44 of the best documentaries you need to watch

Initially enjoying the company, Muratova slowly grows weary of their disturbing behaviour as they threaten how she cares for her bees. Honeyland is a portrait of the commodification of honey, climate change, familial love and so much more. Stripped of interviews and voiceovers, Honeyland doesn’t feel like a typical documentary, instead it’s an intimate observation of somebody’s very real, very careful harmonious life with character. Rent it on Amazon

Seven Worlds, One Planet


Attenborough is back. The latest environmental epic from the BBC’s Natural History Unit was filmed over 1,794 days, with 91 shoots taking place across 41 different countries. But already that doesn’t quite do justice to the sheer extent of this landmark documentary. As the title indicates, this seven-episode series focuses on Earth’s seven continents. The first episode focuses on Antarctica, diving below the sea ice to show a thriving, beautiful world. Watch it on iPlayer

The Wolfpack

Dan Martensen/Magnolia Pictures

Confined to a cramped New York apartment for their complete lives, The Wolfpack follows six brothers whose only connection to the outside world were the films their father brought home for them to watch. Cut off from the city outside their front door, the brothers escape their stifling ecosystem by re-enacting scenes from their favourite films with painstaking detail. But when one of the brothers defies their father’s strict instructions to keep inside, the brothers’ world slowly starts to open up in front of them. Rent it on Amazon


Crumb follows the famous counterculture comic book artist Robert Crumb – creator of Fritz the Cat – focusing on his influences, including his sexual life and strange family. Both his brothers struggled with mental illness and both are artists. Maxon is a sex offender who sits on a bed of nails and practices celibacy because, he says, sex triggers epileptic seizures, while Charles committed suicide after the documentary was finished. The overriding theme is clear: how thin is the line between genius and madness? You can watch it on YouTube

8 Days: to the Moon and Back

BBC Studios

This is the story of the Moon landing, but told in a completely new way. produced by the BBC, 8 Days: to the Moon and Back uses original declassified audio from Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins as they made their trip to the Moon. In the recreation, which is a technically a “characterize drama” but has enough realism to count as a documentary for this list, actors were filmed lip-synching the actual words that were said. The consequence? It’s a triumph and probably the closest we’ll ever get to recreating that fateful mission. Watch it on BBC iPlayer


Getty Images

The latest documentary from Asif Kapadia is the third instalment in a loose trilogy – concerned with child genius and the crushing weight of fame – that includes the much-lauded Senna and Amy. Although the life of the prodigious but controversial Argentinian footballer will be familiar to most, Kapadia focuses on Maradona’s seven seasons at the Italian club Napoli during the 1980s. famous as a demigod and the club’s saviour upon his arrival, the documentary follows Maradona as he finds himself buffeted by the tribalist football of mid-eighties Italy and the influence of organised crime in Naples. Maradona emerges as a sometimes charming, sometimes incomprehensible, figure forced to build a larger-than-life persona as a way of coping with the near-impossible pressures he faced on and off the pitch. Watch it on Amazon chief

Leaving Neverland

A hard-hitting and controversial documentary, which spotlights two men – Wade Robson and James Safechuck – speaking out about the sexual abuse they endured as young boys befriended by singer Michael Jackson. In a series of interviews with the alleged victims, in addition as their mothers, wives and siblings, the 4-hour long film gives a wider view of the abuse and the aftermath that followed. Watch both parts on All 4.

Mothers on the Edge

Louis Theroux’s latest film for the BBC turns the lens on women experiencing with mental illness brought on by childbirth. In the UK, one in five new mothers experience some form of mental health problem – including depression, anxiety and psychosis – in the weeks and months after giving birth, many for the first time in their lives. In this hour-long special, Theroux follows three patients at two specialist psychiatric units, where they live alongside their babies while receiving treatment, and recovering at home with their families. Watch it on iPlayer now.

The Act of Killing

Joshua Oppenheimer’s startling documentary is about the Indonesian genocide of 1965-6 where an estimated million people were slaughtered by so-called ‘death squads’ in the wake of a failed coup. Unusually – and slightly controversially – the film closely follows the life of Anwar Congo, the leader of one of the country’s most powerful death squads who, at the time of filming, was nevertheless influential in Indonesian politics. Throughout, Oppenheimer asks Congo to recount the killings – many of which he personally perpetrated – and gives him free reign to turn them into films, which results in bizarre gangster, Western and musical scenes. Watch it on Amazon chief now.

