Not so shockingly, countless documentaries about The Beatles exist.
In turn, knowing what’s worth watching is easier said than streamed. Truly, most are pretty good, but some Beatles docs are way more worth your time than others. Plus, there’s a new project on the way in 2021–from Peter Jackson, no less–but more on that in a minute.
Here are the best of the best documentaries about The Beatles, rated.
Let It Be (1969)
4.5 Ringo Starrs
As you might’ve guessed, Let It Be documents the making of the last-ever Beatles album. While the angle is notably amicable, pay close attention.
Watching it with all we know now, signs of mounting tensions amongst the band are seemingly everywhere. And of course, those vulnerable moments make this ‘end of an era’ documentary all the more fascinating.
For many moons, copies of Let It Be were notably scarce. Much of the footage remained floating in the stratosphere for decades, but that’s all about to change. Per Deadline, Disney and Peter Jackson are working on a remastered re-release as we speak.
The Compleat Beatles (1982)
4 Ringo Starrs
If you only watch one Beatles documentary, the general consensus is often that this “hard to find” film is the one to watch. If nothing else, The Compleat Beatles is an undoubtedly solid place to start.
Directed by Patrick Montgomery, it’s an all-encompassing portrait of the group’s rise and evolution, the music, and their cultural impact. It’s also told heavily through sound bites from “in the know” interviewees. One thing that also sets this documentary apart is the footage.
While they could’ve easily opted for the bits we’ve all seen a thousand times, a lot of the material feels fresh, no matter how old it might be.
Much of the film concentrates heavily on the early days. In turn, The Compleat Beatles perhaps best captures “Beatlemania” in all of its chaotic glory. And who wouldn’t want to relive that?
Imagine: John Lennon (1988)
4.5 Ringo Starrs
Through “his own words and personal collection”, Imagine: John Lennon recounts who John Lennon was and became, how those who knew him were impacted by his death, and the Beatle’s musical influence on the world.
Above all else, it aims to show all the ways Lennon was “only human,” as he puts it.
There are interviews with people like Yoko Ono, his sons, David Bowie, first wife Cynthia Lennon, George Martin, and his personal assistant, May Ping. Not to mention, the 36-song mega-hit soundtrack is a nice touch.
If want to take a deep dive into one of the most controversial periods of Lennon’s life, I highly recommend U.S. Vs. Lennon. The film explores the political activism he became entrenched in following his departure from the band.
The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit (1991)
5 Ringo Starrs
If you’re into a documentary that best sums up what Beatlemania in America really looked like, The First U.S. Visit is for you. From their earliest performances in the U.S. to some incredibly candid interviews, you’ll see how the world saw The Beatles in the 60s.
In much of the footage, you’ll also get a keen look at how they saw themselves at that time.
This one was updated re-released in 1991, but the time capsuled footage is from the original 1964 documentary. The most notable change was the addition of their iconic performance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
George Harrison: Living In The Material World (2011)
5 Ringo Starrs
When it comes to the world’s most famous band, there was no member more mysterious (and least concerned with cultivating his public persona) than George Harrison.
As noted in The New York Times, his wife once said “When he used to be asked how he’d like to be remembered, he said, ‘I don’t care, I don’t care if I’m remembered,’ but quickly added that she didn’t believe he meant it.
Martin Scorcese’s illuminating portrait of Harrison includes previously unseen footage kept secret and sacred by the musical innovator himself. It’s also full of touching interviews with band members, family, close friends, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, and other fascinating figures he surrounded himself with.
George is a kaleidoscope and honest look at Harrisons’ raw talent, varied creative interests, evolving perspectives, and his reluctant road to stardom. And like most of these, the soundtrack is stellar.
Good Ol’ Freda (2013)
4 Ringo Starrs
The tagline for Good Ol’ Freda reads, “Behind a great band, there was a great woman.” When she was just seventeen, the self-proclaimed lifelong Beatles fan says the group needed a secretary and, boom, she landed her “dream job.”
From there, she stayed with them for ten years, becoming much more like a family member than anything else.
In turn, Freda Kelly watched the band gradually dissolve from a much closer angle than most people ever got to see. And she talks about all of it in this documentary.
Lennon Or McCartney (2014)
3.5 Ringo Starrs
Lennon or McCartney is a social experiment that attempts to settle a great debate. Over ten years, 550 artists and stars were interviewed and along the way, they were unexpectedly asked “Lennon or McCartney?”
The rules were simple: answer only with the name. But the answer was anything but.
As for the “winner,” I refuse to spoil this one, although many may call it the inexorable surprise. There also some very interesting answers and explanations from those refusing to split up The Beatles. One person says they’re like “Reeses Pieces,” and I’d tend to agree with that stance.
A few caught off-guard celebs take the easy way out and say “pass.” But that’s no fun. Obviously, what makes this singular question so compelling is how difficult it is for just about anyone to answer. So, can you?
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week (2016)
5 Ringo Starrs
Eight Days A Week was directed by Academy Award-winner Ron Howard. And if you’re more interested in “the touring years” than reliving the band’s disbandment, this is the documentary you want.
Howard has unearthed incredible concert footage from the height of Beatlemania. Frankly, I think the result is something magical. And I’m not the only one. This 2016 standout won the Grammy for Best Music Film.
You can watch it on Hulu right now.
The Beatles: Get Back (2021)
If you haven’t heard, there’s a new docu-series about this iconic band of brits on the verge of its big debut. Originally scheduled for September of last year, it’s finally coming to Disney+ in November.
The Peter Jackson project will be split into three parts, heavily recounting the making of their final album, Let it Be. Much of the never-before-seen footage is from 1969, but it’s being remastered and revisited in expansive and exciting ways. Per Variety, the highly anticipated project is set to roll out over three days, November 25, 26, and 27, 2021.
According to the official announcement, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon, and Olivia Harrison are all supportive and excited about Get Back.
The question is, are you?