50 Informative Documentaries to Watch Now

Updated June 3, 2024 • Staff

All documentaries talk about something real in the world, but there's a fine line between docs that just ramble on and regurgitate established facts at us, and docs that really zero in on a subject—getting us to care about something we might never have paid attention to before, and potentially changing the way we think about everything. Here at agoodmovietowatch, we've compiled a list of the best little-known documentaries that really believe in what they're saying and hope to pique your curiosity and command your attention. And since these films are highly-rated not just by critics but by audiences too, you can trust that watching them won't feel like you're just stuck in school.

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50.

In Our Water (1982)

You know that the people you choose to follow for a documentary are great characters when the film itself can survive as straightforward coverage of their actions, no fancy directorial flourishes needed. But this is not to downplay what director Meg Switzgable does. In fact, her dedication to sticking by Frank Kaler and the other citizens of South Brunswick on the ground—and therefore capturing them as three-dimensional, inspirational human beings—is arguably the core value that all documentarians should possess. This also means that the access Switzgable has to this issue of government negligence is obstructed by the same red tape Kaler encounters, making the film (already just an hour long) feel too short. Still, a modest documentary like this shouldn't feel this thrilling. And by the end, all these New Jersey residents look like rock stars.

Our staff rating: 7.7/10
Genre: Documentary
Director: Meg Switzgable
49.

Into the Inferno (2016)

From countries like Finland to North Korea, this amazing documentary explores the most fascinating active volcanoes on our planet. But as it unfolds you realize that Into the Inferno is a movie as much about volcanoes as it is about the people obsessed with them. And who can be called obsessive more than the film’s own director, Werner Herzog, who, with such an explosive career had to eventually make a film about volcanos (bad pun intended). Beautiful scenery, interesting interviews, and Werner’s majestic delivery all make Into the Inferno both an interesting and satisfying documentary.

Our staff rating: 7.8/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Clive Oppenheimer, Kampiro Kayrento, Katia Krafft, Mael Moses, Maurice Krafft, Werner Herzog
Director: Werner Herzog
Rating: N/A, Not Rated
48.

The 100 Years Show

This is a half-hour documentary about Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera. She is one of the oldest artists working today, close to being 100 years old. Her story is fascinating because she only became successful in her 80s, although she never stopped working her whole life. There are many reasons as to why her work went unnoticed for so long and they’re all examined here. But the best thing about this movie is Herrera’s outlook on life and what drives her every day.

Our staff rating: 7.8/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Carmen Herrera
Director: Alison Klayman
Rating: N/A
47.

Meeting Gorbachev (2019)

This informative documentary about the former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev is set against modern-day interviews with him that span 6 months. Sitting opposite of him is the Gorbachev equivalent in filmmaking: Werner Herzog. The prolific director asks interesting questions and narrates events that illustrate Gorbachev's forgotten importance: ending the cold war, a push for denuclearization and avoiding bloodshed during the fall of the Soviet Block. The fact that Gorbachev is loved by so many, including Herzog - who at some point actually says "I love you" - might be the only problem with this documentary. It's a great reminder of why people loved the Soviet leader, a phenomenon otherwise known as "Gorbymania", but it does very little in portraying him in a critical light.

Our staff rating: 7.8/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: George H. W. Bush, James Baker III, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Werner Herzog
Director: André Singer, Werner Herzog
Rating: Not Rated
46.

Bathtubs Over Broadway (2018)

Even if you’re a huge Broadway fan, you’ve probably never heard of the “industrial musical." While it no longer exists in practice, in the 1970s industrial musicals were shows that corporations commissioned for some of the biggest Broadway names to produce. The script would be based on the company’s offerings and history, and privately performed by real Broadway actors to audiences made up exclusively of company and factory staff.

Now, a documentary about industrial shows doesn’t scream “entertaining,” but to describe Bathtubs Over Broadway in such a manner would be selling it way short. It’s really about Steve Young, a comedy writer for David Letterman, and how his life changed when he found his first industrial musical LP when leafing through a crate of old records for a Late Night segment he was working on.

Ultimately, what makes this such an enjoyable watch is the protagonist’s enduring passion over what at first appears to be nothing but a niche obsession. But with time, as he connects with other collectors and the people who were involved in the original industrial musical productions, his passion breeds community and lifelong bonds. Even if you’re no fan of Broadway, this makes for a great pop culture documentary and an unexpectedly touching story of human connection.

Our staff rating: 7.8/10
Genre: Comedy, Documentary, Drama, Music
Actor: Chita Rivera, David Letterman, Florence Henderson, Jello Biafra, Martin Short, Melody Rogers, Sheldon Harnick, Steve Young, Susan Stroman
Director: Dava Whisenant
Rating: PG-13
45.

