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Amazon Prime has thousands of titles to choose from in its catalog, including a stunning array of documentaries. However, unless you’re really into UFOs, it can sometimes be difficult to sort through all the fluff to find the good stuff. Below, we present you with a list of the best documentaries on Amazon Prime. From true crime to music to Sesame Street, this list has a little bit of everything for discerning documentary fans.
The best documentaries on Amazon Prime
1) 4 Little Girls (1997)
One Sunday morning in 1963, a bomb tore through a black church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young girls The bomb had been placed my members of the KKK, and their act of terror became a rallying point for the civil rights movement. Spike Lee’s harrowing 1997 documentary follows the investigation of the bombing and the impact it had on the passage of the 1963 Civil Rights Act. 4 Little Girls is a heartbreaking film but one that’s worth watching, now as much as ever.
2) Trans (2013)
This thoughtful documentary offers a crash course in the issues surrounding transgender Americans, from the medical complexities of transitioning to the dangers of living in a society that doesn’t accept your right to exist.
3) Dirty Pictures (2010)
Alexander Sasha Shulgin is undeniably one of the most important chemists of the 20th century, creating hundreds of psychedelics over his career. Dirty Pictures looks at the life of the scientist responsible for discovering MDMA.
4) Bones Brigade: An Autobiography (2014)
Skateboarding has become a massive industry, but in the ’80s, the idea of being a pro skater was still mostly a pipe dream. The Bones Brigade helped change that, giving birth to the modern skate video, pushing boundaries with tricks, and becoming one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport. Today, even your parents know who Tony Hawk is. Bones Brigade: An Autobiography will show you where he came from and how he and five other absurdly talented friends helped kick start a revolution in skateboarding.
5) Ken Burns: The Central Park Five (2013)
In 1989, five black and Latino, teenagers were arrested and convicted for the rape of a woman in Central Park. The crime itself was horrific, but the story that unfolded about the men’s arrest and innocence stand as a horror of its own. The Central Park Five shows how the media, racism, public outrage, and a police force desperate for an arrest carried out a brutal miscarriage of justice that destroyed five innocent lives.
Through the ’90s, the West Memphis Three became odd miniature celebrities, three young men from Tennessee who were accused and convicted of a shocking triple murder. The Paradise Lost trilogy follows the original murder investigation through the West Memphis Three’s eventual release, thanks in no small part due to the national spotlight the first installment created. If you were enthralled with Making a Murderer, you’ll want to add these to your queue.
7) The Kill Team (2014)
In moments of combat, you need to be able to know you can trust the men and women serving with you. But does that mean you have to protect their darkest secrets at the expense of your soul? Private Adam Winfield, a 21-year-old soldier when he served Afghanistan, faced those questions when members of his platoon committed unspeakable war crimes while serving. Winfield reached out to his father to help alert the military to what was going on, but his warnings went ignored. The Kill Team is a painful watch at times but remains one of the most compelling tales on Amazon about what happens when power and opportunities are abused.
8) Oasis: Supersonic (2016)
Oasis: Supersonic documents how brilliance, arrogance, substance abuse, and a little luck propelled a small rock band from Manchester, England to the stadiums they still play today. If you miss VH1’s Behind the Music, Supersonic has all the juicy backstage chaos you could ever want.
9) Jessie’s Dad (2017)
Jessie’s Dad is one of the shortest films on this list—given its brutal subject matter, though, you may appreciate its brevity. Mark Lunsford isn’t the image that comes to mind when you think of a children’s rights activist, with his long hair, tattoos, and piercings. Before 2005 he was a truck driver. Then his daughter Jessie was murdered by a pedophile who lived across the street from their home. This heartbreaking story about a father’s fight to toughen the nation’s laws when it comes to child predators isn’t easy to watch, but it shouldn’t be. Equal parts true crime and social reform, Jessie’s Dad is a compelling documentary that will stay embedded in your brain.
10) Amy (2015)
Amy Winehouse stands as one of the most tragic figures in the history of modern pop music. Blessed with the voice of an angel, and cursed with the demons to match, Winehouse came back from a marginally successful debut called Frank to set the pop charts on fire with Back In Black. Her songs were tinged with black humor that belied a substance abuse problem that eventually led to her death in July of 2011. Amy is a heartbreaking portrait of an artist wrestling with success and the consequences of getting too big too fast.
