A woman in a mask holds a camera in "All the beauty and the Bloodshed"

The 10 Best Documentaries on Max

“Is this real life?” asked that one viral video child still high on painkillers from his trip home from the dentist. These 10 documentaries on Max will have you asking the same question. How could such incredible stories have ever happened for real? Find out.

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Hoop Dreams

A young man holds a basketball and smiles in "Hoop Dreams"
(First Line Features)

Hoop Dreams tells the five-year saga of William Gates and Arthur Age, two Black teenagers from Chicago who are attempting to get into the NBA. It was originally intended to be a short film, 30 minutes tops, but the 250 hours of footage captured by director Steve James begged for a feature-length film. Hoop Dreams has been hailed not only as one of the best documentaries ever made, but one of the best MOVIES ever made. It’s a story of the passion, grit, and crushing competition that comes with the pursuit of athletic greatness.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

A woman in a mask holds a camera in "All the beauty and the Bloodshed"

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is the story of Nan Goldin, a photographer and activist who attempted to shed light on both the AIDS and the opioid epidemics. The film was made by Goldin’s longtime friend Laura Poitras, whose intimacy with her subject allows her to dig deeper into her story than the standard artist bio documentary again. The best part of the film? Watching the artist take on the Sackler family, the ones responsible for pushing oxycontin to the masses. It’s a David and Goliath narrative not to be missed.

4 Little Girls

A memorial photo showing four young girls in "4 Little Girls"

4 Little Girls is a documentary about one of the most tragic events in American history: the KKK bombing that claimed the lives of four young Black girls in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. This Spike Lee documentary is one of the auteur’s finest works, and paints a picture of the brief lives of its subjects and the lingering effect on the community that they were a part of. It’s a hard watch, like the best art often is, and just as necessary.

Paris Is Burning

The cast of 'Paris Is Burning' striking poses
(Janus Films)

Paris Is Burning tells the tale of the icons New York City’s ballroom scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Pioneered by queer and trans people of color, ballroom culture inspired Madonna’s “Vogue” and Beyonce’s “Renaissance” three decades later. Perhaps one of the most enduring expressions of queer art ever created, Paris Is Burning captures the ballroom scene at its height of glory. At the same time, it dives into the private lives of the practitioners of the art and their struggles with racism, homophobia, and the looming AIDS crisis.

Jodorowsky’s Dune

An animated spaceship flies in "Jodorowsky's Dune"
(Sony Pictures)

Before Denis Villeneuve took an award winning crack at the Dune series, all the world had was the unfortunate David Lynch version from 1984. Avant-garde film director Alejandro Jodorowsky was gonna change all of that. He was preparing to bring Frank Hebert’s sci-fi magnum opus to life in stunning, surrealist detail. Jodorowsky’s Dune was gonna be awesome. Magnificent. A ten-hour masterpiece.

It never happened. Jodorowsky’s Dune explains why. I’m not so sure, but maybe the fact that Salvador Dali wanted $100,000 an hour to play the Emperor had something to do with it.

Hail Satan?

A shadowy figure wears devil horns in "Hail Satan?"
(Magnolia Pictures)

The Church of Satan is a thing; what’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, says this documentary. Contrary to popular belief, Satanists don’t actually worship the devil. Rather, they are focused on questioning why some religions *cough* Christianity *cough* are allowed to flourish in American society while others are demonized, pun intended. Why is the worship of god acceptable to be taught in schools while The Church of Satan is seen as abhorrent? Hail Satan shows the Church of Satan for what it is, a countercultural ideology that praises individualism and critical thought over the mindless consumption of dogma. Call me a Satanist; that sounds pretty great.


A man leans with hands folded on a bar in "Navalny"
(Warner Bros)

Who was Alexei Navalny? This documentary answers the question: one of the bravest men to ever live. Navalny was a Russian politician who spearheaded a cultural revolution in opposition Russian president Vladimir Putin. Tragically, and unsurprisingly, his heroic actions led to his untimely death. This documentary captures the life of Navalny, up to his death in a Siberian prison in 2014. To call this film “harrowing” would be an understatement.

In the Same Breath

Three medical personnel stand on the street wearing PPE in "In The Same Breath"

The Covid-19 pandemic inspired countless pieces of art, most of them … pretty bad. In the Same Breath is the exception. Created by Chinese-born filmmaker Nanfu Wang, the director was somehow able to point a camera directly at Wuhan durning the pandemic’s early days. It’s a firsthand look at the unreality of it all. Those confusing early days that felt like a dark dream, when death and panic reigned. In the Same Breath focuses on the human toll of the disease, as well as the government disinformation campaign that tried to cover it up.

Mommy Dead and Dearest

A mother and daughter give thumbs up signs in "Mommy Dead and Dearest"

If you thought you knew the tragic story of Dee Dee and Gypsy Rose Blanchard, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Mommy Dead and Dearest is a documentary about the life of an ailing young girl and her caretaker mother … at least, that’s what everyone thought. It turns out that Dee Dee Blanchard, mother of Gypsy Rose, suffered from Munchausen Syndrome by proxy, a mental disorder that causes the sufferer to seek attention for a person in their care. In Dee Dee’s case, she poisoned her own daughter to keep her “sick” and under her control. Eventually, Gypsy Rose fought back … by conspiring with a romantic partner to successfully murder her mother. It’s a lurid, heartbreaking, “holy shit” documentary that is totally unmissable .

The Truth vs. Alex Jones

Alex Jones raises his right hand to take an oath in court in "The Truth vs Alex Jones"

If you hated Alex Jones before this documentary, prepare to hate him even more. The Truth vs. Alex Jones centers around the rise and fall of one of the most virulent conspiracy theory peddlers of the modern era. Formerly a shock jockey in Austin, Texas, Jones rose to radio infamy for famously labeling the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting that claimed the lives of dozens of children to be a hoax. Why did he do it? This documentary provides the answer: for profit. A bigger scumbag there never was.

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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.