The Best Documentaries on YouTube Are Worth Staying in to Watch Tonight

Entertaining and educational.

Updated 10/07/19

Jovo Jovanovic/Stocksy

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.

01 of 30

Stephen Hawking's "A Briefer History of Time" (2008)

Stephen Hawking documentary

 YouTube

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. 

Available on: YouTube

02 of 30

Brewed in the Burg (2015)

Brewed in the Burg

 YouTube

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.

Available on: YouTube

03 of 30

Forbidden Lie$ (2010)

Forbidden Lie$

 Amazon

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.

Available on: YouTube

04 of 30

The Iceman Tapes (1992)

The Iceman Tapes

 HBO

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.

Available on: YouTube

05 of 30

The Next Black (2014)

The Next Black

 AEG

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. 

Available on: YouTube

06 of 30

Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated (2017)

Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated

 IMDb

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.)

Available on: YouTube

07 of 30

A Certain Kind Of Death (2003)

A Certain Kind Of Death

 IMDb

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.

Available on: YouTube

08 of 30

Madness in the Fast Lane (2008)

Madness in the Fast Lane

 IMDb

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.

Available on: YouTube

09 of 30

Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

Capturing the Friedmans

 IMDb

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.

Available on: YouTube

10 of 30

Wisconsin Death Trip (1999)

Wisconsin Death Trip

 Amazon

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.

Available on: YouTube

11 of 30

The Family that Walks on All Fours (2006)

family that walks on all fours

 YouTube

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.

Available on: YouTube

12 of 30

The Bridge (2006)

The Bridge

 Amazon

The Golden Gate Bridge may be one of the most photographed structures of all time, but it's also one of the biggest suicide sites in the world. This film highlights the large number of suicides that occur there each year. It is harrowing, to say the least.

Available on: YouTube

13 of 30

Encounters at the End of the World (2007)

Encounters at the End of the World

IMDb

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

14 of 30

Nature's Great Race (2016)

Nature's Great Race

 Instant Watcher

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.

Available on: YouTube

15 of 30

Minimalism (2016)

Minimalism

 IMDb

From director Matt D'Avella, Minimalism puts America's obsession with materialism under a microscope. It follows various people who've embraced a more minimalistic lifestyle and how this philosophy has come to recalibrate their outlook on life as a result.

Available on: YouTube

16 of 30

Leaving Neverland (2019)

Leaving Neverland

 IMDb

In this HBO documentary, two men abused by Michael Jackson recount their experiences. You might see the iconic entertainer in another light after this.

Available on: YouTube

17 of 30

Planet Earth (2006)

Planet Earth

 IMDb

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.

Available on: YouTube

18 of 30

Planet Earth II (2016)

Planet Earth II

 Netflix

If you just couldn't get enough of Plant Earth the first time around, check out the sequel to the Emmy-winning series. Explore islands, mountains, jungles, deserts, and more, getting an intimate glimpse into our planet and the wildlife that occupies it.

Available on: YouTube

19 of 30

Living in the Coldest Place on Earth (2019)

Living in the Coldest Place on Earth

 YouTube

This BBC documentary takes you inside a remote outpost in Siberia, where your eyelashes will literally freeze. If you think you have it cold in the dead of winter where you live, you haven't seen anything.

Available on: YouTube

20 of 30

The Power of MEDITATION (2016)

The Power of MEDITATION

 YouTube

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.

Available on: YouTube

21 of 30

Free Solo (2018)

Free Solo

 IMDb

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.

Available on: YouTube

22 of 30

World's Scariest Drug (2012)

World's Scariest Drug

 VICE

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.

Available on: YouTube

23 of 30

The Hunt (2015)

the Hunt

 IMDb

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.

Available on: YouTube

24 of 30

Suicide Forest in Japan (2012)

Suicide Forest in Japan

 VICE

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.

Available on: YouTube

25 of 30

One Strange Rock (2018)

One Strange Rock

 Netflix

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.

Available on: YouTube

26 of 30

The Revelation of the Pyramids (2010)

The Revelation of the Pyramids

 Amazon

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.

Available on: YouTube

27 of 30

The Land of No Men: Inside Kenya's Women-Only Village (2015)

kenya's women only village

 VICE

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.

Available on: YouTube

28 of 30

Frozen Planet (2011)

Frozen Planet

 TV Guide

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. 

Available on: YouTube

29 of 30

Secrets of The Royal Kitchen (2016)

Secrets of The Royal Kitchen

 YouTube

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.

Available on: YouTube

30 of 30

The Blue Planet (2017)

The Blue Planet

 IMDb

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.

Available on: YouTube

Up next: These are the best date night movies of all time.

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