Documentaries have risen to popularity over the last few years. Wondering what makes a documentary film different from the films we watch in general? It is the realism associated with the documentary film that has an impact on us that is unmatched.
Though films inspired by real-life events are factual, a documentary film captures the events that happened in real-time. We get to know the actual characters of the documentary film by face or voice and that makes it more personal, intimate and gripping.
Documentary films explore many genres like crime, celebrity, justice system, investigation, biopics and have sometimes ignited real-world change. Given below is a list of some of the best documentaries to watch.
Italianamerican - 1974
Director: Martin Scorsese
The documentary Italianamerican directed by Martin Scorsese stars his parents - Catherine and Charles. Though you can spot Catherine Scorsese in many of her son’s films, Charles Scorsese is lesser known to the public. One of the best documentaries to watch, Italianamerican traverses through the experience of a couple in the city of New York as Italian immigrants. It also sheds light on the general activity in their household and how Martin’s parents inspired him to be a storyteller.
Watch one of the best documentaries of all time, Italianamerican only on YouTube.
Buena Vista Social Club - 1999
Director: Wim Wenders
The documentary Buena Vista Social Club captures the journey of a group of Cuban musicians gathered by the rock musician Ry Cooder to record an album outside of Cuba and how they shot to fame. One of the best documentaries to watch, it was shot during the time when travelling to and from Cuba was heavily restricted. Buena Vista Social Club bagged an Academy Award nomination for its heartwarming and cheerful documentation of the culture and country that was disconnected from America for decades. One of the best documentaries of all time, this is the backstory of how the Social Club became superstars.
Watch the trailer of Buena Vista Social Club on YouTube.
Sound And Fury - 2000
Director: Josh Aronson
One of the greatest documentaries of all time, Sound and Fury revolves around the Artinians who have deaf members in their extended family. When two cousins in the family have deaf children, they consider giving them cochlear implants, a device that stimulates hearing. With this, they open up a debate within their family, one that also exists within the deaf culture. Sound and Fury beautifully explores how we establish a community based on shared experiences and this makes it one of the best documentaries of all time.
Watch the trailer of Sound and Fury only on YouTube.
Man On Wire - 2008
Director: James Marsh
One of the best documentaries of all time, Man On Wire is the story of 23-year-old high-wire artist Philippe Petit who stuns everyone in New York City when he walks on a wire between the towers of the World Trade Center just before his 24th birthday. Petit made eight passes between the two towers walking on the wire at a height of 1000 feet. Man On Wire directed by James Marsh is one of the best documentaries to watch that uses actual footage of Phillippe’s training and performance along with the staged scenes of Petit and his crew setting up the wires.
Watch the trailer of Man On Wire only on YouTube.
Bill Cunningham New York - 2010
Director: Richard Press
Bill Cunningham New York is a beautiful and loving portrait of a then 82-year-old New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham who captured humanity and calm in the chaos of the streets. One of the best documentaries of all time, the documentary highlights how Cunnigham celebrated the beauty of individuality that shone through the streets of New York by unknowingly capturing it. The documentary Bill Cunningham New York captures how the 82-year-old photographer highlighted the upcoming fashion trends, fads and the more experimental side of fashion found in the streets of New York amongst the common people.
Watch the trailer of one of the greatest documentaries of all time, Bill Cunningham New York, only on YouTube.
The Wolfpack - 2015
Director: Crystal Moselle
One of the greatest documentaries of all time, The Wolfpack follows six brothers confined in a cramped up New York apartment and whose connection to the outside world was only the films their father brought home for them to watch. Disconnected from the world beyond the front door, the brothers find an escape from the suffocating environment by re-enacting the scenes from their favourite films. But when one of them goes against their father’s rule, their world slowly starts to open up in front of them.
Watch the trailer of one of the best documentaries of all time, The Wolfpack, only on YouTube.
13th - 2016
Director: Ava DuVernay
After treating the audience to the highly acclaimed film Selma, director Ava DuVernay followed up with one of the best documentaries of all time, the 13th documentary that focuses on the mass incarceration of minorities following the implementation of the 13th amendment - the abolishment of slavery. The 13th documentary precisely looks back at the decades following the implementation of the amendment and sheds light on how black people were targeted by the media, government, and by businesses to create a new form of slavery. It is a perfectly documented story that will make you feel varied emotions throughout and can be claimed as one of the greatest documentaries of all time.
