10 Best Documentaries on Disney Plus

Updated January 31, 2024 • Staff

Disney Plus is best known for being the streaming home of major franchises like Marvel and Star Wars, as well as prolific studios like Pixar, but did you know it also has a wide range of documentaries? Disney subsidiary National Geographic alone regularly puts out adventure-seeking and historical documentaries (including the Oscar-winning The Rescue and Summer of Soul), but Disney itself is also in the business of producing non-fiction content, many of them musical profiles of popstars, even others about small-time people making far-reaching change. All in all, they all carry that Disney aim to inspire, educate, and be as family-friendly as possible. So if you're wondering what to put on, here is a simple guide to the very best documentaries you'll find on Disney Plus right now. 

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10.

Stan Lee (2023)

Stan Lee, the documentary, is a charming introduction to the iconic creator. He enthusiastically narrates his journey into comics – from lowly intern to famous publisher – giving a seemingly modest account of events. With his voice making most of the narrative, Lee’s voice reveals his creative process and mindset, detailing the day-to-day writing process and the Marvel method. However, the documentary isn’t Lee’s voice alone. Director David Gelb brings a charming approach to this documentary, as seen in his previous work, that helps turn his subject palatable, despite the disagreement displayed by other people. Overall, the film is an okay introduction, though the full story behind Lee’s most contentious events, deserves a documentary of its own.

Our staff rating: 7/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama
Actor: Jack Kirby, Joan Lee, Joe Simon, Kevin Feige, Roy Thomas, Stan Lee
Director: David Gelb
Rating: TV-14
Go to Disneyplus
9.

If These Walls Could Sing (2023)

With nearly a century to cover, If These Walls Could Sing had the daunting task of giving justice to the history of the iconic Abbey Roads Studios. In 89 minutes, Mary McCartney outlines the studio’s history through archival footage and a stacked selection of artist interviews, popping only in random moments to organize the timeline. With the wide selection of artists, the film can feel scattered, as it jumps from classical music, to rock and roll, and to film scoring. The documentary doesn’t really go in-depth into how the studio developed its sound, but there are some interesting insights into certain tracks, like how the studio approached contracts, experimentation, different genres, and technology. While the film relies too much on nostalgia, it’s still an interesting tour based on the subject matter alone.

Our staff rating: 7/10
Genre: Documentary, Music
Actor: Cilla Black, Cliff Richard, David Gilmour, Elton John, George Harrison, George Lucas, George Martin, Jimmy Page, John Legend, John Lennon, John Williams, Kanye West, Kate Bush, Liam Gallagher, Linda McCartney, Mary McCartney, Nile Rodgers, Noel Gallagher, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Roger Waters
Director: Mary McCartney
Go to Disneyplus
8.

Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions (2020)

While most media outlets would rather talk about Taylor Swift’s love life and never-ending feuds, the fact remains that Swift is a dedicated artist. She’s a prolific songstress and an astute writer, and regardless of what you think of her, it’s always a treat to see someone with that much passion and talent delve deep into their craft. 

This is precisely what she does in Folklore. Between cozy conversations with co-producers and rustic live sessions, Swift lets her guard down to reveal how she works on each song, from the backstory to the melody. The result is a mesmerizing documentary about how Swift spent the secluded year of 2020 working on a record that would go on to win Album of the Year at the Grammys. 

Our staff rating: 7.1/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama, Music
Actor: Aaron Dessner, Jack Antonoff, Justin Vernon, Taylor Swift
Director: Taylor Swift
Rating: TV-14
Go to Disneyplus
7.

