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30 Best Documentaries On Hulu [September 2021]

Documentaries can open our eyes and expose us to worlds we've never visited, communities we didn't know existed, and people we didn't know much about. One of the purest and most noble uses of film technology, documentaries capture real life as it happens, and documentarians can present that footage in a way to tell a remarkable narrative about actual events. As a result, documentaries, like any other type of movie or storytelling, can be harrowing, funny, sad, triumphant, sweet, troubling, or a call to action. But they're almost always fascinating and provide visceral, almost voyeuristic thrills.

As one of the biggest providers of streaming content, Hulu offers a number of must-see documentaries covering a number of topics — some straight-up classics and others little-known gems. Here are the 30 best nonfiction films currently available on Hulu.

Updated on August 23, 2021: Hulu continually updates its online catalog of films, adding new choices and deleting others all the time. Check back in every month to see what documentaries are new and worth watching on Hulu.

Apollo 11

The lunar landing of 1969 is totally ingrained in the collective culture and in history, but "Apollo 11" takes viewers back to a time before man walked on the moon, when the very idea was almost foolhardy. An absolutely engrossing documentary about the lead-up to the Apollo 11 launch and its triumphant landing, this film keeps you utterly hooked with unseen, fly-on-the-wall, high-quality 70 mm footage of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the NASA ground teams who made that amazing feat of human achievement possible. "Apollo 11" feels like it's a time capsule of a singular moment in history.

Batman and Bill

In his early years as a comic book figure, Batman was billed as "the World's Greatest Detectives." In "Batman and Bill," present-day culture detectives take it upon themselves to demonstrate and prove with unequivocal doubt that everything the general public knows about the Dark Knight is wrong. This is a documentary about how Bob Kane, usually the sole credited creator of Batman (not to mention elements of Gotham City and the Caped Crusader's many colorful enemies), may have stolen full credit or at least not contested the idea much. Overlooked writer Bill Finger, according to his family and this film, was responsible for much of the wonderful world of Batman.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years

Plenty of documentaries have been made about the Beatles, but they almost always tell the same story — how the suit-wearing, clean-cut, witty Fab Four gave way to the psychedelic, disenchanted Beatles and then broke up. "Eight Days a Week," a rare non-narrative film from A-list director Ron Howard, takes a different route. This doc focuses only on the Beatles' early years, or "Beatlemania," when they played their catchy, pop-rock ditties like "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to screaming hordes of fans, right up until 1966 when they turned into a studio-only entity. This film — with rare, remarkably well-preserved concert and backstage footage — also demonstrates how much gleeful fun the Beatles, still a band of brothers, had during this period.

The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story

Nickelodeon wasn't just another cable TV channel — it represented a cultural shift and a generational touchstone. And "The Orange Years" gives the incredibly creative and in-touch network its due, interviewing numerous figures from Nickelodeon's past to track its journey from a humble, low-rent Ohio TV experiment to the first channel expressly for children, helping to popularize cable TV and bringing fame to countless Generation X and Millennial stars. "The Orange Years" argues that Nickelodeon was truly groundbreaking and important, with "You Can't Do That on Television" and "Double Dare" particularly influential on pop culture.

Somm

Wine is one of the world's most popular beverages, and its cultivation and creation is the pride of places like France, Italy, and Northern California. Sure, the drink provides inebriation and pairs great with food, but wine culture is a deeply rich and complicated world. And to become a sommelier, a certified wine expert who can work in pretty much any high-end restaurant, is quite difficult. "Somm" depicts the journey of several wine enthusiasts studying for the big sommelier exam, one of the toughest in the world. In this regard, "Somm" feels like an underdog sports movie while also teaching the audience a lot about wine and how to properly appreciate and enjoy it.

Too Funny to Fail: The Life and Death of The Dana Carvey Show

They usually don't make documentaries about little-watched TV shows canceled after seven episodes. But "The Dana Carvey Show" was different. Starring and conceived by the titular "Saturday Night Live" superstar, the show aired in ABC primetime in 1996 and helped launch the careers of Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. The comedy collective behind the show was so committed to bizarre, daring, experimental, envelope-pushing comedy, however, that it deeply upset network executives, sponsors, and viewers. "Too Funny to Fail" is the story of a quickly collapsed project that became legendary almost because of its implosion.

Blackfish

A hard-to-watch film full of suffering, desperate animals, "Blackfish" inspired a movement to shut down parks where aquatic mammals like whales are kept in captivity or to at least get them to change the way they operate and treat these incredible creatures. Footage captured in the open sea and behind-the-scenes at SeaWorld itself depicts the brutal capture, housing, and treatment of animals, including separating mothers from their babies. In particular, "Blackfish" focuses on the complicated and tragic case of the killer whale Tilikum, who would one day cause the deaths of three human trainers.

