Documentary films were originally called actuality films, and were less than a minute long. Thankfully this ever-evolving form of filmmaking has continued to thrive, bringing us feature-length movies that document life, human or otherwise, in an effort to educate and entertain.
The best documentaries observe without obstructing, let the viewer think for themselves rather than forcing an agenda, and deliver stories worthy of being told to a wider audience than they might naturally find.
Our pick of the best documentaries on Amazon Prime Video cover sport, space, science, music and more, and should deliver highs, lows and food for thought in something approaching an equal measure.
The best thrillers on Amazon Prime Video right now By Michael Bizzaco and Nick Perry April 1, 2021 Thriller flicks are a dime a dozen, and they’re the gift that keeps on giving.
Universally heralded as one of the best documentaries ever made, The Act of Killing is equal parts inventive and shocking. Director Joshua Oppenheimer challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers. And the results are every bit as disturbing as you'd imagine, making for a truly challenging, powerful watch.
This powerful documentary follows five years in the life of Steve Gleason, a former American football player who is diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a rare and incurable neurodegenerative disease that slowly robs the afflicted person of their motor functions.
Expect no sugar-coating of the condition, the deterioration of Gleason’s body or the strain on his relationships and family. While it’s not an easy watch, the attitude of all involved, and especially Gleason, make for a predictably emotional but surprisingly uplifting film.
Voyager I and II are perhaps NASA's finest moments: mind-boggling missions that continue to this day. Remembered by many for the Golden Record – a 12-inch gold-plated copper disc full of music, sounds and voices to document the human race – the legendary launches are documented here through the voices of many of the people behind those contributions.
The Farthest puts a witty, imaginative spin on what is by now a well-told tale of an incredible achievement.
Martin Scorcese directs this Grateful Dead docuseries, which mainly focuses on reluctant spokesman, Jerry Garcia. Few bands have inspired quite so cultish a following, nor been so central to such a powerful cultural movement, and Long Strange Trip does its best to get to the bottom of not just what made the band tick, but also what made them so alluring.
With the band often ignored by non-believers, this is worth a look for anyone interested in the history of popular culture through the eyes of a counterculture phenomenon.
Are you finding yourself thinking a little more about what life is all about at the moment? This might be for you, if you have the spare brain capacity.
Professor Jim Al-Khalili has a way of making complex scientific theory, if not simple, at least understandable and interesting to those of us less up-to-speed with human life as we know it and how it came to be. The Secret Life of Chaos attempts to make sense of how we’re all here, if not exactly why.
This behind-the-scenes documentary series (which is now a series of series) follows the Arizona Cardinals through the 2015 NFL season, and, as with each All Or Nothing edition, is a fascinating insight into the ecstatic highs and desperate lows of professional sport. There’s humour, emotion and previously unseen sides of both the game and the world-famous players.
If massive units in body armour throwing themselves at each other doesn’t do it for you, then how about massive units throwing themselves at each other minus the body armour?
If you’re jaded by moneyed megastars and sport as a business, then this documentary on the 2015 Leeds Rhinos rugby league team will reignite your passion for sport’s ability to inspire, unite and entertain and reward those who work together to give their all in the honest pursuit of victory.
Another tough but rewarding entry on our list, as Matthew Heineman tells the story of courageous activists turned citizen journalists in Raqqa, Syria, who coordinated to reveal the atrocities being carried out by ISIS.
Harrowing footage reveals the lengths to which ISIS went to find new recruits, who were often children, alongside the horrific violence of the terrorist group’s attacks. Thankfully there’s some hope to be found in the bravery of the activists.
One of the top-rated documentaries on Amazon Prime Day is this unlikely DIY effort from three friends in Durham, England. As the synopsis goes, “One building leads three friends to unearth a local legend. 99cm tall and 97 years old. They discover the amazing story of Joseph Boruwlaski.”
Intrigued? A 9.3 rating from 33 reviewers on IMDb (the Internet Movie Database), suggests you’ll be entertained, too.
You’ll have to rent or buy this one – it isn't included with your Amazon Prime subscription – but we think it’s well worth it. Whether you’re well-versed in the life of Diego Armando Maradona or have barely a passing interest in football, we think you’ll find this biopic fascinating.
Constructed from more than 500 hours of previously unseen footage, it focuses on the years Maradona spent playing for Napoli in Italy, and the incredible rise and fall of a complete one-off.