Control Room (2004)

For the longest time, American media coverage was skewed to justify the presence of US forces in Arab states. Control Room unveils that bias by following Al Jazeera at the start of the Iraq War in 2003. One of the biggest Arab media outlets at the time, Al Jazeera dared to cover both sides of the war, but by doing so put a target on its back. It was vilified by both the US government, which called it an Osama mouthpiece and the Arab world, which called it a Bush ally. 

Control Room shows the difficulty (if not sheer impossibility) of achieving journalistic balance, objectivity, and integrity. Through interviews with Al Jazeera reporters and US military officers, we witness how lines are blurred, loyalties are tested, and purpose is shifted in a state of war. A seminal work on media bias and press control, Control Room is vital and enlightening, a must-watch to understand the inner workings of the fourth estate. 

Our staff rating: 7.8/10
Genre: Documentary, War
Actor: Abdul Jabbar Al-Kubeisi, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Hassan Ibrahim, Josh Rushing, Muafak Tawfik, Nabeel Khoury, Omar Al-Issawi, Tom Mintier
Director: Jehane Noujaim

Free Watching Options:

Watch Control Room (2004) on Amazon Prime for free
44.

Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America (2022)

Although Who We Are is essentially a professionally recorded masterclass interspersed with additional interviews, it only emphasizes Jeffery Robinson's skill as an orator and his compassion as a teacher. In a clear and levelheaded manner, he lays out how even the historical documents that formed the blueprint of the United States are exclusionary in key ways. Robinson does this not to condemn his country, but to challenge the way we view traditions as sacred, and to see how modern-day white nationalism is upheld by these institutions, intentionally or not. The new interviews that accompany Robinson's talk take these lessons on the road, reminding us of those who are directly affected by these centuries-old decisions.

Our staff rating: 7.8/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Jeffery Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr.
Director: Emily Kunstler, Sarah Kunstler
43.

Kokomo City (2023)

The idea of representation in movies is often limited to superficial gestures of putting on screen people who look a certain way. Kokomo City is a reminder of cinema's possibilities when one really tries to queer filmmaking itself, with genuine queer voices driving a production. This documentary is messy and incredibly playful in its style—in ways that might read to some as lacking cohesiveness, or as tonally inconsistent. But the way director D. Smith is able to capture the dynamic energy of a series of conversations makes these powerful, funny, tragic anecdotes and dialogues feel truly grounded in people's everyday experiences, and makes the plea for protection of trans lives all the more urgent.

Throughout Kokomo City, this collection of individuals goes off on various tangents that never become difficult to follow. They speak about the nature of sex work, hidden desires felt by traditionally masculine male clients, and various degrees of acceptance within the Black community. And between these statements alternating from impassioned to emotional to humorously candid, Smith injects cheeky cutaway footage, layers text on screen, and plays an eclectic rotation of music throughout. It's about as real and as three-dimensional as these trans lives have ever been shown on screen.

Our staff rating: 7.8/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Daniella Carter, Dominique Silver, Koko Da Doll, Liyah Mitchell, XoTommy
Director: D. Smith
Rating: R

Free Watching Options:

Watch Kokomo City (2023) on Fubo for free
42.

Katrina Babies (2022)

If Katrina Babies seems like a somewhat disjointed account of the myriad responses to Hurricane Katrina and the U.S. government's horrible, anti-poor response to the disaster, director Edward Buckles Jr. uses this structure with much more intent. For once this is a documentary that feels like citizen reporting and not a sanitized report from experts who have little to no real personal stake in the subject. As the film swings from one talking point to the next, you get the sensation of just how much the people of New Orleans are still trying to comprehend; the loose structure brings to this film a sense of helplessness that, for some, just can't be overcome.

Our staff rating: 7.8/10
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Arnould Burks, Calvin Baxter, Cierra Chenier, Damaris Calliet, Quintina Thomas Green
Director: Edward Buckles
Rating: R
41.

Freestyle: The Art of Rhyme (2000)

This fascinating documentary traces the roots of freestyling back to the rhythmic sermons of Baptist preachers, the improvisational energy of jazz music, and the spoken word artistry of the civil rights era’s Last Poets — but, like the form of rap it chronicles, it largely exists in the moment. The ephemeral nature of freestyling makes it a tricky thing to bottle, but The Art of Rhyme does so by mimicking the freewheeling energy of the MCs onscreen. And there are many legends of the medium featured here: from underground titans like Supernatural and Craig G (whose epic battles are shown here) to big names who crossed over into recording success like Talib Kweli, Mos Def, and even precious footage of a 17-year-old Notorious BIG. It’s as enlightening as you’d hope, but what makes this documentary such an impressive portrait of freestyle are all the ways it mirrors the impulsive, quick-thinking philosophy of the form in little over an hour.

Our staff rating: 7.8/10
Genre: Documentary, Music
Actor: Akim Funk Buddah, Bahamadia, Bobbito Garcia, Boots Riley, Debi Mazar, DJ Kool Herc, Eluard Burt, John Coltrane, Muhammad Ali, Planet Asia, The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, Yasiin Bey
Director: Kevin Fitzgerald

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