Long ago, documentaries might have gotten a bad rap for not offering the inherent cinematic escapism of action-adventure odysseys or superhero extravaganzas. But, truth be told, the capital-T truth presents rich stories that even our most creative screenwriters could not imagine, and these days viewers realize they’re where some of the most fascinating plots can be found.
From the fraudulent chaos of Fyre Festival and healthcare-tech behemoth Theranos to the complicated celebrity live of Britney Spears, Kurt Cobain and Janis Joplin, documentaries guide audiences down a rabbit hole of fascinating, fact-driven entertainment. How else would we ever have any sort of access to the grand predators of Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya (“African Cats) or a lively South African kelp forest (“My Octopus Teacher)?
Lifelong learners may gravitate to Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” which brings to light the connection between U.S. racism and its prison system, or “Crip Camp” and its presentation of the American disability rights revolution. On the other hand, music history obsessives will enjoy reflecting on the ’60s Laurel Canyon music scene by watching “Echo in the Canyon” or reveling in the greatness and animosity of the Gallagher brothers with “Oasis: Supersonic.”
These nonfiction tales also serve as vessels for processing the complicated nature of the human experience and how larger socio-economic patterns dictate our lives. Still, audiences can find understanding in the likes of coming-of-age skateboarding film “Minding the Gap” or even the kindness of Fred Rogers in “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
Across Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus and Showtime, Variety has you covered in finding the best documentaries to watch right now. See the full list below.