Documentaries are able to offer a glimpse into real life in a way that fictional films cannot. Though both types of movies can educate viewers on important societal issues, provide insight into rarely talked about subjects, and show someone else’s point of view, documentaries’ roots in reality give them an authentic quality that is difficult to match in a film. So while it’s always fun to settle down with a sappy rom-com or gritty drama, you should consider adding a few non-fiction films to your to-watch list as well.
To assist you, we’ve compiled a lineup of some of the most highly praised documentaries that are free to stream with a subscription to Amazon Prime Video. Whether you’re looking for a lighthearted look at a world-famous condiment or a serious take on the systemic racism in America, there’s a watch out there for you.
Here are some of the best documentaries on the streaming service right now (in no particular order).
1. Chasing Happiness (2019)
To celebrate their recent reunion, the Jonas Brothers released a documentary that looked back over their lives and anticipated their then-upcoming fifth studio album, Happiness Begins.
Chasing Happiness is intimate and warm, revealing a side of Jonas family history that wasn’t previously made public. Most viewers won’t share the same rising-to-fame experience that the boys went through, yet there’s something so relatable and likable about them that it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be a hardcore Jonas Brothers fan to appreciate the guys’ genuine perspectives.
Where to watch: Chasing Happiness is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
2. One Child Nation (2019)
One Child Nation takes an eerie look at the single-child policy implemented in China between 1979 and 2015. Directors Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang were born in the country during this period, meaning they saw the adverse effects of the guideline first-hand. They focus on how this rule impacted citizens on both individual and collective levels.
The documentary’s propaganda-filled archival footage and sad stories make it an uncomfortable yet compelling watch.
Where to watch: One Child Nation is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
3. I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
As you continue to educate yourself on systemic racism in the United States, you might want to consider this documentary based on James Baldwin’s remembrance of civil rights leaders.
While I Am Not Your Negro reflects on the work of Medgar Evers, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King Jr., it also reminds us that America has a long way to go. This angle is just as relevant now as it was upon its release in 2016 — and it will continue to be important as we push into the future.
Where to watch: I Am Not Your Negro is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
4. Sriracha (2013)
Sriracha serves up the story behind this world-famous hot sauce. And at a digestible 33 minutes, it’s an easy watch on a fun subject.
The short film is a food love affair, mixing glowing opinions from the public with an exploration of sriracha’s international origins. The stunning cinematography spices up the already entertaining story.
Where to watch: Sriracha is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
5. Living Proof (2018)
Matt Embry was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a potentially disabling disease with no cure, in 1995. So he decided to uncover answers and document his journey along the way.
Embry’s story is just one of many featured in Living Proof. He gives a platform to a range of individuals who have been impacted by MS, and the result is deeply moving. While it is frustrating to see the disease’s effects and the corruptness of the drug industry, Living Proof ends on a hopeful note and creates much-needed awareness in the process.
Where to watch: Living Proof is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
6. Meru (2015)
Snowy mountains, heart-pounding struggle, and the thrill of adventure? All these things and more make up Meru, a 2015 documentary about three climbers who hope to scale the titular peak in the Indian Himalayas following an earlier failed attempt. Meru’s glistening blend of story and visuals will effortlessly hold your attention, and its message of perseverance is empathetic and inspirational.
Where to watch: Meru is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
7. Human Flow (2017)
Human Flow takes viewers on a trip across the globe. But rather than displaying the best parts of each culture, it focuses on the people who are suffering as a result of the worldwide refugee crisis.
The film’s approach is both analytical and personal, featuring interviews from refugees and experts who can speak on the effects of forced human migration. While the spoken content is moving, the camera angles are just as powerful. It’s almost haunting how beautiful the film is — with sweeping footage captured by drones — especially when contrasted by the story these shots are telling.
Where to watch: The Human Flow is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
8. Sound City (2013)
Rock ‘n’ roll fans, listen up. Sound City is your next jam.
Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl takes viewers to a recording studio in Los Angeles where some of the most iconic rock records have been made. While Sound City‘s history is intriguing, its interviews with artists including Stevie Nicks, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Neil Young, and Rivers Cuomo give it soul. The nostalgic soundtrack is also a plus.
Where to watch: Sound City is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
9. Gleason (2016)
In 2011, former New Orleans Saints football defensive back Steve Gleason was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS. Not long after, he discovered his wife was pregnant. This documentary zooms in on the physical deterioration of the disease while also awaiting the birth of Gleason’s first son.
Gleason will make you cry. It’s touching and uplifting, yet fully heartbreaking. It’s the type of film that will draw you in and leave you considering how to best push forward in your own life.
Where to watch: Gleason is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
10. Hale County This Morning, This Evening (2018)
Hale County This Morning, This Evening is not a narrative-driven documentary. Rather, it acts more like a series of snapshots following the people who live in Alabama’s Black Belt.
The camerawork has a familiar quality as it shows the residents going bowling, playing electric guitar, and singing in church. It brings beauty to the ordinary and gives the film a deeply human element.
Where to watch: Hale County This Morning, This Evening is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
11. The Invisible War (2012)
Director Kirby Dick is known for exposing cultures of hypocrisy. While he more recently gained acclaim for creating On the Record (a documentary that examines the sexual abuse allegations against hip-hop record executive Russell Simmons), he previously uncovered the rape epidemic within the U.S. military via The Invisible War.
While the documentary has already influenced military policies, there’s still a long way to go — hence the reason it is forever relevant. In the wake of the brutal murder of Vanessa Guillén, it’s worth revisiting and recognizing the need for constant reform.
Where to watch: The Invisible War is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
12. Elián (2017)
Young Elián González was at the center of a much-publicized custody battle involving the U.S. and Cuban governments in 2000. This film gives context to the heated politics and personal interests wrapped up in the event.
Elián‘s biggest strength is its detailed presentation. The documentary’s creators were meticulous, collecting accounts from all sides in order to present a layered narrative. You’ll feel like you’re at the center of the spectacle.
Where to watch: Elián is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
13. Unseen (2016)
Unseen is not your average crime documentary. Though it unravels the story of Cleveland serial killer Anthony Sowell, it gives a bigger spotlight to the surviving victims through a mix of interviews, court footage, and evidence.
It’s heavy and haunting as it displays the failures of a police force that allowed abuse to go on for so long. While you might watch Unseen for its gripping narrative, you’ll leave with a deeper understanding of the women who were marginalized.
Where to watch: Unseen is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
14. City of Ghosts (2017)
Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently is a media activist group that reports on the war and human rights abuses that occur within Syria. In City of Ghosts, these citizen journalists must survive their homeland after it is overtaken by ISIS.
The documentary is strikingly shot and difficult to confront. It draws attention to the importance of an open press and shows the horrors people in other parts of the world must go through to use their voices. It serves as a warning just as much as it acts as a reflection.
Where to watch: City of Ghosts is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
15. Rewind (2019)
Rewind is a purposeful documentary. Its creator, Sasha Neulinger, doesn’t contemplate his past; rather, he sets out to solve the secrets behind it. In searching through a collection of home videos, he uncovers the long-running patterns of sexual abuse within his family.
The film is disturbing and fascinating as it reveals Neuligner’s personal story. However, it also offers a broader commentary on abuse culture. Its autobiographical format helps viewers connect as they’re taken along for the journey.
Where to watch: Rewind is now streaming on Amazon Prime.