Documentaries are like junk food to me: I crave them, they’re delicious in the moment, but they leave me feeling empty as soon as I’m done. In through one eyeball and out the other.
No matter how interesting or well-made they are, anything gleaned from a documentary is forgotten as soon as the credits start rolling—at least, most of the time.
There are a handful of documentaries that were impactful enough to stay with me even to this day. Here are some of the best documentaries to watch if you want to be moved, shocked, or downright amazed.
1. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
The story of the world’s greatest sushi chef and what it cost for him to reach that level. Interspersed between beautiful shots of gourmet sushi and peeks into the life of a reserved but skilled master, you get punched by some heavy emotional beats.
The director would later go on to create Chef’s Table, which is something of a spiritual successor to this wonderful documentary.
2. Tower (2016)
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The story of the shootings at University of Texas, Austin during 1966. Most of the documentary is a retelling of what happened from various points of view, and the retellings are told using rotoscope animation.
The style is a bit off-putting at first, but get through it because there’s an incredibly tense and heartbreaking story just underneath. It rightfully holds a 99% approval on Rotten Tomatoes.
3. Touching the Void (2003)
The story of two experienced mountaineers who attempted to climb a virgin peak, only to be caught out in a raging storm that nearly claims their lives.
You know they survive, but it doesn’t matter—this documentary is intense, and it feels like they’re going to die at any moment.
Why I love this film? Because it reminds me of the importance of the will to live and how far a human being can actually go when pushed to the edge of their life.
4. Fed Up (2014)
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The story of the real causes behind the obesity epidemic in the US—and by extension, the world—and what corporations are doing to hide that secret.
This documentary is an eye-opener, not only as far as showing how misled the American public has been, but how deeply buried the actual truth is. (It’s not a conspiracy documentary.) If you like this one, you should also check out The Magic Pill (2017).
5. The Drop Box (2015)
The controversial story of a pastor in South Korea who created a “drop box” where distressed mothers can safely abandon their newborns instead of leaving them in the streets to die.
It’s a powerful film that explores the problem of child abandonment in South Korea, the personal and societal pressures that lead women in this direction, and the contentious nature of the drop box itself.
6. Icarus (2017)
The incredible story of a man who, while investigating illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs, finds himself caught in a dangerous conspiracy that involves a Russian scientist, the Russian government, and the International Olympic Committee.
The film starts off slow, but turns into such a gripping crime thriller that you have to remind yourself that this is a documentary that’s cataloguing real people in real events.
7. Sour Grapes (2016)
The mysterious story of the world’s greatest wine fraudster: an avid wine connoisseur who sold millions of dollars of fake wine.
Not only is this documentary super interesting, it’s super thrilling with mystery on top of mystery. The narrative unfolds in an expert way, always keeping you on your toes, questioning the truth, and anticipating what lies around the next corner.
More Excellent Documentaries to Watch
These are the ones that affected me, and there are plenty of other high-quality documentaries that I could list here: Extremis, The Imposter, Dear Zachary, and many more.
If you’re in need of even more documentaries to add to your watchlist, we have other articles worth checking out!