The best documentaries according to reddit

When it comes to recommendations for the best documentaries, you can always count on Reddit to steer you in the right direction.

Whenever I need a recommendation for a quality documentary, I always ask Reddit. Well, I don’t personally ask Reddit. I am but a humble lurker and a site search of Reddit shows that question has already been asked upwards of 4,000 times. So I trawl the comment sections on the most upvoted threads until I find something I’ve never seen before. To save you the hassle of doing that yourself, I’ve rounded up the best documentaries Reddit has recommended.

To build a coherent list of docos, I’ve only picked threads with 20,000 upvotes or more and taken the top (i.e. most upvoted) comments from those threads. I’ve also only included the first appearance of each documentary as there are a few, like Fog of War, that seem to pop up almost every time this question rears its head.
So without further hesitation, here are the best documentaries according to your anonymous friends on Reddit.

1. Planet Earth

You know it, you love it. Let David Attenborough’s commanding voice fill the room as he takes you all over the world, introducing you to rare and exotic species from dozens of different biomes.

Planet Earth (and its 2016 sequel Planet Earth II) is one of those documentaries you can truly get lost in. It’ll give you a new appreciation for this giant rock we call home, and at once make you feel both very small and incredibly important to the survival of our planet.

The original Planet Earth is available to stream on Binge, with the sequel on Stan and the more recent TV series, Our Planet, is available to stream in 4K on Netflix. But if you really want the best version available, you can order Planet Earth II in 4K/HDR from Amazon.

2. Icarus

Icarus isn’t just any old sports doco. For one thing, it’s an Oscar-winner. For another, it’s got so much going on, even the most sports-averse among us will be glued to the screen.

Filmmaker Bryan Fogel gives us an in-depth look at the world of performance-enhancing drugs, with a particular focus on Russia’s state-sponsored Olympic doping program. Fogel even tracks down and becomes friends with the Russian scientist overseeing the program, Grigory Rodchenkov.

It’s available on Netflix, so go check it out for yourself.

3. The Century of the Self

This four-part BBC documentary explores how advertisers both, in the business world and in politics, use complex psychological techniques to not only analyse but manipulate the desires of the public.

Written and directed by Adam Curtis, The Century of the Self examines how the work of Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud and PR pioneer (and nephew of Sigmund) Edward Bernays has been adapted by people in positions of power to influence and control consumers.

If you like The Century of the Self, be sure to check out Curtis’ other work, including Modern Times: The Way of All Flesh, The Mayfair Set and HyperNormalisation, many of which are available to watch on YouTube.

4. The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst

Andrew Jarecki sure has a knack for stumbling upon a killer story. The man responsible for Capturing the Friedmans also directed the 2010 crime drama All Good Things starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, a movie inspired by the life of accused murder Robert Durst.

The real-life Durst loved the film so much that he agreed to sit down with Jarecki over 20 hours of interview, which is how we got The Jinx, an HBO documentary series that led to the arrest of Robert Durst just days before the release of the finale.
The Jinx is available to stream on Binge or Foxtel Now.

5. The Fog of War

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara features interviews with McNamara, the Secretary of Defense under the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations. McNamara is largely responsible for America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Documentarian Errol Morris uses footage from over 20 hours of interviews with McNamara to weave together a confronting exploration of power and the people that hold it.

The Fog of War isn’t currently streaming on any Australian service, but you can rent or buy it through Google Play, YouTube or the Microsoft store.

6. The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats its Young documents an annual “cult-like” race held near Tennessee. Based on the 1977 prison escape of James Earl Ray (the man who assassinated MLK Jr.), only 10 people have completed the marathon in its 25-year history.

The general consensus on Reddit is that it’s best to watch this one without seeing any previews of trailers beforehand (hence why we haven’t included it below!) – just go in blind and enjoy the wild ride.

7. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room documents the glorious demise of the corrupt Enron Corporation. The documentary explores the corporation’s many illegal schemes; most notably its hand in instigating an energy crisis to drive up the price on utilities.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room isn’t currently available to stream in Australia at the time of writing but you can pick up a copy on Amazon if you’re really keen.

8. Tickled

Three words: competitive endurance tickling. When New Zealand journalist David Farrier stumbles upon online videos of young, athletic men being restrained and tickled, he starts to investigate. Farrier quickly discovers a whole world of competitive tickling in which fit young men are flown to compete in LA from all over the world.

In an attempt to find out more about this bizarre subculture, Farrier contacts the competition organisers but is instead met with vicious, abusive emails. Soon, what seems innocent enough turns into a thrilling conspiracy that truly is stranger than fiction.

9. The Imposter

Imagine the shock and sheer delight when a Texas family’s missing child turned up alive after being missing for three years. Now, imagine the horror of discovering the returned child isn’t who he says he is – in fact, instead of a 16-year-old Texan kid, the missing child is actually a 23-year-old French conman named Frédéric Bourdin.

Hooked yet? The Imposter is one of those stories that would seem outlandish even on a soap opera, but it’s 100 per cent true. In this mesmerising doco, filmmaker Bart Layton interviews the sociopathic Bourdin along with the family of the still-missing Nicholas Barclay

10. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Scientology has long been a source of curiosity for many journalists, but Alex Gibney’s Emmy and Peabody Award-winning 2015 documentary is like no other.

It includes profiles of eight ex-Scientologists (some of whom brought A-listers like Tom Cruise and John Travolta into the fold) as well as an exploration of the church’s origins and some seriously explosive revelations by those who left.

Where to stream the best documentaries

Binge

Given that Foxtel is home to the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, a bunch of HBO titles and more, it should come as no surprise that Binge is home to some damn good docos. Attenborough fans are well covered with Planet Earth, Frozen Planet and Blue Planet II, plus there’s a whole bunch of historical, food and crime titles.

Prime Video

In addition to classics like Super Size Me and Crips and Bloods: Made in America, Amazon’s streaming service boasts a slew of original documentaries, including Generation Wealth, Make Us Dream and Andy Murray: Resurfacing. Sure, there are some weird alien ones thrown in the mix, too, but who doesn’t love a bit of extra-terrestrial weirdness?

Disney+

You might not automatically think ‘Disney’ when you think of documentaries, but ever since the entertainment giant acquired Nat Geo, their catalogue has grown extensively. Titles cover history, sports, nature, and even behind-the-scenes looks at some of our favourite film franchises, like Star Wars and The Avengers.

Bonus recommendations

In my search for the best documentaries according to Reddit, I found the most gracious redditor of, maybe, all time. A self-described documentary junkie, magtig noticed a lot of their favourites had gone unmentioned. So they created their own megalist of recommendations, which I’ve embedded below.

Have at it.