These are the best documentaries to stream right now

From the true story behind Cambridge Analytica, to character studies of sushi chefs, fashion photographers and famous musicians, here’s what you should be watching...

Eric Goode must be chuffed with himself at the moment. For those of you who don’t know, Goode is the man behind the striped, snarling unstoppable Netflix hit Tiger King. Almost perfectly timed to the pandemic, Goode’s series hit the streaming service just as we all became caged ourselves — and we lapped it up like cream from a saucer. In fact, almost 35 million people watched the docu-series during its first 10 days of release. Big numbers for a big story.

But there are more wild-but-true tales out there, just waiting for you to switch on and gasp, cry and shout your way through. From the true story behind Cambridge Analytica and the most improbable bank heist in US history, to character studies of sushi chefs, fashion photographers and famous musicians, we’ve rounded up the best documentaries currently available all streaming services. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even learn something.

The Great Hack (2019)

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: Focusing on Professor David Carroll, business development director Brittany Kaiser and British investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr, this ‘terrifying warning’ of a documentary film charts just how integral Cambridge Analytica was in manipulating us during elections including Brexit and the 2016 US election. Like Black Mirror, but in real life.

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: You know the drill by now; a couple of chancing, wannabe entrepreneurs tried to pull off the greatest festival to ever happen. And it never happened. From soggy cheese sandwiches to that now infamous meeting to bargain for water, it’d be a laugh-a-minute — if so many people hadn’t fallen for it.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Watch it on: Hulu

What it’s about: If you’re looking to have your heart warmed and your tastebuds teased, then this one’s for you. It may look like simple food porn, but the triumphant tale of 85-year old sushi master Jiro Ono and his 10-seat, 3 Michelin-starred restaurant in a Tokyo subway station is so much more than that.

Bill Cunningham New York (2010)

Watch it on: Amazon Prime

What it’s about: Even if you’ve never heard of Bill Cunningham, you’ve likely seen his work. In this 2010 documentary film, director Richard Press follows the famed photographer around New York, bumping into faces such as Anna Wintour, David Rockefeller and Tom Wolfe on the way.

Icarus (2017)

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: We’re not getting much new sport this year, so why not educate yourself on one of the pursuit’s most pervasive problems? Icarus is the Academy Award-winning documentary that pulls back the curtain on international doping scandals. Don’t think you’re interested in either sport or documentaries? Think again.

Free Solo (2018)

Watch it on: Disney+

What it’s about: Get yourself a cushion to hide behind — because your nerves will be shredded by the time you’ve finished this cliff-hanging profile of rock climber Alex Honnold. Charting Honnold’s 2017 quest to climb El Capitan in American’s Yosemite National Park, it’ll leave you with a newfound respect for safety ropes.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week (2016)

Watch it on: Hulu

What it’s about: Who better than legendary film director Ron Howard to chart the early days of the Beatles? Scored with a reliably fantastic soundtrack, this documentary film follows the lives of the Fab Four through the club scene of Liverpool — and on to conquering the world.

Team Foxcatcher (2016)

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: You may have seen the 2014 Oscar-nominated drama, starring Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum, but this is the true story behind that glossy Hollywood tale. Millionaire and wrestling enthusiast John du Pont remains the only member of the Forbes 400 richest Americans to be convicted of murder — and this is the story behind the shooting.

Cartel Land (2015)

Watch it on: Amazon Prime

What it’s about: Filmmaker Matthew Heineman leads this dark look at the ongoing drug battle being fought on the US-Mexico border. It’s not a pleasant watch, but it is an important one — with a focus on vigilante groups attempting to quell the activity of Mexican drug cartels.

Blackfish (2013)

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: It’s likely you’ve seen Blackfish by now. It is, after all, one of the most famous documentaries ever made. But, on the off-chance that you haven’t dived deep into the scandals of the sea-park industry, now is the time. Think Tiger King, but wetter.

Planet Earth (2006)

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

What it’s about: Of course, the gold standard of nature documentaries comes courtesy of Sir David Attenborough, and the BBC’s unparalleled Planet Earth. After the sequel last year, we revisited the original series — both are available on iPlayer — and they are truly extraordinary. More works of art than documentary episodes.

The Endless Summer (1966)

Watch it on: Amazon Prime

What it’s about: What’s better, the shaky sixties-filmed surfing footage, or the exciting twang of the guitar-led soundtrack? Watch for yourself and make a decision. The Endless Summer follows Bruce Brown, himself a competition-level surfer, on the trail of surfers Michael Hynson and Robert August on an around-the-world surfing adventure. If this doesn’t have you yearning for the surf, we don’t know what will.

Before the Flood (2016)

Watch it on: Disney+

What it’s about: A National Geographic gem featuring the always slick Leonardo DiCaprio, Before the Flood follows the Oscar winner as he meets with scientists, activists and world leaders to discuss the prevalent and ever-escalating problems associated with climate change.

Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates (2019)

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: If ever you were wondering what motivates the mind of visionary entrepreneur Bill Gates, this three-part docu-series has all the answers you could want. Directed by David Guggenheim, expect unrivalled access to the tech billionaire’s life — and the processes that make him tick.

Generation Wealth (2018)

Watch it on: Amazon Prime

What it’s about: Ever wish you had more money in the bank? Watch Lauren Greenfield’s examination of materialism, social status and celebrity culture and you won’t feel so bad. Cringeworthy at points, and melancholy at others, this is a sad — but fascinating — indictment of a society we have created.

Chasing Perfect (2019)

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: If you’ve read our recent interviews with legendary car designer Frank Stephenson, you’ll know that he’s a man who lives and breathes car design. In this documentary film, you’ll follow the creative process of the man behind iconic designs including the 2000 Mini Cooper and the McLaren P1.

Senna (2010)

Watch it on: Amazon Prime

What it’s about: Another film you should have seen when it debuted a decade ago, Senna is a high-octane, pedal-to-the-metal account of one of motorsports most enduring icons. We headed out to Brazil last year to interview Senna’s family and explore his legacy — and it’s a film we watched twice on the plane.

Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist (2018)

Watch it on: Netflix

What it’s about: We’ve all seen Making a Murderer and The Staircase by now, but when it comes to true crime documentaries, there is one title that stands head and grisly shoulders above the rest. Evil Genius, the story of Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong is a truly harrowing — but thoroughly encouraged — way to spend an afternoon.

Prefer getting lost in a fictional tale? Here are the best classic films to stream right now…

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