12 Best Instructive Movies On Max (HBO Max)

Staff & contributors

One of cinema's greatest powers is to educate. If you want to plunge into the center of lives, industries and systems you might otherwise never know about, here are the top instructive movies and shows to stream now.

Find the best instructive movies to watch, from our mood category. Like everything on agoodmovietowatch, these instructive movies are highly-rated by both viewers and critics.

The first movie to be nominated for both the Documentary and Foreign-Language Oscar categories and the most awarded film of the 2019 Sundance Festival, Honeyland quietly accompanies the last wild beekeepers in Europe over three years. It portrays the lonely and primordial life of Muratova, which is centered around harvesting honey according to the rules of her ancient ancestors and caring for her ailing mother.

Originally planned as an environmental documentary, this film evolved into something completely different, as it often goes with immersive documentaries, when the Macedonian directors Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov met beekeeper Hatidže. The film takes another sudden turn when Muratova's life is upended by a nomadic family settling next door, threatening her tradition, her way of life, and her natural environment.

This unbelievable cinematic journey is a feast for the eyes thanks to the amazing work done by cinematographer Samir Ljuma. However, despite the awe-inspiring imagery, Honeyland never imposes on its subject, creating an incredible intimacy with Hatidže's life and her natural environment. Breathtaking!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Hatidze Muratova, Hatidzhe Muratova, Hussein Sam, Nazife Muratova

Director: Ljubomir Stefanov, Tamara Kotevska

Rating: Unrated

After his first serious role in The Truman Show in 1998, Jim Carrey got a shot at playing his idol, the late comedian and performance artist Andy Kaufmann, in Man on the Moon in 1999. When he got the role, a role of a lifetime, Carrey decided to honor Kaufmann's legacy by transforming into him (and his alter ego Tony Clifton) and, in true method-acting fashion, never to leave character. Jim & Andy is the result of 100 hours of behind-the-scenes footage shot at the Man on the Moon set, which was withheld for 20 years over fears of Universal Studios that people would think Carrey was an a**hole. While Carrey was a complete and utter imposition to the film's director, Miloš Forman, and everybody else on set, including Danny DeVito, his transformation (or obsession) was a unique, transformative experience for Carrey, who had been sick of fame and acting before he took on this gig. Whether you buy into this view or see it as a vanity piece of a complete maniac, this is one of the most unique and insane documentaries on Netflix. A mind-blowing portrayal of a complex mind.

Genre: Comedy, Documentary

Actor: Andy Dick, Andy Kaufman, Bob Zmuda, Carol Kane, Chris Smith, Courtney Love, Danny DeVito, David Letterman, Elton John, George Shapiro, Hugh Hefner, Jerry Lawler, Jim Carrey, Jon Lovitz, Judd Hirsch, Michael Stipe, Milos Forman, Paul Giamatti, Peter Bonerz, Randall Carver

Director: Chris Smith

Rating: TV-MA

One of the most thrilling biographical films to come out of Hollywood in the 2020s, Shaka King's exhilarating take on a truly remarkable leader within the Black Panther Party—and the young man who would eventually be twisted into betraying him—also provides a respectful, honest space to voice out progressive views that still aren't fully embraced in the United States. Much of the film is made up of beautiful, powerful rhetoric, contrasting in fascinating ways with scenes of violence or deception that only remind us how ahead-of-his-time chairman Fred Hampton was and still is. And in a thunderous, Oscar-winning performance, Daniel Kaluuya brings all of Hampton's words roaring to life while still reminding us of how tragically young this inspirational figure was at the time of his death.

But Judas and the Black Messiah tells an equally powerful second story over this one: that of FBI informant William O'Neal who reluctantly agrees to sell Hampton to the feds, and quickly realizes that he's been scammed too. Rivaling—and, arguably, besting—Kaluuya's performance is LaKeith Stanfield, whose tortured and increasingly despairing performance as O'Neal is the stuff of pure Shakespearean drama. Together, both stories ask us what real freedom looks like, and that we believe we can still fight for it.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Algee Smith, Amari Cheatom, Amber Chardae Robinson, Ashton Sanders, Caleb Eberhardt, Chris Hahn, Daniel Kaluuya, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Dominique Fishback, Dominique Thorne, Graham Lutes, Ian Duff, James Udom, Jermaine Fowler, Jesse Plemons, Khris Davis, Lakeith Stanfield, Lil Rel Howery, Martin Sheen, Nick Fink, Robert Longstreet, Terayle Hill

