Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Underrated Documentaries You Need To Watch

Documentaries have long been the medium for filmmakers looking to tell interesting and non-fictional stories. In recent years, largely symbiotic with the rise of home video and streaming, documentaries have moved from the back room to the limelight and are becoming increasingly popular. Indeed, the biggest streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video all have large portions of their catalogs dedicated to documentary films and series.

Nowadays, there are documentaries that cover pretty much everything, from in-depth explorations of the physical and natural sciences to historical dramas tracing ancient mysteries long-forgotten before they were remembered again. While we have all undoubtedly heard of docs like "Tiger King" and "Britney vs. Spears," there are many more fantastic features that have not gotten nearly the same attention.

This list focuses on documentaries that might not be as well known as those mentioned above but still deliver highly compelling and very worthwhile stories. These are the underrated documentaries you need to watch.

Metal: A Headbanger's Journey

As you can probably guess from the title, the 2006 documentary "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey" is all about heavy metal music. The film is written, directed, and produced by Sam Dunn, a lifelong metalhead and trained anthropologist. His goal with the film is to explore heavy metal music through an anthropological framework, studying the cultural and social characteristics of the metalhead community. The film begins by looking at some of the first heavy metal bands in the 1970s like Black Sabbath and traces the evolution of metal through the early 2000s.

During the documentary, Dunn interviews a ton of different metal musicians, including legends like Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, and Bruce Dickinson. His approach to the film, attacking metal from an anthropological perspective, comes across very well and really allows Dunn to probe through the vast web of metal subgenres and obscure niches. One of the most interesting parts of the documentary is when Dunn delves into the connections between musicians playing extreme black metal in Norway, and a series of church burnings they committed in the early 1990s.

"Metal: A Headbanger's Journey" won a 2007 Gemini award for "Best Writing in a Documentary Program or Series," but it has largely escaped mainstream attention (via IMDb). However, it has a 90% critics score and 91% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, showing it was a big hit with audiences who have seen it. If you're a fan of heavy metal, you're definitely going to want to check this one out.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon

In 2006, David Leaf and John Scheinfeld released "The U.S. vs. John Lennon," a timely documentary exploring John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono's troubles with American immigration authorities in the 1970s. The film explores how Lennon went from being the lovable mop-top with The Beatles to a very public and outspoken critic of American foreign policy during the Vietnam War. In particular, the film looks at the administration of President Richard Nixon and its intensive efforts to deport Lennon and Yoko Ono to England over their anti-war views.

The documentary has interviews with several of Lennon's contemporaries, including Yoko Ono, the couple's immigration lawyer Leon Wildes, and prominent journalists like Carl Bernstein, as well as several members of Nixon's administration. Two of the biggest storylines are Lennon's immigration case fought from New York City and the arrest and conviction of anti-war activist John Sinclair, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for selling two joints of marijuana to an undercover officer.

Lennon participated in a massive rally for Sinclair, which is profiled in the film, hoping to get his release from prison. "The U.S. vs. John Lennon" has an 81% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and critics praise the soundtrack and the documentary's ability to portray Lennon accurately and faithfully.


The 2002 documentary "Comedian" is one of the unknown gems of the documentary world. The film largely focuses on two stand-up comedians, veteran Jerry Seinfeld and the up-and-coming Orny Adams, as they navigate the changing world of stand-up comedy. Seinfeld is working on creating an entirely new stand-up act with all new material to follow his enormously successful TV show and recently aired HBO special. Meanwhile, Adams is trying to learn what it takes to make it as a professional comic and is touring around trying to soak up advice from professionals when he can.

Other comics who either provide interviews or are shown doing standup include legends like Chris Rock, Colin Quinn, Jim Norton, and Greg Giraldo. It is a very humanizing look at the stand-up comedy industry, showing the intense pressure and expectations many participants are under to deliver quality material on a nightly basis to wildly different crowds.

While it might not have won any awards when it was released, as Decider explains, it was hugely influential to many young comics who watched it and went on to try their hand at stand-up comedy. Decades since its release, "Comedian" is still just as relevant, and funny, as it was back in 2002.

Hands on a Hardbody

One of the more obscure entries on our list is the 1997 documentary "Hands on a Hardbody." Directed and produced by S.R. Bindler, the film profiles a 1995 "Hands on a Hardbody" competition being held at a Nissan dealership in Longview, Texas. The competition involves 24 contestants who compete to see who can keep their hand touching a "hardbody" pickup truck the longest, with the winner getting the truck as a reward.

The film doesn't just cover the competition, but also looks into the backstories of many of the competitors and explores their reasons for participating. For many of them living in economically depressed Longview, the truck is a gateway to a new job and potentially a much better life. Several of them have competed in the contest before, including a former winner who comes back to try and win again –- much to the chagrin of the competition. Tensions start to roil at one point after accusations about unfair judging and cheating, but for the most part, the competition is kept civil.

