Director Ava DuVernay looks at the history of the US prison system and how it relates to the nation”s history of racial inequality.
The murder trial in Italy of the American exchange student Amanda Knox, who is now free, captivated the world in the early 2000s. This Netflix original looks back at the case and gets the perspective of Knox and others closely involved.
“The Battered Bastards of Baseball”
In a fascinating look at one of the more colorful stories in baseball lore, directors Chapman and Maclain Way follow the Portland Mavericks, an independent baseball team owned by the movie star Bing Russell (Kurt Russell”s father) who threw out all the conventions of the national pastime to build a regional sensation in the late 1970s.
“Biggie & Tupac”
A look at the East Coast/West Coast hip-hop rivalry that resulted in the deaths of two icons.
Why is SeaWorld ending its killer-whale shows? Partly because of this incredible movie that looks at the abuse these magnificent creatures have endured for decades.
Cocaine invaded Miami in the late 1980s, and the city has never been the same. This documentary looks at the blood-soaked era and the people who were responsible.
“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”
Alex Gibney received an Oscar nomination for best documentary for this in-depth look at the rise and dramatic fall of the energy giant.
“Exit Through the Gift Shop”
This story of a French immigrant obsessed with street art who searches for the reclusive artist Bansky only to have the legend turn the camera back on him is a fascinating look at the street-art scene. To this day, it”s unclear if the story is authentic or a Bansky prank.
The legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog recounts the incredible footage taken by the activist Timothy Treadwell, who lived among grizzlies in Alaska until he was killed by them in 2003.
“The Hunting Ground”
An emotionally powerful account of rape on US campuses and how the schools work to save face.
“Into the Inferno”
Herzog travels around the world, including to North Korea, to examine the beauty and danger of active volcanoes.
“Janis: Little Girl Blue”
A portrait of the legendary singer Janis Joplin, with help from the many letters she wrote amid her sudden rise to fame.
The documentary filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady give us an eye-opening look inside a Christian summer camp where kids are taught that they have “prophetic gifts.”
“Killing Them Safely”
A movie that is increasingly topical, this doc from director Nick Berardini examines the use of the Taser stun gun by US police departments.
In 2011, before making the acclaimed Netflix movie “Barry,” Vikram Gandhi created this documentary in which he impersonates an Indian guru and builds a following in Arizona. The reveal at the end is something the best screenwriters couldn”t come up with.
“Last Days in Vietnam”
This Oscar-nominated doc by director Rory Kennedy looks at the final weeks of the Vietnam War and the exodus in Saigon of not just American soldiers and diplomats, but also the South Vietnamese, who helped the US during the war.
Steve James gives a touching portrayal of the life and work of film critic Roger Ebert, capturing his final months.
“Lost in La Mancha”
Terry Gilliam”s doomed attempt at making “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” turns into an incredible all-access look at filmmaking at its most chaotic.
“Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley”s Island of Dr. Moreau”
The 1996 movie adaptation of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” is one of the worst movies ever made, but the story of how its original director, Richard Stanley, exited the film and what transpired afterward is extremely bizarre. It”s a blessing it was told.
“Making a Murderer”
This true-crime tale about the murder case of Steven Avery became an instant Netflix binge when it hit the streaming service in December 2015. Filmed over 10 years, it will no doubt prompt you to come up with your own theory about what”s really true.
“Man on Wire”
The winner of the Oscar for best documentary in 2009, this doc is a powerful retelling of Philippe Petit”s illegal high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in 1974.
“Metallica: Some Kind of Monster”
The directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky are allowed to film the making of Metallica”s first album in six years, “St. Anger,” and find themselves instead filming the band on the brink of collapse after the departure of their longtime bassist, Jason Newsted. What unfolds is one of the best rock-and-roll documentaries of all time.
Jesse Moss explores the modern-day gold rush: men desperate for work who head to the North Dakota oil fields to find it. Many come with just the clothes on their backs and troubled pasts. A local pastor is the only one who will take them in, but he has demons of his own.
Before Arnold Schwarzenegger was the biggest action star in the world, he was a Mr. Olympia champion starving for fame. This documentary shows an Arnold on the cusp of stardom.
“The Queen of Versailles”
If you want to know about the effects of the economic crisis from the point of view of the 1%, look no further than this fascinating portrait of a couple who were constructing a mansion inspired by Versailles and how their empire crumbled in the span of two years after the collapse of the mortgage bubble.
Morgan Spurlock (of “Super Size Me” fame) mixes horror and documentary to create this frightening look at the movements and habits of rats — and yes, they are all around us.
You think you know everything about Stanley Kubrick”s “The Shining”? Once you see this dissection of almost every theory that has been devised about the movie, you”ll sing a different tune — and appreciate the original masterpiece even more.
“Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine”
If the star-studded biopic “Steve Jobs” didn”t give you the insight you wanted, give this Gibney doc a try. Gibney uses archival footage and interviews with those who knew Jobs best to examine his life, which was, in many ways, his work.
Before Cory Booker became a senator, he was an unknown running for mayor in Newark, New Jersey. Marshall Curry”s documentary chronicles his run for office.
“Super Size Me”
Spurlock”s directorial debut that looks at the dangers of fast food, in which he eats only McDonald”s for a month, didn”t just make him an instant star — it also caused the fast-food chain to eliminate its super-size option.
“The Thin Blue Line”
Before “The Jinx” and “Making a Murderer,” there was Errol Morris” groundbreaking investigation of a man wrongly convicted of the murder of a police officer in Texas. The new findings in the movie led to the release of the man.
“What Happened, Miss Simone?”
This Oscar-nominated doc by Liz Garbus looks at the powerful career of Nina Simone, who went from chart-topping singer to civil-rights activist.
Confined to their apartment for most of their childhood, six brothers learned everything they know about the outside world through the movies they watched and then reenacted with homemade costumes.