What would our lives be were it not for documentary film? They force us to sit down, watch, and listen. They put us in times, places, and in the minds and hearts of people we’d ordinarily only hear about filtered through six degrees of news cycles, relatives, and clickbait. Put simply, documentaries can be the most engrossing, immersive cinematic experience available, and you’re probably not watching enough of them.


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The Fog of War: 11 Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara

Robert S. McNamara served as Secretary of Defense from 1961 through 1969, under both President John F. Kennedy and his successor Lyndon B. Johnson. He most significant claim to fame is as a significant force behind U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, possibly the most controversial of 20th century American military engagements. The Fog of War is a 2003 documentary from Errol Morris in which McNamara examines his time as Secretary of Defense, his life after politics, and what he learned from it all. It explores—in discerning and extensive detail—what drives people to conflict, and what we can do to prevent such things from happening in the future. FilmStruck



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Trouble The Water

Another criminally underrated film, Trouble the Water tells the story of Kimberly Rivers Roberts and her husband Scott, a New Orleans couple who decided not to evacuate in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Roberts had her camera rolling throughout the tragic event, and paints a vivid and all-too-real picture of what the people of New Orleans went through immediately following the natural disaster that left tens of thousands of people without homes, as well as through the years that followed. The footage, compiled by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, tells a powerful anecdotal story on race, class, and the tensions between the government and citizens of New Orleans that plagued the recovery process. Perhaps the most sobering portrayal of a disaster that happened right here, at home, to Americans. Amazon Prime



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An Honest Liar

James Randi began his career as a bona fide stage musician and entertainer, famous for his escape routines, quick sleight of hand work, and his mystifying ability to bend metal or move objects with his mind—or, at least, make it look that way. Which makes it interesting that, later on in life, he retired from the stage and became a devout scientific skeptic. An Honest Liar is a biographical documentary film in which Randi calls out fake faith healers, predatory “psychics,” and other classic pseudo-scientific con-artists. It’s one of those films that’ll just make you scream “OH GOD, YES!” at your TV, over and over again. Netflix



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The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

Known as the toughest ultramarathon trail race no one has ever heard of, The Barkley Marathon is the hands-down toughest and most grueling race on the planet. Of the 800 people who’ve tried competing in the race, only 14 have ever finished it. The Barkley Marathon: The Race That Eats Its Young tells the origin story of the race, profiles several competitors, looks at the race’s odd quirks (books are used as trail markers and the race begins by lighting a cigarette, which is exactly how you want to treat your lungs before this thing), and explores the race’s founders Karl Henn and Gary “Laz” Cantrell (who, it turns out, is hysterical and kind of winds up stealing the show). Even if you’re not a runner, this is a great character study of some of the weirdest, hardest working people the world’s ever known. Netflix



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Tickled

We’re telling you right now that this will be hands-down the craziest shit you’ve ever watched. It’s so crazy that people constantly denounce it as fake because it’s just so goddamn ridiculous. Tickled, by New Zealand journalists David Farrier and Dylan Reeve, starts as a reporter wanting to find out more about the world of “competitive endurance tickling.” But his initial probe for information immediately provoked homophobic, nationalist insults from the production company that sponsors competitive tickling and the effort uncovered a conspiracy involving Wall Street banking money, identity theft, and probably some of the creepiest fetish shit anyone has ever seen—all at the hands of one elusive woman, if she’s real at all. It’s un-fucking-real. HBO



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Searching for Sugar Man

If you’re an American, you’ve probably never heard of Sixto Rodriguez. But if you grew up in South Africa, he was a household name bigger than The Beatles—no, seriously. Searching for Sugarman is a documentary film about two fans, Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom, who set off on a journey to discover what happened to this music hero after hearing that he had killed himself. We won’t spoil the honest storytelling of the film, but know that it eventually won a BAFTA Award for Best Documentary at the British Academy Film Awards and currently has a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Starz



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Just For Kicks

Maybe you’re a sneaker head. Maybe you’re a b-boy. Maybe you don’t give a shit about any of that stuff and you just love an interesting look into a culture you always thought was ridiculous or foreign. Whatever it is, Just For Kicks takes a look at one of the world’s most tight-knit but far reaching communities: Sneaker collecting. The film combines a series of interviews with self-admitted sneakerheads like Grandmaster Caz, Ad-Rock, Missy Elliott, and members of Run D.M.C. to help explain the phenomena of sneaker culture. The hobby has a colored history, cultural shifts, and the major players in the game, so no matter what side of sneaker culture you fall on, something in here will pique and hold your interest. Crackle



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Everybody Street

Our hands-down favorite entry on this list, Everybody Street is a documentary film that explores and illuminates the lives of some of New York City’s most prolific and iconic street photographers. It features in depth interviews with and profiles on people like Mary Ellen Mark, Elliott Erwitt, Bruce Davidson, Ricky Powell and Jamel Shabazz. Not only that, we then get to follow them around the city that served as the inspiration for all these years. If you’re not into photography, this is the film that’ll make you wish otherwise. Netflix | Amazon Prime