Director: Shaka King

In a stunning and vivid (re-) introduction to the Black intellectual, author, and social critic, James Baldwin, this movie digs very deep into the American subconscious and racial history. It tells the story of America by telling the story of “the negro” in America, based on a book Baldwin started to write, which would have studied the famous assassinations of three of Baldwin's friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He wrote about 30 pages before he passed away in 1987. Haitian director and activist Raoul Peck picked up the project and made it into a movie, earning him an Academy Award nomination. Narrated by none other than Samuel L. Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro highlights, at the same time, Baldwin's genius, his unique eloquence, and the beauty of his soul as a human being. It is a sad truth that Baldwin's denouncements feel as relevant today as they did 50 years ago. As such, this movie serves as a sobering reminder of how far America still has to go. A mesmerizing experience!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Bob Dylan, Dick Cavett, H. Rap Brown, Harry Belafonte, James Baldwin, Joey Starr, Malcolm X, Marlon Brando, Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King Jr., Paul Weiss, Ray Charles, Robert F. Kennedy, Samuel L. Jackson, Sidney Poitier

Director: Raoul Peck

Rating: PG-13

This autobiographical documentary covering the span of Brian DePalma’s 50+ year filmmaking career is taken from the man himself. From budget-less independent films to multi-million dollar box-office projects, he offers a fascinating professional history. But don’t expect critical analysis of his frequently controversial choices (such as the infamous oversized drill used as a murder weapon in Body Double)—he will acknowledge the existence of these issues, if only to grin and shrug them off, at times literally. What you can expect is to feel you are taken by the hand through Hollywood filmmaking experiences over the course of decades: negotiations, rewrites, stolen scripts, scuffling actors; tours of technical points of interest from his movies with commentary on deftly chosen film clips. You don’t have to be a fan to get a wealth of entertainment here. Not to be missed.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Amy Irving, Brian De Palma, Kurt Russell, Mark Hamill, Sissy Spacek, Steven Spielberg

Director: Jake Paltrow, Noah Baumbach

A 100-minute highlight reel of the audacious 24-hour performance staged by artist Taylor Mac in 2016, this concert film succeeds not only in capturing the show's eclectic mix of songs, drag costumes, and interactive audience segments, but in capturing the emotional atmosphere conjured up in that Brooklyn warehouse. The very premise of the performance is ripe for analysis: a history of America starting from 1776, progressing one decade every hour, represented by selections of popular music of the time—which Mac questions at every turn, reinterpreting and reclaiming them for a contemporary queer audience. It begins as a creatively educational exercise, but gradually becomes more and more personal, until the audience is fully involved in the performances themselves.

Even the 24-hour format transcends its gimmick. That the show becomes an endurance test is deliberate, with bonds forming in real time and the exhaustion of this ever-changing drag performance conveying the weight of all this history on the most vulnerable and misrepresented sectors—who've already endured continuous losses decade after decade. And still there is cause for celebration, and genuine warmth among the people slowly becoming more vulnerable with each other over 24 hours. It's a beautiful, intelligent, frequently funny, and ultimately moving experience in a class all its own.

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: Anastasia Durasova, Machine Dazzle Flower, Matt Ray, Niegel Smith, Taylor Mac

Director: Jeffrey Friedman, Rob Epstein

Rating: PG-13

Asif Kapadia, the genius of biopics who gave us Senna, is back with this documentary on an even bigger sports personality: Argentinian soccer player Diego Armando Maradona. Considered as possibly the best soccer player of all time, Maradona's footage on the pitch is pure wizardry, and you'll feel that way whether you are a soccer fan or not. But that's not the focus of this documentary. What happens outside the pitch is more interesting: from Maradona's modest beginnings to the passionate hatred (and love) that entire countries develop of him. And it doesn't make his story less interesting that during his time in Naples he was affiliated with the mafia.