The documentary currently has a 92% audience score from Rotten Tomatoes, and in 2013 was adapted into a Broadway musical, with Trey Anastasio of Phish and Amanda Green writing the music. The documentary is a lighthearted mix of comedy and drama, and definitely worth a watch.

Stop At Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story

First released in 2014, Alex Holmes' documentary "Stop At Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story," takes a look at the doping allegations surrounding the rise and fall of now disgraced ex-Tour de France cycling champion Lance Armstrong. The documentary covers Armstrong's entire career, beginning with his first cycling competition wins in the 1990s. The film details how Armstrong carefully built his entire career on a lie, utilizing various forms of performance-enhancing drugs and blood doping to win seven consecutive Tour de France competitions. Not only does Holmes show how Armstrong cheated, but also the ways in which he manipulated virtually everyone around him to either participate or remain silent.

When it was first released in 2014, "Stop At Nothing" was largely overshadowed by Alex Gibney's documentary, "The Armstrong Lie," which was released the year before. However, "Stop At Nothing" is still a very compelling documentary and has an 87% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, which is actually higher than Gibney's film. It includes interviews with several of Armstrong's associates and past teammates, as well as people he vilified for speaking out against him. Especially if you're a sports fan, "Stop At Nothing" is a must-watch.

Jesus Camp

One of the most controversial documentaries on our list, the 2006 film "Jesus Camp" follows Pentecostal children's minister Becky Fischer as she runs the former "Kids on Fire" evangelical Christian camp. The camp takes kids from around the country to learn about evangelical Christianity from a variety of ministers and speakers. Attendees watch various religious movies and participate in worship services, where they learn the tenets of evangelical Christianity and how to apply them to their lives.

However, what makes the documentary controversial is how it frames the camp. Many felt that the film portrayed the camp as a form of indoctrination, where adults use the Bible to promote conservative political beliefs and anti-science viewpoints. Overlaid with the story of the camp is the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who the film argues was at least partly nominated for the bench due to his religious beliefs.

Following the release of the documentary, Fischer shut down her camp after widespread criticism of her practices portrayed in the film (via The Seattle Times). While it hasn't gotten the same attention in recent years, "Jesus Camp" is a fantastic and compelling documentary that is well worth a watch. It has an 87% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered "Certified Fresh."

An Honest Liar

Released in 2014, "An Honest Liar" is a biopic about the life of James "The Amazing" Randi. Randi was born in 1928 and went on to become one of the world's most famous magicians and escape artists, before turning into a prominent scientific skeptic and debunker of paranormal claims. Much of the film's focus is the second half of Randi's career, when he would publicly expose other magicians and celebrities who were claiming to have psychic or other paranormal abilities.

Also profiled in the film is Randi's longtime partner José Alvarez, as well as various celebrity magicians and skeptics who were influenced by Randi during his career. The list of interviewees includes Penn and Teller, Bill Nye, Adam Savage, and Alice Cooper — who once employed Randi during his 1973 tour when he famously simulated decapitating himself onstage.

Though "An Honest Liar" did not make much at the box office, it is widely praised by critics and audience members. It is "Certified Fresh" by Rotten Tomatoes with a 98% critics score and 88% audience score. Trust us, if you enjoy scientific skepticism, you will love "An Honest Liar."


Bill Maher's 2008 documentary "Religulous" is a somewhat controversial exploration of his feelings regarding three of the biggest religions in the world, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Maher's main premise is that he does not understand people's at times fanatical adherence to religious texts, and he is seeking to understand more about religion's followers and why they continue to practice. His lighthearted demeanor and sarcastic skepticism are at times met with hostility from some of his subjects who do not appreciate his questioning of their faith. 

Maher travels around the world for his documentary, including to many holy sites in the Middle East, and spends time interviewing faith leaders from all three major Abrahamic religions, during which he questions them about the state of religion in the modern world. The film is directed by Larry Charles, who is known for his work directing the Sacha Baron Cohen films "Borat," "Bruno," and "The Dictator."

"Religulous," which is a portmanteau of the words religious and ridiculous, has a 78% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes based on over 25,000 views. It's a lighthearted and at times cynical look at religion today, showcasing Maher doing some of his best work.

Between Me and My Mind

In the world of music, the 2019 documentary "Between Me and My Mind" gives an intimate look at the life and career of musician and Phish frontman Trey Anastasio. The filming for the documentary takes place from 2017 to 2018, during which Anastasio is preparing for upcoming Phish concerts while also writing a new album titled "Ghosts of the Forest." The film chronicles Anastasio and Phish as they prepare for two stints at Madison Square Garden, one over the summer of 2017 and another during the 2018 New Year's celebration.

