50 Best Documentaries Of All Time That Will Change Your Life
Documentaries are often more powerful than other types of films simply because they show the sides of life that many people would not be able to experience otherwise. Whether this involves a glimpse at the life of an unhealthy adult or traveling with a flock of animals, documentaries have the potential to change your life.
The following documentaries vary in genre and style, but they all have messages that will have an impact on your life.
1. Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (2010)
By trying a juicing diet, Joe Cross is able to experience a new perspective on life while making the cross-country journey across America. You can watch on Netflix.
2. May I Be Frank? (2010)
Frank’s choice to cut out all toxins and go completely vegan is inspiring for anyone who wants to have a healthier life, both mentally and physically. You can watch it on Hulu.
3. Simply Raw (2009)
This documentary shows the impact a raw diet can have on anyone, especially a group of diabetics who go raw for 30 days. You can watch it on YouTube.
4. Vegucated (2011)
Watch three New Yorkers embark on a vegan diet on Netflix.
5. Food Fight (2004)
Why are there so many packaged foods? And why is junk food cheaper than health foods? Watch on Hulu to see for yourself.
6. Supersize Me (2004)
Though this documentary has been called out for exaggerating the effects of McDonald’s food, it is eye-opening to see how a diet consisting solely of fast food can impact your health. Watch it here and make up your own mind on the issue.
7. Sicko (2007)
Michael Moore’s documentary sheds light on the American health care system and points out the issues that many people who just want to be healthy face every day.
8. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
This documentary literally freed a man from prison. Errol Morris’ dedication to discovering the truth behind the Randall Adams’ case led to the reopening of a murder case. Watch the whole documentary on Netflix.
9. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)
Director Albert Gibney takes a look into the corporate greed that defrauded thousands of workers in the Enron scandal. Watch it on Hulu here.
10. The Act of Killing (2013)
Focusing on the Indonesian Killings of 1965–1966, this documentary can be difficult to watch. It confronts the terrible fact that the government contains many of the people involved in the genocide many years ago. You can watch it on Netflix.
11. The Art of the Steal (2009)
This documentary shows the lengths many people will go through to receive private property — in this case, several priceless pieces of art — even if it means breaking apart a man’s clearly-written will. Watch it on Netflix.
12. The Imposter (2012)
This documentary, which feels more like a thriller, examines a couple whose 13-year old son was found three years later in Spain. However, their “son” is clearly a man in his twenties — so for what reasons do they believe this man is their son? Watch it on Netflix.
13. Man on Wire (2008)
When Phillipe Petit strung a wire between the two World Trade Center buildings and walked across it without any safety measures, the world was astounded. You can watch the man behind the feat on Netflix.
14. Inside 9/11 (2006)
Though it is painful to relive, this documentary examines the before, during and after of the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.
15. A Film Unfinished (2010)
This documentary features an unfinished Nazi-produced film from the 1940s. Lacking both sound and a definitive ending, this film brings an eye-opening view on the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi reign. You can watch it on Hulu.
16. In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)
Featuring first-hand testimonies of the only men who set foot on the moon, this documentary serves as a great reminder that there’s a whole universe outside our planet.
17. Titanic: The Final Word (2012)
Though James Cameron is known for his blockbuster films, he has gone on more expeditions to the Titanic ruins than anyone else in the world. This documentary examines the sinking and shed new light on the infamous disaster. Watch it online here.
18. Solo (2008)
In 2007, Andrew McAuley began his journey to be the first man to kayak from Tasmania to New Zealand. Recovered footage of his journey examines the man who was willing to risk his life to achieve this record. You can watch it on Youtube.
19. Touching the Void (2003)
Based on a book by the same name, this documentary shows the events of two men who get separated while climbing the Andes. Hailed as one of the best British documentaries, it conducts interviews with the two men and features reenactments of the events. This is available on Amazon.
20. Blindsight (2006)
This inspiring story features a group of Tibetan blind boys who, shunned by their family and community due to cultural stigma, climb the north side of Mount Everest. You can watch it on Hulu.
21. Gasland (2010)
This film answers questions many people have regarding fracking, while raising questions about why it’s happening today. You can watch it on Youtube.
22. Encounters at the End of the World (2007)
Antarctica has as much beauty and wonder to it as any other part of the world. This film shows the beauty of this land and the people who study it. You can watch it on Amazon.
23. Marley (2012)
Director Kevin Macdonald’s documentary takes a look into this influential musicians life to examine why he’s still influential even today. You can watch it on Netflix.
24. 20 Feet From Stardom (2013)
Behind almost every singer is a group of backup singers. Watch a new perspective of singers on Netflix.
25. Festival Express (2003)
Take a look at one of the biggest musical tours of 1970. A must-see for any music lover, you can watch it here.
26. Senna (2010)
Known as one of the greatest sports documentaries, Senna uses footages from the ‘80s and ‘90s to tell the story of Aryton Senna. His fame as one of the greatest Formula One racers lives on. You can watch it on Netflix.
27. Russell Brand: From Addiction to Recovery (2012)
This documentary covers Russell Brand’s journey from addict to sobriety. Including facts about alcohol addiction and the mental and physical struggles he overcomes, his story can inspire anyone with similar addictions. You can watch it here.
28. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
Created by renowned graffiti artist Banksy, the film proves to be an interesting look at Los Angeles street art and the impact is has on the people. You can watch it on Netflix.
29. Charles Manson: The Man Who Killed the Sixties (1994)
Charles Manson’s belief led to the creation of a cult-like following who would go on to kill seven innocent people. Seeing the impact this man had on people is astounding, especially when you realize what he encouraged. You can watch it online.
30. The Great American Cowboy (1973)
The winner of the 1973 Academy Award for Best Documentary, with plenty of action and thrills, you won’t look at the rodeo the same way again. You can watch it in four parts on YouTube.
31. Best Worst Movie (2009)
Troll 2 is one of the worst movies created — but it has one of the largest cult followings. This documentary gets to the heart of the behind-the-scenes and helps explain what makes the bad so appealing. You can watch it on Netflix.
32. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)
Jiro is the world’s best sushi chef. He is so devoted to his work he literally dreams of it and of being even better. With plenty of heart, this documentary examines Jiro’s relationship with his son and the desire to reach perfection. You can watch it on Netflix.
33. Jesus Camp (2006)
There’s a camp in North Dakota where Christian children are told they can “take back America for Christ.” Hard to watch at times, this film is an eye-opening experience. You can watch it on Netflix.
34. The Queen of Versailles (2012)
Originally meant to be a quick look at the obscenely rich, this documentary follows a family as they go from riches to rags with the 2008 housing market crash. Bouncing from funny to heart wrenching, you’ll have to prepare yourself for a rollercoaster of emotions. You can watch it on Netflix.
35. The UP series (1964-Present)
This documentary series follows the lives of fourteen British youths from 7 to 56. With a wide range of demographics, you see how differently the lives play out for the privileged and the poor. You can watch 7 Up and 56 Up on Netflix.
36. March of the Penguins (2005)
This well-known documentary shows the lengths emperor penguins go through to ensure their children survive the incubation period in the frigid Antarctic. It’s moving and will tug and your heartstrings. You can stream it on Amazon.
37. Blackfish (2013)
This film gives insight on the accidents associated with Seaworld’s whales and shows how the attacks are more humankind’s making due to years of mistreatment, rather than natural instinct. You can watch it on Netflix.
38. Winged Migration (Le Peuple Migrateur) (2003)
With some of the most beautiful shots in documentary history, this follows the migration patterns of birds throughout the seasons. This is a visual masterpiece that will leave you breathless until the final credits. You can watch it here.
39. Grizzly Man (2005)
Timothy Treadwell lived with the bears he studied and loved and was eventually killed by them. A look at how obsessive behavior can lead to disaster, the film is powerful and haunting. You can watch it on Hulu here.
40. The Cove (2009)
In a small town in Japan, the people’s livelihood comes from hunting the endangered and beautiful dolphins. With beautiful underwater shots and shocking images of the industry’s impact on the ecology, you’ll have a deeper respect for the beauty on the world after watching this. You can watch it on Amazon.
41. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2005)
Many years ago, a flock of parrots gathered in a section of San Francisco. Though no one knows where they came from, a street musician soon formed a bond with the birds. This documentary is a charming and intelligent story of humanity and nature. You can watch it on Youtube.
42. The Hellstrom Chronicle (1971)
A mix of documentary, science fiction and horror, The Hellstrom Chronicle presents a struggle between humans and insects. Though you may be more wary of insects after watching this, it shows that small things can have great power when combined. You can watch it in parts on Youtube.
43. The Invisible War (2012)
Tackling the subject of rape is hard enough, but this documentary goes to great lengths to expose the attacks female American soldiers face within their own ranks. This will force you to question a government that would cover up these crimes and a military that would allow them to happen.
44. Brooklyn Castle (2012)
Brooklyn Castle reveals the impact extracurricular activities have on children in schools, particularly inner-city schools. Following a group of children who just want to play chess, it reveals how important it is for kids to have options at school. You can watch it on Netflix.
45. Bully (2011)
Focusing on two students whose bullying eventually led to their suicides, the documentary follows five children who were bullied. It shows how hard it is for children to defend themselves and why it’s important to step in when bullying occurs. You can watch it on Netflix.
46. Fambul Tok (2011)
Though the fighting is over, the effects of the civil war in Sierra Leone are still present. Translating into family talk, Fambul Tok shows how the perpetrators of vicious crimes still walk among their victims without the fear of imprisonment or punishment. You can watch it on Netflix.
47. How to Survive a Plague (2012)
When the AIDS epidemic first swept the nation, two groups — ACT UP and Treatment Action Group (TAG) — were formed to help find treatment and a cure for the disease. This documentary takes film from over 700 hours of archived video to follows these organizations as they helped transform the disease from a death sentence to something survivable. You can watch it on Netflix.
48. Murderball (2005)
Following paraplegic rugby players, this documentary shatters any beliefs you may have about the handicapped and their supposed limitations. You can watch it on YouTube.
49. The Island President (2012)
The Island President follows Maldives’ president during his first year as he works to save his country from the ever-rising ocean. You can watch it here.
50. Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008)
Analyzing America’s obsession with winning, director Chris Bell looks into the bodybuiding culture and its use of steroids for success. It looks into the dangerous side effects that come with being successful. You can watch on YouTube.