The Donut King

This documentary is only tangentially about donuts — it's really a moving, inspiring film about the West Coast donut shop industry. And that story is really the tale of Cambodian immigrants, displaced and moving to California in large numbers in the 1970s in the wake of Pol Pot and his brutal, genocidal Khmer Rouge. Many Cambodian entrepreneurs opened donut shops, a relatively low-cost/high-demand business, and many were inspired by Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian-born man who became "the Donut King" of California — and also got very rich — by opening more than 50 stores.

Three Identical Strangers

The 2008 nonfiction film "Three Identical Strangers" will keep viewers guessing what could possibly happen next as this story about the life trajectories of three identical triplets unspools. Edward Galland, David Kellman, and Robert Shafran all look exactly alike, but they all have different last names because all were given up for adoption at the age of 6 months and taken in by three different families. The triplets had no idea they had identical siblings until they were adults, but there's a bigger, odder, darker, and sadder story here over why the three brothers were ever separated in the first place.

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

Viewers might know Elaine Stritch only from her recurring role on "30 Rock" as Jack Donaghy's audaciously acerbic mother. Older viewers, or those with a knowledge of theater, adore her as a legend of the Broadway stage, a frequent star of the brainy, challenging musicals of Stephen Sondheim. In "Shoot Me," Stritch gets the full-blown biographical treatment, with archival footage and frank, funny, self-deprecating interviews with the 80-something Stritch in her favorite New York haunts as she discusses her health, achievements, and what it means to be an artist, along with famous friends and admirers like Nathan Lane and Tina Fey weighing in.

I Am Not Your Negro

An imaginative, powerful work, both for its content about the ongoing struggle for civil rights in the United States and the way it uses the medium of film, "I Am Not Your Negro" uses the words of James Baldwin, the novelist and chronicler of the Black American experience, to bring to fruition an unfinished memoir. Filmmaker Raoul Peck picks up where Baldwin left off, telling the author's personal recollections and reflections on slain leaders Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Medgar Evars via the writer's own words, collected footage, and the narrative voice of Samuel L. Jackson.

The Mole Agent

"The Mole Agent" is a spy movie, but it's unlike any other spy movie ever made in that it's about an 83-year-old agent, and it's also a documentary. Chilean man Sergio Charmy answers a newspaper ad looking for a man in his 80s to take part in an investigation. Incredulous, he gives it a shot, and a private investigator named Romulo sends him on his assignment — to be a live-in mole at an elder care home, blending in with the residents to find proof of allegations that the staff is mistreating and stealing from the residents. It's a win-win-win situation. Romulo gets an inside man, Sergio gets to be an intrepid adventurer, and the residents (who are almost all women) find in Sergio a friend and crush object who they don't even know is secretly looking out for them

Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

"Summer of Soul" is a remarkable, joyous concert film that fully captures some truly magical moments in both American music and American history. In the summer of 1969 — the same timeframe as the much more mythologized and covered Woodstock Festival in upstate New York — Mount Morris Park in Harlem hosted the six-week long Harlem Cultural Festival. Extremely well-attended, it featured blistering, astounding performances from some of the most important R&B and soul acts of the time, including Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight & the Pips. Amazingly, hours of footage were never released or compiled until Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, drummer for the Roots and music historian, put together a concert documentary to rival giants of the genre like "Woodstock" and "Monterey Pop."

Dear Santa

This festively titled documentary could easily make it into the tried-and-true canon of Christmas movies that you've got to watch every holiday season. "Dear Santa" is as sweet, heartwarming, and reminds viewers about the proverbial true meaning of Christmas as much as any narrative film or TV special. This sweet gem celebrates "Operation Santa," a decades-old U.S. Postal Service program that safely and anonymously connects do-gooders with the thousands of kids who write letters to Santa Claus that wind up in post offices around the country. In towns both big and small, folks young and young at heart get into the holiday spirit by answering those notes and quietly fulfilling the wishes contained inside, virtually guaranteeing a nice yuletide and proving, in a way, that Santa Claus is real.

RBG

Over more than 200 years of American history, not many Supreme Court justices besides Ruth Bader Ginsburg have become household names (or "Saturday Night Live" parody subjects). But then "RBG," as her fans and admirers affectionately nicknamed her, wasn't the typical Supreme Court justice. The documentary "RBG" tells the life story of one of the most admired people in America, through her early professional years as a Ivy League-educated attorney, law professor to her position as a federal judge in the 1980s and her time on the highest and most influential court in the land upon her appointment by President Bill Clinton. "RBG" pays particular attention to Ginsburg's arguments and decisions that established the law of the land in terms of gender discrimination and reproductive rights.

