What are the best documentaries to stream in the UK right now?
I don’t know about you, but during lockdown I’ve wanted to watch TV that I find really absorbing. I’ve been binging on movies but also on documentaries that distract me from the raging fire of garbage that is 2020.
If you’re like me, and looking for a great documentary to lose yourself in this weekend, today I’m sharing 20 of the best documentaries to stream in the UK. There’s something for everyone in this list – feel-good, inspiring stories, true crime, shocking scandals and amazing adventures.
I’m always looking for the best documentaries to stream, so if I’ve missed one of your favourites, let me know in the comments!
Best Documentaries to Stream on Disney+
The Imagineering Story
For my money, this is one of the best documentaries on Disney+. It’s a six-part docu-series, looking at the history of Disney theme parks from the launch of Disneyland in California to the brand new Disneyland Shanghai. Along the way you learn about the different rides, the way guest expectations change, and the people behind the amazing detail of each park. It’s really fascinating.
Quite possibly one of the most scariest movies available on Disney+, this Oscar winning documentary tells follows Alex Honnold as he attempts to become the first person to ever free solo climb Yosemite’s 3,000 foot high El Capitan wall. This one will have you watching through your hands as he climbs with no ropes or safety gear, in what would arguably be the greatest feat in rock climbing history.
Empire of Dreams
The only Star Wars documentary on the list, this 2004 film directed by Kevin Burns and narrated by Robert Clotworthy, documents the making of the original Star Wars trilogy and for Star Wars fans, this is worth checking out.
This award winning documentary follows nine high school students from around the globe as they compete at an international science fair. Facing off against 1,700 of the smartest teens from 78 countries, only one will be named Best in Fair. It’s a great documentary that gives you hope for the future with these talented kids.
Best Documentaries to Stream on Netflix UK
Audrie and Daisy
This challenging Netflix documentary is definitely one to watch with your teenagers. Audrie and Daisy are two teens who go to a party, drink too much and are sexually assaulted by boys they barely know. The film follows the fall-out from this attack, and the consequences on both girls and their families, before looking at other girls with similar experiences, and how they are beginning to rebuild their lives.
It’s a few years old now, but Catfish is another documentary that I think is a great watch for teens, and a story about what happens when you meet someone online, who isn’t everything you think they are. It helps that the creator and star of the movie, Nev Shulman, is so impossibly kind to his catfish and helps you see their humanity and vulnerability, rather than just their flaws.
If you haven’t watched this documentary yet, add it to your watchlist immediately. This is the inspiring, heartbreaking and enraging story of killer whales at Sea World resorts, with insights from trainers, campaigners and animal experts. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s an important one.
I do love a bit of showbiz drama and this BTS documentary from Taylor Swift delivers in spades. There’s heaps of insight into the drama with Kim K and Kanye, but more importantly this is a fabulous film about women and their tendency to live to please others, and what happens when you start pleasing yourself. Inspiring, moving and lots of fun. As an aside, if you enjoy this, also take a look at Lady Gaga Five Foot Two.
The Dawn Wall
If you love Free Solo then you’ll also love this documentary about two friends who free climb one of the most difficult slopes in Yosemite to help cure one of their heartbreak. There’s gorgeous scenery, nail biting moments galore and it’s packed with inspiring moments!
FYRE: The Festival that never Happened
I think this movie is going to become one of my annual traditions, a bit like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s just SO. MUCH. FUN. I mean I guess I’m a bad person but watching supermodels unwittingly promote a fraud on Instagram, then rich kids get outraged when arriving at what looks like a refugee camp after a natural disaster? Is just about the best fun ever. I may have also signed up to HULU just so I could watch their Fyre documentary, which is almost as much fun as this one.
Abducted in Plain Sight
This true-crime documentary is honestly one of the most batsh!t crazy things you’re ever going to watch. It’s the story of a family that is befriended by a paedophile neighbour, who manages to abduct their child with the parent’s blessing. More than once. It’s honestly fascinating and disturbing and sad, but definitely worth your time.
The Great Hack
I remember reading about Cambridge Analytica in the news and thinking it sounded boring. And then I watched this documentary, which explains what happened, how it happened, and what it means for all of us. And it’s horrifying and fascinating and the sort of thing you’ll phone your parents and demand that they watch immediately.
Best Documentaries to Stream on Sky TV (UK)
Inside 9/11 (National Geographic)
It’s crazy to me that my daughter has no real sense of what happened on 9/11, how scary and HUGE it all was. This documentary series is a great overview, with intelligent interviews, original footage, and a sensible analysis of events leading up to the attack. It’s a good reminder of history without the conspiracy theories that are rampant on YouTube. Available on Sky Documentary.
Active Shooter Colombine
There’s a great documentary series on Sky:Crime called Active Shooter that focuses on a series of mass shootings in the US. As a whole the documentary has some interesting things to say about gun culture, mental illness and how a narrative builds up around an event. With that in mind, the Colombine episode of this series should be mandatory viewing, tearing up the popular idea that this event a “revenge of the outcasts” – a false narrative that has inspired virtually every school shooting since.
The Inventor: Out for Blood
This feature-length documentary is the sort of film that documentaries were invented for. It’s the story of a bright young woman called Elizabeth Holmes who managed to persuade some of America’s richest and most powerful men that she had invented a new sort of blood test that would revolutionise personal healthcare. What’s jaw-dropping is how successfully she sold her idea – with massive organisations, investors and even pharmacy chains buying into her machines. The only problem was they didn’t work. Was Holmes a criminal or just over-ambitious?
Best Documentaries to Stream on iPlayer
Jonestown: Terror in the Jungle
If you’re not familiar with the Jonestown story, then this is a fascinating series. It tells the story of how a cult was formed in California and grew into a huge organisation that founded its own “utopia” in the middle of the jungle. The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project gradually descended into chaos, before Jones eventually persuaded/forced hundreds of followers to drink Kool Aid laced with cyanide and sedatives.
Roll Red Roll
This is a similar (depressing) story to the one told in Audrie and Daisy, focusing on one small town football team and a girl who was assaulted at a party. It’s worth watching to be outraged at some of the terrible misogyny on show, and it’s a great way to start a discussion with your teens about consent, informed consent and how to respond to allegations of assault in a human way. (I think this one also shows on Netflix)
So there you have it – my recommendations for the best documentaries to stream in the UK on Netflix, Sky, Disney+ and iPlayer. If I’ve missed one of your faves let me know in the comments!