23 Best Documentary Movies On Rokuchannel

Staff & contributors

They say art imitates life, but nothing gets to the heart of humanity like documentary filmmaking. Whether you want to flex your history knowledge or binge a true crime, here are the best documentaries and docuseries available to stream now.

Simply titled The Imposter, this film by English documentary maker Bart Layton tells an unbelievable tale. Any plot summary doing this film justice has to err on the side of brevity, which is why it will be only one line long: this is the story of Frederic Bourdin, a serial imposter nicknamed “The Chameleon”, who at one time claimed to be the missing son of a family from Texas. The film is so well-shot that it is hard to tell fact from fiction at times and it will force you to remind yourself that this is in fact real life. Expect twists and turns at every corner and brilliant storytelling from real people. If Christopher Nolan created a 48-hour story, it would pale in comparison to this film.

Genre: Documentary, Mystery

Actor: Adam O'Brian, Adam O' Brian, Adam O'Brian, Alan Teichman, Anna Ruben, Carey Gibson, Cathy Dresbach, Charlie Parker, Frederic Bourdin, Ivan Villanueva, Ken Appledorn, María Jesús Hoyos, Mary Twala, Nicholas Barclay

Director: Bart Layton

Rating: R

Bowling For Columbine addresses the sore wounds of 9/11 by exploring the concepts of safety and fear as perceived by various people. From school shooting survivors, through Canadians who never lock their doors, to Marilyn Manson and actor/NRA president Charlton Heston, Michael Moore's interviewees all inform the complex picture of gun violence and its rise today. The director is not afraid to provoke and ask the pressing questions linking the abstract fear of the other to the reality of lost lives every day. Even his irony and parody—a morose cartoon arguably based on South Park especially—bites back hard.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Adolf Hitler, Bill Clinton, Charlton Heston, Chris Rock, Dick Clark, Duke of York, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, Jacobo Árbenz, Jessica Savitch, Keanu Reeves, King Charles III of the United Kingdom, Marilyn Manson, Matt Stone, Michael Moore, Prince Andrew, Prince Andrew, Duke of York

Director: Michael Moore

Rating: R

Whether graffiti is art or not is the question guiding this fascinating documentary about the spray can-wielding artists of ‘80s New York. Wherever you come down in the debate — though this presents compelling arguments that graffiti is a medium worthy of critical attention — you’ll undoubtedly come away with a reverence for the kids who went hard with the paint on NYC’s walls and subway cars. Candid interviews with these young pioneers (whose cultural contributions are now less in contention) reveal that they’re not simply rebelling for rebellion’s sake: they’re largely motivated by a desire to make their mark on their beloved city — to stand out and have their work seen by the millions riding the subway every day.

The doc largely embeds itself with the artists, but it also interviews the “other side”: then-mayor Ed Koch and police officers, who were ramping up their aggressive “war on graffiti” campaign during filming. It’s clear that these interviewees have little interest in understanding what drives the kids to create their murals — a lack of curiosity that Style Wars blessedly counters. Not just a thoughtful contribution to its period and a fascinating time capsule, but also a thought-provoking reminder that art is art, whether it's made outside of the system or not.

Genre: Documentary, Music, TV Movie

Actor: Cap, Daze, Dondi, Ed Koch, Eric Haze, Gene Anthony Ray, Irene Cara, Kase 2

Director: Tony Silver

A wacky viral story — the kind that gets played for laughs at the end of news broadcasts — gets uncommonly deep consideration in this documentary gem. That’s not to say that Finders Keepers ignores the surreal comedy of the situation that John Wood and Shannon Whisnant, two star-crossed North Carolina men, found themselves in in 2007: battling over the custody rights of John’s mummified amputated leg. The humor in this bizarre tale and all the myriad eccentricities of its real-life characters is never left untapped, but to simply focus on that would add nothing new to the way the story had been told thus far. 

Unlike the many clips from news segments and reality TV that we see in the film, Finders Keepers instead looks beyond the low-hanging fruit and finds deep pathos simmering under the surface of this wacky tale. What emerges is a complex, often tragic, and very American picture of the way traumas shape our lives, the addictive pull of drugs and attention, and fate’s habit of twisting nightmares into blessings and vice versa. It’s the kind of film that makes you wonder how many other unexpectedly poignant stories have been short-changed by our impulse to be flippant.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: John Wood, Shannon Whisnant

Director: Bryan Carberry, J. Clay Tweel

Rating: R

The highly unusual story of this documentary starts with Kevin Hearn, a member of the band Barenaked Ladies, realizing that his painting by famous Canadian Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau is a fake. When he sues the collector he bought it from, he starts a series of inquiries that unravel a story that gets progressively darker: drug dealing, organized crime, addiction, sexual abuse, and completely crazy characters (reminiscent of Tiger King).

