If you’re reading this, you’re looking for a great way to enjoy a film and possibly learn a thing or two. Good choice. Beyond providing some educational values and excellent stories, these documentary films are all visually stunning and beautifully carry their own unique narratives. Learning something about the world we live in and the humans we share it with can take many shapes, but today we are here to enjoy some awesomely powerful documentaries that could possibly change the way you think about something.
If you’re cool enough to have multiple subscriptions at once, you might also want to check out the best Netflix documentaries, or the best food documentaries if you’re trying to inspire your culinary skills. Sit back and relax but not too much because we’re going to learn some things today.
A mix of mind-bending thriller and documentary, A Glitch in the Matrix takes all of your simulation theory fears and puts it all on the table. Inspired by the movie that introduced it all, The Matrix, this visual spectacle of a film will either have you questioning reality itself or continuing to bow to your invisible overlords — if there are such entities.
Director: Rodney Ascher
Runtime: 108 minutes
IMDb Rating: 5.2
A tragic and hugely important documentary on our list today is MLK/FBI, a detailed and defining film that exposes some of the absolute worst and inhumane deeds conducted by the FBI in the mid to late ’60s. Compiled from documents uploaded to the internet by the National Archives, this film showcases some shockingly infuriating acts performed by the FBI as they surveilled and plotted against possibly America’s most influential and peace-driven man: Martin Luther King Jr.
Director: Sam Pollard
Runtime: 104 minutes
IMDb Rating: 6.9
A touching and dramatic documentary of painful upbringing and coming to terms, Minding the Gap shows a welcoming and family-oriented view of the skateboarding community. Focused on a few main “characters,” we learn about their traumas and their demons, their passions and their pains, all turning to skateboarding for the feeling of love and community they never got at home.
Director: Bing Liu
Runtime: 93 minutes
IMDb Rating: 8.1
Finally, the story of the kids’ channel that was made by the kids and for the kids, The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story details the strategies and practices used to create one of the strangest and most original TV channels of all time. Home to some of the most thematically dark and sometimes outright surreal cartoons and shows, Nickelodeon is known for shaping young minds into creative and realistic thinkers due to its no-BS approach for entertaining kids.
Director(s): Scott Barber, Adam Sweeney
Runtime: 102 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.6
Unstoppable, unpredictable, unusual, unbounded, and underestimated, Frank Zappa is and was known as all of these things and more, labeled “A Modernist Mozart Who Happened to Be a Rock Star” by Rolling Stone. Zappa is a deep look with never-before-seen footage of the life and times of this icon, adventuring deeply into the many bodies of water he waded into — including a time where he considered running for president.
Director: Alex Winter
Runtime: 129 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.6
A moving, quirky, and honest documentary of a man who was widely recognized for achieving the American Dream (so much so that the POTUS at the time awarded him with a related medal), The Donut King is everything you’d want out of a documentary and more. Ted “The Donut King” Ngoy moves to America and starts a multi-million dollar donut industry in California while also sponsoring and supporting over a hundred Cambodian families immigrating to the U.S., but faces humanistic flaws and addictions to gambling and greed that ultimately condemn the business.
Director: Alice Gu
Runtime: 90 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.1
Overall a documentary about a propaganda-driven business cult, WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn details the rise and quick fall of a Messianic businessman named Adam Neumann. Fueled by an exploding $4 billion startup from an overseas investor, WeWork was somewhere between Media Super-Conglomerate and an overfunded frat party all colliding until its inevitable crash-landing into bankruptcy. This is the story of all the disillusioned employees who thought they were going to change the world for the better.
Director: Jed Rothstein
Runtime: 104 minutes
IMDb Rating: 6.6
A beautiful and motivating documentary of dedication and deliciousness, Jiro Dreams of Sushi tops the charts as artistically sound visually, audibly, and mouth-wateringly. Jiro is the owner and mastermind behind a small sushi shop located in a subway station, which has received overwhelming acclaim as the best sushi ever, and the first-ever sushi chef to receive three Michelin stars. Motivated by his never-ending goal for perfection, he aims to reach the top of his potential which, in his words, “…no one knows where the top is.”
Director: David Gelb
Runtime: 81 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.9
A multifaceted contrast between censorship with cinema, gender equality with physical expectations, and overall freedom of expression, Skin goes over it all to take us to where we are today. America’s cinematic history began with the censorship of nudity in films and television, and tracing back the history and milestones in body acceptance is always interesting, especially if you’re a fan of the movies.
Director: Danny Wolf
Runtime: 130 minutes
IMDb Rating: 6.7
Most people will not react too well if you tell them you’re a Satanist (even after watching this documentary), but learning more about the moral values and what it stands for can really open up your mind to a variety of outlooks. Hail Satan? is a deep look into the controversy and the systemic flaws of Satanism, starting all the way back from its birth in pop culture as a counter to political and religious oppression to its eventual downfall due to some extremists and clumsy leadership — as with all things.
Director: Penny Lane
Runtime: 95 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.3
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