30 Inspirational Documentaries to Watch Now

30 Inspirational Documentaries to Watch Now

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Looking for a burst of inspiration get your new year (or any new phase of your life) started on the right foot? Fiction may provide a great, symbolic escape, but sometimes what you really need is to see real people doing the extraordinary or facing insurmountable odds and still having something beautiful to say about it. So don’t listen to any naysayers who might dismiss documentaries as boring; some of the greatest stories of human perseverance and wonder come from these little-known nonfiction accounts. Here, we’ve gathered 30 of the best of these true stories that might just help you realize what you’re capable of.

30. Good Night Oppy (2022)

7.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Ryan White

Actors

Angela Bassett

Moods

Feel-Good, Inspiring, Lovely

In 2003, NASA launched twin rovers Oppy (short for Opportunity) and Spirit into Mars expecting them to last for only 90 days. But equipped with almost human-like perseverance and personality, the rovers lasted for years, tracing terrain and reporting extraterrestrial findings back to Earth until Oppy’s final goodbye in 2018.

Good Night Oppy follows the rovers and the team who made their journeys possible, discovering warmth and emotion in the daunting task that is finding life on Mars. It’s as informational as it is inspirational, a gratifying watch on all accounts.

29. Tomorrow (2015)

7.6

Country

France

Director

Cyril Dion, Female director

Actors

Angela Merkel, Anthony Barnosky, Barack Obama, Cyril Dion

Moods

Inspiring, Instructive

When filmmaker and actress Mélanie Laurent (Breathe, Inglorious Basterds) was pregnant with her son, she learned about a study that predicted that climate change would cause human civilization to crumble by 2050. Like many soon-to-be parents, she worried about what it means to bring a child to a world where that’s a scientific forecast.

Instead of despairing, she chose to make this movie about solutions. She traveled the world with an activist friend documenting how human ingenuity is getting in the way of the situation worsening. The documentary goes to 10 countries to investigate solutions on five levels: agriculture (food), energy, economy, education, and democracy.

28. The Last Man on the Moon (2016)

7.7

Country

UK

Director

Mark Craig

Actors

Alan Bean, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan

Moods

Inspiring, Sunday

The Last Man on the Moon is a documentary about astronaut Eugene Cernan, Commander of the Apollo 17 lunar landing mission in 1972. Chronicled by Cernan himself as he reminisces on his life, the film follows his early career with the Navy, his recruitment and training as an astronaut, and his participation in 3 trips to space: Gemini 9A, Apollo 10 and eventually Apollo 17—the last of NASA’s six expeditions to the Moon. Cern also delves heartfully into his loss of friends as well as his regretfulness for missing out on so much family time while away. It’s a poignant and inspiring account, with Cern providing a fine lesson in the confidence and diligence in takes to pursue and accomplish one’s dreams

27. Touching The Void (2003)

7.7

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Kevin Macdonald

Actors

Brendan Mackey, Joe Simpson, Nicholas Aaron, Richard Hawking

Moods

Dramatic, Inspiring, Suspenseful

A documentary about two “climbing” friends who attempt to summit Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. I say climbing friends because they are both somewhat egotistical, yuppie risk takers and seem to be the type who are only friends when their interests align. Nevertheless, they are truly ambitious, driven adventurers. A storm hits and one of the climbers gets injured. They both know that this is a death sentence, and events go on from there. The story is epic and nearly unbelievable, but for the fact that it actually happened. I am not a climber, but the plot and story will speak to any adventurer who must accept inherent risks, including death, in their outdoor endeavors.

26. The World Before Your Feet (2018)

7.8

Country

United States of America

Director

Jeremy Workman

Actors

Matt Green

Moods

Inspiring, Sunday, Uplifting

An incredible documentary about Matt Green, a man who decided to walk every street in New York City. That’s more than 8000 miles (more than the diameter of Earth) that he had been walking for six years up to the point of making this movie.  

