Documentary Delights: Top Picks for Non-Fiction Film Fans

In the age of streaming, documentaries have emerged as one of the most compelling genres, offering viewers a blend of entertainment and education. Whether you’re a history buff, a science enthusiast, or someone who enjoys exploring human stories, there’s a documentary out there for you. Here’s a curated list of some of the best documentaries to watch, spanning various topics and styles.

1. “Planet Earth” (2006)

Directed by: Alastair Fothergill

Synopsis: This groundbreaking nature documentary series, produced by the BBC, takes viewers on an awe-inspiring journey across the globe. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, “Planet Earth” showcases the planet’s most exotic and remote natural environments with stunning high-definition footage.

Why Watch: The series is celebrated for its breathtaking cinematography and its ability to bring the wonders of the natural world into your living room. It’s a perfect choice for nature lovers and anyone interested in environmental conservation.

2. “13th” (2016)

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Synopsis: This powerful documentary explores the history of racial inequality in the United States, focusing on the nation’s prison system. The film’s title refers to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery but allowed involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime.

Why Watch: “13th” is a thought-provoking examination of systemic racism and mass incarceration. DuVernay’s compelling storytelling and the film’s powerful interviews make it a must-watch for anyone interested in social justice and American history.

3. “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (2011)

Directed by: David Gelb

Synopsis: This documentary profiles Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Michelin three-star restaurant in Tokyo. The film delves into Jiro’s dedication to his craft and his relentless pursuit of perfection.

Why Watch: Beyond its focus on sushi, the documentary is an inspiring story about passion, perseverance, and the pursuit of excellence. Foodies and those interested in Japanese culture will find it particularly engaging.

4. “The Social Dilemma” (2020)

Directed by: Jeff Orlowski

Synopsis: This documentary-drama hybrid explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations. It examines how social media is designed to exploit its users’ psychology and contribute to issues like mental health problems and political polarization.

Why Watch: “The Social Dilemma” is essential viewing for anyone interested in technology and its effects on society. It provides a critical perspective on the ethics of tech companies and their influence on our daily lives.

5. “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (2018)

Directed by: Morgan Neville

Synopsis: This heartwarming documentary explores the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, the beloved host of the long-running children’s television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” It highlights Rogers’ gentle, compassionate approach to addressing complex social issues with children.

Why Watch: The film is a poignant reminder of the importance of kindness and empathy. It’s an uplifting watch that resonates with viewers of all ages, offering a nostalgic look back at a cherished television icon.

6. “Making a Murderer” (2015)

Directed by: Laura Ricciardi, Moira Demos

Synopsis: This true-crime documentary series follows the story of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder, only to be exonerated years later, and then accused of a new crime. The series raises questions about the criminal justice system and police misconduct.

Why Watch: “Making a Murderer” is gripping and controversial, sparking debates about justice and legal ethics. True crime enthusiasts will find it particularly engrossing.

7. “The Act of Killing” (2012)

Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer

Synopsis: This chilling documentary examines the Indonesian killings of 1965–66 through the eyes of the perpetrators, who reenact their crimes in various cinematic styles. The film offers a disturbing look at the nature of evil and the power of storytelling.

Why Watch: “The Act of Killing” is a groundbreaking work in documentary filmmaking, both for its unique approach and its unsettling subject matter. It’s a deeply thought-provoking film that challenges viewers to confront uncomfortable truths.

8. “Free Solo” (2018)

Directed by: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin

Synopsis: This Oscar-winning documentary follows rock climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without any ropes or safety equipment. The film captures his preparation and the climb itself, showcasing his remarkable physical and mental strength.

Why Watch: “Free Solo” is a visually stunning and nerve-wracking experience. It’s an inspirational story about pushing human limits and the spirit of adventure.

9. “RBG” (2018)

Directed by: Betsy West, Julie Cohen

Synopsis: This documentary explores best documentaries of all time the life and career of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, highlighting her work as a pioneering advocate for women’s rights and her lasting impact on American law and society.

Why Watch: “RBG” is an inspiring portrait of a legal icon. It’s a must-watch for those interested in law, gender equality, and the life of one of America’s most influential women.

10. “Honeyland” (2019)

Directed by: Tamara Kotevska, Ljubomir Stefanov

Synopsis: This beautifully shot documentary tells the story of Hatidze Muratova, a beekeeper in a remote village in North Macedonia, whose peaceful life is disrupted by the arrival of new neighbors. The film explores themes of environmental balance and sustainability.

Why Watch: “Honeyland” is both visually captivating and emotionally powerful. It’s a poignant reminder of the delicate balance between humans and nature.