The best documentaries on Amazon Prime Video right now

It’s been a really long year, and it’s almost behind us. We’re in the midst of the final month of 2021 before throwing out the calendars and getting new ones for 2022, preferably with cute dogs adorning the pages for each month. Before turning the page, however, there are still some documentaries that are required viewing for audiences on Amazon Prime Video. A number of significant new entries have arrived on the streaming service this year, led by Mayor Pete and Val. While there aren’t a plethora of new options coming to Amazon Prime in December, this month is the perfect opportunity to catch up on all of the true tales you’ve missed over the year. We’re here to help, breaking down the best documentaries on Amazon Prime Video this month.

We’ve also rounded up the best documentaries on Netflix and the best documentaries on Hulu if Amazon Prime Video doesn’t have what you’re looking for.

Recently Added to Amazon Prime Video

A Man Named Scott (2021) new

A Man Named Scott
Genre Documentary, Music
Stars Kid Cudi, Jaden Smith, Blake Young
Directed by Robert Alexander
Before Kid Cudi became one of the greatest rappers in the world, he was just a kid named Scott Mescudi. That’s the premise behind A Man Named Scott, the latest in Amazon Prime’s music documentaries. Kid Cudi has gone through a lot of different iterations in his career, including acting (he’s set to appear in Netflix’s Don’t Look Up in December). But the most important project he ever worked on in the eyes of some is his debut album, Man on the Moon, which dove deep into introspective topics like depression and loneliness. The album endeared him to a generation, and this documentary looks at the project, as well as all that followed, through new footage and behind-the-scenes extras.

Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie (1993)

Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie
Genre Documentary
Stars Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Lucie Arnaz
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz captured the hearts and minds of a generation. In fact, there’s a new biopic coming to Prime Video in December about their lives, titled Being the Ricardos, which makes this documentary worth surfacing now. The 1990s documentary was directed and produced by their daughter, Lucie Arnaz, and sees their lives through the use of home videos and fascinating interviews. The documentary earned an Emmy Award for Outstanding Information Special, and the archival footage is a great way to inform one’s viewing experience of the new dramatic film.

Mayor Pete (2021)

Mayor Pete
Genre Documentary
Stars Pete Buttigieg, Chasten Buttigieg
Directed by Jesse Moss
r 96m
“Mayor Pete” may no longer be a fitting moniker for Pete Buttigieg, who is serving as the U.S. secretary of transportation after his failed presidential run. Nevertheless, the spirit of the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is one of the most inspiring to come from a politician in recent memory. His youth helped him connect with a younger generation of voters, while his sexuality was part of his history-making presidential run. Mayor Pete tracks the rise of the politician, although it’s hard to call it a definitive documentary on Buttigieg’s life and career, since he isn’t even 40 yet. Still, the documentary gives a good glimpse at someone poised to be a major player in the future of the United States.

Justin Bieber: Our World (2021)

Justin Bieber: Our World
Genre Music, Documentary
Stars Justin Bieber, Hailey Bieber, Scooter Braun
Directed by Michael D. Ratner
pg 94m
Justin Bieber has been the star of numerous documentaries about his life and this is the latest. In all seriousness, Our World gives a look at the pop superstar in a relatively stable place, not always an easy accomplishment for the Canadian who became a sensation while the rest of us were in high school. The documentary is a behind-the-scenes look at preparation for a pandemic-era concert, so the hallmarks of Covid-19 are unmistakable – this is not an escapist film. Because of where Bieber is in his life, it’s also not particularly dramatic or titillating. It gives insights into Bieber’s life, but isn’t pushing the envelope in any particular way. Beliebers will eat this up, while other fans will see it as a nice documentary and a reminder that this is Bieber’s world, we’re all just living in it.

My Name Is Pauli Murray (2021)

My Name Is Pauli Murray
Genre Documentary
Stars Patricia Bell-Scott, Dolores Chandler, Brittney Cooper
Directed by Julie Cohen, Betsy West
pg-13 91m
Far too few people know the name Pauli Murray, but the titular documentary should help change that. Murray was a lawyer, poet, and activist, among other roles, but she was also the first Black woman to be ordained. But Murray had a number of struggles in her life, most notably her struggle as a non-binary person, a term not used during her time (the documentary uses “she” and “her” pronouns throughout). My Name is Pauli Murray gives insight into somebody not as well known as other activists, but influential to the likes of Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s a life worth celebrating and discovering all over again.

