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So you’ve already binged every episode of The Office, watched every Disney movie possible, and you’re still looking for an escape from the never-ending news cycle? With some of our favorite streaming services, you can take a break from our current reality, all while diving into stories that are true, and oftentimes, even more bizarre than our current life situation.
From unsolved murders and kidnappings to folks climbing mountains and starting national movements, documentaries are a great way to get a deeper look into aspects of our society that are often overlooked. While we can’t leave our homes right now, these films are a great way to travel around the world, venture back in time, or get a sneak peek at the behind-the-scenes action at some of our most beloved cultural institutions.
1. Waking Sleeping Beauty
Sure, pretty much everyone has seen a Disney movie before, but do you really know what went on behind the scenes to make them? Waking Sleeping Beauty gives you the peek behind the scenes you never knew you were craving and makes you realize that yes, Disney magic is real because it is full of unbelievably talented people. Highlighting the teams that brought you classics like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, see how they turned out iconic movies over a decade long period of hard work, long hours, and plenty of margaritas.
2. African Cats
So, you’ve already watched Tiger King and you think you know everything there is to know about big cats? Think again. Take a break from staring out your window onto city streets or empty backyards, and instead take a journey to the wild African savanna. Cubs learn how to survive, lions fight off rival packs, and mothers nurture their young, as you get an intense, up-close seat as to what really goes on in the wild when animals think no one is watching.
3. Frank and Ollie
Have you ever seen a scene from Snow White? What about Pinocchio? Or Lady and the Tramp? More than likely you’ve had the pleasure of viewing some of Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s work. This documentary follows the story of two of Disney’s most talented and prolific animators, who brought to life so many iconic characters on screen, that Walt Disney himself was amazed with what they could produce. With a decades-long friendship that brought lite heartedness and magic to almost every movie they touched, see how they became inspired with ideas (yes, even the one to kill Bambi’s mother).
4. Marvel’s Hero Project
In this docuseries, Marvel highlights the fact that you don’t need to wear a cape to be a superhero. As a matter of fact, most superheroes that are among us don’t. Follow the lives of remarkable kids in this 20 episode series. From leading marches against abuse to inspiring others with disabilities to reach for higher goals than they ever thought possible, these kids are changing the world—and some don’t even have their driver’s license yet. The team at Marvel highlights each child and their achievements with their very own custom comic book, honoring how far they’ve come, and how much they’ll be able to achieve in the future.
Narrated by the Duchess of Sussex herself, Meghan Markle, get ready to go on a monthslong journey (neatly wrapped into 86 minutes) with a herd of elephants to find water. With plenty of mud baths, warthog chasing, and elephant farts to be had, you’ll easily forget everything that is happening outside and on the news, and get completely wrapped up in this adorable elephant family. While the hundreds mile-long journey isn’t easy, there are plenty of bloopers and heartwarming moments to make you want to take a trip to Africa next time you’re able to actually get on an airplane.
6. Free Solo
Follow the journey of professional rock climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to do what no human has ever done before, climb El Capitan, a 900 meter (2,952 ft) vertical rock face, alone. No equipment. No harness. No guide. Just his own two hands, sheer will, and an insane amount of guts (or insanity, some might call it). Winner of the 2019 Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, watch as Alex strives for an incredible athletic and human achievement high up in Yosemite National Park. Though I already knew the outcome before I sat down to watch, this documentary still left my heart pounding and my palms sweating—honestly it felt like I was on El Capitan right next to Alex.
7. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
During these uncertain times, it’s nice to have a familiar face on screen, especially that of the greatest neighbor of all time. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? takes a look at the life of Fred Rogers, the iconic children’s television host, and how he brought joy to children and adults alike for years. From bringing children of all abilities, races, and classes on his show, see how he got his message of “Love your neighbor and love yourself” out to millions of children, show after show. Take a break from the 24-hour news cycle, stop staring at Twitter, and enjoy the wonder and simple joy that is Fred Rogers. It might just be the most relaxing hours of your entire quarantine.
