This story is updated monthly with our latest picks.
Documentaries are all the rage lately, especially with interesting releases like Fyre and the Joan Didion piece, The Center Will Not Hold, on Netflix (directed by Didion’s nephew, no less). We love the options that Netflix has to offer, but there are definitely other ways to catch these informative works of art, like watching the best documentaries on YouTube. One major perk? Some of the docs on the streaming site are completely free—no subscription necessary.
As for our selection of must-sees, there is certainly something for everyone. They range from a biography of physicist Stephen Hawking, to an in-depth look at serial killers, and even a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the life of singer Demi Lovato. Start working your way down the list tonight with the 30 best documentaries on YouTube out right now. We promise you won’t be disappointed.
Here are our picks for the best documentaries on YouTube right now.
Stephen Hawking's "A Briefer History of Time" (2008)
If you cried through The Theory of Everything, the movie portraying astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, then you will undoubtedly like the documentary about his life. It’s called A Brief History of Time and is named after the best-selling book penned by Hawkings himself. Director Errol Morris talks to close colleagues and loved ones to find out more about this scientific pioneer, although it focuses more on the personal than the professional.
Brewed in the Burg (2015)
The beer scene in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is booming, with nearly two dozen breweries opening in two years alone. This documentary features tons of interviews with local brewers, including some of the area’s greats. If you’re into craft beer, we guarantee this pick will be worth skipping happy hour for.
Forbidden Lie$ (2010)
What happens when you find out that the author of a best-selling memoir about her best friend’s honor killing isn’t true? Such is the topic of Anna Broinowski’s documentary, Forbidden Lies, which digs deep to try to get into the psyche of author Norma Khouri. Expect a lie detector test, reenactments from Khouri, as well as a trip back to Jordan as the author insists that her claims are the truth.
The Iceman Tapes (1992)
Things are not always as they seem, and this chilling documentary about a serial killer/family man will prove this point. It’s not for the faint of heart, as you’ll hear about some of the 100 murders Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski reportedly committed from police officers, medical examiners, and his wife. Oh yeah, and you’ll hear from Kuklinski himself as to exactly how he did it.
The Next Black (2014)
In this age of technology and innovation, what’s next in the world of fashion? In this 45-minute documentary, home appliance manufacturer AEG taps some of the most forward-thinking design labels to see how they’re changing the future of clothing (Patagonia is one name you’ll recognize). With things like health-monitoring sports uniforms and cloth dyeing without water, your mind will be blown.
Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated (2017)
We all know how hard it can be to grow up, but imagine having to do it in the spotlight. Singer Demi Lovato uses her documentary, Simply Complicated, to let her fans and naysayers in on the addictions she’s been battling over the years. How’s that for bravery? (PS: Expect some Nick Jonas cameos.)
A Certain Kind Of Death (2003)
This documentary is a bit unsettling, but poignant. It explores what happens to people who die with no next of kin. You'll see dead bodies in various stages of decomposition, so don't watch this if you have a weak stomach.
Madness in the Fast Lane (2008)
In 2008, BBC filmed two Swedish sisters throwing themselves into traffic on the M6. The footage was nothing short of shocking, and this documentary reveals the full story of what happened before the cameras captured the footage, as well as what happened over the next 72 hours.
Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
When filmmaker Andrew Jarecki learned that one of his subjects, a professional clown, was the son and brother of two men convicted of child sexual abuse in a 1980s criminal trial, he used home videos as well as interviews to compile a documentary to explore it.
Wisconsin Death Trip (1999)
This black-and-white documentary is based on the 1973 book of the same name. It dramatizes photographs by Charles Van Schaick found in the early 1970s, connected to a series of incidents that took place in Wisconsin.
The Family that Walks on All Fours (2006)
A fascinating documentary, the film follows a family of human "quadrupeds" that walk with a quadruped gait in Southeastern Turkey. The BBC documentary explores the science and story behind it.
Encounters at the End of the World (2007)
Filmmaker Werner Herzog chronicles his journey to Antarctica as he visits McMurdo Station, the United States' largest research center on the continent. Not only does Encounters at the End of the World showcase the hauntingly beautiful landscape, but it also explores the minds of the scientists studying the otherworldly wildlife there.
Available on: Youtube
Nature's Great Race (2016)
This PBS documentary promises epic footage following the world's most significant land migrations. Watch as elephants, caribou, and zebras embark on a treacherous journey.
Leaving Neverland (2019)
In this HBO documentary, two men abused by Michael Jackson recount their experiences. You might see the iconic entertainer in another light after this.
Planet Earth (2006)
BBC's Planet Earth claims that you'll see the world "as you've never seen it before," and honestly, the series does not disappoint. From the frozen tundra to the fertile rain forests, the 11-episodes series delivers compelling information and imagery, not to mention, it's narrated by naturalist David Attenborough.
The Power of MEDITATION (2016)
Another informative BBC documentary, this one explores a variety of meditation techniques that encourage relaxation, and help to develop compassion, love, patience, and more. If you're new to meditation, this documentary is a good place to start.
Free Solo (2018)
This movie documentary chronicles Alex Honnolds free solo climb of 32,000-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Trust us, your palms will be sweating the entire time.
World's Scariest Drug (2012)
VICE traveled to Colombia to find a powerful drug, Scopolamine, known as "The Devil's Breath." The substance can actually render a person incapable of exercising free will. The documentary is harrowing, taking a dark turn that you won't see coming.
The Hunt (2015)
If you want something with a bit of action, you can't miss this documentary. The Hunt follows showdowns in the animal kingdom, capturing leopards, polar bears, sharks, and other predators targeting their prey. The BBC mini-series is narrated by David Attenborough.
Suicide Forest in Japan (2012)
Another VICE documentary, this one takes place in a popular site for suicides in Japan, the Aokigahara Forest. People take their own lives there at a rate of 50-100 a year. It's a heavy watch, to say the least.
One Strange Rock (2018)
Will Smith hosts this documentary, which explores and reveals how life is able to thrive on Earth. One Strange Rock follows eight astronauts sharing their perspectives on earth.The ten-episode series explains how earth is both habitable and lethal, and mass extinctions are necessary for a prosperous planet.
The Revelation of the Pyramids (2010)
Get an in-depth look at one of the Seven Wonders of the World in this documentary. A team of independent researchers has finally managed to understand and reveal what lies behind this great archaeological mystery.
The Land of No Men: Inside Kenya's Women-Only Village (2015)
Take a look inside the Umoja village, a safe haven for women in northern Kenya. It's home to women who don't want to suffer abuse at the hands of men, and it will inspire and empower you.
Frozen Planet (2011)
David Attenborough lends his voice to another BBC documentary, and this time they head to the Arctic and Antarctic regions to chronicle life in one of the harshest environments on earth. Filmmakers spent a phenomenal 2300 days in the field and 18 months at sea to record this incredible footage and showcase the breadth of life in such a barren place.
Secrets of The Royal Kitchen (2016)
A former royal chef reveals what actually happens in the royal kitchens. You'll learn how to cook food fit for a queen, board the Royal Yacht Britannia, an even see Princess Diana and the Prince of Wales's wedding breakfast recreated.
The Blue Planet (2017)
This BBC series goes beyond the territory covered in Planet Earth and dives into the depths of the seas. The Blue Planet, also narrated by legendary naturalist David Attenborough, spans coasts of various continents around the world and covers a range of creatures from microscopic coral polyps to blue whales.
Up next: These are the best date night movies of all time.