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15 Best Documentary Movies on Amazon Prime Right Now

Updated January 2, 2019
15 min read

It is said that films are a mirror of society. They show the characters and the things that are/were a part of the world. And to a good extent, this is quite true. But if films are the mirrors, then the documentaries are the crude, unbiased truth. They are more real than films because they don’t sugar-coat anything or fantasise some idealistic, dreamy endings. They show what is truly out there in the world. Once every while, especially in times like these, we need eye-openers to hook us to the reality.

Historically, documentaries have never made money at the box office (except Michael Moore films). That’s why, when you look back, the number of documentaries produced were significantly less in 80s and 90s than they are now.  But with the emergence of online streaming services, nowadays, documentaries have found a new breathing ground. Netflix, of course, is leading the way, but Amazon Prime is not far behind. Today, we are going to list down the top documentaries movies on Amazon Prime that you can watch right now. This list consists of all kinds of documentary films: from true crime documentaries to biographical documentaries. I would suggest not to miss any of these really good documentaries on Amazon Prime. All of them are worth your time.

15. Tales of the Grim Sleeper (2014)

A serial killer was loose on the streets of Los Angeles for about two and a half decades. He got the name The Grim Sleeper because he took more than a decade-long hiatus before he continued with his killings. When he was finally arrested, nine women and a teenage girl had become his victims. Two years ago, a sentence was passed on his crimes and he was charged with the death penalty. Even though his case has been closed now, the question remains: has justice been served? And, if it has, is it still justice if it could have been stopped in the first place? This is what Nick Broomfield tries to find out in his documentary. The filmmaker goes back to where the Grim Sleeper used to live, trying to understand his surroundings and his thought process. But, what comes out in this film is something entirely different than the case study of a serial criminal. It features the interviews of the neighbors and the people who knew, and suspected the man, but couldn’t do anything because they doubted the justice system. And for a very good reason.

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14. Sound City (2013)

It would be an understatement if I said that music plays an important role in everyone’s life. Everyone might not be connected to the same kind of music, but there is no denying that no matter what sort of music everyone listens to, they relate it with life and emotions. And because music is important, the place where it is made holds a high relevance, too. ‘Sound City’ is about one of those places. It is the story of Sound City Studios, a recording studio which was the place where some of the most prominent music was recorded by legendary singers and bands. Dave Grohl, Nirvana’s drummer, decided to make this documentary while the band was recording the album, Nevermind, here. This film features famous musicians who had recorded their music here, like Mick Fleetwood, Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield, Neil Young and a bunch of others. The added perk of this film is that some of these musicians recorded original songs for it, along with the covers of some famous songs.

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13. De Palma (2015)

Brian De Palma will always be known in Hollywood for making films like ‘Carrie’, ‘Scarface’, ‘Mission: Impossible’, ‘Carlito’s Way’ and many more. He had a remarkable skill and was known for bringing eccentric virtuosity in his works. In this documentary, Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow go over his long, tenuous and rewarding career that has culminated in the last fifty years or so. The film features the filmmaker in conversation with De Palma, probing him on the details about his approach towards his work and questioning the things that hadn’t been questioned to or answered by him before. It also takes us behind the scenes of the singular collection that he has concocted through his films. It takes us back to the 60s, the time when De Palma was just starting out. Charting all the events and films that shaped his life, the documentary focuses on how his attitude has changed towards the industry all over the years, and how Hollywood’s attitude has changed towards him.

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12. Thin (2006)

Body-shaming has been a real problem for a very long time. Even though now, the awareness regarding self-worth and disregarding what others think has been popularised, anorexia and other body-image problems are still prevalent. In this film by Lauren Greenfield, we meet Shelly, Polly, Brittany and Alisa. These women, ranging from age 15 to 30, suffer from eating disorders. They are receiving treatment for these disorders in a facility in Florida. The film follows them as they attend therapy sessions and discuss their diets. It goes in-depth, discussing the physical and psychological toll that their condition levies on them. This documentary is an eye-opener to the things otherwise considered mundane in several parts of the world. The obsession to lose more and more weight throws its victims into the spiral of mood swings, anxiety and severe depression. The lives of the four women, featured in this documentary, shows how it becomes impossible to live a normal life with a disorder that eats away at you. Body-shamers need to see this and understand how their acts make things worse for some people.

