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Documentaries Worth Watching

Updated on December 9, 2023
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Writing is one of my several hobbies, and lists like this one help me with writer's block while helping you find what you're looking for.

Filmmaker with camera.
Filmmaker with camera. | Source

Really Good Documentaries Worth Watching

The really good documentaries are always worth watching because they are good at informing the viewer about the content, and as long as the director has the goal to educate instead of persuade, you'll likely enjoy any documentary you choose to watch even when you know very little about them.

The thing about a well made, informative documentary is that it will teach, inform and entertain the viewer about stuff they may or may not know. After watching a good doc, I've never felt like it was a waste of my time, and if you're willing to give some of the ones below a chance, I'm willing to bet that most of you will have the same experience as me. That's why I decided to write this article; I hope you like it and find something that will change your life.

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young (2014)

Despite this race being held in my own back yard, I had no idea it existed before seeing this wonderful documentary about it. The race primarily gained in popularity through word of mouth before this was made, but the process for entering is still quite secretive and a lot of people still have no idea it even exists. I've actually talked to one or two people who entered into this event and they pretty much told me that, "fitness plays only a small role in whether you even finish the race". Basically, if you don't do the research and try to prepare before entering this event, you will be humbled.

If you were born with the ability to change someone’s perspective or emotions, never waste that gift. It is one of the most powerful gifts God can give—the ability to influence.

— Shannon L. Alder

20 Feet From Stardom (2013)

This one shines the spotlight on an aspect of music (especially music from the 60's, 70's and 80's) that few of us even think about... the back-up singers. If you're a fan of good music, you'll love this doc. I find myself recommending it and watching it with others who've never seen it quite often. It's definitely one of the better documentaries that people don't talk about that often, and it makes you realize that without this kind of support, the superstars of the day may not have been as popular as they was.

Art & Copy (2009)

This film takes you behind the scenes of the advertising world with truth that some may find offensive. Before the TV show "Mad Men" came out, this industry was probably thought of as pretty boring by most, but it is anything but. Whether you want to believe it or not, people that work in this industry heavily influence what you buy on a daily basis.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)

If you've ever wondered how such big companies can literally steal money from everyone, then you need to check this one out. After seeing this, I was always very leery of people who are extremely charismatic and likeable; not because they are dishonest, but because they could be if they wanted. This probably goes double for people with a lot of power and influence over others.

Awesome Documentaries You Need To See

  • 24x36: A Movie About Movie Posters (2016)
  • American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story (2017): An Amazon original series with a documentary feel. Quite long, but very detailed and informative.
  • Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson (2019)
  • Crumb (1995): About underground cartoonist Robert Crumb.
  • Dark Days (2000): Living in tunnels is normal for some.
  • Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004): A documentary about the after effects of one of the darkest times in U.S. history.
  • GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (2012)
  • Grizzly Man (2005): You may love animals, but they may not necessarily love you back. Keep that in mind when interacting with them.
  • Hoop Dreams (2004): Basketball before basketball.
  • Koyaanisqatsi (1982): A visually stunning documentary made up of images and a soundtrack, but no narration.
  • Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991): This documentary about the "material girl" was all anyone wanted to watch during the early nineties. We learn a lot about her and the people that surround her (maybe more than we wanted to). I recently re-watched it and it brought back a moment of nostalgia. It's worth watching if you haven't seen it in a while.
  • Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005)
  • Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die (2011)

Jodorowsky's Dune (2013)

If you're a science fiction fan, you can't help but wonder what greatness could have come if this movie would have been allowed to be made. Even though I do like the version we got, this version of Dune seemed to have a lot more passion behind it. The sad thing is that most people have never heard of this amazing doc.

Getting Into Cirque Du Soleil Audition Documentary

If you've ever watched any of the Cirque Du Soleil shows and thought to yourself, "This would be a fun place to work at.", then you should watch this documentary and find out what it takes to get hired on by the show itself. Very informative!

In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director.