Behind all of that, There Are No Fakes is about the exploitation not only of Indigenous art but of Indigenous people in Canada in general.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Jamie Kastner

Disclosure is a patient and articulate study of the ways movies have physically conditioned us to respond to certain expressions of queerness with fear, disgust, or laughter. But it also serves as a reminder that trans bodies have been represented on screen for as long as movies have existed—making it all the more unacceptable that we still often only see reductive and harmful stereotypes of trans people over 100 years since the birth of cinema. However, Disclosure is far from a "takedown" designed to make viewers feel bad. At the end of it all this remains a celebration film's power to dignify perspectives we rarely get to see through, and it's one of the nerdiest and most passionate trips through film history you could hope to have.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ajita Wilson, Alexandra Billings, Alexandra Grey, Angelica Ross, Anne Heywood, Arsenio Hall, Barbra Streisand, Blanche Sweet, Brian Michael Smith, Caitlyn Jenner, Candis Cayne, Candy Darling, Carmen Carrera, Cathy Moriarty, Chaz Bono, Chloe Sevigny, Chris Sarandon, Crystal LaBeija, Dana Wynter, Daniela Sea, Daniela Vega, Divine, Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne, Elliot Fletcher, Eric Gurry, Esme Percy, Flip Wilson, Gary Collins, Glenn Close, Hailie Sahar, Harry Langdon, Henry B. Walthall, Hilary Swank, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, James Garner, Jamie Clayton, Janet McTeer, Jared Leto, Jaye Davidson, Jazzmun, Jean Harlow, Jeffrey Tambor, Jen Richards, Jim Carrey, Joan Rivers, John Gavin, John Lazar, John Lithgow, John Lone, Julie Andrews, Katie Couric, Kim Kardashian, Lady Chablis, Laverne Cox, Leo Sheng, Lesley Ann Warren, Lilly Wachowski, Mandy Patinkin, Marquise Vilson, Mary Badham, Matthew McConaughey, Mercedes Ruehl, Michael Blodgett, Michael D. Cohen, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Milton Berle, Nick Adams, Oprah Winfrey, Peter Scolari, Phil Donahue, Raúl Juliá, Ray Charles, Robert Preston, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, Roscoe Arbuckle, Sandra Caldwell, Sean Young, Stephen Rea, Susan Stryker, T.C. Jones, Tom Hanks, Trace Lysette, Veronica Redd, Vivian Vance, Wendy Williams, William Hurt, Yance Ford, Zackary Drucker

Director: Sam Feder

Rating: R

This movie narrated by Nicolas Cage is the incredible story of actor Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Like Crazy): from being born to a Jewish Russian family in Leningrad to moving to the U.S. and ending with his sudden death at age 27. Anton, or Antosha as his loved ones called him, was a gifted kid: he was making his own movies at seven years old, taking highly sophisticated notes on Fellini movies, and picking up playing guitar in a short time. He took photographs that still show in exhibitions around the world. He led an extraordinary life, portrayed here, one that was cut way too short.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Anthony Hopkins, Anton Yelchin, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ben Foster, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pine, Drake Doremus, Frank Langella, Guillermo del Toro, J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jodie Foster, Joe Dante, John Cho, Jon Poll, Jon Voight, Kristen Stewart, Martin Landau, Nicolas Cage, Simon Pegg, Sofia Boutella, Willem Dafoe, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana

Director: Garret Price

Rating: R

This crazy heist movie is told in a very original way. Because it's based on a true story, the movie (with actors and a story) is sometimes interrupted by the people it's about. The opening scene even reads: "this movie is not based on a true story, it is a true story". Two friends decide to rob their local library from rare books worth millions. They're driven by money but also by wanting something different than their monotonous everyday lives in Kentucky. The need for a change is a big theme in this movie, but the story and the way it's told never cease to be breathtakingly thrilling. American Animals stars amazing actors like Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk), Evan Peters (Kick-Ass), and many more; but perhaps equally as notable is the director: Bart Layton, who is fresh from his amazing 2012 sleeper-hit The Imposter.