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11. Fight for Space (2016)

When the Cold War was at its peak, Space War was one of the prominent fronts between the USA and former USSR. While the Russians sent the first man into space, the Americans prepared to send men on the Moon. It was the time when space exploration took a large leap and was indeed “a small step for man, a giant leap for the mankind”. But those were the exciting times. By the time the Cold War ended, NASA started seeing a gradual decrease in its funding. The surface had just been scratched for space exploration and that’s what it has remained since then, even after such a long time. In this documentary, scientists and politicians discuss how the perception of the masses has changed towards the space exploration and how it has affected the funds for NASA, which has further held their feet from taking any further leaps. Prominent figures in science like Bill Nye, Michio Kaku and Jim Lovell discuss the importance of space exploration for America and for the rest of the world.

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10. Long Strange Trip (2017)

For three decades the Grateful Dead indulged their fans in a journey full of eccentric and a rather psychedelic music. Their music ranged from jazz and classical to folk ballads. They continuously experimented with their style, one album after another. It has been more than two decades since the Grateful Dead disbanded. Their music might be confined to the hardcore fans, labelled as Deadheads, and it might not hit the right cord for everyone. However, it doesn’t mean that their journey was any less interesting. Starting their trip from the 1960s, it covers the ups and downs that its crew faced over all the years that they were together. Through the interviews of its living band members, it reminisces the days when their music was still new. It’s a much watch for the fans of the band, but that doesn’t mean that others can’t be interested in it. If you like music, and you like the stories of people making their dreams come true, you should watch this.

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9. The Endless Summer (1966)

Surfing is one of the most exciting and popular water sports in the world. All over the globe, people travel far and beyond to ride the waves. The culture of travelling and surfing must be a rather common thing now, but back when this documentary was released, it was a new and foreign prospect for people. In ‘The Endless Summer’, the filmmaker Bruce Brown presented a new set of life for surfers by following the lives of Mike Hynson and Robert August. These surfers travelled across the around the world to find perfect surfing spots. The tone of the film varies from crude narration, by Brown, to witty humour. Hynson and August’s travel from their native state of California to the then unexplored and lesser-known surfing spots not only provides good entertainment but also induces the enthusiasm for wanting to surf these places personally. The title itself alludes to endless travelling throughout the world to chase the never-ending summer.

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8. Gleason (2017)

Steve Gleason used to play for the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League. The blocked punt in the 2006 game in New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina is what made him most famous. However, he received a hit in 2011 when he was diagnosed with ALS. This neurological disorder is known for affecting the neural functions that stop working slowly. In its most severe form, it disables the respiratory process due to which the person dies. When Gleason got news of his problem, he decided to document his time. Meanwhile, it was also revealed that his wife was pregnant. The documentary follows Gleason’s struggle with his disease, and him welcoming a son into his life. It shows how the onset of the disease affected his life, how it could have made things worse had Gleason fallen into the pits that it dug for him. There were things that Gleason held on to and this film showcases his strength, where it came from and how it made his life better.

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7. The Invisible War (2012)

There is no question on the fact that the Armed Forces are central in maintaining the balance in today’s tumultuous world. They are the ones who help save people from atrocities and bring peace in the otherwise suffering sections of the world. But, what happens when a section of people suffers amongst the ranks of the Forces and rather than being attended to justice is silenced and even reprimanded. ‘The Invisible War’ is a picture of the victims of sexual assaults in the US military. It comments on the frequency of these things, how often they don’t come to light, what factors keep them in the shadows and how the victims have to suffer even further, inflicted with physical and mental trauma and robbed of justice at the hands of the system that they chose to serve under.