Where Dreams Go To Die

The Ginger Runner

By now, you’ve possibly seen the The Barkley Marathons documentary on Netflix. The race is a 100-mile (ish) ultramarathon by the hills of Frozen Head State Park, Tennessee, that only a handful of people have ever finished. Where Dreams Go To Die follows the attempt(s) of runner Gary Robbins to cross the finish line inside 60 hours. It goes behind the scenes of Robbins’ intense training and gives a gritty account of his desire to cross the line. Watch it on YouTube.

Blue Planet

Eucalyp; Dávid Gladiš

Blue Planet and its sequel, Blue Planet II, are David Attenborough at his best. The broadcaster and film production crews analyze all of the world’s marine features, diving to the deepest points on the planet and looking at how water has impacted the metropolitan cities millions of people reside in. Other episodes include an exploration of our frozen (and melting) seas, coral reefs, plus how animals hunt. Watch series one and series two on the BBC’s iPlayer.

Art and Craft

Art forgery is a lucrative game, but the chances of getting caught have shot up with new technology, better databases and growing skill. Mark Landis, a prolific art forger, was caught donating his forgeries to museums across the US, and one determined registrar had set out to catch him. complete of tiny twists and turns, at once easygoing and exacting, Art and Craft is a powerful look at what we call art, in addition as the life of Landis, who morphs into an doubtful protagonist. However, it’s hard to come away feeling like you know the whole story, and odds are you’ll fall down a rabbit hole of Googling after you’ve finished the documentary. obtainable on Amazon chief

Welcome to Leith

Sundial Pictures

With a population of just 16 people, you couldn’t find many quieter towns than Leith, North Dakota. That was until the neo-Nazis moved in, buying up plots all over the place and trying to turn the sleepy town into a haven for white nationalists. Welcome to Leith follows what happens when an insular town is torn apart by one hateful man determined to carve out an ideological community in a deeply impoverished corner of America. Watch it on Amazon chief with a BFI Player subscription.

Real Scenes: London

The Queen Elizabeth Tower clock being cleanedGetty Images / Oli Scarff

Although Resident Advisor may be better known for its music reviews, it often produces dramatically documentaries that analyze emerging issues in music. This documentary, focusing on the music scene in London, examines the pressures of sanitisation, gentrification and rising prices within the creative industries. It takes a look at some of the campaign around saving Fabric, the superclub hit by drug-related scandals in 2016, and interviews figures from all over the industry, from DJ’s , to producers and financiers behind some of the most well known clubs and venues in the city. It offers a glimpse into how one of the world’s largest music scenes has found itself in such turmoil, and demonstrates what it has to lose. Watch it on YouTube.

My Kid Could Paint That

recondite art is often met with the shared refrain, my kid could paint that, and when 4-year-old Marie Olmstead’s paint splattered canvases were hailed by critics as prodigious masterpieces, some critics in the art world weren’t thoroughly convinced. This documentary follows the journey her parents underwent after a Channel 4 broadcast accused them of fraud, and what steps they took to try and prove that they were telling the truth. One of the best scenes comes towards the end, when an art collector sizes up what Marie Olmsted paintings are worthy of being bought. in spite of of whether you’re convinced of the toddler’s artistic abilities or not, it’s a fascinating look at what lengths people can go to for their families, in addition as the consequences of one too many white lies. obtainable to rent on Amazon Video.



Citizenfour documents the NSA spying scandal of 2014, concerning Edward Snowden’s leak of classified documents around the US’s secret surveillance agency, in real time. Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker, had been examining the use of monitoring systems in the US post 9/11, and received an email from someone called “Citizenfour” who thought they would be able to help. Citizenfour turned out to be Snowden. The documentary covers the initial meetings between Poitras, Snowden and The Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald and Ewan McAskill, in addition as the aftermath of the media coverage, and what happened next to all the people involved. Citizenfour is a stark look at one of the most controversial news stories of recent years, in addition as the consequences for anyone caught in the net. Watch it on YouTube and Google Play

Louis Theroux’s changed States


Twenty years since Louis Theroux awkwardly appeared on our screens with the sublime Weird Weekends, the documentarian is back with a three-part series exploring the changing ways we raise children, how we love and how we die. In the first episode, Theroux explores polyamorous relationships and the tensions and opportunities they create. Next, he meets people who have chosen to take their own lives either by lethal, but legally prescribed, overdoses, or with the help of a group that provides information on how to commit suicide. Finally, he explores the world of open adoption and the huge emotional strain it puts on birth mothers, adoptive parents and the children involved. Watch it now on BBC iPlayer.