Genre: Crime, Documentary, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Al Mitchell, Ann Dowd, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Bobby Akers, Drew Starkey, Elijah Everett, Eric Borsuk, Evan Peters, Fedor Steer, Gary Basaraba, Gretchen Koerner, Jack Landry, Jane McNeill, Jared Abrahamson, Jason Caceres, Josh Jordan, Karen Wheeling Reynolds, Kelly Borgnis, Kevin L. Johnson, Lara Grice, Lauran Foster, Marlo Scheitler, Pamela Bell Mitchell, Pamela Mitchell, Spencer Reinhard, Udo Kier, Warren Lipka, Wayne Duvall, Whitney Goin, William Cowboy Reed

Director: Bart Layton

Rating: R

There’s more than a touch of Louis Theroux to this engrossing documentary — fronted by New Zealander pop-culture journalist David Farrier — about an innocuous-seeming Internet phenomenon: the actually-sinister subculture of “competitive endurance tickling”, in which young men undergo “tickle torture” for money on camera. When Farrier unassumingly requests an interview with an American producer of tickle content, it kickstarts a bizarre campaign of harassment and opens up a rabbit hole of unbelievable twists and turns. The wild places this documentary goes are best left as unspoiled as possible, but it’s no spoiler to say this emerges from its seemingly lighthearted premise as a deeply unnerving story about money, power, sex, and shame in the Internet age.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: David Farrier

Director: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve

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.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Annie Allix, David Forman, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau, Mark Lewis, Philippe Petit

Director: James Marsh

Rating: PG-13

Slow, contemplative, but captivating, Baraka uses no narration, dialogue, or text to connect its images. The documentary stitches together shots with different subjects from different locations around the world. At first, it seems very peaceful—gorgeous, high-definition shots of nature paired with a soothing, resonant score that lulls you into hypnosis—but as the film progresses, director and cinematographer Ron Fricke presents more scenes with people, from the cities to the countryside, to places rarely documented on film. Depending on how you look at it, Baraka will either feel like just a compilation of screensavers or a profound meditation on how intrinsically connected everything is. It’s totally breathtaking either way.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Ron Fricke

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.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alex Hatz, Alexandra "Allie" MacDonald, Allie MacDonald, Cathy Gulkin, Christine Horne, Dave Kiner, Deirdre Bowen, Geoffrey Bowes, Harry Gulkin, Jeanie Calleja, Joanna Polley, John Buchan, Lani Billard, Mairtin O'Carrigan, Marie Murphy, Mark Polley, Michael Polley, Mort Ransen, Pixie Bigelow, Rebecca Jenkins, Robert MacMillan, Sarah Polley, Susy Buchan, Thomas Hauff, Tom Butler, Tracey Ferencz, Wayne Curnew

Director: Sarah Polley

Rating: PG-13

For those of us who don't lurk on internet message boards and participate in social media culture, a documentary about memes might seem frivolous. But Feels Good Man steers the conversation into one about semiotics: the way images become symbols and can continue transforming—from a harmless expression of the self, into a hateful banner for bigotry, into a cry of protest and freedom. As his Pepe the Frog creation takes on a life of its own, artist Matt Furie attempts to reclaim ownership of it and finds that the relationship between an artist and their own work can be as difficult as any toxic relationship. It's a bleak view of how unfeeling internet culture can be, but it reminds us that we always still have some power to beat the hate.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary

Actor: Alex Jones, Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Emily Heller, Hillary Clinton, Joy Reid, Katy Perry, Lisa Hanawalt, Logan Paul, Matt Furie, Melania Trump, Mike Majlak, Nicki Minaj, Phil McGraw, Rachel Maddow, Richard Spencer, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert

Director: Arthur Jones

Lauren Greenfield’s film follows the Siegel family’s decline from opulent abundance to gaudy ruin. Mega wealth, delusions of grandeur, and grotesquely opulent taste—the Siegel family were the perfect subjects for the film, which sets out to document their most lavish expense: their Versailles home, a mansion sprawling more than 85,000 square feet and modeled after the Palace of Versailles.

The Siegels, no doubt, are entirely out of touch with reality. David Siegel, the owner of one of the world’s largest timeshare developers, married Jackie, a former Mrs. Florida who is 30 years younger. The Versailles home is to be Jackie’s castle, an enormous home for her eight kids and numerous pets.

But the 2008 recession does not spare the Siegels, and their company is devastated. After layoffs and desperate attempts to recover financially, the family struggles to pay back the banks. Construction halts. The Versailles home remains vacant and unfinished.

While the film does not sympathize with the Siegels, Greenfield creates a space where pity is possible as well as criticism. And from there comes the universal: desperation, longing, hope for better, if not also more, more, more.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Lauren Greenfield

This documentary is about the life of New York rapper Nas around the time of the release of his first album, Illmatic.

It spans a quick and summarized 74 minutes and, while embellished by the direction of street artist One9, it remains a great snippet of recent American history. Nas’s album was a reflection of many realities that characterized his upbringing, while the movie serves to further explore those very realities.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Alicia Keys, Busta Rhymes, Cornel West, DJ Premier, Fab 5 Freddy, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., M.C. Serch, Marley Marl, Mrs. Braconi, Nas, Pete Rock, Pharrell Williams, Q-Tip, Swizz Beatz

Director: One9

Rating: TV-14