Howard (2018)

Howard Ashman was at the peak of his career—fresh off Little Mermaid’s sweeping win at the Grammys and Oscars, and concocting the iconic songs that would make up Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast—when he died of AIDS at 40. But even at that relatively young age, Ashman already had a lifetime’s worth of work to show. Howard, the documentary, gives us a glimpse into Howard’s inner and early life, starting with his fanciful and imaginative childhood, all the way down to his formative college years, his foundational work in “off, off” Broadway, and the breakout success of The Little Shop of Horrors the Musical. Disney isn’t the whole picture, the documentary rightfully proclaims, so in between the abovementioned highlights, director Don Hahn inserts pockets of heartwarming anecdotes from Howard’s friends and family, and some of Howard’s own wise words from interview snippets. It’s clear Hahn was a good friend of Ashman, since the documentary often feels like a warm get-together of the people who knew and loved Ashman best. 

Our staff rating: 7.5/10
Genre: Documentary, Music
Actor: Adam Jacobs, Alan Menken, Angela Lansbury, Anne Bobby, Annette O'Toole, Barbara McCutchan, Barry Peterson, Bill Boggs, Bill Lauch, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Brynn O'Malley, Charles B. Griffith, Chris Montan, Colleen Camp, Dan Rather, Dan Stevens, Danny Glover, David Friedman, David Geffen, Denise Nickerson, Dennis Green, Diane Sawyer, Divine, Don Hahn, Donald W. Ernst, Douglas Seale, Dudley Moore, Ellen Greene, Emma Watson, Estelle Bennett, Fats Waller, Frank Oz, Frederick Coffin, Gary Trousdale, Glen Keane, Howard Ashman, James Monroe Iglehart, Janis Menken, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jerry Orbach, Joan Prather, Jodi Benson, John Herman Shaner, John Musker, Jonathan Hadary, Jonathan Haze, Karen Miller, Kirk Wise, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Kyle Renick, Larry Kramer, Leola Wendorff, Levi Stubbs, Maria O'Brien, Marvin Hamlisch, Maureen Abbott, Maury Yeston, Mel Welles, Melanie Griffith, Melinda Smith, Mena Massoud, Michelle Weeks, Mike Gabriel, Natalie Wood, Paige O'Hara, Pat Carroll, Paula Abdul, Peter Schneider, Randy Cartwright, Richard Beymer, Richard White, Rick Moranis, Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers, Roger Ebert, Ron Clements, Ronnie Spector, Roy Edward Disney, Sarah Gillespie, Shirley Ashman, Steve Martin, Thomas Schumacher, Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell, Vincent Gardenia, Walt Disney, Will Smith
Director: Don Hahn
Go to Disneyplus
6.

The Space Race (2023)

Like many American narratives, the history of space exploration is rife with long-buried secrets that are finally coming to the surface. The Space Race is an attempt to collect those secrets and weave a fresh new history that finally celebrates the heroes we should’ve learned about years ago. There are interviews with the likes of space pioneer Ed Dwight (who is responsible for unforgettable lines like “I’m not part of history, but a mystery” and “I had the capability, but not the opportunity) and the first Black man to fly into space, Guion Bluford, as well as surprising information about confidential test pilots, political involvement, and the undeniable influence of Afrofuturistic art and media in the field. But education aside, what gives the documentary an edge is that it’s not afraid to question and at times attack NASA and the government for their racist past. We see celebrated astronaut Victor Glover reconcile his loyalty to his nation with his anger over the murder of George Floyd, for instance. At the same time, others like Dwight wanted to “just talk about space, not the struggle” but were tokenized both by the government and the opposition for their gains. Despite its compact run time, The Space Race covers all these nuances and more to provide a richly detailed and lovingly told new history of space exploration in America.

Our staff rating: 7.6/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Charles Bolden, Ed Dwight Jr., Guion Bluford
Director: Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, Lisa Cortés
Rating: PG-13
Go to Disneyplus
5.

The Territory (2022)

Surprisingly dramatic for a documentary but without exoticizing its central characters for a privileged audience, The Territory is that rare film that rightfully portrays indigenous peoples as living firmly in the present. In their continuing struggle to protect their land and culture, the Uru-eu-wau-wau people of the Amazon may be vulnerable, but they aren't helpless. They're organized, have access to technology, and know exactly how they want to represent themselves—armed with bows and arrows and defending what's theirs in beautiful, thrilling footage. In this way, even as The Territory ultimately touches on issues that have affected all of Brazil, namely the destructive effects of Jair Bolsonaro's presidency, it still feels like a documentary co-authored by these indigenous people themselves.

