Check out our top documentary picks
The truth can be scary sometimes. And whether you believe they’re real or fake, the truth is still out there somewhere. HBO Max has been garnering quite the attention for its handpicked selection of films and shows. But their list of compelling documentaries is not to be missed! From the equal pay struggles of a women’s soccer team to the public’s craze over stuffed toys, these films and shows below will show you just how diverse the documentary genre is. Check out these documentary shows and movies on HBO Max.
Editor’s note: This article was updated September 2023 to include BS High.
Run Time: 1 hr 45 min | Director: Andrea Nix Fine & Sean Fine
LFG follows members of the United States women’s national soccer team as they file a gender-discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation for pay discrimination. The documentary stars notable soccer players like Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Jessica McDonald as they sue the federation three months before the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner sets a trial in Los Angeles to address the players’ claim of discriminatory work. However, Klausner did not acknowledge the unequal pay portion of the lawsuit.
The film also features clips depicting the team’s athletic performances, including highlights from their 2019 World Cup victory, which broke numerous records. These clips, which highlight the pinnacle of their success, contrast with the players’ struggle to receive equal pay, and they show viewers the harsh reality of these athletes as they attempt to fulfill the physical demands of their jobs with a courageous and unwavering spirit. LFG is a powerful and cinematic documentary that delves into the difficult work that the team puts in both on and off the field.
BS High (2023)
Run Time: 1 hr 35 min | Director: Travon FreeMartin, Desmond Roe
Cast: Roy Johnson, Travon Free, Andrew King, John Branham, Ben Ferree
BS High is aptly named as it follows the investigation of an Ohio high school football team that garnered attention after it was discovered that their high school didn’t exist. The scandal surrounds the charismatic and controversial former head coach Roy Johnson, who used his charm and questionable intentions to create a fake team composed of aspiring young athletes from Columbus that would compete against the elite private high schools around the state, getting exposure to crowds and media coverage they never could have dreamt of at their underfunded public schools. Unfortunately, Johnson’s lies and scamming would ultimately lead to these young Black teens being scrutinized in harmful ways while exposing the financial imbalances of the Ohio sports system.
Being Mary Tyler Moore (2023)
Run Time: 1 hr 59 min | Director: James Adolphus
Cast: Mary Tyler Moore, James L. Brooks, Rob Reiner
Step into the life of the revolutionary performer who redefined the way that women were seen on television — both in front of and behind the camera. Being Mary Tyler Moore is a thorough examination of Moore’s life, from her early work on The Dick Van Dyke Show to her personal struggles with health and hardships. The documentary features archival interviews and footage that give insight into the way she was perceived by the media, plus testimonials and stories from her closest friends and colleagues like Treva Silverman (The Mary Tyler Moore Show), James L. Brooks (The Simpsons), and Edward Asner (Up). – Tauri Miller
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed (2022)
Run Time: 2 hrs 2 min | Director: Laura Poitras
Cast: Nan Goldin, David Velasco, Megan Kapler, Patrick Radden Keefe
Masterful director Laura Poitras dives into the fascinating life of activism, as well as the successful photography career of legend Nan Goldin, in All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. With an emphasis on the intersection of art and politics, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed rawly reveals Goldin’s passionate involvement in exposing the crimes of the Sackler family and their horrific opioid epidemic. Showcasing the iconic artist, along with unencumbered interviews with David Velasco and Megan Kapler, Poitras’ brilliant documentary is a deeply moving revelation. – Yael Tygiel
Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present (2012)
Run Time: 1 hr 46 min | Director: Matthew Akers, Jeff Dupre
Cast: Marina Abramović, Ulay, Klaus Biesenbach
Since 1973, conceptual and performance artist Marina Abramović has been creating works meant to be striking for anyone who bears witness, and this documentary follows her as she prepares a retrospective installation of her artwork that will push her to her limits. For 78 days, Abramović displays her work at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as sits motionless in a chair every hour the museum is open, inviting anyone who wants to come to sit across from her to do so. The director captures her every move as she mentally and physically prepares to become an immersive experience for six days a week, seven and a half hours a day. Though the installation is over, the raw emotion that goes into creativity is perfectly captured in this in-depth look into the impact of Abramović’s career. – Tauri Miller
Love, Lizzo (2022)
Run Time: 1 hr 30 min | Director: Doug Pray