The Biggest Little Farm

With "The Biggest Little Farm," documentary filmmaker John Chester took his work home and his home to work. He recounts the eight-year period in his life where he and his wife, Molly, created Apricot Lane Farms — a small, sustainability-minded farm outside of Los Angeles. The drama comes from watching John and Molly work extremely hard to make their romantic notion as much of a reality as possible, despite not knowing all that much about farming, and facing head-on the problems that can make or break a farm, like drought and soil-poor land.

Wrinkles the Clown

A few years ago, random, terrifying creepy clown sightings reached near pandemic levels, particularly in Florida. Now, the reason for some of those close clown encounters can be told, via "Wrinkles the Clown." A lot of it was a viral campaign generated by a retired veteran turned performer who chooses to keep his true identity hidden, goes by the unsettling name of Wrinkles the Clown, and for the cost of just a few hundred bucks, he can be hired to scare people — especially children and especially misbehaving children. In order to frighten kids onto the right track, this mystifying and fascinating man will appear in a yard, home, or other unexpected place, all made up like a ghoulish, corpse-like creature.

Born to Play

This ESPN documentary shines some attention on the Women's Football Alliance, the largest aggressive, full-contact, pigskin women's league in the United States. The teams primarily play to small crowds in suburban high school football stadiums, but that doesn't mean it's not good football. "Born to Play" shows audiences what it's like to compete in a professional sport without glamor, money, and fame, following around the star-studded Boston Renegades franchise. The film depicts a team of women from very different backgrounds who sacrifice a lot just to play the sport they love.

WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn

"WeWork" tracks the spectacular rise of an original American business ... and the mind-boggling, blindsiding decline of that same corporation. With the gig economy and online companies hitting their strides in the last decade, there came a need for cheap and simple office space for everyone, from a single person to a large team. A company called WeWork set out to fulfill that need, offering a place to work in large, luxurious, and well-appointed complexes in many major U.S. cities. WeWork founder and boss Adam Neumann talked a big game and made promises he couldn't deliver on, and the whole enterprise fell apart quickly and spectacularly in a matter of weeks after the company's disastrous IPO on Wall Street.

Cartel Land

Powerful, well-resourced, drug-smuggling cartels are the scourge of law enforcement in Mexico and the American Southwest, and they can literally get away with murder as they ruthlessly move illegal narcotics into the United States. In "Cartel Land" — an incredibly tense, high-stakes, dangerous documentary — filmmakers follow Dr. Jose Mireles, or "El Doctor," a physician from the state of Michoacan who leads Autodefensas, a citizens resistance group that stands up to one particularly entrenched cartel. The documentary crew also embeds with Arizona Border Recon, a desert-based paramilitary group on the U.S. side of the border that plans to stop smuggling in any number of ways.

Chef Flynn

Some people are just destined for greatness, preternaturally and astoundingly talented at such a young age that they might as well start their careers and share their gifts with the world before they graduate high school. That was certainly the case for Flynn McGarry, who showed such interest and passion in cooking that he started hosting fine dining tasting events at high-end restaurants in New York and Los Angeles at the age of 11. "Chef Flynn" shows the teenage chef really going after his dreams and making people happy with his food and his story while also dealing with critics and naysayers.

Big Men

If there's a lesson to be gleaned from "Big Men," it's that one oil-generating operation can serve as an example of how the entire commercial petroleum industry operates. Filmed over a four-year period starting in the mid-2000s, the film shows the many issues faced by Kosmos Energy, a Texas oil company, as it builds up a production center at Jubilee Field, a potentially lucrative area off the coast of the African nation of Ghana. Money, control, and alleged corruption all become issues as the endeavor persists, what with the involvement of New York financiers and Ghanaian authorities and the repercussions of the Great Recession of the late 2000s. "Big Men" is not anti-oil but rather a nuanced and balanced examination of how a complicated, international industry works (and maybe doesn't work sometimes).

Who Let the Dogs Out

In the latter months of 2000 — and forever at big sports stadiums — a Jamaican pop group called Baha Men delighted the world with a catchy, reggae-inspired hit that became ubiquitous, inescapable, and finally — to many — annoying. That's the trajectory of the audio novelty "Who Let the Dogs Out," which would prove to be the only major international hit of the Baha Men's existence. This documentary looks at the complicated, passionately disputed creation and unlikely life of the song, how it slowly captured the ears and attention around the globe, and the impact it had on those who made it and experienced it.

