Dio: Dreamers Never Die And 9 Other Great Heavy Metal Documentaries


Celebrating the life and legacy of heavy metal icon Ronnie James Dio, Dio: Dreamers Never Die is a warts-and-all look at a music legend. Though heavy metal is usually looked upon as an extreme form of music, its fans are some of the most passionate, and it makes a great subject for documentary films.

From behind-the-scenes looks like Some Kind of Monster to genre-defining flicks like The Decline of Western Civilization Part II, metal and documentaries are a match made in musical heaven. Though plenty of docs have been made about metal music, only the very best had fans banging their heads in approval.


Dream Deceivers (1992)

Heavy metal has always been a target of wrath from those who blame it for society’s ills, but Dream Deceivers needled in on a specifically shocking moment in music history. The documentary recounts the trial of British rockers Judas Priest who were sued following the death of a teen, and the near-death of another supposedly linked to their lyrics.

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Satanic panic was gripping the U.S. in the mid-’80s, and metal was specifically targeted for its connection with the occult. Dream Deceivers doesn’t offer commentary on the situation but instead allows the figures involved to speak for themselves. Music censorship was a big topic in the ’90s, and the documentary was ahead of the story by several years.

Until The Light Takes Us (2008)

Like any movement, heavy metal gained a bad reputation largely thanks to the actions of a few negative individuals, and Until the Light Takes Us wasn’t afraid to pull back the curtain on those figures. With interview footage from the people who were there, the film recounts the dark early days of the Norwegian black metal scene.

With a story that involves murder, destruction, and general mayhem, the documentary is very much like some of the best heavy metal horror movies of the past. While it isn’t particularly informative about the music itself, it is a fascinating portrait of the individuals that helped to create a sub-genre of metal.

Released at the height of the hair metal era, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years captured the crest of a wave that was soon going to crash hard. Interviewing some of the biggest names in metal, the film captures the day-to-day lives of the hitmakers of the ’80s and speculates on their future in music.

Ranking highly among director Penelope Speeris’ best films, Decline Part II is more slick and polished than its predecessor. Though it has a bigger look and feel, it very much captures the same energy of fleeting youth and is practically tense with the idea that the entire scene would someday come crashing down–which it did in the early ’90s.

Super Duper Alice Cooper (2014)

The world loves a redemption story and music pioneer Alice Cooper certainly fits that lofty description to the letter. Super Duper Alice Cooper is a broad and sweeping look at the frontman from his highs, his lows, and his eventual resurgence into an elder statesman of rock and roll.

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With so many music stories ending on a tragic note, Super Duper Alice Cooper is like a beacon of hope for music’s future. The man himself is a great interview subject and his transformations over the years show he had the ability to stay relevant no matter how the industry changed. Though Cooper might be a bit too old-fashioned for modern metalheads, his importance to the genre can’t be overstated.

Having come to define the genre a bit for its garish name and harsh sounds, death metal is just one off-shoot of metal itself. Death by Metal attempted to tell the tale of the band Death from their founding in Florida in the ’80s to the tragic passing of their lead singer in the early part of the new millennium.

For such an over-the-top genre, Death by Metal is a surprisingly loving portrait of a lost comrade as commiserated by the people who knew him best. Chuck Schuldiner, the late founding member, was not a well-known man and the film helps to paint a portrait of a pioneering figure in one of metal’s most beloved corners.

Going far beyond just a metal documentary, Some Kind of Monster is one of the best films about the music industry in general. While working on their new album Saint Anger, the popular thrash metal band Metallica deal with a bevy of interpersonal issues that nearly tear them apart.

Fans were shocked to see one of the biggest music acts in history act so human, and they were granted access like never before. After years in the music business, the shine had begun to wear off for the then middle-aged performers and their conflicts were all shown on tape. Though the aforementioned album was a flop, the film is an important piece of the band’s legacy.

Music, no matter how heavy, has always been an expression of emotion for its artists and fans, and Heavy Metal in Baghdad traveled across the globe to prove that point. At the height of the military insurgence into Iraq, documentary filmmakers follow around Acrassicauda, the nations only heavy metal band.

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With danger all around, the documentary is a stunning look at the tenacity of the human spirit and the necessity of art, especially in dark times. Though the filmmaking is a bit rough around the edges, the human interest story captured within the frame should be seen by all music fans and not just metalheads.

Anvil! The Story Of Anvil (2008)

Long-lasting careers in music are rare, and even brushes with success aren’t enough to cement a permanent legacy. Anvil! The Story of Anvil follows one of heavy metals most resilient bands, the eponymous Anvil who dropped an influential album in the ’80s, but has toiled in obscurity ever since.

What seems like a simple music biography doc on the surface quickly turns into a meditation on art and what it means to be a success or failure. Anvil is a symbol for perseverance, and the movie begs the question whether art is about commercial success or personal fulfillment. Coming out of nowhere, Anvil! is now remembered as one of the best documentaries of the 2000s.

Nearly every major figure in metal’s history has had a host of documentaries made about them, but Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey tried to encapsulate the genre as a whole. Anthropologist and filmmaker Sam Dunn travels the world to explore the history of metal and get to the heart of why it is so beloved.

Unlike a clinical and scientific analysis, Dunn approaches the topic as a die-hard fan and treats the subject with appropriate care. Artists and fans alike are given equal attention, and the movie is as informative as it is heartwarming. Dunn’s conclusions aren’t vague, and the viewer comes away with a greater appreciation for one of music’s more outlandish scenes.

Dio: Dreamers Never Die (2022)

Told on a truly epic scale, Dio: Dreamers Never Die is a documentary with a scope appropriate for a towering figure in metal history. Starting from the beginning, the film tells the life story of Ronnie James Dio, a man who left an indelible mark on metal and music in general.

With a running time of over two hours, the film leaves no stone unturned in celebrating the important man. Though he has sadly been gone for over a decade, Dio’s popularity has only grown as more fans have gained access to his work. While the movie is all told in retrospect, it is the perfect summation of a metal god.

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