Fall down the YouTube rabbit hole and you’ll find a goldmine of fascinating, heartwarming, and cringeworthy documentaries available in their entirety. Clicking on one can lead to hours of binge viewing, stumbling from one true story to the next, the subjects ranging from unsettling conspiracy theories to supernatural possibilities that blow your mind.
Some are scary, some are sweet. Either way, they’re epic timewasters available for free online. Get the popcorn and check out the 14 flicks below.
1) Mermaid Girl
Shiloh Pepin was born with her legs fused together and her feet twisted so that she looks almost like a mermaid. Her incredible story is a rollercoaster of emotions—one minute, you’re laughing at her precocious, adorable personality, the next you’re crying at the injustice of the world and her beyond-her-years wisdom. Shiloh’s disorder, sirenomelia, usually kills children within a few days of birth, but Shiloh soldiered on. Even though her life was difficult, she never complained, and she’s just enchanting to watch. This is a fantastic story following the last few years of her short but amazing life.
2) The Imposter
This 2012 film is about a French con artist who convinces a family in Texas that he is their long-missing son—despite having dark hair, the wrong color eyes, and a thick French accent. So why would the family insist he is their son? The twist ending to this one is totally insane.
3) The Family Who Walks on All Fours
This documentary by an English psychologist named Nicholas Humphrey follows his a Turkish family where most of the members walk on all fours. The debate sparks a conversation about the possibility of human devolution.
4) 3D Printed Guns
This Vice documentary follows Cody Wilson, the man at the center of the 3-D-printed gun revolution. With the advent and popularization of 3-D printers, gun control may be moot. Wilson, a college student, shows how he can “print” illegal firearms right in his home. The government has no way of stopping or regulating this practice. In the wake of the Newtown school shootings, this documentary is particularly poignant and scary.
5) Child of Rage
This 1989 documentary follows Beth Thomas, a young girl who, as a result of sexual abuse when she was 1 year old, wants to kill her brother and adoptive parents. She’s interviewed by researchers who ask her about snapping baby birds’ necks, stealing knives from her mother, and excessively masturbating until her vagina bled. Today, Thomas is a nurse and an advocate for abused children. She’s gone through a lot of therapy and purports to be healed. But in this documentary, she coldly describes wanting to murder her family by stabbing them at night. It’s very unnerving.
6) The Scariest Drug in the World
Vice reporter Ryan Duffy travels to Colombia to find the world’s scariest drug, scopolamine. The drug keeps the person lucid but makes them amenable to doing whatever you say. It’s been used to convince people to rob themselves and hand the money to strangers, as a rape drug, and as a way to humiliate people. It’s essentially “chemical hypnosis,” where you lose total control of your actions, despite being completely awake. The stories from people who’ve been drugged with scopolamine are harrowing.
7) Too Ugly For Love
This is a multipart documentary about average people who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder. The pain these people feel over their looks may seem surreal given a lot of them are normal to attractive. But they really do not see in the mirror the reality of their appearance. You’ll never think of your own “fat days” the same way again.
8) The Boy Who Lived Before
Cameron is a 5-year-old Scottish boy who remembers a past life on the island of Barra. He recounts details that end up matching a real house and family in the town. His face when he returns to the house he “remembers” is haunting. It’s a really interesting look at what children might remember from being reincarnated.
9) The Boy Who Sees Without Eyes
Ben Underwood is a young boy who had his eyes removed at age 3 due to retinal cancer. As a result, he uses echolocation (like dolphins do) to “see” without seeing. He plays basketball, skateboards, and rollerblades. He uses sound to “see” and gets around perfectly well. Some have compared him to a real life X-Men character. Ben tragically passed away from his retinal cancer in 2009, but this documentary gives a look at his incredible abilities.
10) This Is the Zodiac Speaking
The story of the Zodiac serial killer is riveting but terrifying—especially since he was never officially caught after terrorizing San Francisco for years. Not only did the Zodiac kill, he taunted the police openly for years and they still weren’t able to apprehend him.
11) Demon Possession
If you like The Exorcist, then you’ll love this look into demon possession and the ways to cast out evil spirits. It was too scary for me to finish, so I don’t know how it ends. But if that fact intrigues you, click at your own risk.
12) Just Melvin, Just Evil
This documentary follows years of sexual and physical abuse across multiple families by their shared step-father, Melvin. It’s made by one of the families’ sons, who confronts Melvin about what he did. Melvin denies he hurt any of his step-children, but they all have memories of being abused by him for over a decade. Some accuse him of marrying their mother only because she already had young daughters for him to prey on. It’s one of the most manipulative and expansive stories of child abuse ever told on film, and you’ll be outraged by what happens in the end.
13) Inside North Korea
This three-part Vice documentary takes founder Shane Smith on a trip to North Korea that unveils some of the most confounding facts about the company and its relationship to foreign travelers. There have been several follow-ups on the situation in North Korea by Vice and other outlets since, but this take on the restrictions, pageantry, and strife in the hermit country is a must-watch.
Additional reporting by Rae Votta.
Editor's note: This article is regularly updated for relevancy.
Screengrab via YouTube