Matt stops. And that’s the beauty of this documentary, where the filmmaker joins him for part of the journey. You quickly realize that the intrigue is not so much about Matt’s challenge, but about who he meets and what kind of experiences he goes through. You also realize (if you didn’t already) that New York is a place of unimaginable size, with incredibly lively and diverse human stories. Plus lots of other forms of life too: Matt doesn’t have a fixed place, so he cat-sits for shelter.

Fun fact: this is the first movie that actor Jesse Eisenberg ever produced!

25. The 100 Years Show

7.8

Country

United States of America

Director

Alison Klayman, Female director

Actors

Carmen Herrera

Moods

Inspiring, Instructive, Thought-provoking

This is a half-hour documentary about Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera. She is one of the oldest artists working today, close to being 100 years old.

Her story is fascinating because she only became successful in her 80s, although she never stopped working her whole life. There are many reasons as to why her work went unnoticed for so long and they’re all examined here. But the best thing about this movie is Herrera’s outlook on life and what drives her every day.

24. Finding Vivian Maier (2014)

7.8

Country

United States of America

Director

Charlie Siskel, John Maloof

Actors

Daniel Arnaud, John Maloof, Mary Ellen Mark, Phil Donahue

Moods

Inspiring, Sunday

Vivian Maier was a French-American photographer whose art, like many of the greats, only gained widespread success after her death. Most of her life was spent working as a maid for families in Chicago. Her masterpieces were only introduced to the world when the director of this documentary purchased a box of her negatives. This movie is about him trying to put together the pieces and retrace her life by interviewing the people that knew her. Right from the beginning of this documentary her photos will have you in awe. They gave me chills and made me feel exactly what I needed to feel to understand each photo. Cue Vivian’s unexpected dark side along with really messed up backstory, I was completely absorbed. Interviews, along with Vivian’s own photos and home videos show the complexity and mystery of the artist.

23. Pamela: A Love Story (2023)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Ryan White

Actors

Brandon Thomas Lee, Pamela Anderson

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Inspiring, Touching

I love when a misunderstood woman reclaims her narrative with her own words, and that’s exactly what Pamela: A Love Story is too, a tell-all documentary told by Pamela Anderson herself.

The documentary bares it all—the scandalous sex tape, Anderson’s troubled past, the disgusting misogyny that continues to tarnish her career. She even touches on the Hulu miniseries made about her demise (which Netflix must feel so smug about). But this isn’t a pity party. Just the opposite, the documentary is a testament to resilience. “My life is not a woe-is-me story,” Anderson says at one point, and truly, this is an inspiring and humanizing story about a woman taking charge of her own life. An absolute must-see.

22. Stop Making Sense (1984)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Jonathan Demme

Actors

Alex Weir, Bernie Worrell, David Byrne, Jerry Harrison

Moods

Easy, Inspiring, Sunday

Widely regarded as one of the finest concert movies of all time, Stop Making Sense depicts musical innovators The Talking Heads at the height of their game. Directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), and starring the eccentric and energetic David Byrne, the show is a marvel of perfectly executed choreography and mid-eighties musicality. Halfway through the set, one might think they’ve heard all of the hits, but they keep coming and coming. Before Beyonce was Queen, before Bieber was conceived, this film shows what is capable with a camera, a guitar, and some genius.

21. Man on Wire (2008)

7.9

Country

UK, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

James Marsh

Actors

Annie Allix, David Forman, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau

Moods

Inspiring, Mind-blowing, Thrilling

Man on Wire is a true technical masterpiece. You can almost feel the director telling the cameraman what angle to choose, or thinking about the questions that will generate the most resounding answers. However, this does not diminish the story this documentary tells one bit. It’s one that is glorious, riveting, and fun. It’s one where you feel like an insider to a world lived on and below wires, with high-stake risks. Hopefully the edge of your seat is comfortable, because this is where the movie will keep you till the very end.

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