14 mind-blowing documentaries to watch on Disney+
The streaming service has more than just Disney Classics.
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Disney Plus isn't just an app to stream your favorite movies from when you were a kid. For those looking to skip the nostalgia for a change and learn about something new, the platform has an incredible collection of documentary films to enjoy that cover a wide range of topics, from the history of Walt Disney Studios to the making of the Marvel and Star Wars' cinematic universes.
And because Disney now owns National Geographic (thanks to its acquisition of 20th Century Fox), you can delve into the deepest oceans (Atlantis Rising, Dolphin Reef) or choose to explore outer space (Expedition Mars, Apollo: Missions to the Moon)—there's truly something for everyone. Ahead, find 14 top-rated docs on Disney+ that are totally worthy of a watch.
1. Free Solo
Prepare to reach dizzying new heights during Free Solo, an Oscar-winning documentary that follows Alex Honnold as he sets out to become the first person to free solo climb El Capitan, a 3,000 foot rock formation in Yosemite National Park. For those unaware, free soloing is a style of climbing without the use of a harness or safety line. If you're afraid of heights, you'll probably be glued to the edge of your seat for the entirety of his ascent.
Watch Free Solo on Disney+
2. Before the Flood
Leonardo DiCaprio has long-been a champion of environmental justice, establishing The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation back in 1998 to help preserve forests, oceans, and wildlife. In 2016, DiCaprio co-produced and starred in Before the Flood, in which he travels around the world with filmmaker Fisher Stevens to study the effects of climate change firsthand. The actor also interviews political leaders like then-President Barack Obama to discuss solutions to the climate crisis. Along the way, the film highlights what steps ordinary citizens can take to help.
Watch Before the Flood on Disney+
3. The Imagineering Story
Anyone who's ever experienced the magic of a Disney theme park might wonder "How exactly did all this come to be?" In The Imagineering Story, we learn how the team of artists and engineers at the Walt Disney Company—known as Imagineers—turned the "Happiest Place on Earth" into a reality. With fascinating archive footage, exclusive interviews, and behind-the-scenes takes, it's a must-watch for any fan of the House of Mouse.
Watch The Imagineering Story on Disney+
4. African Cats
After streaming The Lion King on Disney Plus, you can go ahead and watch the real thing: African Cats. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the film documents the lives of two families of big cats—a pride of lions and coalition of cheetahs—living in the Maasai Mara National Reserve, in Kenya. It's a story of animal survival in the African savannah, with all the rival cats, mischievous cubs, and predator-prey relationships you'd expect.
Watch African Cats on Disney+
5. Diana: In Her Own Words
Princess Diana famously lived her life under the microscope of the British press, but rarely did the public get to hear from the Princess of Wales herself. However, in a series of secret interviews conducted by her friend on behalf of journalist Andrew Morton (author of Diana: Her True Story), we finally hear Diana's story on her own terms. The audio recordings in the film reveal Diana's perspective on her marriage to Prince Charles and her experience as part of the Royal family, weaved together with archival footage and photography taken throughout her life. If you've watched The Crown, you won't want to miss it.
Watch Diana: In Her Own Words on Disney+
6. Waking Sleeping Beauty
From 1989 to 1999, Walt Disney Studios produced some of their most successful animated films ever made, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. In what came to be known as the Disney Renaissance, this 10-year period marked a return to form for Disney's animation department, led by former CEO Michael Eisner and studio exec Jeffrey Katzenberg. Waking Sleeping Beauty provides viewers with an inside look into how this era unfolded, featuring interviews and behind-the scenes footage of the animators, directors, and studio heads that started it all.
Watch Waking Sleeping Beauty on Disney+
7. Paris to Pittsburgh
Released shortly after the Trump administration's announcement that it would withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, Paris to Pittsburgh reveals how Americans are responding to the threat of climate change in their own communities. Directed by National Geographic filmmaker Sidney Beaumont, the film takes viewers through Puerto Rico, California, Iowa, Florida, and New Jersey, highlighting state and local efforts to lead a more sustainable future.
Watch Paris to Pittsburgh on Disney+
8. Frank and Ollie
Two of Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men," Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston were the famed animation duo behind the likes of Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, and Pinocchio. The titular documentary delves into the two men's lifelong friendship, achievements, and creative process during the "Golden Age" of hand drawn animation. Fun fact: you can see both men make a cameo in The Incredibles, during the battle scene at the end of the film.
Watch Frank and Ollie on Disney+
9. Science Fair
In Science Fair, viewers are introduced to nine high school students from all over the world as they compete at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) in Los Angeles, known as "the Olympics of science fairs." The competition is stiff—with a total of 1,700 of the best and brightest teens from over 78 countries, only one will take home the grand prize of $75,000. Watch as contestants develop revolutionary algorithms, pancreatic cancer sensors, and 3D-printed stethoscopes—and wonder—could they be the ones to save lives in the future?
Watch Science Fair on Disney+
10. Apollo: Missions to the Moon
It's been over 50 years since Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface, yet to this day, the moon landing is still one of humanity's greatest achievements. National Geographic’s Apollo: Missions to the Moon recounts those early days of space exploration between 1969 and 1972 using archival footage, photos, and audio of all 12 crewed missions to showcase the Apollo Space Program. It's definitely a story worth watching, whether you're a Space Race buff or not.
Watch Apollo: Missions to the Moon on Disney+
11. Dolphin Reef
Narrated by Natalie Portman, Dolphin Reef dives into life under the sea through the story of a young Pacific bottlenose dolphin, Echo, who's learning to make it on his own. Residing by a Polyenesian coral reef with his mom, Kumu, viewers are treated to stunning visuals of the tropical reef and its aquatic inhabitants, including parrot fish, mantis shrimp, sea turtles, and cuttlefish. Each animal has a role to play, and their cohabitation is essential to the survival of each species, as well as the reef itself.
Watch Dolphin Reef on Disney+
12. Titanic: 20 Years Later
Over two decades have passed since Titanic surged onto screens, yet director James Cameron still had a few questions that went unanswered after filming the Hollywood blockbuster. It's what prompted Cameron to return to the famous shipwreck with a team of experts in Titanic: 20 Years Later, to once and for all find out what the box office hit got right and wrong. As it turns out, the infamous sinking may not have happened the way we witnessed on-screen...
Watch Titanic: 20 Years Later on Disney+
13. Empire of Dreams
If you call yourself a diehard Star Wars fan, Empire of Dreams should be on your must-watch list (if you haven't already seen it!). This in-depth documentary gives a behind-the-scenes look into the original saga, with a two-an-a-half hour runtime that rivals one of the first three films. Featuring interviews from much of the cast of The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, it contains all the commentary you'd ever want on the making of the epic space-opera, including from George Lucas himself.
Watch Empire of Dreams on Disney+
14. The Pixar Story
Pixar studios is essentially synonymous with modern animation, and this documentary tells the story of the visionary company's humble beginnings and growth. It details the hard work of Pixar creators John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, and even Steve Jobs, who helped turn the studio into the success story it is today. Interspersed with early shorts, concept art, and interviews with everyone from Tom Hanks to George Lucas, viewers will discover how these revolutionary CGI animation techniques led to Pixar's historic rise "to infinity and beyond."
Watch The Pixar Story on Disney+
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