Director Doug Pray blends musical performances, candid moments, and home videos in Love, Lizzo, an inspirational documentary about the multi-hyphenate superstar. With Lizzo (Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls) at the forefront, Love, Lizzo explores how the flutist became one of the most beloved artists in the world. Featuring appearances from Grammy Award winners Cardi B (Hustlers) and Billie Eilish, Love, Lizzo highlights the icon’s meteoric rise without shying away from the intimate struggles and challenges Lizzo has overcome. Love, Lizzo is a beautiful journey for any creative with a dream to experience, as it exposes truths in Lizzo’s story – even when they hurt. – Yael Tygiel
The Vow (2020-2022)
Created by: Jehane Noujaim, Karim Ame
A fascinating look into the horrific secrets taking place within the NXIVM sex cult, The Vow is a deep investigation of the rise and downfall of the organization. With an emphasis on the crimes of founder Keith Raniere, The Vow features interviews with former high-ranking members within the institution, such as Sarah Edmondson and Mark Vicente, as they escape the group and work with law enforcement agencies to dismantle it and bring the perpetrators to justice. Through two seasons, countless hours of interviews, and mountains of evidence in the form of video and audio recordings of Raniere himself, The Vow exposes the heinous truth. – Yael Tygiel
Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults (2020)
Average Episode Run Time: 49-52 min | Creator: Clay Tweel
Covering the infamous religious UFO cult founded in the ‘70s, Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults is a miniseries that follows the Heaven’s Gate group and its leader Marshall Applewhite. Members of Heaven’s Gate believed that their physical bodies on Earth are merely a container for their souls. They would transform into immortal extraterrestrial beings and ascend to heaven aboard a UFO. However, things spiraled with the group’s mass suicide in 1997, which was considered the largest suicide in the United States, and changed society’s perception of modern new-age religion. The documentary features former members and their loved ones breaking down the cult and never-before-seen footage.
So little is known about this cult, but Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults is an informative take on the group without coming off too one-dimensional. The documentary explains the complexities of this mysterious group, from its teachings, confusing inner systems, the rise of the cult, and eventually its downfall. Find out how Applewhite manages to form Heaven’s Gate from humble beginnings to a massive, deadly entity.
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (2021)
Run Time: 1 hr 58 min | Director: Morgan Neville
When news of Anthony Bourdain’s death was announced in 2018, the culinary scene was never the same. Years after his passing, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain aims to explore the life and career of Bourdain as a chef, author, and travel documentarian. Bourdain is a celebrated figure not just amongst fellow renowned chefs but also amongst the general public. He became prominent thanks to his book Kitchen Confidential, an unfiltered take on the demanding restaurant industry. But fame arrived in his favor thanks to his travel show Parts Unknown, offering audiences a greater awareness of people living in developing countries, war zones, and disaster areas through one universal item: food.
Bourdain is remembered as a hard-working individual whose career is not without its highs and lows. However, his frequent travel for work often brought issues to his personal life, which he has never addressed. Everything is about to unravel in Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.
Run Time: 1 hr 58 min | Director: Dan Lindsay & T. J. Martin
The life of a mega superstar can be a tumultuous one. Tina is a film demonstrating the highs and lows of Tina Turner’s musical career. Primarily adapted from Turner’s memoir ‘Happiness Becomes You,’ the documentary is a raw retelling of Tuner’s life events, from her childhood abandonment, living in poverty, rise to stardom, and the abusive relationship she had to endure in secret. Audiences will look into her struggles as she falls and rises again in the demanding music industry and how she returned as a solo artist and have a peaceful life with her loving partner, Erwin Bach.
Tina is about resilience. With all the good happening in the singer’s journey, many bad moments still take over a massive portion of her life. However, Turner has proven that she can survive whatever tragedy may occur despite the violent past she has to endure after all these years and how she became a strong figure in both her personal and professional life.
Class Action Park (2020)
Run Time: 1 hr 30 min | Director: Seth Porges & Chris Charles Scott III
What if you discovered that your local amusement park is a death trap? Class Action Park investigates the infamous American amusement park Action Park, situated in Vernon Township, New Jersey. Famous for its attraction areas, the Alpine Center, Motorworld, and Waterworld, the park modernized the idea of American water parks. Action Park attracted fellow thrill-seekers looking for some much-needed adrenaline. Still, there is another reason why the amusement park gained notoriety: it’s filled with a chock-full of safety hazards.
With nicknames like “Accident Park,” “Friction Park,” and “Traction Park,” Class Action Park unravels the park’s poor safety records, which resulted in the deaths of at least six visitors. From intoxicated guests, under-aged staff, and dangerously-designed rides, you’ll be surprised at how rides with names like Cannonball Loop, Alpine Slides, and Tarzan Swings managed to endanger many lives. In addition, the documentary features former Action Park employees and the brainchild of the area: Eugene Mulvihill, a penny stockbroker who envisioned Action Park as a park with “no rules.”
