It is said that films are a mirror of society. They show the characters and the things that are/were a part of the world. And to a good extent, this is quite true. But if films are the mirrors, then the documentaries are the crude, unbiased truth. They are more real than films because they don’t sugar-coat anything or fantasize about some idealistic, dreamy endings. They show what is truly out there in the world. Once every while, especially in times like these, we need eye-openers to hook us to reality.
Historically, documentaries have never made money at the box office (except Michael Moore films). That’s why, when you look back, the number of documentaries produced was significantly less in the 80s and 90s than they are now. But with the emergence of online streaming services, nowadays, documentaries have found a new breathing ground. Netflix, of course, is leading the way, but Amazon Prime is not far behind. Today, we are going to list down the top documentaries movies on Amazon Prime that you can watch right now. This list consists of all kinds of documentary films: from true crime documentaries to biographical documentaries. I would suggest not to miss any of these really good documentaries on Amazon Prime. All of them are worth your time.
15. Tales of the Grim Sleeper (2014)
A serial killer was loose on the streets of Los Angeles for about two and a half decades. He got the name The Grim Sleeper because he took more than a decade-long hiatus before he continued with his killings. When he was finally arrested, nine women and a teenage girl had become his victims. Two years ago, a sentence was passed on his crimes and he was charged with the death penalty. Even though his case has been closed now, the question remains: has justice been served? And, if it has, is it still justice if it could have been stopped in the first place? This is what Nick Broomfield tries to find out in his documentary. The filmmaker goes back to where the Grim Sleeper used to live, trying to understand his surroundings and his thought process. But, what comes out in this film is something entirely different than the case study of a serial criminal. It features the interviews of the neighbors and the people who knew, and suspected the man, but couldn’t do anything because they doubted the justice system. And for a very good reason.
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14. Sound City (2013)
It would be an understatement if I said that music plays an important role in everyone’s life. Everyone might not be connected to the same kind of music, but there is no denying that no matter what sort of music everyone listens to, they relate it with life and emotions. And because music is important, the place where it is made holds a high relevance, too. ‘Sound City’ is about one of those places. It is the story of Sound City Studios, a recording studio which was the place where some of the most prominent music was recorded by legendary singers and bands. Dave Grohl, Nirvana’s drummer, decided to make this documentary while the band was recording the album, Nevermind, here. This film features famous musicians who had recorded their music here, like Mick Fleetwood, Paul McCartney, Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, Rick Springfield, Neil Young and a bunch of others. The added perk of this film is that some of these musicians recorded original songs for it, along with the covers of some famous songs.
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13. Requiem For The American Dream (2015)
Noam Chomsky is one of the foremost philosophers in the world today, and when an entire documentary is made on his thoughts on society and the economic structure of the modern world, it definitely deserves our attention. ‘Requiem For The American Dream’ collects several interviews of the great thinker in which he analyzes how the market’s policies have, over the years, allowed a certain section of the society to grow richer, thereby concentrating the wealth in the hands of a select few. How this inequality has crept into society, and how it is trying to erode away the middle-class is Chomsky’s main focus in this riveting and eye-opening documentary. If you are angry about the immense societal and economic pressures on you like student loans and your own standard of living, you can watch this documentary to understand how society has been systematically molded in order to put this pressure on you.
12. Cartel Land (2015)
After having watched shows like ‘El Chapo‘ and ‘Narcos: Mexico‘, most of us are aware of how Mexico has seen immense violence over the years because of the many drug cartels which operate in the country. Getting tired of this constant menace in their lives, many Mexicans chose to form militias of their own for the sake of self-defense. The first part of this 2015 documentary focuses on one such militia which was created by a doctor called Jose Mireles in the state of Michoacán in order to fight against the Knights Templar Cartel. The second part shows us how this very cartel faced severe opposition from a paramilitary group called the Arizona Border Recon who wanted to prevent them from operating in the United States. This documentary gives us a ground-level view of the lives of the people who had to get busy fighting cartels instead of looking after themselves and their families. It is a rather raw portrayal of the hardships that these people went through, and this is what makes watching ‘Cartel Land’ an unforgettable experience.
11. Bill Cunningham New York (2015)
Bill Cunningham was a renowned fashion photographer working for the New York Times who became quite famous owing to his collection of photographs on fashion that he saw in every part of New York, which he documented throughout his life. What is great about him is that he has never restricted his movement among New York’s upper class while taking his pictures, but has also ventured out into the street, photographing average people and the way they carry their garments. And this all-encompassing perspective of his work is what is bound to attract us as the audiences. Anna Wintour, the chief editor of Vogue, has also gone on to say that “We all get dressed for Bill”.
10. Particle Fever (2013)
If you are a science nerd and haven’t yet laid your eyes on this documentary, you are doing yourself a great injustice. ‘Particle’ deals with new, cutting-edge ideas in the world of physics that might change our perception about our existence. ‘Particle’ is interestingly divided into two narrative threads. The first one deals with the scientists at Switzerland’s CERN who are trying to get the Large Hadron Collider to work in order to imitate the conditions of the Big Bang to see how the universe that we see around us has actually come into being. While experimental physics is the subject of this thread, the other one deals in theoretical physics, where physicists Nima Arkani-Hamed and Savas Dimopoulos give their own theories on how they think the Big Bang occurred. They deal with ideas like the multiverse theory and the supersymmetry theory.