Little Pyongyang

A short documentary made for The Guardian, Roxy Rezvany’s characterize on a North Korean refugee and his struggle to settle into London makes for powerful viewing. Examining Joong-hwa Choi’s life in six quick sections, the documentary looks at the time of action of re-settling in the UK, in addition as what it method to integrate into British culture. Watch on YouTube (or above).

Three Identical Strangers

In the early 1980s, Bobby Shafan went to college, only to find people greeting him by another name. He quickly found out he had a twin who he had been separated at birth from, and together they found a third brother. While their unexpected reunion attained publicity, the real story behind why they were separated in the first place started to come to light. Three Identical Strangers is unsettling because of how quickly it becomes something very different from the light-hearted romp that it could have been, and perhaps because of how it ends. Watch on All 4

Russia with Simon Reeve


At a time when Russia is regularly in the news, intrepid documentarian Simon Reeve takes a trip across the great country in an attempt to tell the story of its exceptional and varied people. Starting in the far away Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East, across three episodes Reeve travels by incredible wilderness, meeting Cossacks and Tuvan throat singers and already a man some believe to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. All the while the film crew are pursued by Russian authorities who attempt to control what they show of parts of the country rarely seen by outsiders. Watch it now on BBC iPlayer.

Human Flow

In a beautiful combination of conceptual art and activism, Chinese director Ai Weiwei sets out on the ambitious mission of depicting the plight of the more than 65 million people who have been forced to escape their home around the world because of famine, climate change and war. From the Greek island of Lesbos to Syria, Weiwei’s work tells human stories of displacement and separation with a poignant aesthetic that acts as a wakeup call. At times heartbreaking and at others inspiring, it is a 21st century must-watch. Find it on Amazon chief.

The Central Park Five

In 1989, 28-year-old Trisha Meili was assaulted and raped while jogging in New York’s Central Park. Director Ken Burns documents the collective racial hysteria that infected every corner of society, including journalists, police and lawmakers, and led to the conviction of five young black men – a decision that flew in the confront of a large body of evidence pointing in the opposite direction thoroughly. A searing indictment of racial injustice and a broken justice system, Burns’ documentary won a raft of awards upon its release including a Peabody in 2013. Watch it on Amazon chief with a PBS America free trial.

All or Nothing

Manchester City’s 2017-2018 premier league season was record breaking: the club set a new points total (100), the most wins (32), and most goals (106). This controversial documentary – called “disrespectful” by Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho – goes inside the club’s season. Players are followed off the pitch, inside the dressing room and there’s footage of Pep Guardiola’s animated team talks across the season’s eight episodes. Watch it on Amazon chief Video.

World’s Scariest Drug

VICE’s documentary explores a strange and powerful drug called Scopolamine, also known as “The Devil’s Breath”. The effects of this drug are so potent that is has been described as rendering a person incapable of exercising free will. The film explores the unimaginable horror stories of those affected by Scopolamine, and after listening to only a few firsthand experiences, it takes an already darker turn than you could have originally expected. Watch it on Youtube.

An Open Secret

Directed by Academy Award nominee Amy Berg, An Open Secret lifted the lid on Hollywood’s issues with sexual harassment long before the recent revelations. Released in 2014, the documentary was seemingly suppressed by Hollywood, with no film distributors, TV networks or streaming sets willing to pick it up.