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019)
Run Time: 1 hr 59 min | Director: Alex Gibney
If you enjoyed Hulu’s The Dropout, this documentary is for you. The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley follows the life of American former biotechnology entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes and her now-defunct company Theranos. Once named the youngest self-made female billionaire, with a cover in Forbes magazine, her so-called success collapsed due to her massive frauds. Listed in Fortune’s “The World’s 19 Most Disappointing Leaders”, the film digs into Holmes’ inner workings and how she was able to pull off one of the most significant criminal frauds in the healthcare industry.
Holmes pioneered the idea of a miniature blood testing method that only requires small volumes of blood, such as a prick from a finger. As revolutionary as it sounds, medical experts doubt the actual mechanics of such technology. Determined to make her company work, Holmes and her partner Sunny Balwani believed that any criticism was just a plan from her competitors to bring her down and instead ramped up Theranos’ marketing. But no matter how much Holmes convinces the media regarding her company’s success, allegations against her company continue, eventually bringing Theranos and Holmes down to the ground.
Fake Famous (2021)
Run Time: 1 hr 27 min | Director: Nick Bilton
What does it take to become popular? Fake Famous transforms the lives of three non-famous individuals into social media influencers – through a social experiment. The participants include an aspiring actress, a fashion designer, and an ordinary real estate assistant who are all curious about living an influencer lifestyle.
But in this case, fame literally comes with a cost. Participants must “fake” their fame by purchasing followers and faking their luxurious lifestyle. In a world where social media has successfully altered our perception of people, Fake Famous is a fresh reminder of how Instagram culture can be incredibly out of touch with the real world.
Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off (2022)
Run Time: 2 hr 15 min | Director: Sam Jones
Tony Hawk is unrivaled in the world of skateboarding. No one else even comes close. Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off provides viewers with an intimate look into the life of Tony Hawk, a professional skateboarder, and how he balances the demands of his extraordinary career with those of his personal life. Skateboarding has been a part of Hawk’s life since he was only 12 years old. From there on, he has amassed a number of accomplishments, including winning awards and shattering records. However, the documentary delves much further beyond his career.
Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off is an in-depth documentary that focuses on Hawk’s passion for skateboarding as well as the life lessons he has gained from participating in the sport. Audiences get a first-hand look at how much passion, discipline, and determination are required to pull off a particular trick successfully. It is a film that goes beyond Hawk’s life; it is a celebration of the skateboarding culture in general, and it features interviews with other prominent figures in the world of skateboarding, footage that has never been seen before, and unfiltered access to the skater.
The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (2020)
Run Time: 1 hr 51 min | Director: Frank Marshall
The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart revolves around the three members and brothers of the legendary family band The Bee Gees. The film explores how Maurice, Robin, and Barry Gibb formed The Bee Gees. Mainly featuring Barry Gibb, with archival interviews from the late Robin and Maurice Gibb, the documentary features commentary from a variety of other musicians, including Noel Gallagher, Mark Ronson, Justin Timberlake, Eric Clapton, and Chris Martin.
The Bee Gees took the world by storm in the ‘60s and ‘70s with hits like “Stayin’ Alive” and “How Deep Is Your Love.” Through The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, the documentary details the band’s ascent to fame, their brief separation, and their subsequent reunion in the music industry. The film, in contrast to gossipy tell-all documentaries, places a strong emphasis on the creative processes that the group engages in when writing and recording their music. This highlights the Bee Gees’ heartfelt songwriting abilities, which are frequently overshadowed by their glittering performances.
Phoenix Rising (2022)
Average Episode Run Time: 1 hr 17 min | Creator: Amy J. Berg
Phoenix Rising is a chilling documentary that follows Evan Rachel Wood’s story of alleged domestic abuse. The actress initially kept the name of her abuser under wraps. But in the summer of 2020, when production for the film began, Wood named Marilyn Manson her abuser. The documentary uncovers the age-old problem of domestic violence and how it occurs to anyone, no matter how famous they are. Unraveling the tell-tale signs of abuse, from grooming and isolation, power imbalance, and physical abuse, to gaslighting and death threats, is a horrifying reminder of what individuals go through in real life.
In a world that frequently places blame on women, Wood, a survivor, is in the process of healing from her trauma while reclaiming her narrative. Wood continues to fight tirelessly for justice in spite of the difficulties presented by her case. Phoenix Rising also records the actress’ experience in creating The Phoenix Act, which aims to extend the statute of limitations for domestic violence cases, specifically in California.