This is an excellent documentary that distills 500 hours of footage into 2, giving you all you need to know about a character who captured the imagination of a big part of the world for decades. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Alberto Bigon, Ciro Ferrara, Claudia Villafane, Corrado Ferlaino, Dalma Maradona, Diego Armando Maradona, Diego Maradona, Gonzalo Bonadeo, Maria Rosa Maradona, Pele

Director: Asif Kapadia

Rating: TV-14, TV-MA

This searing allegation of sexual abuse against Def Jam Recordings' Russell Simmons unfolds with the intelligence and tenacity of a world-class prosecution. But more importantly, On the Record remembers to fight for a justice that's restorative, too—paying proper tribute to Drew Dixon and many other equally creative and talented women behind the scenes in the American hip hop industry. With every new argument it introduces, this documentary encourages us not only to be open to new information, but to rewire our very way of thinking about race, intersectional feminism, and the music business. It may be a bit of a cliché, but On the Record really does leave you smarter than when you started, with a heightened awareness of how the present moment is inseparable from our history.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Amy Ziering, Kirby Dick

The culture of propaganda and cover-ups that kicked off the pandemic is the subject of this compelling documentary by award-winning director Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation). Wang, who traveled with her family to China in January 2020, saw and filmed the pandemic firsthand, and wrote to major newspapers like The New York Times to convince them to write about it. They never did. 

Media and government in both China and the U.S. played down the threat, and this documentary asks how different everything would have gone otherwise. More dauntingly, it's an examination of how the Communist Party in China managed to use the event to its advantage. 

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Director: Nanfu Wang

Though it doesn't proceed like most animal/nature-centered documentaries that you've seen, the Oscar-nominated All That Breathes is instantly memorable in the way it de-centers the human perspective from its all-encompassing study of New Delhi, India. The wildlife rescue team that features prominently in this film still only becomes a vessel through which director Shaunak Sen explores the environmental and political hazards being faced by the nation today. It's a movie that definitely challenges you to think for yourself, as any talking heads or on-screen explanations are traded for truly stunning shots of New Delhi as a biome teeming with life among the dirt. For those who want their documentaries unconventional, this is excellent stuff.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Shaunak Sen

A wonderful homage to the woman, actress, and mother based largely on her own archives and interviews with her four children. Bergman was an avid photographer, filmographer and letter writer. What emerges is a loving portrait of an adventurous, driven, complex, and loving woman. Not to be missed.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Alan Marshal, Alberto Sordi, Aldo Fabrizi, Alfred Hitchcock, Alicia Vikander, Alma Reville, Anatole Litvak, Anna Magnani, Anthony Perkins, Cary Grant, Cecil Parker, Clark Gable, Ed Sullivan, Ernest Borgnine, Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, Ingmar Bergman, Ingrid Bergman, Isabella Rossellini, Isotta Rossellini, Jack Weston, Jean Renoir, Jeanine Basinger, Jennifer Jones, Liv Ullmann, Lyle Talbot, Mel Ferrer, Merv Griffin, Mervyn LeRoy, Pia Lindström, Roberto Rossellini, Sigourney Weaver, Spencer Tracy, Victor Fleming, Ward Bond, Yul Brynner

Director: Stig Björkman

Rating: Not Rated

For kids and kids-at-heart who find Jim Henson's technical mastery of puppets riveting, this documentary on the classic and still-contemporary Sesame Street provides a ton of behind-the-scenes footage that's endlessly fun to watch. Street Gang rebuts any arguments that could be made about children's TV being low-effort—showing just how much craft is needed in a show like this. But more importantly, the film's first act illustrates the risky process of building Sesame Street from the ground-up, specifically as programming for inner-city Black children who weren't getting the education they deserved. It's nothing short of an inspiration to see this ragtag group of creatives and communication experts—none of whom wanted to take sole credit—coming together like a superhero team to create one of the most iconic and enduring TV shows in American history.

Genre: Documentary, Family

Actor: Bob McGrath, Brian Henson, Caroll Spinney, Dizzy Gillespie, Emilio Delgado, Fran Brill, Frank Oz, Fred Rogers, Holly Robinson Peete, James Earl Jones, Jesse Jackson, Jim Henson, Joan Ganz Cooney, Johnny Carson, Johnny Cash, Loretta Long, Muhammad Ali, Orson Welles, Roscoe Orman, Sonia Manzano, Stevie Wonder, Will Lee

Director: Marilyn Agrelo