Last Updated: January 29th
Forget superheroes and dark comedies and circus-themed musicals, the best movies on HBO are in the nonfiction class. The streaming platform has worked to cultivate a library of documentaries that touch on a variety of real-world issues, delivering fascinating stories and complex narratives, with real-life heroes leading the charge. From sports scandals to horrific true crime stories and a behind-the-scenes look at a TV show that made history, here are the best docs on HBO right now.
Related: The Best Shows On HBO Right Now
At The Heart of Gold (2019)
Run Time: 88 min | IMDb: 8.1/10
Erin Lee Carr takes an unflinching look at the scandal that rocked the world of USA Gymnastics in 2016. After a group of brave women testified that national team doctor Larry Nassar has sexually assaulted them, an investigation was launched that uncovered the shocking extent of Nassar’s abuse – dating back decades and involving hundreds of young girls and women in the sport.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)
Run Time: 119 min | IMDb: 8/10
Alex Gibney helms this fascinating look into the truly bizarre world of Scientology. Based on the findings of journalist Lawrence Wright, the doc peers inside the inner-workings of the Church, from its beginnings as the brainchild of L. Ron Hubbard and his love of science-fiction, it its infiltration of Hollywood — Tom Cruise and John Travolta are members — and its cult-like practices, all through interviews with former members.
Becoming Warren Buffet (2017)
Run Time: 90 min | IMDb: 7.6/10
This doc takes a peek into the inspiring rags-to-riches story of one of the richest men in the world: Warren Buffet. It follows the magnate from his Nebraska roots as a boy with a knack for numbers to a power player with investments in high-profile companies that yield more money than most of us Joe-schmoes could even dream of.
Game of Thrones: The Last Watch (2019)
Run Time: 114 min | IMDb: 7.3/10
Game of Thrones gave fans a gift for sticking it out through the season eight finale in the form of this doc that takes a look at the mind-blowing amount of work that goes into crafting a show of this caliber. We get to see the cast doing their final table read — and Kit Harington shedding a few tears — and the crew busting their a** to create massive sets only to tear them down when everything ends. No matter how you felt about the show’s finale, this film will give you a new appreciation for the series and the people who had a hand in making it.
The Case Against 8 (2014)
Run Time: 109 min | IMDb: 7.3/10
It seems like California has always been the most progressive, accepting of all the 50 states, but this doc from just a few years ago reminds us the LGBTQ community had a lot of work left to do to legalize same-sex marriage there. Shot over five years, this film follows the unlikely champions who took on the Supreme Court and brought this case the national attention it deserves.
The Inventor: Out for Blood In Silicon Valley (2019)
Run Time: 119 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
Alex Gibney profiles Silicon Valley kid-wonder Elizabeth Holmes, who became the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire before her life came crashing down around her. Holmes, who modeled both her company and herself after the legendary Apple creator, Steve Jobs, was CEO of a company called Theranos, which promised to revolutionize the blood-testing industry. Unfortunately, the company was a scam, its machines defunct, and Holmes hid facts from investors to keep her dream of making history going.
I Am Evidence (2017)
Run Time: 89 min | IMDb: 7.6/10
Law and Order star Mariska Hargitay narrates this documentary, which tackles the widespread issue of untested rape kits that’s plaguing police departments around the country. With statistics showing just how difficult it is for rape survivors to bring the perpetrators to justice, this film explores law enforcement’s negligence and how the backlog of rape kits has only continued the cycle of abuse that women experience.
Leaving Neverland (Parts 1&2) (2019)
Run Time: 240 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
This two-part documentary from HBO investigates claims of years-long abuse at the hands of one of pop’s most beloved icons: Michael Jackson. Interviewing survivors, the film makes the case that Jackson, who died from an overdose years earlier, began relationships with two young boys (and their families) at the height of his career, using his power and celebrity to sexually abuse them for years.
John McCain: For Whom The Bell Tolls (2018)
Run Time: 104 min | IMDb: 7.4/10
John McCain lived a truly extraordinary life. The Senator, who recently passed away after a battle with a brain tumor, went from a Prisoner of War in Vietnam to a seat in the Senate, one he occupied for 30 years. He even flirted with a job in the White House at times in his career. He came back into the spotlight due to his illness and publicized feud with President Donald Trump, but there was much more to the man than just politics, something this documentary does a good job of showing.
Wishful Drinking (2010)
Run Time: 77 min | IMDb: 7.6/10
Carrie Fisher transforms her hit stage production into this deeply personal doc that examines her iconic career, and the joys (and pains) of fame. Fisher, who was always open about her struggles with addiction and mental illness, uses the film to entertain us with humorous stories about her failings that double as beautiful lessons on the importance of mental health advocacy.
Welcome to Chechnya (2020)
Run Time: 107 min | IMDb: 8/10
We won’t lie, this gripping documentary about the plight of the queer community in Chechnya is a tough watch. But it’s also a necessary one if you want to understand the kind of relentless persecution LGBTQ people still face overseas. The film documents the struggles of a human rights group fighting to get queer people out of Chechnya before the government, backed by superpowers like Russia, can find and exterminate them.
Mommy Dead And Dearest (2017)
Run Time: 82 min IMDb: 7.4/10
Erin Lee Carr’s spellbinding crime documentary plunges into the bizarre and absorbing true story surrounding the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard. It’s an absorbing, strange and disturbing watch that doles out enough jaw-dropping moments in 83 minutes to put full seasons of TV to shame. Sundance hopefuls would have a field day with the visuals in this documentary if they were to try and adapt this stranger-than-fiction tale of manipulation, murder, and motherhood.
Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland (2018)
Run Time: 105 min | IMDb: 6.4/10
The death of Sandra Bland rocked the Black Lives Matter community in 2015. Bland, who had been pulled over for a routine traffic violation, was arrested when she failed to comply with an officer’s request. It could’ve ended up being another case of racial profiling and use of extreme and unnecessary force on the part of the police department, but after three days in a holding cell waiting for her family to post bail, Bland was found dead, having allegedly hung herself.
Beware The Slenderman (2016)
Run Time: 114 min | IMDb: 6.3/10
True crime enthusiasts, this doc should interest you, or at least jog your memory. The film follows a story that dominated news headlines years ago, one about two teenage girls who tried to murder their best friend as a kind of sacrifice to the Slenderman, a fictional monster touted on horror websites.
When the Levees Broke (2006)
Run Time: 255 min | IMDb: 8.6/10
Every ounce as poignant as when it was released in 2016, Spike Lee’s four-part documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts explores the real human devastation Hurricane Katrina left in its wake as well as what the catastrophe exposed about American societal constructs. It will break your heart, make you angry, and once you’ve seen all four hours, you’ll never forget them. It’s a difficult watch, but a necessary one.