An Open Secret deals with alleged and convicted instances of child abuse of young boys by talent agents and other figures involved in the industry, including the disturbing example of a dot-com bubble era online TV start-up designed to groom unprotected child actors. Watch it on Vimeo



The fly on the wall documentary follows Anthony Weiner’s ill-advised 2013 campaign to become the mayor of New York City after resigning from Congress after a sexting scandal in June 2011. Once seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, things are going well for Weiner’s mayoral effort until details of a second sexting scandal appear, sending his campaign, and his marriage, off the rails. Watch it on Amazon



When Asif Kapadia released Amy in 2015, four years after the death of Amy Winehouse, it might have seemed that we’d already heard everything we could possible know about the life of the prodigiously talented singer. But Amy is a bright film that uncovers new ground documenting the complicate web of fame, addiction and family that influenced Winehouse both before and during her rise to stardom. Most crucially, by his extensive use of archive footage, including video from her childhood, Kapadia captures the origins of Winehouse’s scarce musical genius and songwriting abilities. The perfectly-pitched effort won Kapadia the Oscar for Best Documentary characterize at the 2015 Academy Awards. Buy it on YouTube


Blackfish helped to change how orcas are treated at SeaWorld. In March 2016, three years after the harrowing documentary was released, the theme park agreed to stop breeding killer whales closest. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the documentary tells the story of Tilikum, a killer whale that has been involved in numerous aggressive incidents towards humans. During the 90 minute show, its creators show how the powerful animals are badly kept by poorly trained handlers and against the advice of a growing body of evidence showing why orcas shouldn’t be held in captivity. Watch it on Netflix

Jim: The James Foley Story

This in-thoroughness documentary focuses on the life and work of American conflict journalist James Foley, killed by ISIS terrorists in 2014. Foley’s childhood friend Brian Oakes directs powerful stories from Foley’s family, friends and those he was held in captivity with during his time as a prisoner of ISIS. It is a heart-wrenching, thought-provoking look into the character of conflict, the bonds between people in impossible circumstances and the overarching question of freedom. Rent it on Amazon

Fire in the Blood

Fire in the Blood describes itself as a tale of ‘medicine, monopoly and malice’. It charts the Western pharmaceutical industry’s aggressive blocking of access to low-cost AIDS drugs for the countries of Africa and the global south in the years after 1996, offering up a stark contrast between treatments in America compared to the rest of the world. The epidemic of AIDS has not however gone away and continues to rule lower income countries, despite the availability of cheap antiretroviral drugs. Watch it on Netflix


Former NFL player Steve Gleason played for the New Orleans Saints until his retirement in 2008. A few years later, Gleason was diagnosed with ALS, a scarce neurodegenerative condition that little by little weakens the body’s muscles over time. The touching film follows Gleason and his family as they adapt to the condition and keep hope by already in the darkest of times. Watch it Watch it on Amazon chief.

Boss Keys

Here’s one for the gamers out there, especially Zelda fans. Boss Keys, a series from Mark Brown of Game Maker’s Toolkit, takes a fascinating thorough dive into the dungeon design of each game in the series. He discloses how the typical formula has evolved over time in both good and bad ways. Watch it on YouTube.

Free to Play

specialized gaming is now one of the most widely-watched sports around the world. Valve Software’s documentary about the players competing for a life-changing million dollar prize in the first Dota 2 International tournament, and the real-world battles they fought to be there, is concise, powerful and well worth a watch. No foreknowledge of Dota 2 is necessary. Watch it on YouTube.

3D Printed Guns

Vice’s technology channel Motherboard put together a fascinating documentary last year on Cody Wilson – the law student who figured out how to print a semi-automatic rifle in the comfort of his own home. This documentary follows him as he builds and test-fires a 3D printed gun. Watch it on YouTube.

WIRED’s ‘Holy Land: Startup Nations’

With the most tech startups and venture capital per capita in the world, Israel has long been hailed as the ‘startup nation’. WIRED’s characterize-length documentary looks beyond Tel Aviv’s vibrant, liberal tech epicenter to the Palestinian territories, where a similar ‘startup nation’ story is emerging in East Jerusalem, Nazareth, Ramallah and other parts of the West Bank, in addition as in the Israeli cybersecurity center of Be’er Sheva. We learn how the high innovation ecosystem of Silicon Wadi has evolved as a consequence of its rare political, geographical and cultural situation and analyze the future challenges – and solutions – these nations are facing. Watch it on YouTube.

WIRED’s ‘Shenzhen: The Silicon Valley of hardware’

We examine the rare manufacturing ecosystem that has emerged and gain access to the world’s leading hardware-prototyping culture, while challenging misconceptions from the west. The film looks at how the evolution of “Shanzhai” – or copycat manufacturing – has transformed traditional models of business, dispensing and innovation, and asks what the rest of the world can learn from this so-called “Silicon Valley of hardware”. Watch it on YouTube.

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