8. Three Identical Strangers
Robert Shafran, Edward Galland, and David Kellman. On paper, these names bear absolutely no similarities to one another. But line these three men up in front of you, and you’ll hardly be able to tell the difference. Three Identical Strangers tells the story of how in college these three men discovered that yes, they were in fact triplets separated at birth, and it follows their hunt as they try to discover the mystery behind why their adoptive families were never told about their other brothers. You know the old saying, “Truth is stranger than fiction”? This story is definitely one of the reasons why—you just can’t make this stuff up.
9. The Untold Story: Docuseries
From investigating child brides to finding out how dogs really became man’s best friend, this series dives deep into the stories that often get overlooked in our society. If you’re looking for a historical fix, check out the episode of what happened in Europe after the German surrender post World War II. If spies and espionage is more your thing, take a few hours glimpsing behind the curtain as former spies divulge the truth about how they really served our country in the “Untold Story of American Spies” episode. Undoubtedly one of the most popular, you can also take a deeper dive into one of the most notorious cold case murders of them all, the Jon Benet Ramsey case, and see if new, modern DNA tests bring forth any fresh leads.
I have no eye or even interest in fashion, but five minutes into watching “Iris” that truly doesn’t matter. You don’t need to own designer clothes or even know a designer’s name to know this; Iris Apfel has style, and yours will never be as exciting, eclectic, or as interesting as hers. A businesswoman, interior designer, and absolute fashion icon, “Iris” follows the story of Iris Apfel and how she marches to the beat of her own drum and views the world behind her (famous) oversized glasses. As Iris says, “I never gave a damn about going to the party or being at the party ... it was all about getting dressed for the party.” She’ll make you laugh, she’ll make you question things, but most importantly, she will make you want to put on your most outlandish outfit and strut your stuff.
11. Tiger King
Let’s be real, even if you don’t have a television, you’ve probably heard of Joe Exotic. He is the flashy, flamboyant, and self-obsessed main character in a story that has more twists and turns than a roller coaster. What begins as an expose about one woman running a big cat sanctuary while trying to stop Joe Exotic from breeding tigers in captivity and allowing tourists to play with tiger cubs, turns into something much more wild.
Murder, FBI investigations, love affairs, hitmen, and bad teeth. Yup, Tiger King covers pretty much everything. Just when you think this story has reached the craziest climax, buckle up, because even more bizarre situations are coming your way. You’ll laugh, you’ll scream, you’ll wonder where everyone is getting meth. Your friends won’t stop talking about it, so why not give in and start watching?
12. Abducted in Plain Sight
If you’re looking for a film that will leave you audibly gasping as you watch, this is it. Don’t think of this documentary as a story about a kidnapping, but more about how one man manipulated and destroyed an entire family. Not only does he weave an intricate web of lies, but by the end, he has pretty much every member of this family in his clutches in some way. It is disturbing, infuriating, and like a car crash, you just can’t seem to look away. Just when you think your jaw will not be able to drop any further to the ground, think again.
13. Don’t F**k with Cats
Before watching this I honestly didn’t understand what the hype was about. Truth be told, I’m not a cat person, so I didn’t think I’d like a story about people devoting so much of their free time to saving cats they saw in a random online video. Boy, was I wrong. What starts as a video of a man harming a cat quickly turns into a Facebook group of DIY FBI agents that spend years—yes years—searching for a culprit. Twisted videos, bizarre alter egos, and an insane international manhunt—this docu-series will leave you thinking twice about what you put on the internet and who is watching you.
14. Crip Camp
Straight from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company, this is the civil rights story you’ve probably never heard of before. Spanning decades, Crip Camp begins in 1971 at Camp Jened, a New York summer camp for teens with disabilities. The film closely follows a group of campers who go from embracing their independence as teenagers at camp, to adults turned activists, fighting for the disability rights movement. This film will leave you shocked that their story has yet to be told and questioning why everyone in this country doesn’t know the name Judy Heumann.
15. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Deep inside a Tokyo subway station lies a restaurant with only ten seats ... and three Michelin stars. The reason? Jiro Ono. At age 85 he is considered the best sushi craftsman in the world and has no plans of retiring anytime soon. “All I want to do is make better sushi. I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more,” Ono says. See what makes this legendary chef tick and how his relationship with food shaped him to be the iconic sushi maker he has become.
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