19 Movies Like My Octopus Teacher (2020)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching My Octopus Teacher ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

Craig Foster’s bond with an octopus takes the spotlight in this heartfelt documentary set in the cold seas of South Africa. The title hints at the nature of this bond: the tentacled creature shows the human outsider the ropes in her watery den.Both parties have an endless curiosity about one another, giving the filmmakers Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed much fuel for this sentimental doc. My Octopus Teacher features Foster diving in the ocean every day and waxing poetic through voiceovers about the remarkable ability of a wild animal to connect with him. This all takes place amidst his obsessive mapping of said animal’s habitat during what appears to be a mid-life crisis. It’s beautiful, yes, both visually and in its message of nature being something we can connect with to find meaning, but much of the story revolves around what Foster feels the octopus is doing in relation to him, and not about what it’s doing, period. The documentary becomes an exercise in making something that exists peacefully in its own little world all about some guy.For a film that centers on an unlikely emotional attachment, it does explore the ocean and present the adventures one can embark on due to curiosity. Despite its faults, it manages to be informative and shows off gorgeous underwater cinematography.

, 2017

Director Bryan Fogel, who you might know as the guy behind Jewtopia, initially set out to chronicle his exploration of doping to win an amateur cycling race. He starts off by reaching out to experts to help him with obtaining and administering said drugs, one of which points him towards Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Russia's national anti-doping laboratory. Rodchenkov eagerly agrees to help him out.

Little did he know that his Russian acquaintance would transform Fogel film from a self-experiment documentary into a true-crime political thriller, when the scientist admits to being involved in a state-sponsored doping scheme of epic proportions on camera. Putin is obviously not amused.

Aside from all the madness that unfolds in this Netflix production, it's Rodchenkov's likeable and eccentric personality that makes the story more relatable and human as well as giving you a rare glimpse into the upper echelons of a country like Russia. As the plot thickens, one can't help but think that Fogel too is in over his head. Rightly award-winning, this is gripping stuff even if you're not into sports!

Genre: Documentary, Mystery

Actor: Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan, Grigory Rodchenkov, Jacques Rogge, Nikita Kamaev, Richard Pound, Victor Webster

Director: Bryan Fogel

Rating: TV-MA

Ahmed plays Ruben Stone, a heavy metal drummer, who plays in a band and lives in a tour bus with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). Quickly after meeting the couple, we witness the touring musician drastically losing his hearing. As recovering addicts with little financial means, they soon run out of options. Lou desperately wants to prevent Ruben's relapse into addiction and so she helps him retreat to a deaf community group home, run by the illustrious Joe, a truly amazing character played by the equally amazing Paul Raci, himself the hearing son of deaf parents. There is something deeper going on though: the question of what disability is, and how, despite how it drastically changes Ruben's life, it might not be his biggest problem. In addition to the stellar acting and delicate writing, we experience his condition through the incredible sound design used by director Darius Marder, complete with muffled conversations, garbled noises, and piercing silence. This is a movie to be taken in completely. Above all, it's about Riz Ahmed's performance. He learned to play drums, sign language, and studied deafness ahead of the shooting, and he does not strike a wrong note.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Alan Resnic, Bill Thorpe, Chelsea Lee, Chris Perfetti, Ezra Marder, Hillary Baack, Jamie Ghazarian, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric, Michael Tow, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Rena Maliszewski, Riz Ahmed, Tom Kemp, William Xifaras

Director: Darius Marder

Rating: R

Orlando von Einsiedel's epic documentary is at once a stunning natural film, an intimate human drama, and an intense political thriller slash investigative report. The titular Virunga National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site in Eastern Congo, serves as the magnifying glass through which we witness the natural, human, and political crisis of this embattled and volatile region. There are poachers killing endangered gorillas, the bloody business of Big Oil companies, government forces fighting a myriad of militias, and, lastly, the three individuals struggling to protect Virunga and its mountain gorillas from death and destruction. The result is a snap-crackle-pop-type situation, like sitting on a powder keg. The film captures all this superbly with great editing, compelling real-life material, and gripping action. Virunga's intensity can rival a well-made fictional thriller any day of the week.

