I was doing some light advertising for my website at the pool and one of my friends mentioned this documentary called Vanished. It was about a girl who went on a roller coaster a couple seats in front of her parents and then when the roller coaster came back to the loading station, she was gone. It sounds crazy, right? I spent at least 30 minutes searching for it and learned that it’s a hoax made up by some TikTok influencer. Super disappointing, because it sounded so creepy. It got me thinking though. What are some other great documentaries out there? So, I put together a list of my favorite documentaries in no particular order. Sorry Josh, but Vanished won’t be making the list.
True Crime and Religious History Documentaries
- Making a Murderer
- Making a Murderer walked so that Tiger King could run. I’m a true crime junkie and this is the documentary that really started me down that path. It is THE documentary of 2015 and it was released at the height of Netflix’s goodwill with their subscribers. It completely divided audiences in a way that few documentaries are able to replicate. Available on Netflix.
- Going Clear: Scientology and The Prison of Belief
- I love Hollywood and things about Hollywood. This documentary is without a doubt one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen. It involves so many Hollywood figures and it is just mind boggling that it’s still allowed to function. Last Podcast on The Left did a great series on L. Ron Hubbard and the history of Scientology back in 2017 so if you want to learn more. Available on HBO Max.
Social Commentary and Behind-the-Scenes Documentaries
- They Live
- This one is kind of a joke, but also kind of not a joke. This is a classic John Carpenter sci-fi action movie and it has some incredible social commentary. Read my full review here.
- Harry Potter: The Return to Hogwarts
- I love Harry Potter. I mentioned in my best movies from each decade post that I think they’re all fantastic. This behind the scenes documentary features stories from the cast and crew. If you love watching special features or DVD extras, this is a great documentary to check out. Available on HBO Max.
Documentaries about Aliens and … Aliens?
- This documentary was released around the time the United States Government admitted to tracking UFOs and is full of crazy witness testimonies. This is an astonishingly well made and somewhat frightening documentary. Available on Showtime.
- Hellier is one of those weird paranormal documentaries that is genuinely creepy. Even though it follows most of the usual paranormal activity tropes and offers up little to no actual evidence, it is still fascinating. Available on Prime Video.
Sports and more True Crime
- The Last Dance
- Growing up, I didn’t watch or know much about professional sports. But even I knew that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time. The Last Dance solidifies that fact and the fact that Michael Jordan is insane. Available on ESPN+.
- This is a classic documentary that shows that truth really can be stranger than fiction. It is one of the most insane scams I’ve ever seen and it is absolutely hilarious. Available on HBO Max.
Competition and Nature
- Pumping Iron
- Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of the best action stars of all time. He’s also one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time. For most of my college career, I was big into weight lifting and was fascinated by the new subculture I was becoming a part of. Pumping Iron is a mandatory viewing experience for anybody who’s picked up a dumbbell. Available on YouTube.
- Planet Earth
- Full of gorgeous cinematography and the stunningly smooth voice of Sir David Attenborough, Planet Earth is a beautiful and in depth look at the world around us. Available on Prime Video.
More True Crime and Urban Legend Documentaries
- The Staircase
- The Staircase is another divisive documentary because it’s so open ended. Both sides are completely logical and could be true. It’s like the Schrodinger’s cat of documentaries. He both did it and didn’t do it. Available on Netflix.
- Polybius is a YouTube documentary by Ahoy, one of my favorite creators. I love video games and history, and this is one of the best one man show documentaries I’ve ever seen. Ahoy has a fantastic voice and the gorgeous graphics are gorgeous. The entire special is incredibly well researched and worth watching if you love video games or weird urban legends.
My list barely scratches the surface. I’m trying to include more audience interaction in my posts, so I asked the MoviesNotFilms discord for some suggestions. Shout out to Amber for the awesome list of other great documentaries. I will be checking these out soon, and so should you!
- Shark Beach with Chris Hemsworth
- My Octopus Teacher
- The Royal House of Windsor
- The Whale Detective
- Free Solo