Every Metallica live film ranked from worst to best

Metallica’s James Hetfield surrounded by a montage of Metallica live film posters
(Image credit: John Atashian/Getty Images)

It’s been just over four decades since Metallica set off on their first full national tour of the US – 1983’s Kill 'Em All For One tour supporting British metallers Raven. In that time they’ve played thousands of shows worldwide, becoming the first band to perform on all seven continents (with a 2013 show at an Antarctic research base dubbed Freeze ‘Em All completing the set) in the process.

As the thrash progenitors evolved into the biggest metal band on the planet, they captured quite a few of their increasingly epic tours and shows for posterity. These days you can access dozens of official streams of ‘Tallica shows from many different eras and locations, but they also put out a number of standalone live films on formats ranging from VHS and DVD to downloads and even theatrical releases at the cinema.

Here are Metallica’s 10 officially released live films ranked in order from worst to best…

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10. Metallica: Through The Never (2013)

Through The Never gets top marks for ambition but a C- for execution. On paper, the idea of the world’s biggest metal band putting together a hybridised movie-cum-concert film that was their version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall sounded pretty cool. The movie part didn’t have enough substance to hold the whole thing together, however, and the concert footage couldn’t stand on its own merits surrounded by those surreal passages. James Hetfield would later tell Metallica fanclub magazine So What!: “It was not so much a concert film, not so much an action drama, it was somewhere in the middle. It just fell right down the crevasse.”

9. Orgullo, Pasión, y Gloria: Tres Noches en la Ciudad de México (2009)

For some reason, Metallica started spewing live DVDs left, right and centre during the Death Magnetic era. Four of the 10 releases in this list are from that touring cycle and while this three-night set from Mexico City was originally released only in Latin America, it was never like fans from elsewhere were never going to get their hands on it. The shows are great and the footage is well recorded, but it also has non-essential interview and behind-the-scenes footage scattered through the songs, which really breaks the immersion. Try a visit to Canada or France instead.

8. Quebec Magnetic (2012)

Shot over two nights in 2009, this is another snapshot of the World Magnetic Tour that does everything you’d expect it to. Shot in the round at the Colisée Pepsi in Quebec City, it captured the band at the height of what was seen by many at the time as a return to form, following the divisive St. Anger and Load/Reload eras. It certainly helps if you like Death Magnetic. More than a third of the tracks on night shown in full are culled from the album, which does date the whole shebang to that period.

7. S&M2 (2020)

In many ways, S&M2 was bigger, grander and more accomplished than the original. Teaming up once again with the San Francisco Symphony, the shows themselves took place at the then newly opened Chase Center in San Francisco to mark the 20th anniversary of the original S&M shows, album and film. As well as taking the concept from the theatre to the arena, S&M2 became the highest-grossing rock cinema event in history. You only get one chance to make the sort of impact that S&M had in 1999 though, and by 2019 loads of bands had repeated the format at various scales. The fact that many of the songs on S&M reappeared on S&M2 made it feel very much like the sequel it was.

6. Francais Pour Une Nuit (2009)

This is essentially the French version of Orgullo, Pasión, y Gloria; made in France, by French filmmakers, for a French audience but subsequently available elsewhere. The offstage shenanigans are gathered outside the actual show, however, which took place on 7 July 2009 in the Arena of Nîmes. The 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheatre has to be one of the most jaw-droppingly spectacular venues Metallica (or, for that matter, anyone) has ever played, lending an extra sense of grandeur to the show and subsequent film.

5. Cunning Stunts (1998)

Filmed in May 1997, shortly before the release of Reload, Cunning Stunts sits squarely in Metallica’s most divisive period. Even if you hated Load though – and with hindsight there’s a lot to like about the album - the cherry-picked tracks still sound great live. Cutting Master Of Puppets short and condensing six tracks from the first two albums into a medley might seem heretical but the setlist is generally a banger. It also features perhaps the band’s most cunning stunt of any tour when, during Enter Sandman they set a roadie on fire and collapsed the stage around themselves. In the internet’s infancy they even managed to keep the routine a relative secret and the shenanigans remain entertaining today.

4. The Big 4: Live From Sofia, Bulgaria (2010)

The final and finest entry in the series of Death Magnetic era is not a Metallica film per se, although they certainly get star billing. It took until 2010 for the Big 4 of thrash metal – Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax – to play a show together. The first was actually in Poland a week before they hit the Bulgarian capital. That show was transmitted via satellite to hundreds of cinemas across Europe and the Americas and later released in the usual formats. Each band played a blistering set, with Metallica’s headliner taking twice the runtime of anyone else’s. It was more of a greatest hits set than the other World Magnetic entries and also featured the historic jam with members of all four bands on the cover of Diamond Head’s Am I Evil?

3. Cliff ’Em All (1987)

Nearly four decades after his death in 1986, bassist Cliff Burton remains a revered former member and an absolutely key element of Metallica’s early success. This retrospective collection was released a year after he passed and features a hodgepodge of fan-submitted bootleg and professionally filmed footage. Some of it is consequently very ropey in terms of both visual and audio quality but that also helps capture some of the raw energy of the band’s early years. There’s also a focus on Burton and his solos/bass-led instrumentals, making it a beautifully imperfect tribute.

2. S&M (1999)

These days, the  world and its dog has played shows with live symphony orchestras, with results including the good (Within Temptation, Katatonia), the bad (Kiss, Yngwie Malmsteen) and the ugly (Dimmu Borgir). But when The Ecstasy of Gold ushered in Metallica’s original grand experiment in 1999, we really had seen nothing like it. Deep Purple, Procol Harum and a handful of others had done similar things but never on such a scale and not from the metal end of the rock spectrum. The project was actually the brainchild of composer and conductor Michael Kamen, who imbued the band’s already epic songs with new layers of complexity and grandiloquence. It was also a total success for the band, proving once and for all that Metallica marched to no one’s beat but their own.

1. Live Shit: Binge & Purge (1993)

The ultimate live box set, Live Shit: Binge & Purge pulled together numerous shows from the late 80s and early 90s. And, as such, it captures Metallica flexing their muscles at the very peak of their powers. The audio album is the latest chronologically, recorded over five nights in Mexico City on the Nowhere Else To Roam tour in 1993. It’s the film footage we’re interested in here though and that stems from the Damaged Justice tour in Seattle from 1989 and San Diego on Wherever We May Roam in 1992. This period marked the transition when Metallica went from being the leaders of a limiting thrash metal scene to absolute glove-straddling behemoths who could do pretty much anything they wanted.

Paul Travers has spent the best part of three decades writing about punk rock, heavy metal, and every associated sub-genre for the UK's biggest rock magazines, including Kerrang! and Metal Hammer