Our staff rating: 7.7/10
Genre: Documentary
Director: Alex Pritz
Go to Disneyplus
4.

Science Fair (2018)

Science Fair is simultaneously a feel-good documentary and a feel-bad one: while inspiring and reassuring for all the brilliant young minds it spotlights, it also has the potential to make your own life accomplishments look paltry in comparison. The former effect is the strongest, though — because you can’t watch high schoolers as young as 14 present pioneering, disease-curing research and inventions and not feel like the future is in good hands.

Science Fair is light on the actual science, which makes it an accessible watch and prevents the film’s focus from mimicking the cutthroat nature of ISEF, the international competition it follows. With a grand prize of $75k and lots of college application-boosting medals up for grabs, the competition amongst the kids is fierce, but Science Fair instead takes an empathetic, celebratory approach so that all of the kids feel like deserved winners. That’s especially true of the more disadvantaged teens: though the competition itself might not take into account all the hurdles they’ve had to overcome even just to get in the room, this compassionate doc definitely does. Even if the science is all Greek to you, it’s impossible not to appreciate and be moved by the determination and resilience of these kids.

Our staff rating: 7.7/10
Genre: Documentary
Director: Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster
Rating: PG
Go to Disneyplus
3.

Free Solo (2018)

Alex Honnold might not be the most relatable guy ever, but his obsession with free solo climbing and his single-minded approach to life makes him so interesting. He's precisely the type of person that chooses to follow his goals, at the expense of everything else. To a certain extent, he has to be — without whole-hearted commitment to the sport, he could literally die. It’s no wonder someone decided to document his climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan wall—a wall that’s 3,000 feet high and hasn’t been free-climbed alone before. The journey is visually stunning and a technical marvel in and of itself. However, what’s most memorable about this film is the character study of Honnold: he has an indescribable instinct that outsiders could only call a death wish. His emotional detachment might make this a frustrating film to watch, but Free Solo serves as a unique portrait of a man who spits at the face of death.

Our staff rating: 7.8/10
Genre: Adventure, Documentary, Drama
Actor: Alex Honnold, Jimmy Chin, Tommy Caldwell
Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin
Rating: PG-13
Go to Disneyplus
2.

Fire of Love (2022)

Fire of Love is a documentary that follows Maurice and Katia Krafft, a scientist couple who’ve dedicated their entire professional lives to studying (and marveling at) volcanoes. The two met at university and have been inseparable ever since, chasing explosions around the world until their death at the Mount Unzen eruption in 1991. 

The fiery passion the title refers to is as much about Maurice and Katia as it is about their dedication to volcanoes. Like any love story, it tracks how they were first wonderstruck by the formation and how that awe shaped their lives and led them to each other, as well as how they came to discover hard truths about it and dealt with the heartbreak that soon followed. 

Combining the breathtaking footage the couple left behind with lovely writing and artful animation, director Sara Dosa creates a moving documentary about passion, adventure, and the world itself. 

Our staff rating: 8.4/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama
Actor: Alka Balbir, Guillaume Tremblay, Katia Krafft, Miranda July
Director: Sara Dosa
Rating: PG
Go to Disneyplus
1.

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film's pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

Our staff rating: 8.6/10
Genre: Documentary, Drama, History, Music
Actor: Abbey Lincoln, B. B. King, Chris Rock, David Ruffin, Fidel Castro, Hugh Masekela, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, John V. Lindsay, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mahalia Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples, Max Roach, Moms Mabley, Nina Simone, Questlove, Redd Foxx, Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Walter Cronkite
Director: Questlove
Go to Disneyplus

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