Not So Pretty (2022)
Average Episode Run Time: 26-35 min | Creator: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
You’d be surprised at the things you put on your body. Not So Pretty is a stark miniseries investigating the booming beauty industry and the hidden chemicals companies set in their products. Society is all about self-care, and there’s no better way to take care of yourself than by treating your body with love. But what if you realized that the products you’ve been using, whether shampoo, nail polish, or facial cleansers, don’t follow up with what they advocate for? The four-episode documentary exposes the beauty industry’s lack of concern for public health, with illnesses and even death risks.
If you are interested in the cosmetic industry, this eye-opening documentary is your go-to show. Not So Pretty unravels the dangers beauty corporations have been putting on their consumers. Interviewees include a mom and her grown-up daughter who remember getting sick from makeup that contains asbestos and a significant company that claims their baby powder is perfectly safe despite the dangerous chemicals it possesses. You’ll be shocked at the significant risks companies are willing to downplay just to maximize profits.
On the Record (2020)
Run Time: 1 hr 35 min | Director: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
On The Record is a documentary released when the #MeToo movement became prominent, investigating the allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by men in power. The film explores claims of harassment against the co-founder of Def Jam Recordings, Russell Simmons. The film includes interviews with the 20 women who have accused him of abuse, featuring names like Sherri Hines, Alexia Norton, and Sil Lai Abrams.
A huge portion of the documentary focuses on the story of former Def Jam Recordings executive Drew Dixon, the first woman to publicly reveal allegations of assault against Simmons, claiming that he raped Dixon in her apartment. After she left the company to continue her career at Arista Records, she claims that her job was sabotaged by music executive L.A. Reid when he refused his sexual advances. What makes On The Record chilling is that it criticizes the lack of black women’s voices in the #MeToo campaign, reminding viewers that there is still so much work that needs to be done to pursue justice.
Beanie Mania (2021)
Run Time: 1 hr 20 min | Director: Yemisi Brookes
Remember Beanie Babies? Who knew these fuzzy stuffed toys were the world’s first Internet sensation in the ‘90s. Beanie Mania digs deep into the Beanie Babies obsession that conquered America during its heyday. Initially created for children, the line of toys caught the attention of adults as well, eventually sparking what is known as American greed.
The documentary takes you into the Beanie Babies craze through interviews with diehard collectors, company insiders, and notable influencers. While it didn’t feature Beanie Babies creator Ty Warner, the documentary does a great job tracking down exciting subjects, from Naperville housewives slash Beanie Babies enthusiasts to Warner’s former employees. With a sales growth from a couple of million dollars to more than a billion within two to three years, the Beanie Babies mania is far from fiction.
Diego Maradona (2019)
Run Time: 2 hr 10 min | Director: Asif Kapadia
The football scene is no stranger to the late Argentine footballer, Diego Maradona. This documentary, aptly titled Diego Maradona, the film explores the life of the emblematic football player who has become the stuff of myths and legends. Maradona played for S.S.C. Napoli, but his Argentine triumph in the 1986 World Cup put him on the grand pedestal. His victory was a remarkable showcase of his geniuses and on-field brilliance. Since then, he has become a phenomenal sensation – possibly a god to dedicated fans.
But off-pitch, he was a different story. Consistently under the scrutiny of the public eye, he lived a controversial life, and viewers slowly watch his ultimate descent to hell. His personality comes in all forms of duality – his religion but hedonistic, respectful but condescending, making Maradona incredibly unique and exciting. But one thing’s certain: the footballer wasn’t ready to handle the fame. With more than 500 hours of archival footage, Diego Maradona is a timeline of the player’s life amid legal trouble, career controversies, drugs, bans, clashes with the press, and how he managed to rise from all that from time to time again.
Allen v. Farrow (2021)
Average Episode Run Time: 56-73 min | Creator: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
Allen v. Farrow is a miniseries investigating the allegations of sexual abuse against award-winning director Woody Allen. These allegations were made by his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, who was only seven when the abuse occurred. The documentary is presented in the form of a videotaped account recorded by Dylan herself, which was never aired to the public before this. However, her account isn’t exempt from the controversy that ensues, with people claiming that her mother coached her to say certain things on her videotape. Meanwhile, Allen’s side continuously spouts facts, evidence, and witnesses that prove his innocence and claims that Dylan is only perpetuating falsehoods.
The documentary goes beyond Dylan’s sexual abuse case. Allen v. Farrow also examines the custody battle between the director and his former wife Mia Farrow and his marriage to Mia’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, who is 35 years younger than him – suggesting that Allen has long groomed Soon-Yi for years, with his interest in her beginning since she was still in high school. While Allen did not respond to any requests for an interview, the documentary features Allen and Farrow’s biological son, family friends, prosecutors, experts, and investigators.