Sport throws up countless examples of strength in adversity to win against the odds, which makes it ripe for documentary makers. Steve and Todd Jones have explored this rich seam in more than 40 films, and this might just be the best.
Surfing champion Andy Irons was used to winning, but few knew the behind-the-scenes battles he was facing, which only made his exploits all the more impressive. An exploration of bipolar disorder and opioid addiction through the eyes of a world champion surfer: it’s an eye-opening, powerful film.
A moving account of a migrant family traveling from Afghanistan documented using mobile phone footage. Highlighting the terrible uncertainty of a family forced to move from place to place, country to country, the expertly edited-together footage makes for an incredible document of the refugee crisis, and how people can not just persevere but also find light in such a seemingly dark existence.
Are you making the most of your Amazon Prime subscription?
Everyone knows to turn to Prime Video when it's time to rent or purchase in-demand releases — but if you're not keeping an eye on the service's rotating movie offerings, then you're probably missing out on all the 'free' stuff Prime Video gets you. Chock full of popular recent releases and older favorites, Prime Video has a solid lineup worth sorting through.
For folks looking to stream right away without dipping further into the wallet, here are the 20 best movies included on Amazon Prime Video, curated for your convenience. Y'know, just to get you started.
Develop a powerful new fear of alligators with director Alexandre Aja's engrossing Crawl. Kaya Scodelario stars as Haley, a young woman evacuating her home ahead of a Category 5 hurricane but struggling to ensure the safety of her estranged father before she leaves. The result is like that scene from the original Jumanji, y'know with the alligator in the house? But its a horror movie and also there's a hurricane. Good luck.
How to watch: Crawl is now included with Prime Video.
Based on Darcey Bell's novel of the same name, A Simple Favoris a slinky, sexy, ridiculous comedy thriller from Paul Feig perfect for any occasion. Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively lead as moms who connect over their sons' friendship, but soon form a sinister bond far more lasting. Think interior decorating tips meets Fashion Week meets murder. It's great.
How to watch: A Simple Favor is now included with Prime Video.
Of course, the whole Nazi zombie thing has been done before. But director Julius Avery's Overlord takes that trusty horror concept to new levels of action and gore for a high-octane, sci-fi experience you won't soon forget. Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, and John Magaro band together to fight off an epic villain played by Game of Thrones' Pilou Asbæk.
How to watch: Overlord is now included with Prime Video.
Soon-to-be Marvel star Kumail Nanjiani plays himself in director Michael Showalter's telling of Nanjiani and wife Emily V. Gordon's love story with a harrowing twist. Written by Nanjiani and Gordon, The Big Sick follows a couple on the brink of a breakup who suddenly face losing each other forever. Genuinely funny and extraordinarily sweet, this meaty rom-com is perfect for when you want a meaningful watch with high entertainment value.
How to watch: The Big Sick is now included with Prime Video.
Rihanna and Donald Glover lead in this darkly joyous musical movie journey. A vibrant blend of contemporary tracks and timeless storytelling (with just a sprinkling of FX's Atlanta-esque style), Guava Island tells a of tale oppression and resistance always worth revisiting. If you haven't seen it before, make the time. At just 55 minutes, it's a steal.
How to watch: Guava Island is now included with Prime Video.
Add some Robert Eggers to your queue and revel in the baffling mystery that is The Lighthouse. This black-and-white nightmare features lead performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as two lighthouse keepers spiraling into madness. It goes about as well as you'd expect.
How to watch: The Lighthouse is now included with Prime Video.
Written by Shia LaBeouf and based on his own experiences growing up, Honey Boy is a surprisingly heartfelt and impactful watch. Chronicling the life of a former child actor who spirals into alcoholism, this semi-autobiographical work offers profound insight into the pain and pressure of a man forced to evolve in the public eye.
How to watch: Honey Boy is now included with Prime Video.
If you missed writer-director Stephen Merchant's emotional sports comedy — and Florence Pugh's excellent lead performance in it — then make sure to double back for Fighting with My Family. Pugh plays Paige, a character based on a real pro-wrestler, in a delightful look at dreams that Mashable's Angie Han called 'the cinematic equivalent of comfort food, something familiar and unfussy that'll nevertheless leave you satisfied.'
How to watch: Fighting with My Family is now included with Prime Video.
