Love Classic Movies? 10 Documentaries That Dive Into Cinema History

You’ve watched the movies, but have you watched the movies about the making of the movies?

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Casual movie fans tend to watch a movie then move on. If they really like it, they might see it again in the theater or buy a home version, but even that is a bit much for most people. Netflix and similar services have made so many movies available that we don’t think much about them.

Film buffs and fans of classic movies are different. They tend to focus on single genres, directors, periods, or even single movies for long periods, learning everything they can about them. If that sounds like you, these documentaries are for you.

1. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse

Already a classic of sorts among film buffs, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse follows Francis Ford Coppola and his crew during the making of Apocalypse Now. If you love that movie, you may even own this already, as it’s included on some versions of the home release. Otherwise you can rent the streaming version.

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2. Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood

This multi-part documentary series originally aired on Turner Classic Movies, telling the stories of various Hollywood pioneers over the years. This one isn’t available on streaming services, but you’ll find the DVD set on sale for a relatively affordable price.

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3. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood

Based on the book of the same name, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls focuses on Hollywood during the 1970s, a time when it was known as “New Hollywood.” Unlike the book, the movie can be tough to track down. Fortunately, you’ll find it streaming on YouTube.

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4. MGM: When The Lion Roars

As the name hints, this TV miniseries tells the story of the iconic Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, featuring Patrick Stewart as the host. The DVD is fairly expensive, but you’ll find it available for either rent or purchase on various streaming services.

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5. Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light

If you prefer things black and white with a hint of mystery, film noir is probably one of your favorite genres, meaning you should absolutely see Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light. This one can be tough to track down, but fortunately this is another one you can watch on YouTube.

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6. 78/52 Hitchcock’s Shower Scene

An entire documentary dedicated to not just a single movie, but a single scene may sound absurd, until you realize the scene the movie is about and the effect it had on the film world as a whole.

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7. The Great Buster: A Celebration

Buster Keaton was a major force in the world of film comedy, and this documentary dives deep into both his work and his life in general. This is a cheap and easy rental on a number of different streaming services.

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8. Waking Sleeping Beauty

This 2009 documentary focuses on Disney films between the early 1980s and the mid ’90s. If names like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Aladdin, and The Lion King bring a smile to your face, it’s worth paying for a month of Disney+ to watch this documentary and a few of the films it focuses on.

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9. Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream

The idea of the midnight movie carries a type of excitement with it, which is why this movie focuses on them. Bringing together movies like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Harder They Come, and Reefer Madness, this movie shows why these movies bring people to see them over and over. Available to watch via Starz on Amazon Prime Video.

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10. Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

Love him or hate him, the name Roger Corman is one familiar to many a film buff. Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel focuses on not just the director, but those he worked with and his approach to movie making in general. You’ll find this one on several digital rental services.

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Can’t Get Enough About Movies?

Even if not every documentary on this list appeals to you, there’s still plenty to watch. Still, even though there are a few multi-part documentaries here, you’ll run out of them eventually. What are you supposed to do then? Turn to podcasts! Check out the best podcasts for film buffs and movie junkies.

Essential Cinema & Movie Terms to Know

Download our free PDF cheat sheet of 75 cinema terms worth knowing if you love movies and want to discuss them using the proper vocabulary:
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