Watch the 13th documentary on Netflix.
The Work - 2017
Director: Jairus McLeary
One of the greatest documentaries of all time, The Work revolves around the level-four convicts who are assigned to maximum security in the Folsom State Prison who participate in a four-day group therapy retreat with three civilians as a part of their rehabilitation. It is in these group therapy sessions when the convicts experience the most intense moments of their stay and reach deep inside themselves to revisit their past traumas and vulnerabilities that have played a role in their violent behaviour. The documentary also sheds a light on the progress the civilians make and how their preconceived notions are shattered. One of the best documentaries of all time, The Work is heart wrenching and terrifying at the same time.
Watch the trailer of The Work only on YouTube.
Three Identical Strangers - 2018
Director: Tim Wardle
Back in the 1980s, when Bob Shafan went to college, people greeted him by another name. Later, he finds out that he has a twin brother who got separated at birth and together they find the third brother, becoming a global sensation. One of the best documentaries of all time, The Three Identical Strangers captures the happy reunion of the triplets. Soon, the real reason behind their separation comes to light and what was supposed to be a joyous occasion becomes quite unsettling.
Watch the trailer of one of the greatest documentaries of all time, The Three Identical Strangers only on YouTube.
Free Solo - 2018
Director: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
If you like watching documentaries that increase your heartbeat and make you chant ‘Oh My God’ like a million times, then Free Solo is one of the best documentaries to watch. It documents rock climber Alex Honnold's climb to the top of the treacherous El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without ropes, harnesses or any other protective gear. A thrilling one to watch, Free Solo makes for one of the best documentaries of all time.
Watch Free Solo on Disney+ Hotstar
American Factory - 2019
Director: Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
The directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert explore globalism and its effects on the American working class in one of the most gripping and best documentaries to watch - American Factory. The documentary American Factory narrates the closing of a GM factory in 2008 and how it threw an entire community out of work until the Chinese company Fuyao reopened it after 6 years. It is the first film from Barack and Michelle Obama's Higher Ground Productions and a Best Documentary Oscar winner in 2020. The documentary American Factory is one of the best documentaries of all time with its empathetic, complex and intelligent approach to document the clash of cultures, the meaning of freedom and the future of labour.
Watch American Factory on Netflix.
The Great Hack - 2019
Director: Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim
One of the best documentaries of all time, The Great Hack explores the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal and how the social media giant used the personal data of the users even after repeated denial. The documentary offers a great insight into how data has become the most valuable resource on the planet and its usage to target users with ads and fake “viral videos” and news stories to influence major elections with the help of interviews with investigative journalists and Cambridge Analytica informant Brittany Kaiser. One of the best documentaries to watch, The Great Hack will make you rethink your actions for signing up on any social media platform.
Watch The Great Hack on Netflix.
Honeyland - 2019
Director: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov
Enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Balkan mountains in one of the greatest documentaries of all time, Honeyland. The documentary revolves around Hatidže Muratova, one of the last Macedonians to practice ancient beekeeping. Without any interviews and voiceovers, Honeyland is unlike any other documentary and captures the very real love of a person towards nature. The gorgeous cinematography of Honeyland makes it one of the best documentaries of all time.
Watch the trailer of Honeyland only on YouTube.
Disclosure - 2020
Director: Sam Feder
With trans history as its subject, the documentary Disclosure can be rightly claimed as one of the best documentaries of all time, with its vast knowledge and representation of trans history. The documentary celebrates trans joy and also addresses its limited acknowledgement in pop culture. One of the best documentaries to watch, Disclosure is an attempt to make people think and live differently, leaving behind all stereotypes and embracing change.
Watch Disclosure only on Netflix.
Crip Camp - 2020
Director: Nicole Newnham and Jim Lebrecht
Another documentary by executive producers Michelle and Barack Obama, Crip Camp can be rightly termed as one of the best documentaries of all time. The documentary talks about individuals who spent most of their adult lives fighting for basic human rights, with many from a camp for the disabled called Camp Jened in the 1970s. It uses archival footage from the camp and then focuses on the various people who spend the next few decades engaged in activism to pass legislation to make the world accessible for those with disabilities. One of the greatest documentaries of all time, it captures a motivational and infuriating struggle that shouldn’t even exist.
Watch Crip Camp only on Netflix.