11) I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
James Baldwin died in 1987, but the civil rights leaders’ work stands today as some of the most poignant and topical writing on race. I Am Not Your Negro is based on Remember This House, the book Baldwin was writing at the time of his death. Using archival recordings of Baldwin, director Raoul Peck connects the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s to race in America today. It’s a heavy documentary, asking difficult questions about the place of African Americans in the United States’ society. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary, I Am Not Your Negro is an artistic and educational triumph. Whether you proudly state “All Lives Matter” on your Facebook or marched after the death of Mike Brown, I Am Not Your Negro should be required viewing for every American.
The first Fantastic Four movie to hit theaters came out in 2005, but the first Fantastic Four film ever made was shot in 1993, with no intention of ever being seen. Made by B-movie legend Roger Corman as a way to not lose the film rights to the characters, the entire cast and crew set out to make the film without knowing it would never see the light of day. Doomed! tells the full story behind one of worst superhero films ever committed to celluloid, complete with clips from the disaster itself.
13) Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer (2010)
Budd Dwyer is mostly remembered for the shocking video of his suicide, unwittingly filmed live during a press conference in 1987. While the footage remains in circulation online today, few people know the true story behind the death of the Pennsylvania politician who lost everything due to the lies of others and a bribery scandal he couldn’t fight. Political films come in many forms; Honest Man: The Life of R. Budd Dwyer is one that will make you think twice the next time you make a rash judgment about a political figure.
14) Sriracha (2013)
If you’ve eaten at an independently owned restaurant in the last decade, you’ve encountered Sriracha. The Thai chili sauce has ignited the tastebuds and passions of foodies around the world, seemingly overnight. This lighthearted documentary follows the spread of Sriracha across America, starting with Huy Fong Foods, the company that makes the bottle you see on tables everywhere, through the lesser-known varieties of the sauce that permeate the world.
15) Sound City (2013)
Sound City Studios in the San Fernando Valley was an inauspicious little building nestled in the heart of California that was home to legendary recordings from artists ranging to Fleetwood Mac and Kyuss to Neil Young and Nirvana. From 1969 to 2011, the studio poured art into the world, all recorded on a custom analog Neve console. When the studio closed in 2011, the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl bought the console, both to keep its legacy alive and to add to his home studio. Sound City documents Grohl’s attempt to record a full album of original music on the console over the course of one incredible 24-hour session. With guest appearances from members of almost every rock band that’s mattered in the last 20 years, Sound City is a love letter to a studio that helped inspire generations.
16) There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane (2010)
On Sunday, July 26, 2009, eight people were killed on the Taconic State Parkway in New York State when a woman drove a minivan 1.7 miles in the wrong direction on the parkway. Her vehicle collided with an SUV head-on, killing Diane Schuler, the driver; her daughter; and the three nieces who were riding with her, along with all three passengers in the SUV. The situation was tragic, but the story the unfolded during the investigation was chilling. There’s Something Wrong With Aunt Diane is a brutal film about the hidden secrets families only discover after a tragedy, and the alternative answers we search for when the truth is too horrible to imagine.
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17) Aileen: Life & Death of a Serial Killer (2015)
Aileen Wuornos is possibly the most famous female serial killer in American history, killing seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. Her story was turned into the film Monster starring Charlize Theron, released one year after her execution by lethal injection in 2002. Aileen doesn’t focus on Wuornos’ crimes, but instead her life after capture and the attempts by attorney Joseph T. Hobson to have her death sentence overturned. Gazing deeply into how our criminal justice system deals with people of questionable mental health, Aileen is harrowing and unforgettable.
18) Endless Summer (1964)
Bruce Brown’s 1964 surfing classic helped kick-start a revolution, inspiring surfers around the world to travel in search of an “endless summer.” Documenting the travels of Mike Hynson and Robert August on a worldwide surfing adventure, Endless Summer sees the duo tackling waves from America to South Africa set to an unforgettable surf rock score by the Sandals. Filmed on a $50,000 budget, Endless Summer ultimately grossed over $20 million at the box office. In an era where we’re spoiled by perfect sports video shot on waterproof action cameras, Endless Summer is made all the more remarkable due to being shot on 16mm film. If you’ve ever picked up a board, you owe it to yourself to see the genesis of surfing’s popularity.
