Special Report

Greatest Concert Films of All Time

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Half a million people traveled to Bethel, New York, on August 15, 1969, to attend the legendary Woodstock Music Festival. The event was ground zero for the “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” counterculture of the 1960s. It endures as a widely discussed cultural touchstone to this day.

Part of the reason Woodstock is so widely remembered is because the event was documented extensively. The most well-known record of the concert is likely the 1970 documentary “Woodstock.”

The film not only captures a large chunk of the music performed at the festival — including Jimi Hendrix’s famous rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” — but also the atmosphere of the event as it takes an intimate look at the behavior and attitudes of performers and attendees. Movie critic Roger Ebert called it “a beautiful, moving, ultimately great film.”

Ironically, the festival also inspired another, terrible film. These are the worst movies based on true events.

As the 50th anniversary of the most famous “3 days of peace and music” (as it was marketed) in American history draws near , 24/7 Tempo has identified the greatest concert films of all time.

Concert films can vary greatly in their approach. Some rely heavily on interviews with musicians, while others focus on the behind-the-scenes aspects of a live performance. Some even incorporate a fictional narrative. Involvement of an exceptionally popular rock act helps, even if all of the most popular rock bands of all time are not all featured here. All of the greatest concert films have one thing in common, however: a magnificent musical performance at their core.

Click here to see the greatest concert films of all time.

To determine the greatest concert films of all time, 24/7 Tempo ranked feature-length films that prominently feature live footage from a singular concert, festival, or tour. For each movie, we considered the Rotten Tomatoes average critic rating, Rotten Tomatoes average audience rating, and IMDb average user rating. We averaged the user ratings from Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb and weighted by the number of votes for each. The combined user rating was then averaged with the Rotten Tomatoes critics rating. To be considered, each film needed to have at least 10 critic ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and at least 1,000 user ratings on IMDb.

Source: Courtesy of Picturehouse

20. Metallica Through the Never (2013)
> Musicians: Metallica
> Directed by: Nimród Antal
> Runtime: 93 minutes

This visually imaginative concert film combines a powerful live performance by heavy metal band Metallica with a fictional, apocalyptic storyline. The movie was released in nearly 600 theaters in the U.S. and was screened in both 3-D and IMAX.

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Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

19. The Song Remains the Same (1976)
> Musicians: Led Zeppelin
> Directed by: Peter Clifton, Joe Massot
> Runtime: 137 minutes

The documentary takes its title from a Led Zeppelin song by the same name. The film combines concert footage of one of rock’s greatest heavy metal bands with hazy interviews with band members Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham. There is also an odd and confusing sequence featuring manager Peter Grant dressed as a gangster pulling up to a house and discharging a machine gun. Zep fans gave the film an 88% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and critics awarded “The Song Remains the Same” a Freshness score of 77%.

Source: Courtesy of Oscilloscope

18. Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012)
> Musicians: LCD Soundsystem
> Directed by: Will Lovelace, Dylan Southern
> Runtime: 108 minutes

“Shut Up and Play the Hits” presents a detailed portrait of James Murphy — the man behind electro indie act LCD Soundsystem — as the group prepares for and performs its final show at Madison Square Garden. The resulting film is moving and jubilant and, of course, features a spectacular live performance.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Classics

17. Shine a Light (2008)
> Musicians: The Rolling Stones
> Directed by: Martin Scorsese
> Runtime: 122 minutes

Martin Scorsese has a history of including music by The Rolling Stones in his films, including “Mean Streets” (1973), “Goodfellas” (1990), and “Casino” (1995). The director took their relationship to the next level in 2008 with his concert film “Shine a Light,” which captured the band performing at New York City’s Beacon Theatre. The Stones were reportedly hesitant to do another concert film, but they agreed due to Scorsese’s involvement.

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Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

16. This Is It (2009)
> Musicians: Michael Jackson
> Directed by: Kenny Ortega
> Runtime: 111 minutes

“This Is It” is the rare concert film that does not actually feature a concert. The movie portrays the King of Pop Michael Jackson as he rehearses for a series of concerts in London called “This Is It.” Jackson passed away before the show ever opened, however, leaving these tapes as a record of his final performances.

Source: Courtesy of Shadow Distribution

15. Air Guitar Nation (2006)
> Musicians: Various
> Directed by: Alexandra Lipsitz
> Runtime: 81 minutes

The concert at the center of “Air Guitar Nation” may not be every music fan’s cup of tea: the first annual U.S. Air Guitar Championship. While instruments may be missing from the stage, this documentary features the type of passionate performances that fans of live music generally love. It also won the audience award at SXSW in 2006 for best music film.

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Source: Courtesy of Rogue Pictures

14. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (2005)
> Musicians: Kanye West, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, others
> Directed by: Michel Gondry
> Runtime: 103 minutes

“Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” follows the comedian as he sets up a star-studded block party in Brooklyn. The concert features numerous performers, including Kanye West, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Common, Dead Prez, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, the Roots, Cody Chesnutt, Big Daddy Kane, and the Fugees. The vast majority of critics liked the movie, giving it a Freshness score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of Cineplex-Odeon Films

13. Sign ‘o’ the Times (1987)
> Musicians: Prince
> Directed by: Prince, Albert Magnoli
> Runtime: 85 minutes

Prince was no stranger to the silver screen when “Sign ‘o’ the Times” was released, having starred in “Purple Rain” three years prior. This movie combines footage from shows in Minnesota and the Netherlands’ Rotterdam, in addition to short films starring the musician. It currently holds a 92% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Vantage

12. Neil Young: Heart of Gold (2006)
> Musicians: Neil Young
> Directed by: Jonathan Demme
> Runtime: 103 minutes

“Neil Young: Heart of Gold” was shot over a two-night performance at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium. “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) director Jonathan Demme shot the film, managing to create a great concert film as well as “a meditation on mortality,” as described by Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus.

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Source: Courtesy of Artisan Entertainment

11. Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
> Musicians: Various
> Directed by: Wim Wenders
> Runtime: 105 minutes

“Buena Vista Social Club” is an impactful tribute to Cuban music performed by various musicians, some in their 90s, who became famous in the pre-Castro era. The film includes concert footage from shows in Amsterdam and Carnegie Hall in New York City. Performers include Ry & Joachim Cooder, Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzales, Eliades Ochoa, and many other distinguished Cuban musicians, who were interviewed about their lives on the island nation. Critics and audiences both gave the movie 90% or better approval scores on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of First Independent Pictures

10. New York Doll (2005)
> Musicians: The New York Dolls
> Directed by: Greg Whiteley
> Runtime: 75 minutes

This documentary follows musician, recovering alcoholic, and converted Mormon Arthur Kane as he reunites with his former band — influential glam outfit New York Dolls. The movie culminates in a moving New York Dolls reunion in London.

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Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

9. The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights (2009)
> Musicians: The White Stripes
> Directed by: Emmett Malloy
> Runtime: 93 minutes

This 2009 film follows rock duo The White Stripes on their 2007 tour across Canada, including a number of smaller performances at offbeat locales. In addition to filming striking live footage, director Emmett Malloy captures numerous soft, special moments between bandmates Jack and Meg White, making this an exceptional documentary.

Source: Courtesy of THINKFilm

8. Festival Express (2003)
> Musicians: Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Band, others
> Directed by: Bob Smeaton, Frank Cvitanovich
> Runtime: 90 minutes

“Festival Express” is a documentary about a Canadian “train tour” that took place one year after Woodstock. Performers include The Band, The Grateful Dead, Ian & Sylvia, Janis Joplin, and Buddy Guy. While the documentary wasn’t made until 2003, its original footage from 1970 makes the film a gem for fans of classic rock.

Source: Courtesy of National Geographic Entertainment

7. U2 3D (2007)
> Musicians: U2
> Directed by: Catherine Owens, Mark Pellington
> Runtime: 85 minutes

The Irish band’s “Vertigo” tour was chronicled by directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington. They shot seven different performances of the group and used the greatest number of 3-D cameras ever utilized for a concert project. Rotten Tomatoes acknowledged the technological importance of the film, with critics giving it a 92% Freshness score, and 93% of audiences liked it.