Genre: Documentary, War

Actor: André Bauma, Emmanuel de Merode, Mélanie Gouby, Orlando von Einsiedel, Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo

Director: Orlando von Einsiedel

Rating: Not Rated

Co-directed and narrated by legendary German director Wim Wenders in collaboration with Salgado's son, Juliano, this unique film tells Sebastião Salgado's life story from his childhood in Northern Brazil, his early career as an economist, and how he shifted towards photography to become a world-renowned photojournalist. Shot in stunning black and white by Juliano Salgado and Hugo Barbier, The Salt of the Earth is a mesmerizing exhibition of one man's lifelong dedication to capture the suffering of humanity and of nature. Most famously, the nightmarish images of the teeming workers of Serra Pelada, a Brazilian mountain gold mine. While creating these images raises some ethical questions that Salgado was confronted with throughout his career, it is an utterly enthralling experience, upsetting at times in its frank display of war, death, and devastation. Ultimately, however, Salgado's elegance and kindness pull us back in and what we see is truth, awareness, and beauty.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Lélia Wanick Salgado, Régis Muller, Sebastião Salgado, Wim Wenders

Director: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders

Rating: PG-13

The movie opens with a guy called Tarzan, saying in a Russian accent: “I called my friend Michel, and I said can I buy a submarine, a used one?” Apparently, two days later he called him back asking: “With, or without missiles?” This should give you a decent idea of how the protagonists of this Tiller-Russell-directed documentary roll. Operation Odessa is the crazy true story of how the FBI, Pablo Escobar, and the Russian Mafia were played by three criminal outsiders in a $35 million submarine deal. Strictly speaking, it belongs in the true crime documentary genre, but it can also be treated as a real-life black comedy. The protagonists are so audacious, it is hard to believe that most of this story is true. The submarine deal story is only the tip of the iceberg here. Crazy, funny, and just really well done!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Juan Almeida, Kristy Galeota, Ludwig Fainberg, Nelson Tony Yester, Richard Gregorie, Tony Galeota

Director: Tiller Russell

Rating: TV-MA

Kathryn Bigelow has a knack for action-packed scenes without compromising on the affective qualities of film style. It is precisely this combination that makes her a rare gem in American cinema, where the values of entertainment soar high. Point Break is one such example of controlled chaos, impeccable framing, and a convincing use of fast-paced editing to really get you as close to the action as possible. But what gives the film its flavour is how developed and synced the characters are and the Reeves-Swayze duo here belongs in the pantheon of equally hot frenemies, providing an apt, but subtle comment on the dangers of toxic masculinity. 

Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

Actor: Anthony Kiedis, Anthony Mangano, Betsy Lynn George, Bojesse Christopher, Chris Pedersen, Christopher Pettiet, Daniel Beer, Dave Olson, Debra Lamb, Galyn Görg, Gary Busey, Gary Roberts, Gloria Mann, Jack Kehler, James Le Gros, Jared Chandler, Jeff Imada, John Apicella, John C. McGinley, John Philbin, Julian Reyes, Julie Michaels, Keanu Reeves, Lee Tergesen, Lori Petty, Michael Kopelow, Mike Genovese, Patrick Swayze, Peter Phelps, Ping Wu, Randy Walker, Raymond Forchion, Richard Grove, Sydney Walsh, Tom Sizemore, Vincent Klyn

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Rating: R

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

Following a group of journalists uncovering an entire architecture of institutional corruption in Romania, Collective makes for an inspiring watch—not just because these people are pursuing a story outside their usual wheelhouse, but because their enemy really is so much greater than they can handle. Yet they continue chipping away, never once backing down from speaking truth to power. Director Alexander Nanau understandably might not have much access to the government's side, but he still manages to portray them as an ever-present, omnipotent invisible force, giving the film a thick atmosphere of dread and paranoia. But still, in the face of such overwhelming odds, the best thing to do is refuse to be scared into silence.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Tedy Ursuleanu

Director: Alexander Nanau

Rating: Not Rated

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis, Jacob Ming-Trent, Oswin Benjamin, Peter Kim, Peter Y. Kim, Radha Blank, Reed Birney, Stacey Sargeant, T.J. Atoms, Welker White

Director: Radha Blank

Rating: R

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.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, Mystery

Actor: Alex Lewis, Andrew Caley, Evan Milton, Kathleen Rainey, Laura Obiols, Marcus Lewis |, Thomas Mulhurn