— Alfred Hitchcock

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

People who are extremely devoted to a certain religion or belief can be quite unsettling to many, especially when they are trying to convert you to their way of life. I knew very little about Scientology until watching this doc, and as is the case with most things you know little about, I was fascinated by what their belief system is.

Pumping Iron (1977)

Though this film shined a spotlight on a subject many people didn't follow at the time, it is undeniable that it's success is due (in part) to Arnold Schwarzenegger. He had a lot of charisma, and knew exactly what to exaggerate to make the documentary much more enjoyable. The behind-the-scenes footage and interviews are just as enjoyable as the film itself. This is a documentary that will make you laugh and smile.

Cool Documentaries to Stimulate Your Mind

  • Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011): This is a guy who has made hundreds of films without ever losing a penny on them, not to mention all the now famous celebrities he discovered by casting them in their first film.
  • O.J.: Made in America (2016): Since I lived through this experience, I was reluctant to give this 7 hour doc a fair shake. I was pleasantly surprised that while it did cover the murders, it also covered his whole life. A documentary worth watching, for sure.
  • Man on Wire (2008): Illegal tightrope walking was a thing back in the day.
  • The Act of Killing (2012): A chilling look at murder by people in power.
  • Nefarious: Merchant of Souls (2011): Modern day sex trafficking is for real.
  • Supersize Me (2004): Eating too much McDonalds is not good.
  • The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007): Arcade game glory days and the people who were on top at the time.
  • The Look of Silence (2014): A very graphic and emotional documentary dealing with a family that survived the Indonesian genocide that took place in 1965.
  • Todd McFarlane: Like Hell I Won't (2020): This guy's name was synonymous with comics during the 1990's, but I'll always appreciate his impact on the toy industry, and if you've never seen McFarlane toys, then you don't know what you're missing.
  • When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006): A documentary about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. No more needs to be said.
  • When We Were Kings (1996): A boxing documentary on one of the most well-known boxers of all time... Muhammad Ali.
  • You're So Cool, Brewster: The Story of Fright Night (2016): I loved this movie while growing up, still love it and enjoyed the documentary about it just as much.

Eat the Rich: The GameStop Saga (Netflix) - A Documentary About Taking Chances

This 2022 documentary explores the roller coaster ride that GameStop's stock took, which saw highs over $500 and lows into the single digits. It made some people rich, made some poor and even bankrupted some. Quite a tale of the small time investor getting a bit of revenge.

Documentary Experience

How many documentaries have you seen at this point in your life?

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The Men Who Built America (2012)

This pick is probably a stretch as it is considered by some to be a docudrama, but this TV mini-series from the History Channel is a must-see if you want to learn about the early days of the United States of America. Empires were built with ruthlessness and in some cases violence, but where would America be if it hadn't of happened? A must watch.

The Toys That Made Us (2017)

This is a TV show put out by Netflix that shares all the behind-the-scenes details of how all our favorite toys were made. If you love to collect a certain toy, there's probably an episode about it, and if there's not, hopefully there will be one day. Collectors will love this series, but even if your not a die-hard collector, you can re-visit your childhood by watching a documentary about your favorite toy growing up.

Popaganda: The Art and Crimes of Ron English (2005)

Documentaries about underground artists you don't know much about are a true joy to discover. A friend of mine told me about Ron English and how I might like some of his early artwork and the unique way he promoted it. He was right. If you love rebels or art in general, you'll love this documentary.

Andre the Giant (2018)

If you were a wrestling fan from the late seventies to early nineties, then you know who Andre the Giant is. This HBO documentary explores every nook and cranny of perhaps the most influential professional wrestler of that time. If you've ever saw this big man wrestle, you're doing yourself an injustice by not watching this one. Great stuff!

Documentaries I Would Like to See Made (Or Discover)

  • A documentary about assassins; I'm talking about the real life version, not the ones you see on the big screen. It would be interesting to see if any of them have moral guidelines they go by.
  • A doc about being buried alive would be great around October. This happened quite often throughout history, and every once in a while you hear about people actually paying for this to be done to them today.

© 2019 Don


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