19) Chinatown (2011)
This 46-minute mini-doc is a fascinating look at what happens when two cultures collide. When the mayor of Kalmar, a Swedish town struggling to stay afloat, invites a major Chinese company to build a trade center, it seems like just what the town needed. But both parties struggled to figure out how to work together and the results were disastrous. Chinatown should be required viewing in international business schools.
20) Stories We Tell (2013)
It would be unfair for you to a viewer to read too much about Stories We Tell going in. You only know that it’s a mystery about family and the secrets they keep to protect the ones they love. Directed by actress Sarah Polley, Stories We Tell examines the relationship between her parents, via archival family footage, interviews with her siblings, and dramatized faux home videos shot on Super 8. Powerful and thought provoking, Stories We Tell has the narrative twists of a murder mystery, without any real blood being shed.
21) Zeitgeist (2007)
Don’t mistake Zeitgeist’s inclusion for an endorsement of its theories, ideas, or claims. However, if you’d like to understand the world of modern conspiracy theories, it’s a good entry point for the last 10 years. When the film was originally released on YouTube, Vimeo, and Google Video, it racked up tens of millions of views by spinning a tale of international bankers and 9/11 truthers. It’s an interesting documentary—if you can look past the giant leaps in logic and disproven theories it depends on.
22) Backstreet Boys: Show Em What You’re Made Of (2015)
Of all the music documentaries on this list, none of them humanize their subjects more than Show Em What You’re Made Of. The Backstreet Boys are acutely aware of the jokes that have been told about them over their 20-year career. This doc follows their quest to rebuild their reputation after a lengthy hiatus. It’s a shockingly moving and genuine glance into the second act of pop stardom. You don’t have to know the words to “I Want It That Way” to enjoy this candid look behind the curtain of stardom and the quest to keep the dream alive.
The rates of alcoholism in women have risen over the last 20 years, but often their struggles aren’t noticed until they are too late. My Name Was Bette chronicles Bette VandenAkker, a nurse, wife, mother, and alcoholic whose battle with the bottle was lost in 2007. Substance abuse doesn’t always take the form of falling over or yelling at your kids. Sometimes it’s a quiet battle that people only see being fought until it’s too late. This story is tragic, but perhaps it will help you notice something in someone you love’s life. Just don’t read the heartbreaking Amazon reviews from viewers who relate all too much to this documentary’s subject matter.
24) Art and Craft (2014)
Mark Landis is arguably the most prolific art forger in the history of the United States. Over the course of 30 years, he has passed off forgeries from a wide range of artists and styles. From a fake letter by John Hancock to a recreation of the French Neo-Impressionist Paul Signac, Landis’ frauds were notable for their wide-ranging targets and styles. There’s just one catch: Landis isn’t in it for the money. He gives away his work. What drives Mark Landis, and why are so many people angry with him? Art and Craft asks difficult questions about the ownership of artistic ideas, but it also tells the story of a man who just wants to be appreciated—even if he has to tell a few lies to achieve his goal.
25) Unsolved Mysteries: The Original Series (1987)
Finally, the 80s classic docu-series Unsolved Mysteries is streaming, with all the ghosts, murders, and UFOs you remember. Hosted by Robert Stack, Unsolved Mysteries was a gonzo riff on America’s Most Wanted, recreating crimes and paranormal experiences in hopes of solving mysteries. Starting 1988 and running for seven seasons Unsolved Mysteries managed to wring a surprising amount of horror out of its shoestring budgets. Blending recreations with live interviews, the show created a foundation for today’s most popular murder shows. As you enter later seasons of the show, they provide updates on mysteries that have since been solved. It gives you hope when a particularly dark tale ends in a question mark. If you’re looking for a never-ending variety of mysteries, from true crime to the beyond, Unsolved Mysteries will become an obsession.
26) Long Strange Trip (2017)
Martin Scorsese executive produced this look at the history of the Grateful Dead, which clocks in at nearly four hours long. That’s only appropriate for a band that’s known for their epic-length jams, but when it hit Amazon Prime after its theatrical run, Amazon sliced it into six episodes for more easy viewing. Long Strange Trip features concert footage, of course, but the new interviews with surviving band members and friends of the band are what really give the documentary heft. Even if you’re no Deadhead, there’s plenty of intrigue in this deep dive into one of the defining acts of the 20th century.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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