Mary J. Blige's My Life (2021)

Mary J. Blige's My Life
Genre Documentary, Music
Stars Mary J. Blige, Sean Combs, Taraji P. Henson
Directed by Vanessa Roth
r 82m
Mary J. Blige’s My Life takes the same name as the R&B great’s second studio album, which catapulted her to fame back when it was released in 1994. The film mostly details Blige’s experiences creating the album and how fans continue to react to it almost three decades after its release, though the movie’s approach misses a chance at exploring a complicated woman more in-depth. Still, Blige spends some time talking about her own struggles in the documentary, which helped reveal the extent of drugs and violence she was exposed to at an early age, as well as suicidal thoughts Blige was experiencing during the recording of the album. The documentary mostly targets fans of the R&B artist, but that can be considered a large group after the incredible career Blige has had.

The Race Underground (2017)

The Race Underground
Genre History, Documentary
Stars Michael Murphy
Directed by Michael Rossi
Living in the 21st century, it’s easy to forget the things we take advantage of, such as taking the subway to work on a daily basis (at least if you live in a place like New York City). Underground railway systems weren’t a given, though — it took a lot of time and energy to figure out the best and safest way to construct what became one of the most important methods of transport. American Experience: The Race Underground explores the path to the country’s first subway system, which was actually located in Boston. While not new to the rest of the world, the advent of the subway system changed the way Americans lived and worked in major metros. Based on a book by Doug Most, this PBS documentary isn’t longer in length than a ride from Brooklyn to the Bronx on the New York City subway lines.

Val (2021)

Genre Documentary
Stars Val Kilmer, Jack Kilmer, Mercedes Kilmer
Directed by Leo Scott, Ting Poo
r 109m
Here’s something you probably didn’t know: For more than 40 years, Val Kilmer has been documenting his own life through home video. He’s amassed thousands of hours of footage, from 16mm home movies made with his brothers to the obvious footage caught while on set for blockbusters like Top GunTombstone, and Batman Forever. This strange, oddly charming documentary wants to change the way you think about Val Kilmer, long one of Hollywood’s most mercurial or misunderstood actors.

P!NK: All I Know So Far (2021)

P!NK: All I Know So Far
Genre Documentary, Music
Stars Pink, Carey Hart, Willow Sage Hart
Directed by Michael Gracey
You may not have thought about P!NK much recently, but rest assured she’s still going strong. Case in point: The mind-boggling success of her 2019 “Beautiful Trauma” world tour. This documentary follows the award-winning performer and musician along this tour, in a notably different stage of her life than when she first exploded onto the scene. Now a mom, a wife, and a boss to a small army of people supporting the P!NK brand, she comes across a little differently in this raw, emotional, personal look behind the curtain.

Sharkwater Extinction (2018)

Sharkwater Extinction
Genre Documentary
Stars Rob Stewart, Paul Watson, Madison Stewart
Directed by Rob Stewart
Documentary filmmaker Rob Stewart made it his mission to spread the word about the peril facing sharks around the world. Stewart perished in a diving accident while making his final film, Sharkwater Extinction. Despite the tragedy, the completed documentary explores the vast scale of shark hunting, as well as the distasteful shark fin trade that has decimated the shark population. In addition to sounding the alarm for shark conservation and condemning the brutal slaughter, this film also features gorgeously shot underwater scenes that offer an intimate look at the sea creatures that Stewart tried so hard to protect.

Journey to Royal: A WWII Rescue Mission (2021)

Journey to Royal: A WWII Rescue Mission
Genre Documentary, History, War
Stars Christopher Johnson, Mariana Tosca, Earl Holliman
Directed by Christopher Johnson
While many World War II documentaries take a broader view of the global conflict and the men who fought, Journey to Royal: A WWII Rescue Mission offers a more focused look at a single mission during the war. The documentary also puts the spotlight on Lt. Royal Stratton, a leader of the 4th Emergency Rescue Squadron. While on a mission to rescue nine airmen stranded in enemy waters, Stratton and his men faced nearly insurmountable odds. Recreations and interviews with survivors help set the stage for the sacrifices it took to rescue those airmen from danger. And not everyone got to come home from this mission.

American Tragedy (2019)

American Tragedy
Genre Documentary
Stars Sue Klebold, Mary Dyer, Zack Nick
Directed by Josh Sabey
In 1999, two Columbine High School students killed 13 of their fellow students and teachers before ultimately taking their own lives. Sadly, school shootings have only become more commonplace in the two decades since that event. American Tragedy focuses on Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the Columbine shooters, as she tries to come to terms with what her son did and if she could have stopped him before he committed his vile acts. It’s a difficult subject and there are no easy answers. But Klebold has now dedicated herself to being a mental health advocate in the hope of preventing future tragedies.

Halston (2019)

Genre Documentary
Stars Halston, Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berenson
Directed by Frédéric Tcheng
If you’re immersed in the history of American fashion, then chances are good that you know the name Roy Halston Frowick. In the ‘70s, he simply went by “Halston,” and he created an international sensation thanks to his unique designs that catered to women. Halston became a celebrity for his exploits, his successes, and his epic fall and expulsion from the company that he founded. The documentary Halston offers an unflinching look at the man himself, with rare footage from his family as well as testimonials from his surviving friends and colleagues who knew him best.

