuel-Miranda was creating Oscar-nominated bops for Disney flicks and winning Peabody awards for history-making Broadway musicals, he was just a guy on a street corner in the Heights, freestyling with his friends. This doc, which leans heavily on archival footage of Miranda and fellow Freestyle Supreme members like Thomas Kail, Christopher Jackson, and others, charts the rise of the group whose on-stage trick is to take audience suggestions and turn them into feature-length raps and bops and skits for our entertainment. There’s some incredible talent on display here as we see the group perform at fringe fests and basement cellars, but somehow, knowing the success each of these guys will one day find makes viewing their humble beginning even more exciting.
Run Time: 89 min
In 1972, Aretha Franklin gave a two-night performance of some of her biggest hits in a crowded Baptist church. Decades later, we finally get that footage. Filmed by Sydney Pollock, this is Aretha Franklin before people universally recognized her as an icon. Her voice is unparalleled, her energy infectious, her talent obvious, but this doc shows the synergy between her religious upbringing and the music she would bring to the world. It might just move you to tears.
Run Time: 100 min
Of the two Blackpink docs circulating the streaming world, this Hulu entry highlights the girl group’s undeniable stage presence, weaving concert footage from their most recent internet-breaking performance, “The Show” with older clips from when they were just beginning their reign as the queens of KPop. There’s a bit of commentary from the women as they reflect on their bond and how they’ve gotten this far, but the strongest moments are when fans get to watch them in their element, killing intricately choreographed numbers and serving up some of the best live shows we’ve seen yet.
Run Time: 105 min | IMDb: 6.5/10
The most fascinating music docs tell the stories of stars before they became them. Plenty of entries on this list fit the bill, but none do it like this hybrid film that mixes archival footage and glimpses of Madonna’s old stomping grounds in Detroit with dramatic reenactments of the artist’s earliest days in New York. The journey is gripping, from mourning her mother and hoping to escape the dreariness of her hometown, to hitting the scene in Queens during a musical rebirth when fashion and art, and street culture were colliding to form a creative environment unique enough to turn a talented former dancer into a pop music behemoth.
Run Time: 169 min
Music fans have likely heard the name Frank Zappa, but few truly understand just how unique and idiosyncratic his career truly was. This doc aims to rectify that, combing through hundreds of hours of archival footage supplied by Zappa’s estate to paint a picture of the sometimes-acclaimed, sometimes-controversial musician that we simply haven’t seen before. From his early beginnings worshipping the musical oddities to spoofing hit Beatles records to fighting American censorship, Zappa was an individual in every sense of the word, which makes charting his musical journey all the more interesting.
Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.