Documentaries get a bad rap. True, some of them are ungodly boring while others are blatantly one-sided in their presentation of facts. But then there are the good ones. A quality documentary has true drama, quotable facts that you can rattle off to amaze the other pub crawlers, and can be downright thrilling in a way far more real than some star-spangled virgin throwing his shield around.
Since we’d typically rather watch an action flick, a work of Whedon the Great and Powerful, or Zach Galifianakis just be Zach Galifianakis, we decided to help those like us with 28 amazing documentaries for normal people.
Leave it to Dave Grohl to make a documentary that’s stunning. Music fans will feel Grohl’s passion at every step of the way as he takes a look at the history of a music soundboard and how it changed the sound of the industry forever.
Secrets of Body Language
We all wish we could know what people are saying, even when they aren’t speaking. The Secrets of Body Language walks us through the things we say when we lie, when we are attracted, and when we say nothing at all.
Millennials are having less sex than any previous generation, and the movie Porndemic might just have the explanation as to why. We’re obsessed with pornography in all its forms, so much that it’s taking over our lives.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Street artist Banksy and French filmmaker Thierry Guetta play between the lines of art and madness in creating underground works of beautiful and tragic paintings while exploring the nature of celebrity, popularity, and mainstream culture.
A film outside a film, Room 237 is an in-depth, frame-by-frame look at the complicated Stanley Kubrick classic The Shining. It offers endless theories on the intricate movie and will change the way you watch anything on a screen.
I Know That Voice
Everyone has gone into their bathroom at one time and whipped out their Darth Vader impression. If you haven’t, it’s time you did. I Know That Voice is a look behind the curtain at the best voice actors in the business, and an example of their strange, yet often anonymous genius.
The film that changed the way the world looks at SeaWorld and the animals held in captivity there, Blackfish is a heartbreaking tale of the Orcas. Predators exploited by humans, it will alter anyone who loves animals, the ocean, or even people.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret
One of many films that will ruin the cheeseburger you just ate, Cowspiracy is a surprisingly entertaining look at how factory farms have altered the entire environment. Partly about the meat industry, the movie is a dire cover-up tale of a society that doesn’t want to talk about its dirty little secret.
The Thin Blue Line
The Thin Blue Line not only freed an innocent man from the grips of justice miscarried, it challenges the perception of each person’s point of view. Through dramatic re-enactments the film stages several interpretations of a police officer’s murder, proving that truth isn’t what we think it is.
A young boy from Texas goes missing, only to show up in Spain three years later. Rife with spoiler possibilities, The Imposter is as surreal and mind-bending a tale as you’ve ever heard, and is shot with great cinematic care, making it feel more like a feature.
The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief
In Japan there are clubs where men are the object of desire and women spend massive amounts of money just to spend time with them. It’s an odd look at gender roles, manipulation, and the mess we call love.
The Battle of the Somme
Forget about investigative journalism, The Battle of the Somme is a look at WWI that includes trench warfare footage from actual battles. As real as warfare gets, it’s also an odd example of the technology that men in uniform used to fight in The Great War.
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation Kazakhstan
Though Sacha Baron Cohen plays a fictional character in front of the camera, everyone else is a real person. Not only funny and sometimes cringe-inducing, Borat also shows much of the difficult immigrant experience in the United States.
F For Fake
Orson Welles was a certified nutcase, and his final film helps drive that point home. As much a spectacle of editing magic as it is a movie, F For Fake looks at con men and women, fraud, and the real underworld of high-stakes trickery.
Best Worst Movie
You don’t have to see Troll 2 – a movie that has nothing to do with Trolls – to appreciate this masterpiece. It’s an uproariously funny look at the behind-the-scenes world of cinema and the lunatics that work there.
Super Size Me
Morgan Spurlock is the rock star of the documentarian world. Super-Size Me is his breakthrough work in which he lives on nothing but McDonald’s food for a whole month, while documenting what it does to his body, his mood, his mind, and even his grease-clogged soul.
Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist
Tough and tragic, Sick shows Bob Flanagan as he dies of cystic fibrosis, but also chronicles the abuses he and his wife visited upon his body in a playful, empowering film about taking control of that which cannot be controlled and living every moment wholly.
Kumare: The True Story of a False Prophet
Vikrim Gandhi becomes a fake guru in an attempt to find out how far he can get in the world by claiming profound spiritual powers. Instead of mocking the people involved, it’s an example of how easily we can all be duped in our quest for meaning on this silly blue ball.
Man On Wire
Both a love story to the Twin Towers destroyed on September 11th and a yarn about the man who walked between them, Man On Wire sounds dull, but is about trials and triumph.
An exploration of the horrific exploitation that animals endure at the hands of greedy corporations, Food, Inc. shows us just how much our diet has been hijacked by the money-hungry, and how other lives on this planet suffer for our enjoyment.
West of Memphis
A sort-of sequel to the film “The West Memphis Three,” West of Memphis helps exonerate three wrongly convicted teenagers who were accused of murder and sent to prison for 18 years. All due to a broken legal system and a town’s desire for revenge.
The last of the food films on this list, Fed Up shows a direct correlation between what we eat and how healthy we are. It also proves how much many of our modern diseases are tied to poor nutrition thanks to big business.
Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
Fred Leuchter, Jr. wanted to make a better electric chair, so he did. Then, he claimed the holocaust didn’t happen. Weird and full of twists, this is death and conspiracy seen in a whole new light.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Corporate corruption at its absolute worst, Enron is proof positive that it’s a 1-percent world, we’re all just cash trees to be plucked until the day we die.
Roger & Me
Any of famed agitator Michael Moore’s films could go on this list, but his first film, about his quest to meet General Motor’s CEO Roger Smith, who was singlehandedly responsible for the demise of the much maligned town of Flint, Michigan.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
A deep dive into the molestation that occurred in the Catholic Church and the widespread cover-up, Mea Maxima Culpa is a faith-shaking look at power, sex, money, and God gone awry.
Forget Catfish, talhotblond looks at an online love triangle full of deceit, gambling, family, and eventually murder.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
A religion that might be the most official cult of all time, Scientology is unabashed for-profit faith. This looks at the tragic world where money and belief begin to take over lives.