The Hornet's Nest (2014)

The Hornet's Nest
Genre War, Documentary, History
Stars Carlos Boettcher, Mike Boettcher, Kalen M. Waite
Directed by David Salzberg, Christian Tureaud
r 93m
Imagine stepping into a war film where the stakes were real and nothing was faked. The Hornet’s Nest accomplishes that with astonishing footage from a nine-day battle between U.S. forces and the Taliban. There’s even captured footage from the Taliban that shows the fighting from their perspective. But the narrative focus of the film belongs to veteran war correspondent Mike Boettcher and his son, Carlos Boettcher. The father-and-son duo is embedded with American troops in Afghanistan. And while the Boettchers’ bond grew over time, they had first-hand seats for the horrors of war.

You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder in the South (2015)

You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder in the South
Genre Documentary, Crime, Drama
Stars Anita Davenport, Denise Durette, Reggie Brooks
Directed by John Cork
In 1952, an African-American woman named Ruby McCollum shot and killed Clifford Leroy Adams, a white doctor and state senator-elect in Florida. You Belong to Me: Sex, Race, and Murder in the South re-examines the sensational trial of McCollum and the nature of her relationship with Adams. While prosecutors alleged that McCollum’s motive was over a debt, the documentary reminds viewers that she and her husband were wealthy. It was also alleged that McCollum had a consensual sexual relationship with Adams that produced a child. But the truth is far more complex than that. Through interviews with surviving members of both families, the film offers a broader perspective of what happened decades earlier.

Time (2020) new

Genre Documentary
Stars Fox Rich, Rob Rich II, Freedom Rich
Directed by Garrett Bradley
pg-13 81m
One of life’s most precious commodities — the one we can never get back — is time. That’s especially true for those who are incarcerated or have a loved one locked up in prison. Time takes an unflinching look at a family dealing with the struggles of losing that time through the eyes of Sibil Fox Richardson, whose husband Rob is serving 60 years in prison for robbing a bank. Home videos of the family are used throughout the documentary, adding poignancy to the film and making sure viewers never forget that these are real people living through the prison-industrial complex. The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2020, where director Garrett Bradley became the first Black woman to win the U.S. Documentary Directing Award.

Jasper Mall (2020)

Jasper Mall
Genre Documentary
Directed by Brett Whitcomb, Bradford Thomason
pg 84m
If it feels like ’80s nostalgia is at an all-time high, you might be right. And right at the center of that nostalgia trip is the shopping mall. In this pensive documentary, Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb expose the reality of the dying American mall industry by focusing on a once-thriving mall in Jasper, Alabama. Formerly the hub of a community, the dying mall is now emblematic of changing economic tides and a culture that may be permanently gone.

The Booksellers (2020)

The Booksellers
Genre Documentary
Stars Parker Posey, Fran Lebowitz, Gay Talese
Directed by D.W. Young
pg 99m
You might not think a documentary about New York’s rare book world would be interesting or entertaining. You’d be wrong. The Booksellers invites you into a world of fascinating bibliophiles, taking you into some of the extraordinary lengths mildly obsessive people will go to for the sake of adding to their precious libraries. With endlessly entertaining interviews with the likes of Parker Posey, Fran Lebowitz, and Gay Talese, The Booksellers is one of those rare documentaries that feels like a narrative.

Stop Making Sense (1984)

Stop Making Sense
Genre Music, Documentary
Stars David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz
Directed by Jonathan Demme
pg 88m
Jonathan Demme’s Talking Heads concert film is one of the most beloved entries in the genre. Shot at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre in 1983, Demme captures all of the energy and artistry that made Talking Heads, and especially frontman David Byrne, an ’80s icon. From the modest opening to the crescendoing finale, Stop Making Sense is an iconic piece of music filmmaking and an important piece of music history.

All In: The Fight for Democracy (2020)

All In: The Fight for Democracy
Genre Documentary
Stars Stacey Abrams, Debo Adegbile, Jayla Allen
Directed by Lisa Cortés, Liz Garbus
pg-13 102m
The lead-up to the 2020 election was one of the most contentious periods in recent American history. From the coronavirus pandemic to the fight for racial justice to the staggering economic downturn affecting millions around the country, it’s never been more important to make sure your voice is heard and vote. That’s the message behind All In, an Amazon Original released in September, less than two months before Election Day. The filmmakers get their message across by zeroing in on the issue of voter suppression, focusing on the 2018 gubernatorial race in Georgia, where Stacey Abrams allegedly lost due to voter suppression. Abrams has since founded Fair Fight Action, an organization dedicated to addressing the issue.