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Source: Courtesy of Cinema 5 Distributing

6. Gimme Shelter (1970)
> Musicians: The Rolling Stones
> Directed by: Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin
> Runtime: 91 minutes

“Gimme Shelter” documents the Rolling Stones’ 1969 U.S. concert tour, a time when the bad boys of rock were performing songs with dark themes, such as “Gimme Shelter” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” The film culminates with the horrific stabbing death of a young man during a free concert at California’s Altamont Speedway, killed by a group of Hell’s Angels hired for security. The film seemed to sum up the anarchy of the counterculture and was a violent counterpoint to the peacefulness of the concert documentary “Woodstock.” It scored 100% Freshness among critics on Rotten Tomatoes. As a footnote, future Star Wars director George Lucas operated a camera for “Gimme Shelter.”

Source: Courtesy of Pennebaker Films

5. Don’t Look Back (1967)
> Musicians: Bob Dylan, others
> Directed by: D.A. Pennebaker
> Runtime: 96 minutes

D.A. Pennebaker made his name filming documentaries, among them some of the greatest rock and roll chronicles. Long before there was MTV, he shot the famous clip of folk legend Bob Dylan holding up cue cards with the lyrics to his stream-of-consciousness icon “Subterranean Homesick Blues” that opens “Don’t Look Back.” Beat generation poet Allen Ginsburg is also in the movie, which chronicled Dylan’s tour in the United Kingdom in 1966. The Library of Congress added “Don’t Look Back” to its National Film Registry in 1998. Pennebaker won an honorary Oscar in 2013 and passed away earlier this year at 94.

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Source: Courtesy of United Artists

4. The Last Waltz (1978)
> Musicians: The Band, others
> Directed by: Martin Scorsese
> Runtime: 117 minutes

“The Last Waltz,” directed by Martin Scorsese (who also helped edit the movie “Woodstock”), chronicles the farewell performance by Canadian-American rockers The Band at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. Performing with the folk-rock icons were some of music’s greatest artists, including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell, to name but a few. Many consider “The Last Waltz” the greatest rock movie ever made. You won’t get much disagreement from critics at Rotten Tomatoes, who gave the movie a 98% Freshness score.

Source: Courtesy of Leacock-Pennebaker

3. Monterey Pop (1968)
> Musicians: Various
> Directed by: D.A. Pennebaker
> Runtime: 78 minutes

Before Woodstock there was Monterey Pop, a three-day concert held at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California, during the summer of love in 1967. D.A. Pennebaker, who already had become famous for his rock documentary “Don’t Look Back,” shot this event, which featured acts such as Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, and Eric Burdon and the Animals. Two of rock’s iconic images — The Who’s Pete Townshend smashing his guitar and Jimi Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire — were captured on film. “Monterey Pop” received a 100% Freshness score from critics, and 90% of audiences liked the film.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

2. Woodstock (1970)
> Musicians: Various
> Directed by: Michael Wadleigh
> Runtime: 184 minutes

Clocking in at over three hours in length, “Woodstock” features extensive concert footage from musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Joe Cocker, Santana, Sly and The Family Stone, and Jefferson Airplane, who woke up concert goers with an 8 a.m. performance. The documentary is of such cultural importance that it was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1996. Critics and audiences both agree the film is something special, bestowing upon it 100% and 92% positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively.

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Source: Courtesy of Cinecom Pictures

1. Stop Making Sense (1984)
> Musicians: Talking Heads
> Directed by: Jonathan Demme
> Runtime: 88 minutes

Jonathan Demme — who also directed the concert film “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” (2006) — captured the best of the genre with this 1984 classic. The movie captures a fantastic performance by the Talking Heads, who are brimming with energy throughout. Choice songs include “Psycho Killer,” “Burnin’ Down the House,” and “Once in a Lifetime.” The always-artistic David Byrne — the group’s frontman — also introduces a variety of memorable stage props, including a boombox, lamp, and giant suits.

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