9. The Endless Summer (1966)
Surfing is one of the most exciting and popular water sports in the world. All over the globe, people travel far and beyond to ride the waves. The culture of travelling and surfing must be a rather common thing now, but back when this documentary was released, it was a new and foreign prospect for people. In ‘The Endless Summer’, the filmmaker Bruce Brown presented a new set of life for surfers by following the lives of Mike Hynson and Robert August. These surfers traveled across the world to find perfect surfing spots. The tone of the film varies from crude narration, by Brown, to witty humor. Hynson and August’s travel from their native state of California to the then unexplored and lesser-known surfing spots not only provides good entertainment but also induces the enthusiasm for wanting to surf these places personally. The title itself alludes to endless traveling throughout the world to chase the never-ending summer.
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8. Gleason (2017)
Steve Gleason used to play for the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League. The blocked punt in the 2006 game in New Orleans after the Hurricane Katrina is what made him most famous. However, he received a hit in 2011 when he was diagnosed with ALS. This neurological disorder is known for affecting the neural functions that stop working slowly. In its most severe form, it disables the respiratory process due to which the person dies. When Gleason got news of his problem, he decided to document his time. Meanwhile, it was also revealed that his wife was pregnant. The documentary follows Gleason’s struggle with his disease and welcoming a son into his life. It shows how the onset of the disease affected his life, how it could have made things worse had Gleason fallen into the pits that it dug for him. There were things that Gleason held on to and this film showcases his strength, where it came from and how it made his life better.
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7. The Invisible War (2012)
There is no question on the fact that the Armed Forces are central in maintaining the balance in today’s tumultuous world. They are the ones who help save people from atrocities and bring peace in the otherwise suffering sections of the world. But, what happens when a section of people suffers amongst the ranks of the Forces and rather than being attended to justice is silenced and even reprimanded. ‘The Invisible War’ is a picture of the victims of sexual assaults in the US military. It comments on the frequency of these things, how often they don’t come to light, what factors keep them in the shadows and how the victims have to suffer even further, inflicted with physical and mental trauma and robbed of justice at the hands of the system that they chose to serve under.
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6. City of Ghosts (2017)
The whole world is privy to what has been happening in Syria for quite some time. As the forces of ISIS worked towards satisfying their own irrational and lunatic end, the people of Syria suffered under their regime, trying to survive and break free from the people wreaking havoc on their lives. Raqqa was the de facto capital of ISIS, and this is where a citizen journalist group was active, trying to capture the atrocities on Syrians and relaying to the world. Their work while brought to light a lot of new things, but more importantly broke a few misconceptions that the outside world had formed for the people stuck in Syria. This group is named Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. This documentary focuses on the life of the people who worked as a part of this activist group. It shows the risks they had to take while working undercover, how some people had to run for their lives and some were exiled from their own homeland.
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5. 4 Little Girls (1997)
When the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum in the country, the opposing forces were trying to beat the willpower of the activists by committing horrendous acts against them. One such incident happened in 1963 and it shook the whole country so much that the next summer the Civil rights Act of 1964 was passed. So, what was this event and how bad was it? It was a Sunday morning on the 15th of September, 1963. A bomb, placed by the members of Ku-Klux-Klan, went off in the church and four young girls were killed in it. This documentary, directed by Spike Lee, focuses on what was happening before this event and what happened after it. It covers the important events and demonstrations of the movement, features interviews of the friends and family of the four girls along with that of the activists. It shows both the emotional and the historical impact of the incident, and comments on how many things have or haven’t changed even after all this fight.
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4. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
In August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it caused unprecedented destruction flooding about eighty percent of the whole city. In this documentary, Spike Lee interviewed the residents of New Orleans to get their perspective on the hurricane, its effects, and the aftermath. Most of this destruction was because of the failures of the levees and the floodwalls. These were supposed to act as a protection and when they crumbled, the city was engulfed by the devastating hurricane. ‘When the Levees Broke’ mostly focuses on this topic. Interviewing people involved on different levels with the construction and working of the levees, it tries to understand where things went wrong, and what could’ve been done to prevent it. But, more than that, it shows the indomitable will of the people of New Orleans to rebuild their lives and the city.
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3. The Act of Killing (2012)
The mid-60s were a turbulent time in the history of Indonesia. Political upheavals ruled the country and there was a surge of hatred towards the communist community. After a regime change took place, one of the most atrocious acts by people in high places were committed in Indonesia. It was the mass killings of the communists. This film discusses that event and focuses on the people who did such horrendous acts. One such person was Anwar Congo who was the leader of a death squad in North Sumatra. Filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer invited him to talk and shed light on the things that happened then. The tone of the film slowly builds from a light conversation to a dark commentary and questions the morality of the people who do such things. It also sheds light on the current political regime in Indonesia and how the mass-killings are prohibited from being discussed there.
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2. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
In May 1993, the bodies of three young boys were found in the Robin Hood Hills. They were hogtied with shoelaces, were stripped and their bodies were sexually mutilated. It became even more horrifying when it was revealed that these brutal and inhumane killings had been carried out by three teenage boys. It appeared that they had been performing some sort of Satanic ritual and the three victims were the sacrificial offering. This documentary focuses on the events that took place around this event. It starts from the time when the killers were arrested. Along with the interviews of the parents of the victims and the killers, it also followed the proceedings at the trial, what evidence was found against the teenagers, how they behaved during the trial and finally what was served to them. It also factors in the political and religious stance of the society that they were living in. This documentary is followed by two more that factor in the things that came to light later and how they affected the case.
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1. I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
In his time, James Baldwin had seen a great many things. He was quite close with people involved in the Civil Rights Movement, three of whom were Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. One of his projects, before he died in 1987, was a book called ‘Remember This House’. This book was supposed to be based on his experiences with the activists and all the things that he saw during such tumultuous times. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to complete this book. ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ is inspired by his unfinished manuscript. It is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and features Baldwin’s personal notes and letters, something that would have gone into the book, had it been completed. The film draws a line between the events that happened then and the things that are happening now to compare how much things have changed and how much more reform is needed to make things better.
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