Much of the film consists of Anastasio reflecting on his past career with friends and family members, including his wife and two daughters. The film also covers the heartbreaking loss of his lifetime friend Chris "C-Cott" Cottrell from cancer. There are copious live performances from Anastasio solo and with Phish, including incredible theatrics during their 2017 to 2018 New Year's Eve run at Madison Square Garden.

On Rotten Tomatoes, "Between Me and My Mind" currently has a 100% audience score with more than 100 audience reviews. It is an incredibly insightful and interesting look at one of rock's most innovative and creative songwriters, and well worth a watch — or two.

André the Giant

Jumping into the world of professional wrestling, the 2018 HBO documentary "André the Giant" takes a look at the former wrestler and his short but illustrious career. The film follows André's entire life, starting with his childhood in France and going through his wrestling career, finally ending with his tragically young death at the age of 46. While André is portrayed as a larger-than-life figure by his contemporaries and family members, his unfortunate physical and emotional struggles are also covered. Though his large stature made him a huge draw for wrestling, it was due to a condition known as acromegaly.

Former wrestlers who worked with André, including Hulk Hogan, Jerry Lawler, and Ric Flair, as well as his former boss Vince McMahon, all give in-depth interviews about him for the film. Also chronicled is his famous role in "The Princess Bride," and several of his castmates from the film also gave interviews for the documentary.

"André the Giant" is a very intimate and touching look at the former wrestler, and it currently has a 91% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Even if you're not a wrestling fan, it's still a very interesting documentary to watch.

Hearts and Minds

In 1974, Peter Davis released one of the most influential documentaries about the Vietnam War called "Hearts and Minds." Filmed during the war and released between the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 and the Fall of Saigon in 1975, "Hearts and Minds" came out when there were still thousands of American personnel stationed in Vietnam. The film looks at the war from many different perspectives and has interviews with dozens of Vietnam veterans who had just recently returned home, as well as many Vietnamese people living through the war in North and South Vietnam.

One of the most powerful moments of the film involves an interview with the former commander of U.S. troops in Vietnam, General William Westmoreland. The film shows Westmoreland talking callously about how the Vietnamese people did not put the same value on life as Americans, interspersed with scenes from Vietnamese funerals showing agonized and grieving family members. The film was incredibly popular when it was released, and it won the 1975 Oscar for best documentary (via IMDb).

In 2018, "Hearts and Minds" was added to the National Film Registry as reported by NPR. Though it was made multiple decades ago, "Hearts and Minds" is still a very relevant documentary today. It might not still get the attention it once did, but it is a more than worthwhile watch.


While a lot of people have heard of the 2011 Academy Award-nominated "Restrepo" (via IMDb), many are not as familiar with its 2014 sequel "Korengal." "Korengal" takes place directly following the events of "Restrepo,” mainly being filmed in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, where the U.S. Army's Second Platoon, Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team was stationed. It was filmed by the same people who did the first film and largely consists of the same soldiers.

The film explores the daily lives of the troops stationed in the Korengal Valley, which is where the film gets its name, and includes both combat footage and interviews with the soldiers. The interviews are incredibly interesting, as the soldiers discuss the emotional and psychological toll the war takes on them and their families back home.

"Korengal" has an 87% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, and though it is not as heralded as its predecessor, it is still a very interesting and historically valuable film.

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia

One of the most entertaining but underrated documentaries is the 2009 film "The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia." The documentary was produced by Johnny Knoxville and Jeff Tremaine from MTV's "Jackass" series and follows the White family from Boone County, West Virginia. The Whites are an impoverished family living in an economically depressed area, and they largely rely on illegal activities and government subsidies to stay alive.

The family also struggles with addiction to drugs and alcohol, as various members are shown engaging in excessive amounts of drug use and drug dealing. At one point, one of the family members loses her newborn child to child protective services after she was discovered to have been born with illegal drugs in her system. The family patriarch, D. Ray White, had been briefly famous in the early 1990s as a mountain dancer, and his son Jesco (pictured above with Johnny Knoxville) also found fame through dancing as "The Dancing Outlaw."

While the family's struggles are notable, the film also explores their deep connections with each other and their unflinching loyalty. It is definitely a unique look at Boone County, West Virginia, but also one that is unforgettable.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

1913: Seeds of Conflict

"1913: Seeds of Conflict" is a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Ben Loeterman in conjunction with PBS. It explores the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the years leading up to the First World War. In 1913, modern-day Israel and Palestine were under the control and administration of the Ottoman Empire, which allowed Jewish immigrants to begin settling in various parts of the land. This set up a conflict between Arab nationalism and Jewish nationalism (known as Zionism), which is the basis for the film. 

The film draws on many leading scholars on the history of the conflict, featuring researchers and professors from around the globe -– including from Israel and Palestine. While it has not gotten a lot of attention outside of the PBS universe, "1913: Seeds of Conflict" is a very educational documentary that tells a compelling –- and highly politically relevant –- story for anyone curious about the history of the conflict.