The Best Documentaries on Amazon Prime Video Right Now (May 2021) Digital Trends

While you may not literally learn something new every day, you can certainly try to be watching a documentary every day. Thanks to the extensive on-demand repository from streaming services like Amazon Prime Video, you can explore the world from your couch any time you want. From the natural world to the heavens above, centuries in the past to ideas forging the future, Amazon is packed with documentaries for any mood. We’ve sorted through the streamer’s massive library to show you the best docs currently available on Prime Video.

We’ve also rounded up the best documentaries on Netflix and the best documentaries on Hulu if Amazon Prime Video doesn’t have what you’re looking for.

Grizzly Man (2005)

Legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog finds one of his more fascinating subjects in Timothy Treadwell, the man who would become known as Grizzly Man. Pieced together from Treadwell’s actual video footage, Herzog examines the calling that drove Treadwell to live among a tribe of grizzly bears in Alaska. A devoted conservationist and avid adventurer, Treadwell truly believed that he had bridged the gap between humans and bears. But when one of the bears he loved and protected turns on him, the grim footage of the attack becomes a tragic window into our understanding of nature.

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Stars: Werner Herzog, Val Dexter, Carol Dexter
Director: Werner Herzog
Rating: R
Runtime: 104 minutes

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Time (2020)

One of life’s most precious commodities — the one we can never get back — is time. That’s especially true for those who are incarcerated or have a loved one locked up in prison. Time takes an unflinching look at a family dealing with the struggles of losing that time through the eyes of Sibil Fox Richardson, whose husband Rob is serving 60 years in prison for robbing a bank. Home videos of the family are used throughout the documentary, adding poignancy to the film and making sure viewers never forget that these are real people living through the prison-industrial complex. The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2020, where director Garrett Bradley became the first Black woman to win the U.S. Documentary Directing Award.

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Stars: Fox Rich, Rob G. Rich
Director: Garrett Bradley
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 81 minutes

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Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011)

In 2009, Conan O’Brien famously took over for Jay Leno as host of NBC’s iconic The Tonight Show. But after just seven months with the gig, he was unceremoniously fired. Suddenly unemployed and embroiled in a bitter legal battle with the network, Conan took his show on the road for a 32-city comedy show titled The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour. Filmmaker Rodman Flender follows him every step of the way, creating an unusual documentary that’s part stand-up special, part concert film, part deep introspective of one of the 21st century’s most celebrated comedians at the most tumultuous time of his career.

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Stars: Conan O’Brien
Directors: Rodman Flender
Rating: R
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Jasper Mall (2020)

If it feels like ’80s nostalgia is at an all-time high, you might be right. And right at the center of that nostalgia trip is the shopping mall. In this pensive documentary, Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb expose the reality of the dying American mall industry by focusing on a once-thriving mall in Jasper, Alabama. Formerly the hub of a community, the dying mall is now emblematic of changing economic tides and a culture that may be permanently gone.

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Stars: N/A
Directors: Bradford Thomason, Brett Whitcomb
Rating: PG
Runtime: 84 minutes

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The Booksellers (2019)

You might not think a documentary about New York’s rare book world would be interesting or entertaining. You’d be wrong. The Booksellers invites you into a world of fascinating bibliophiles, taking you into some of the extraordinary lengths mildly obsessive people will go to for the sake of adding to their precious libraries. With endlessly entertaining interviews with the likes of Parker Posey, Fran Lebowitz, and Gay Talese, The Booksellers is one of those rare documentaries that feels like a narrative.

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Stars: Parker Posey, Fran Lebowitz, Gay Talese
Directors: D.W. Young
Rating: PG
Runtime: 99 minutes

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Stop Making Sense (1984)

Jonathan Demme’s Talking Heads concert film is one of the most beloved entries in the genre. Shot at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre in 1983, Demme captures all of the energy and artistry that made Talking Heads, and especially frontman David Byrne, an ’80s icon. From the modest opening to the crescendoing finale, Stop Making Sense is an iconic piece of music filmmaking and an important piece of music history.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison
Director: Jonathan Demme
Rating: PG
Runtime: 88 minutes

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All In: The Fight for Democracy (2020)

The lead-up to the 2020 election was one of the most contentious periods in recent American history. From the coronavirus pandemic to the fight for racial justice to the staggering economic downturn affecting millions around the country, it’s never been more important to make sure your voice is heard and vote. That’s the message behind All In, an Amazon Original released in September, less than two months before Election Day. The filmmakers get their message across by zeroing in on the issue of voter suppression, focusing on the 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia, where Stacey Abrams allegedly lost due to voter suppression. Abrams has since founded Fair Fight Action, an organization dedicated to addressing the issue.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Stars: Stacey Abrams, Ari Berman, David Pepper
Directors: Liz Garbus, Lisa Cortes
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Hale County, This Morning This Evening (2018)

Hale County, This Morning This Evening is important viewing for how extraordinarily ordinary it is. Director RaMell Ross purposely avoids narrative in this documentary about Black lives in the 2010s. It takes a big-picture view of the Black experience through an intimate lens that immerses the audience better than any real story could. This is life, writ small. Hale County, This Morning This Evening isn’t for everybody (read: if you don’t appreciate art house, you may find it pretentious), but if you’d like to sit back and truly appreciate the beauty of life for a while, you’re in for a treat.

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Director: RaMell Ross
Rating: 18+
Runtime: 76 minutes

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That Sugar Film (2015)

That Sugar Film is in the same mold as Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, except it’s Australian and focuses on an even more pervasive food industry evil: sugar. Director Damon Gameau decides to consume a high-sugar diet — through foods commonly assumed to be healthy — for 30 straight days. No, he’s not stuffing his face with candy and soda; Gameau instead illuminates how massive amounts of sugar are often found in places you likely thought were safe. With entertaining cameos from Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry, That Sugar Film feels like a sugar high, right until the eye-opening crash.

Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Stars: Damon Gameau, Hugh Jackman, Stephen Fry
Director: Damon Gameau
Rating: PG
Runtime: 94 minutes

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More Than a Game (2008)

Before LeBron James became one of the greatest basketball players of all time, he was a high schooler from Akron, just like his teammates. James famously appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school junior and spent the rest of his career validating the early hype. It’s easy to forget that he had teammates at St. Vincent-St. Mary. More Than a Game follows his AAU team (think elite high school basketball) as they traverse the country as James’ star continues to grow through everyone’s eyes. It serves as a bit of an origin story for James but never shies away from the harder truths he and his teammates had to endure. More Than a Game is a must-watch for more than just basketball fanatics.

Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Stars: LeBron James, Dru Joyce, Romeo Travis
Director: Kristopher Belman
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 105 minutes

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One Child Nation (2019)

Arguably one of the most controversial policies in the world during its heyday, China’s one-child policy was enacted in 1979 in an attempt to control the population of the country, which was expanding at unsustainable rates. The policy eventually reverted to the previous law, a two-child policy, in 2015. For the 36 years in which the policy was active, however, there were numerous consequences, both intended and unintended, as parents had to grapple with impossible choices largely stemming from the preferred status of being born a male in modern-day China. The filmmakers delve into the personal trauma resulting from a policy that drew the attention of the world as China developed into a global superpower.

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Stars: Nanfu Wang, Zaodi Wang, Zhimei Wang
Directors: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang
Rating: R
Runtime: 88 minutes

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Rewind (2019)

Be warned: Rewind is not a happy-go-lucky documentary. The movie uses camcorder footage to detail sexual child abuse in heartbreaking detail, and is unflinching as it delves deep into one family’s very personal trauma, which can be disturbing to watch at times. Outside of the cruelty of predatory adults, the biggest takeaway from the movie has to be the courage and strength of filmmaker Sasha Neulinger, who never shies away from the darkness he was faced with as a child. Rewind isn’t for everyone, but those who are able to stomach it will come away with the sense that they just watched a story that needed to be told.

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Star: Sasha Neulinger
Director: Sasha Neulinger
Rating: 13+
Runtime: 86 minutes

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Super Size Me (2004)

This film was so powerful that many credit it with influencing McDonald’s Restaurants to eliminate their super-sizing options, even though the company swears their decision had nothing to do with the documentary. Morgan Spurlock set out to undergo a crazy experiment: Only eat food from McDonald’s for 30 days straight, three meals a day, to see how it affects him. Without giving too much away, Spurlock documents the various changes he undergoes in body and mind throughout the 30-day period, and it’s staggering, to say the least. The intent was to raise awareness around fast-food companies that encourage poor nutrition for the sake of their own profits and to shed light on America’s obesity problem. It’s a fascinating watch that shows just how much of a difference what you eat can make in your life.

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Star: Morgan Spurlock
Director: Morgan Spurlock
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Chasing Happiness (2019)

In recent years, the Jonas Brothers have worked hard to shed their Disney Channel-tinged image and enter the next phase of their musical career. To do so, however, they had to discover what life was like apart from one another. Chasing Happiness documents the lives of the three brothers, from their publicized breakup in 2013 to their reunion in 2019. The documentary in part promoted their first new record in years, Happiness Begins, but it’s far from being a public relations-palooza, as it also contains previously unreleased footage and personal interviews with the brothers.

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Stars: Nick Jonas, Joe Jonas, Kevin Jonas
Director: John Lloyd Taylor
Rating: 16+
Runtime: 96 minutes

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Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)

Michael Moore is known for his controversial documentaries that polarize viewers, and this, his latest, is no exception. You didn’t read the title wrong — it’s a callback to his previous documentary called Fahrenheit 9/11 about the September 11 attacks. Except this time, the date referenced is November 9, when Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential win was officially announced. Like Moore’s previous work, this film encourages Americans to take action, presenting controversial topics in a jarring, shocking, and sometimes even comedic manner.

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Stars: Jim Acosta, Roger Ailes, Brooke Baldwin
Director: Michael Moore
Rating: R
Runtime: 127 minutes

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Samsara (2013)

“Samsara” is Sanskrit for “wandering” or “world,” and describes the concept of rebirth. And that’s exactly the focus of this non-narrative documentary that took five years to complete. Shot in 70mm format before being output to digital, the film explores the wonders of the world through visits to 25 different countries across five continents. Described as a nonverbal guided meditation rather than a traditional documentary, it’s a great one to put on when you want to sit back, relax, and enjoy a spiritual and visually stunning journey around the world.

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Director: Ron Fricke
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 102 minutes

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Gleason (2016)

Steve Gleason was on top of the world as a defensive back for the New Orleans Saints, and was best known for monumentally blocking a punt by the opposing Atlanta Falcons during the Saints’ first game back at the Superdome in nearly two years following Hurricane Katrina. The team would go on to win that game, sparking one of the most successful seasons in Saints history. But in 2011, Gleason’s life changed forever when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The documentary, filmed over a period of five years, looks at his life after diagnosis, including the announcement of his wife’s pregnancy, how the diagnosis has played into his family life, and the advancement of his disease to today, where he relies on assistive technology to communicate. It’s an emotional journey of strength, resilience, and determination.

Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Star: Steve Gleason
Director: Clay Tweel
Rating: R
Runtime: 111 minutes

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