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56 Best Documentary Movies to Watch

genreDocumentary

This story of a filmmaker who stayed in Aleppo, Syria during the war, got married then had a child called Sama, is a mix of difficult and inspiring.There are stories of unsurmountable loss, as the filmmaker’s husband is one of the 30 remaining doctors in Aleppo (a city of almost 5 million), and she films many of the victims that come to his hospital. But while this is happening, there are also uplifting stories of resilience and rare but profound moments of laughter and joy.We’re growing too sensitized to violence in Syria, and this movie, possibly the most intimate account of the war, can stir back a much-needed awareness of the injustices that take place.When things get really bad in the documentary, it’s hard not to wonder where the humanity is in all of this. You quickly realize that it’s right there, behind the camera, in Sama and her mother’s will to live.

8.6
Best Film

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!

7.8

An 80-minute documentary about a diver who gets stranded in the deep sea with 5 minutes of oxygen left, while the nearest rescue team was 30 minutes away. This type of diving in the depths of the sea, as someone explains, is like “going into space but underwater”.The documentary uses genuine footage from the dive as well as interviews of people who were present. Still, some parts of this incredible story can’t be explained. And if like me you’re not familiar with diving, everything will have more appeal. The vessel they use is quite impressive, the duration of its dive is obscene (28 days!), and lastly: the divers inhale helium (and speak with a funny voice) the whole time they are down there.

7.2

What makes Apollo 11 stand out is its sharp minimalist approach, allowing the archival footage of the mission to the moon to speak for itself. It’s stunning to think that at one point or another we had collectively seen a bulk of the footage in this film, and yet somehow let it lay dormant until the moon landing had been reduced to black and white stills in our collective imaginations. Not only does this film reinvigorate the moon landing with the power that it once held, but it does so in a way that is more thrilling than anything the Marvel CGI wizards could muster. The vibrant score adds a layer of ferocious tension, while the breakneck pace gives the feel of a rollercoaster ride. If there is any fault to find here, it is most definitely with the film’s MAGA style yearning for a time and place that never existed. Spare us the teary-eyed patriotism and the clips of Nixon, a disgraceful criminal, and vile racist, yammering on about the world becoming one. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic example of why most biopics should just be documentaries and why the fanatical fear of spoilers is a tad silly. Spoiler alert: they land on the moon.

8.0

This documentary starts with Alex Lewis, who gets into a motorcycle accident and wakes up in the hospital not knowing who he is. He doesn’t remember anything (not even what a bicycle or a TV is, or who his mother or father are), but he remembers his twin brother, Marcus.When Alex gets back into his childhood home, he’s full of questions, and Marcus is full of answers. However, slowly, Marcus realizes his power to reshape Alex’s version of their past.Marcus leaves one important detail from Alex’s life that makes this documentary (as if it wasn’t already) such an insane story. I know I said it’s a sad movie, but it’s also fascinating and, ultimately, humanizing of the brothers’ experience.

8.2

This is a documentary with a dark underbelly. When Bobby Shafran goes on his first day at college, everyone seems to recognize him. The person they're actually recognizing is his twin brother, as the two were separated at birth by an adoption agency. A third brother surfaces to make the story even crazier, but things take a darker turn when questions arise about why they were separated as toddlers and to what end. If it wasn't a documentary, this story would be an unusual science fiction on the themes of identity and nature vs. nurture.

7.7

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.

7.8

The Tragically Hip was a deeply beloved band from Ontario that peaked in the 90s with hits like Grace, Too or Nautical Disaster.The Hip, as their fans refer to them, had just finished recording their latest album in 2015 when the lead singer was diagnosed with a fatal disease.This movie is about them deciding to go on one last tour to say goodbye to their fans and country. Mostly, it’s about the singer, Gord Downie, and how his personality and love for the music shined through his illness.Picture someone who is giving an immaculate performance despite being a few weeks away from death, and a packed stadium of people singing along in tears - this is this movie.It’s truly an incredible story of human ambition, empathy, and the bond that music can create between an artist and a whole nation.

8.6
Best Film

This is a gripping and incredibly well-made documentary about the demise of the last two Brazilian presidents, Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (2003-2011) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016). The first is now in prison, while the second was impeached. The Edge of Democracy is narrated in English by the filmmaker, Petra Costa, a renown Brazilian director. Costa intertwines her family history with Brazil’s, as her parents were activists who were sent to jail in the ‘70s (her mother was held in the same facility as ex-president Rousseff). This grounds the documentary and turns it into a personal story that illustrates the bigger political picture. The Edge of Democracy knows that you don’t know much about Brazilian politics, but makes that a source of suspense rather than a disadvantage. It’s a perfect instructive watch.

9.0
Best Film

Stories We Tell got on everyone’s radar when, back in 2015, it made the list of the all-time top ten list of Canadian films.That speaks to both the caliber of this movie and its relevance to North America. It’s in fact a first-person account about (and made by) actress Sarah Polley (Mr. Nobody, Exotica, Away from Her, Take This Waltz).In the film, she investigates the rumor that she was the product of an affair, and that her father might not be her biological father. Her family and suspected fathers are all storytellers, and many of them Academy Award winners.Ultimately, the movie becomes about her family’s remembrance of her now-deceased mother (the famous actress Diane Polley). It’s an examination of how the same story can be told so differently by different people and across time. Lies get added and truths are hidden, and all of that enriches Polley’s pursuit.

7.5