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6. City of Ghosts (2017)

The whole world is privy to what has been happening in Syria for quite some time. As the forces of ISIS worked towards satisfying their own irrational and lunatic end, the people of Syria suffered under their regime, trying to survive and break free from the people wreaking havoc on their lives. Raqqa was the de facto capital of ISIS, and this is where a citizen journalist group was active, trying to capture the atrocities on Syrians and relaying to the world. Their work while brought to light a lot of new things, but more importantly broke a few misconceptions that the outside world had formed for the people stuck in Syria. This group is named Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. This documentary focuses on the life of the people who worked as a part of this activist group. It shows the risks they had to take while working undercover, how some people had to run for their lives and some were exiled from their own homeland.

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5. 4 Little Girls (1997)

When the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum in the country, the opposing forces were trying to beat the willpower of the activists by committing horrendous acts against them. One such incident happened in 1963 and it shook the whole country so much that the next summer the Civil rights Act of 1964 was passed. So, what was this event and how bad was it? It was a Sunday morning on 15th of September, 1963. A bomb, placed by the members of Ku Klux Klan, went off in the church and four young girls were killed in it. This documentary, directed by Spike Lee, focuses on what was happening before this event and what happened after it. It covers the important events and demonstrations of the movement, features interviews of the friends and family of the four girls along with that of the activists. It shows both the emotional and the historical impact of the incident, and comments on how many things have or haven’t changed even after all this fight.

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4. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)

In August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it caused unprecedented destruction flooding about eighty per cent of the whole city. In this documentary, Spike Lee interviewed the residents of New Orleans to get their perspective on the hurricane, its effects and aftermath. Most of this destruction was because of the failures of the levees and the flood walls. These were supposed to act as a protection and when they crumbled, the city was engulfed by the devastating hurricane. ‘When the Levees Broke’ mostly focuses on this topic. Interviewing people involved on different levels with the construction and working of the levees, it tries to understand where things went wrong, and what could’ve been done to prevent it. But, more than that, it shows the indomitable will of the people of New Orleans to rebuild their lives and the city.

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3. The Act of Killing (2012)

The mid-60s were a turbulent time in the history of Indonesia. Political upheavals ruled the country and there was a surge of hatred towards the communist community. After a regime change took place, one of the most atrocious acts by people in high places were committed in Indonesia. It was the mass killings of the communists. This film discusses that event and focuses on the people who did such horrendous acts. One such person was Anwar Congo who was the leader of a death squad in North Sumatra. Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer invited him to talk and shed light on the things that happened then. The tone of the film slowly builds from a light conversation to a dark commentary and questions the morality of the people who do such things. It also sheds light on the current political regime in Indonesia and how the mass-killings are prohibited from being discussed there.

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2. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)

In May 1993, the bodies of three young boys were found in the Robin Hood Hills. They were hogtied with shoelaces, were stripped and their bodies were sexually mutilated. It became even more horrifying when it was revealed that these brutal and inhumane killings had been carried out by three teenage boys. It appeared that they had been performing some sort of Satanic ritual and the three victims were the sacrificial offering. This documentary focuses on the events that took place around this event. It starts from the time when the killers were arrested. Along with the interviews of the parents of the victims and the killers, it also followed the proceedings at the trial, what evidence was found against the teenagers, how they behaved during the trial and finally what judgement was served to them. It also factors in the political and religious stance of the society that they were living in. This documentary is followed by two more that factor in the things that came to light later and how they affected the case.

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1. I Am Not Your Negro (2016)

In his time, James Baldwin had seen a great many things. He was quite close with people involved in the Civil Rights Movement, three of whom were Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. One of his projects, before he died in 1987, was a book called ‘Remember This House’. This book was supposed to be based on his experiences with the activists and all the things that he saw during such tumultuous times. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to complete this book. ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ is inspired by his unfinished manuscript. It is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and features Baldwin’s personal notes and letters, something that would have gone into the book, had it been completed. The film draws a line between the events that happened then and the things that are happening now to compare how much the things have changed and how much more reform is needed to make things better.

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