Ten of the greatest concert films – from Taylor Swift to Elvis Presley

These on-screen versions capture the energy and intimacy of the live performances

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Taylor Swift is a box-office success on stage and screen.

With her Eras Tour, which has a projected economic effect in the US of more than $5 billion, the subsequent film based on the tour has already become the highest-grossing concert movie in the US with more than $120 million collected from the box office since its October 13 release.

While the success can be attributed to her passionate fanbase, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour has been praised by film critics for capturing the energy and spectacle of her live performances.

The film also shines a spotlight on the pop concert film, a genre stretching over six decades and which captures artists at their prime and salient periods in the history of pop culture.

In chronological order, here are 10 diverse titles that best represent the excitement and dynamism of the concert film.

1. Tami Show, various artists (1964)

Considered a pop-culture curiosity, the Tami Show is one of the earliest rock concert films.

An acronym for Teenage Awards Music International and shot at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in the US, the recording was viewed as revolutionary for its use of Electronvision, a technology that was a precursor for high-definition television.

Featuring rollicking performances by James Brown, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Marvin Gaye, the film is preserved by the United States Library of Congress because it is considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant".

2. Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones (1969)

A harrowing experience is not what normally comes to mind when watching a concert film. Yet this is precisely what makes Gimme Shelter a cultural milestone.

With The Rolling Stones' commercial success, filmmakers Albert and David Maysles got more than they bargained for when shooting the notorious and ultimately tragic Altamont Free Concert in the US.

While the band delivered on stage, the show was marred by violence due to woeful security measures.

As well as providing a glimpse of a turbulent era in the US in the grips of the counterculture movement, Gimme Shelter is also an example of how not to run a large-scale show.

3. Elvis: That's the Way It Is, Elvis Presley (1970)

After starring in a series of successful yet ultimately fluffy films, Elvis Presley reminded fans he is more in his element on the big stage than the big screen.

In addition to the bravura greatest hits concert shot in Las Vegas, what makes the film really sing is the backstage access to Presley.

Featuring rehearsal footage of his interactions with backing band and back-up singers, we understand that behind that sunny demeanour lies a serious and respectful musician dedicated to his craft.

A less superior version was re-released in 2001, omitting the documentary footage in favour of more concert material.

4. Stop Making Sense, Talking Heads (1984)

A reason why this concert film is considered a classic is because it manages the rare feat of capturing the crackling energy of its subject, American rock band Talking Heads.

Directed by Academy Award winner Jonathon Demme, Stop Making Sense showcases the beauty, wit and sheer weirdness that made the group so influential.

From the dazzling stage design and the oversized suit worn by singer David Byrne during his pulsating rendition of Girl Friend is Better, to the pitch-perfect setlist, Stop Making Sense allows viewers at home to feel some of the same energy and rush of a brilliant live performance.

5. Sign O’ the Times, Prince (1987)

Initially planned as a concert film shot during two gigs in the Netherlands, Prince scrapped the idea due to the poor-quality footage and sound captured.

Not letting all that work go to waste, however, he decamped with the band and camera crew to his home studio in the US to re-shoot the live musical performances before editing them with the existing shots of the Dutch audience.

So, should this be described as a concert film, or a home recording? Arguably, it doesn't matter when the music – including hits Little Red Corvette and If I Was Your Girlfriend – is top notch.

6. Nirvana's MTV Unplugged (1994)

Spellbinding and heart-breaking, MTV Unplugged was released seven months after singer Kurt Cobain died.

Judging by this acoustic set full of lesser-known tracks and covers of David Bowie and The Vaselines, the film hinted that Nirvana were on the cusp of a new creative breakthrough.

As well as picking up Nirvana's only Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Performance, the band's MTV Unplugged in New York influenced bands such as Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots to embrace a stripped-down approach to their work.

7. Dave Chappelle's Block Party, various artists (2005)

With the exception of 2000’s Up in Smoke Tour featuring Dr Dre and Eminem, fine hip-hop concert films were hard to find until this gem arrived five years later.

Directed by auteur Michel Gondry, the film not only features performances by seminal hip-hop artists – Big Daddy Kayne, The Roots, Common and Black Star – but also celebrates the genre's beginnings as house and block parties in New York.

With comedian Dave Chappelle the host, the film is a testament to hip-hop's ability to bring diverse communities together.

8. U2 3D (2007)

U2 pushed the concert envelope long before their opening concert at Las Vegas's new state-of-the-art venue, The Sphere, in September.

While the latest residency has them playing in a spherical stage made entirely from LED lights, in 2008 they were the first rock band to record a concert film using 3D cameras.

Released in Imax, fans wore 3D glasses and savoured the sight of singer Bono occasionally reaching out of the screen while belting out hits including Vertigo, Beautiful Day and One.

U2 3D laid the seeds for a slew of other artists to release 3D concert films including Katy Perry, One Direction, Justin Bieber and Metallica.

9. Homecoming, Beyonce (2019)

Beyonce proves that behind every great performance lies countless hours of rehearsals.

To celebrate becoming the first black woman to headline Coachella, Beyonce: Homecoming shows the gruelling process undertaken by Beyonce to grace that stage after the birth of twins Rumi and Sir Carter.

With everything from the star's strict nutrition and wearing her dancers out with 15-hour rehearsal sessions, the film shows Beyonce overseeing everything from the stage design and the choice of costumes.

The end result is not only one of Coachella’s most memorable performances, but also shows Beyonce as one of the hardest-working artists in show business.

10. Summer of Soul, various artists (2021)

A joyous film about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, also known as the "black Woodstock".

Summer of Soul features rarely seen footage from the event, headlined by a dream line-up of superstars including Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Sly and the Family Stone.

Interspersed with the concert footage are interviews with audience members, as well as historians and cultural commentators about the festival’s significance. The film echoes some of today's discussions in the US surrounding race and equality.

Updated: November 03, 2023, 6:38 PM