Start your hero's journey all over again by rewatching the first Avengers movie. Of course, Disney+ has the most Marvel movies of any streaming service, so if you want to do a marathon that's the place to start. But if you're not subscribed there or just want to relive the Battle of New York, then this is a great opportunity to do so. Plus, shawarma!
How to watch: Marvel's The Avengers is now included with Prime Video.
Director Bo Burnham and star Elsie Fisher dazzle in this timeless and cringe-worthy reflection on growing up. An occasionally painful yet consistently spectacular narrative chronicles a 13-year-old girl's final week of middle school, a chance to set the record straight and reimagine her future high school self.
How to watch: Eighth Grade is now included with Prime Video.
Clue is one of those classically funny movies you just can't not enjoy. Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Colleen Camp, and the iconic Tim Curry band together to run around a mansion, make some of the best puns ever written, and solve a murder like it's a board game.
How to watch: Clue is now included with Prime Video.
Taron Egerton leaves it all on the stage in director Dexter Fletcher's Elton John biopic. Reaching the highest highs and the lowest lows, Rocketman is a roller coaster of emotional turmoil, addiction, and unparalleled showmanship that somehow manages to impart meaningful perspective on legacy and staying true to yourself. Come for the songs, stay for the heartbreak. And the glitter. So much glitter.
How to watch: Rocketman is now included with Prime Video.
If you have somehow managed to go your whole life without having this movie spoiled for you, head directly to Prime Video. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just go watch it. If you haven't, watch it again! There's never a bad time to enjoy Joss Whedon's unmatched horror comedy movie. It's got intrigue, it's got zombies, it's got Chris Hemsworth on a motorcycle. Go forth and rewatch!
How to watch: The Cabin in the Woods is now included with Prime Video.
With so many phenomenal Adam Driver movies out in 2019 (Marriage Story, The Dead Don't Die, The Rise of Skywalker) you may have missed The Report. Directed by Scott Z. Burns, this drama takes a chilling look at the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation of the CIA's use of torture following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Supporting performances by Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, Ted Levine, and more make this an ensemble effort worthy of your time.
How to watch: The Report is now included with Prime Video.
Train to Busan delivers in every way a zombie apocalypse film should. Director Yeon Sang-ho's breakneck vision of a passenger train suddenly fighting off undead predators has great action, sensational character development, and special effects you won't soon forget.
How to watch: Train to Busan is now included with Prime Video.
Director Ari Aster's second feature-length film combines colorful dreamscapes with terrifying occult rituals for a totally engrossing horror experience. Half scary movie, half fantasy story book, Midsommar isn't a casual watch. Save this one for when you have time process. Then, pair it with Hereditary (which Prime Video has too) for a terrifying Aster movie marathon.
How to watch: Midsommar is now included with Prime Video.
Awkwafina delivers a stunning lead performance in writer-director Lulu Wang's captivating tale of a granddaughter saying goodbye to her grandmother, played by Zhao Shu-zhen. A transporting blend of comedy and heartbreak — featuring a chihuahua named Ellen to boot — The Farewell touches on timeless themes of compassion and grief in a way that is both clever and moving.
How to watch: The Farewell is now included with Prime Video.
In director Joe Talbot's feature-length film debut, leads Jimmie Falls and Jonathan Majors present a friendship so compelling you'll have a soft spot in your heart for it always. Falls, playing a semi-autobiographical version of himself, embarks on a journey to restore his grandfather's Victorian-style home in the midst of the rapidly gentrifying city.
How to watch: The Last Black Man in San Francisco is now included with Prime Video.
Rian Johnson's Academy Award-nominated whodunit Knives Out checks every box on a movie lover's list. It's got Chris Evans in a cable-knit sweater, Daniel Craig doing the worst accent you've ever learned to accept, Ana de Armas just existing. Join the wealthy Thrombey family for a wholesome night of backstabbing in this delightful murder mystery.
How to watch: Knives Out is now included with Prime Video.
From its iconic scenes ('Tiny Dancer,' 'I am a golden god,' 'Marianne with the pot!') to its hidden gems (I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Rainn Wilson as Dave Felton!), Almost Famous remains one of the most re-watchable movies in history. Patrick Fugit stars as a teen rock journalist — a semi-autobiographical character based on writer-director Cameron Crowe's experience writing for Rolling Stone in the '70s — opposite Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, and more. Just watch it. Again. And again.
How to watch: Almost Famous is now included with Prime Video.