7 Best Movies to Watch by Paul McCartney

Staff & contributors
Living in the Material World tells the story of one of the most influential musicians of recent history, the “quiet Beatle” George Harrison. It is, in turn, told through the eyes of one of the most prominent filmmakers of recent history, the always amazing Martin Scorsese. Famous for his feature films, Scorsese has been a champion of documentary films and an avid maker of them. Drawing on archive footage, home movies, and many newly recorded interviews, including with Paul and Ringo, Eric Clapton, Phil Spector, and Terry Gilliam, he tells the complete story – and this is to be taken quite literally – of an indeed quiet, torn, and searching human being as well as an immensely talented, inspiring, and spiritual artist. This heart-felt and intimate 3.5-hour documentary is an awe-inspiring exploration of Harrison's time with The Beatles as well as his subsequent solo career as a musician and as a philanthropist. In case you had your mind made up on who's your favorite Beatle, Scorsese might make you rethink.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Astrid Kirchherr, Billy Preston, Bob Dylan, Brian Epstein, Cynthia Lennon, Dhani Harrison, Dick Cavett, Eric Clapton, Eric Idle, George Harrison, George Martin, Jackie Stewart, Jane Birkin, Jeff Lynne, Jim Keltner, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Julian Lennon, Klaus Voormann, Linda McCartney, Louise Harrison, Mick Jagger, Neil Aspinall, Olivia Harrison, Pattie Boyd, Paul McCartney, Peter Harrison, Phil Spector, Ravi Shankar, Ray Cooper, Ringo Starr, Roy Orbison, Terry Gilliam, Tom Petty, Yoko Ono

Director: Martin Scorsese

Rating: Not Rated

, 2023

For a short while in the ‘80s, the pop scene benefited from the sheer musical joy created by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, known together as Wham! With confectionary hits like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Last Christmas,” the  British duo sang about the escapism that a generation desperately sought out. Their songs were dismissed by pundits as shallow (“How can the country be in love with these two idiots?”), but as young people flocked to their concerts in droves, it was clear that Wham! struck a chord with the worn-out youth. 

They were no Beatles or Bowie, not heavyweight enough to make a lasting impression in our collective pop culture memory, but theirs is a story rich with meaningful lessons. Wham!, the film, is as much about the personal lives of the duo as it is about the difficulty of making it as independent artists; about the saving grace of music; and about the importance of authenticity. 

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Andrew Ridgeley, Aretha Franklin, Bono, Boy George, David Bowie, Elton John, Freddie Mercury, George Michael, Helen DeMacque, Jerry Wexler, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Sting, Terry Wogan, Tony Hadley

Director: Chris Smith

Rating: NR

Contrary to the headline displayed on this film’s poster, Disney’s The Beach Boys isn’t a definitive guide to the band. Instead, it plays like a “greatest hits” album that goes through their famous ups and downs. Their steady rise among American teens and leader Brian Wilson’s pop music innovations are covered, as are the more dour moments of their career, like the relentless abuse they got from their manager (the Wilsons’ father Murry) and the disagreements between Brian and his cousin and co-writer Mike Love. But for better or worse, the documentary doesn’t go into too much detail about these high-profile feuds, focusing instead on the joy and brilliance of their era-defining music, which tends to get buried beneath all the drama anyway. Because of this sunny approach, the film sometimes fails to match the band’s complexity. But there’s no denying that it's just as enjoyable to watch as it is to listen to The Beach Boys' music.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin, Brian Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Carl Wilson, Charles Manson, Chuck Berry, David Marks, Dennis Wilson, Don Was, George Harrison, Glen Campbell, Janelle Monáe, John Lennon, Lindsey Buckingham, Mike Love, Paul McCartney, Ricky Fataar, Ringo Starr, Ryan Tedder

Director: Frank Marshall, Thom Zimny

Rating: PG-13

With nearly a century to cover, If These Walls Could Sing had the daunting task of giving justice to the history of the iconic Abbey Roads Studios. In 89 minutes, Mary McCartney outlines the studio’s history through archival footage and a stacked selection of artist interviews, popping only in random moments to organize the timeline. With the wide selection of artists, the film can feel scattered, as it jumps from classical music, to rock and roll, and to film scoring. The documentary doesn’t really go in-depth into how the studio developed its sound, but there are some interesting insights into certain tracks, like how the studio approached contracts, experimentation, different genres, and technology. While the film relies too much on nostalgia, it’s still an interesting tour based on the subject matter alone.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Cilla Black, Cliff Richard, David Gilmour, Elton John, George Harrison, George Lucas, George Martin, Jimmy Page, John Legend, John Lennon, John Williams, Kanye West, Kate Bush, Liam Gallagher, Linda McCartney, Mary McCartney, Nile Rodgers, Noel Gallagher, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Roger Waters

Director: Mary McCartney

Hipgnosis’s body of work is so rich, brilliant, and recognizable, that it’s hard not to at least sit in awe as they flash by you in this documentary. The accompanying stories behind their creation, sometimes told by Thorgerson and Powell, other times by their musician clients like Jimmy Page and Paul McCartney, are also pleasant and informative enough to paint, in whole, an interesting picture. But apart from the covers themselves, Squaring the Circle doesn’t have much else going for it. The co-founders’ history is too brief and plain to render drama, and their upbringing too upper-class and male to be relatable. A more broad, ambitious goal would’ve been to parallel the history of these artworks with the history of rock music itself, but this niche documentary seems uninterested in explaining itself to outsiders and newcomers. That said, it still serves as a precious account for those familiar with Hipgnosis’ pieces. 

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: David Gilmour, Glen Matlock, Graham Gouldman, Jimmy Page, Nick Mason, Noel Gallagher, Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Peter Saville, Robert Plant, Roger Waters

Director: Anton Corbijn

Composed of archival footage of the titular musical legend and testimonials from those who worked with him or whose lives were profoundly impacted by his courage, Little Richard: I Am Everything feels comprehensive but is also oddly lacking. The documentary makes a bold, confident claim: that all popular music today can be directly traced to his work. And when the film lets itself get into full music nerd mode, it's easy to be convinced. But after you accept that perspective on Little Richard, the rest of the movie seems like it's just spinning its wheels, covering key moments in the artist's life and career without really challenging or substantiating long-held ideas about him.

Chief among these is Little Richard's shifting feelings toward his own queerness—proudly expressing his true self one year, then openly denouncing his own homosexuality the next. This subject matter is ripe for difficult but insightful analysis, which the film just never gets around to. It begins to feel like the believes there is no more discussion to be had about him. And that may very well be true; he deserves the flowers that were denied him for so long. But this attitude doesn't necessarily make for the best documentary.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Alan Freed, Billy Porter, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, John Waters, Little Richard, Mick Jagger, Nile Rodgers, Nona Hendryx, Pat Boone, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Valerie June

Director: Lisa Cortés