Director: Ed Perkins

Rating: TV-MA

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Dino Bajrović, Dražen Pavlović, Emina Muftić, Emir Hadžihafizbegović, Ermin Bravo, Ermin Sijamija, Izudin Bajrović, Jasna Đuričić, Job Raaijmakers, Joes Brauers, Johan Heldenbergh, Juda Goslinga, Micha Hulshof, Raymond Thiry, Reinout Bussemaker, Rijad Gvozden, Sanne den Hartogh, Sol Vinken, Teun Luijkx

Director: Jasmila Žbanić

This slow-burning drama is set in an Indigenous reservation in South Dakota, where Johnny is a teenager who dreams of moving to L.A. with his girlfriend. He would have to leave behind his little sister, who is just grappling with the recent loss of their father. 

Director Chloé Zhao (The Rider, Nomadland) worked with amateur actors whose lives mirror the characters, often adapting the script to the actors' stories. She filmed 100 hours of footage that she then distilled into an hour and a half. 

The result is a film shot from the outside but which is grounded in local stories. And these stories are rough, sad, complex - but so important to listen to and understand. It's an incredible feat to make an observational film that's so grounded in reality - only a genius could: that's Chloé Zhao, and this mature work is -somehow- her first feature film.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Derrick Janis, Eléonore Hendricks, Irene Bedard, Jashaun St. John

Director: Chloé Zhao

Rating: Not Rated

It wouldn't be too far of a reach to evoke Kids (1995) while diving into Mid90s. But instead of taking on the HIV crisis, Mid90s is a much more tender, poignant reflection on coming of age in 90's skate culture. Jonah Hill, writer and director, examines the complexities of trying to fit in and the difficult choices one has to embrace individualism. From an opening of physical abuse to scenes of drug usage and traumatic experiences, Mid90s is a meditation not only on culture, but also a subtle examination of what it means to be human, to reach emotional and physical limitations, and to seek acceptance. Filmed in a 4:3 aspect ratio, Mid90s doesn't concern itself with grandiose filmography, but instead the aspect ratio almost reflects the tonal and metaphorical aspects played out on screen. With a smaller dynamic range of color and the familiar dust/scratches, the 16mm film compliments gritty and emotional moments of Mid90s. The emotional range of the film will take the audience from the depths of empathy to laughing out loud, but there is no compromise to the weight of each moment. Jonah Hill's directorial debut is beautiful in every sense of the word.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexa Demie, Ama Elsesser, Aramis Hudson, Chad Muska, Donny Barley, Fig Camila Abner, Gio Galicia, Harmony Korine, Jahmin Assa, Jax Malcolm, Jerrod Carmichael, Jonah Hill, Judah Estrella Borunda, Kasey Elise, Katherine Waterston, Liana Perlich, Lucas Hedge, Lucas Hedges, Na-kel Smith, Olan Prenatt, Ryder McLaughlin, Sunny Suljic, Teren Delvon Jones

Director: Jonah Hill

Rating: R

, 2020

This intimate and personal film is about Sibil Fox Rich, an entrepreneur and mother of six. Fox is driven by an unparalleled, contagious determination to succeed — so present in the mix of video diaries and present-day footage of her in Time.

For the past 20 years, Rich has channeled that tenacity towards the release of her husband, who is serving a 60-year sentence.

Through the video diaries and family footage, Time feels almost too personal. It’s like stepping into a person’s most intimate moments for 81 minutes, with all their ups and downs.

It could be seen as a commentary on the deeply flawed American justice system, but at its core Time is an uplifting portrayal of resilience, true, long-lasting love (she and her husband were high-school sweethearts), and boundless hope.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Fox Rich, Freedom Rich, Laurence M. Rich, Rob Rich II

Director: Garrett Bradley

Rating: PG-13

Dick Johnson Is Dead is a heartfelt and unconventional portrait of how one can live life to the fullest even in their darkest days. Kristen Johnson’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed documentary Cameraperson, Johnson shows that her skills are no fluke as she crafts a witty film where she masterfully balances surreal tonal shifts to create a compelling experience. While it does have a repetitive nature, the final thirty minutes are heartbreakingly comedic, and make this one worth a watch!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ira Sachs, Kevin Loreque, Kirsten Johnson, Mary Page Nance, Michael Hilow, Vasthy Mompoint

Director: Kirsten Johnson

Rating: PG-13