Roller Dreams

"Roller Dreams" is just a couple of years old, but it employs (or is just naturally loaded with) a lot of tropes from '80s teen movies. So in a way, it's a fake '80s movie but also a real '80s movie because it's about a real subculture and an actual moment in time. In 1984, Venice Beach, California, attracted hundreds of young people, fleeing city life for the laid-back coast and also to be a part of the burgeoning community of roller dancers — those who perform elaborately choreographed routines (reminiscent of figure skating and ballet) on skates across the well-traveled city streets. A de facto family develops, and roller dancing becomes a spectator draw ... until the threats of money and gentrification threaten to break up the party.

Some Kind of Heaven

There's no narration in "Some Kind of Heaven," just footage presented without judgment of a handful of residents of The Villages, a massive, medium-city sized retirement community in Florida. Not quite ready to settle down and wait for death, these retirees are having the time of their lives, letting loose after a lifetime of scrimping by engaging in daily dance parties, margarita-drinking, sports, and clubs. It's basically a utopia. Well, that's not true for the featured subjects in "Some Kind of Heaven," like the elderly gentlemen living in a van looking for a rich widow he can mooch off of or the lonely widow who has to work in The Villages in order to afford the hefty living costs or the man who faces charges and lasting mental health issues over his prodigious drug use. Even in paradise, happiness can be hard to find.

Honeyland

In 2020, "Honeyland" made Academy Awards history when it earned nominations for both Best Documentary Feature and Best International Film. Those nods are well-earned, as "Honeyland" is a beautifully shot, technical marvel that does justice to the beautiful mountains of Macedonia and the many bees on display while also preserving in visual media the captivating life of Hatidze Muratova. When she isn't taking care of her gravely ill, visually impaired mother in a small home without electricity, she's traversing across the rich Macedonian wilderness, bravely and respectfully tending to wild bees, always carefully taking half of the honey to feed herself and her family and leaving the rest so that the bees can sustain themselves. Muratova's way of life is a traditional one that's slowly disappearing, which could be exacerbated by Muratova's incompetent beekeeping neighbors.

Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine

"Jackass," both the MTV series and the feature film franchise, didn't just spring up fully formed one day with the camaraderie-heavy group just knowing how to execute hilarious and dangerous stunts with a never-wavering punk-rock spirit. According to "Dumb: The Story of Big Brother Magazine," most of the "Jackass" cast met and honed their singular skills and worldview at "Big Brother," a semi-underground and much-loved '90s skateboarding magazine with an anarchic and mischievous sense of humor. It also put out video collections years before YouTube existed, featuring contributors like Johnny Knoxville and Bam Margera performing wild and self-destructive acts and razzing each other. "Dumb" looks back on a fledgling media empire that was too out-there to last but too pioneering to fade away.

Knuckleball!

Filmmakers Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg made a feature-length film about just one tiny element of baseball, but it's one of the most misunderstood and derided aspects of the national pastime. The film is centered on two aging pro pitchers, Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, who resort to throwing the knuckleball — a pitch so slow and hard to predict that batters can't hit it and many other pitchers think it's a cheap trick. The documentary suggests that only a few Major League pitchers (many of whom are real characters, interviewed herein) have ever mastered the knuckleball, and the movie shows Wakefield and Dickey boldly going against convention to make a statement in the waning days of their careers.

Ramen Heads

In the U.S., ramen conjures up images of a 5-cent brick of noodles with a salty flavor packet. In Japan, ramen is a wonderful, celebrated, nuanced meal, and its proper preparation is taken very seriously by chefs who dedicate their lives to making the best and most flavorful bowl possible. "Ramen Heads" serves up profiles of six ramen shops around Japan with conflicting ideas about noodles and soup. The star of the film, however, is Osamu Tomita, Japan's leading ramen chef, and he allows a documentary crew to film every part of the long and deliberate process he requires to make his signature dish.

The Cat Rescuers

There exist all kinds of heroes, and some quietly make it their mission to improve the lives of animals and, as a result, the people of New York City. "The Cat Rescuers" profiles four individuals who live in Brooklyn that are among the hundreds of volunteers in the city that rescue wild, lost, and abandoned cats — of which there are thousands roaming the streets of New York at any given time. Because the local government lacks the resources to round up and care for so many kitties, it's up to amateur activists like the ones depicted in "The Cat Rescuers" to safely and cleverly get cats to safety, feed them, clean them up, calm them down, and find them homes.