That Sugar Film (2014)

That Sugar Film
Genre Documentary
Stars Damon Gameau, Stephen Fry, Brenton Thwaites
Directed by Damon Gameau
pg 97m
That Sugar Film is in the same mold as Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, except it’s Australian and focuses on an even more pervasive food industry evil: sugar. Director Damon Gameau decides to consume a high-sugar diet — through foods commonly assumed to be healthy — for 30 straight days. No, he’s not stuffing his face with candy and soda; Gameau instead illuminates how massive amounts of sugar are often found in places you likely thought were safe. With entertaining cameos from Hugh Jackman and Stephen Fry, That Sugar Film feels like a sugar high, right until the eye-opening crash.

One Child Nation (2019)

One Child Nation
Genre Documentary
Stars Nanfu Wang, Jiaoming Pang, Brian Stuy
Directed by Nanfu Wang, Zhang Jialing
r 88m
Arguably one of the most controversial policies in the world during its heyday, China’s one-child policy was enacted in 1979 in an attempt to control the population of the country, which was expanding at unsustainable rates. The policy eventually reverted to the previous law, a two-child policy, in 2015. For the 36 years in which the policy was active, however, there were numerous consequences, both intended and unintended, as parents had to grapple with impossible choices largely stemming from the preferred status of being born a male in modern-day China. The filmmakers delve into the personal trauma resulting from a policy that drew the attention of the world as China developed into a global superpower.

Rewind (2019)

Genre Documentary
Stars Sasha Joseph Neulinger
Directed by Sasha Joseph Neulinger
Be warned: Rewind is not a happy-go-lucky documentary. The movie uses camcorder footage to detail sexual child abuse in heartbreaking detail, and is unflinching as it delves deep into one family’s very personal trauma, which can be disturbing to watch at times. Outside of the cruelty of predatory adults, the biggest takeaway from the movie has to be the courage and strength of filmmaker Sasha Neulinger, who never shies away from the darkness he was faced with as a child. Rewind isn’t for everyone, but those who can stomach it will come away with the sense that they just watched a story that needed to be told.

Super Size Me (2004)

Super Size Me
Genre Documentary, Comedy, Drama
Stars Morgan Spurlock, Daryl Isaacs, Lisa Ganjhu
Directed by Morgan Spurlock
pg-13 100m
This film was so powerful that many credit it with influencing McDonald’s Restaurants to eliminate their super-sizing options, even though the company swears their decision had nothing to do with the documentary. Morgan Spurlock set out to undergo a crazy experiment: Only eat food from McDonald’s for 30 days straight, three meals a day, to see how it affects him. Without giving too much away, Spurlock documents the various changes he undergoes in body and mind throughout the 30-day period, and it’s staggering, to say the least. The intent was to raise awareness around fast-food companies that encourage poor nutrition for the sake of their own profits and to shed light on America’s obesity problem. It’s a fascinating watch that shows just how much of a difference what you eat can make in your life.

Chasing Happiness (2019)

Chasing Happiness
Genre Documentary, Music
Stars Nick Jonas, Joe Jonas, Kevin Jonas
Directed by John Lloyd Taylor
In recent years, the Jonas Brothers have worked hard to shed their Disney Channel-tinged image and enter the next phase of their musical career. To do so, however, they had to discover what life was like apart from one another. Chasing Happiness documents the lives of the three brothers, from their publicized breakup in 2013 to their reunion in 2019. The documentary in part promoted their first new record in years, Happiness Begins, but it’s far from being a public relations-palooza, as it also contains previously unreleased footage and personal interviews with the brothers.

Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)

Fahrenheit 11/9
Genre Documentary
Stars Gwen Stefani, Michael Moore, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Directed by Michael Moore
r 128m
Michael Moore is known for his controversial documentaries that polarize viewers, and this, his latest, is no exception. You didn’t read the title wrong — it’s a callback to his previous documentary called Fahrenheit 9/11 about the September 11 attacks. Except this time, the date referenced is November 9, when Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential win was officially announced. Like Moore’s previous work, this film encourages Americans to take action, presenting controversial topics in a jarring, shocking, and sometimes even comedic manner.

Gleason (2016)

Genre Documentary
Stars Rivers Gleason, Michel Gleason, Steve Gleason
Directed by J. Clay Tweel
r 110m
Steve Gleason was on top of the world as a defensive back for the New Orleans Saints, and was best known for monumentally blocking a punt by the opposing Atlanta Falcons during the Saints’ first game back at the Superdome in nearly two years following Hurricane Katrina. The team would go on to win that game, sparking one of the most successful seasons in Saints history. But in 2011, Gleason’s life changed forever when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The documentary, filmed over a period of five years, looks at his life after diagnosis, including the announcement of his wife’s pregnancy, how the diagnosis has played into his family life, and the advancement of his disease to today, where he relies on assistive technology to communicate. It’s an emotional journey of strength, resilience, and determination.

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from: