The 10 Best Documentaries on HBO Right Now (July 2020)

Why not learn something while being entertained?

HBO is best known for their fantastic original programming and first run movies, but they also have a ton of great documentaries, and you can watch them all on HBO Max. These documentaries teach us about the world and the human condition, open up windows on celebrities we never thought we'd get, and help illuminate some of the most pressing issues of our time. If you're just starting to get into documentaries, or you're not sure where to look next, we've compiled the best HBO documentaries for your convenience and edification.

01
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At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal (2019): Chilling Look at a Culture of Winning Over Everything

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal

HBO 

IMDb rating: 8.1

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Rosemarie Aquilina, Aimee Boorman, Nadia Comaneci  

Director: Erin Lee Carr

TV Rating: TV-MA

Running Time: 88 minutes

Erin Lee Car's biting expose of USA Gymnastics and the monstrous Dr. Larry Nassar makes for uncomfortable viewing at times. Carr walks us through Nassar's numerous crimes, provides a window into the mind of this monster, and shines a light on the system that allowed him to continue victimizing young gymnasts for such a long time.

Featuring extensive first-hand testimony, both in the form of literal courtroom footage and interviews filmed for the documentary, At the Heart of Gold isn't a comfortable watch, but it is an important one.

02
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Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind (2018): Best Look Inside a Brilliant Comedic Mind

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind

HBO 

IMDb rating: 8.0

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Robin Williams, Steve Allen, Robert Altman  

Director: Marina Zenovich

TV Rating: TV-MA

Running Time: 116 minutes

Robin Williams made us laugh and cry for decades with his impressive comedic and dramatic range, but very few really knew the man. Four years after his death by suicide, director Marina Zenovich brings us a fascinating look into his mind that comes across like it was intentionally narrated by Williams himself.

Peppered with footage and outtakes spanning Williams' career, and interviews with celebrity friends and acquaintances, Come Inside My Mind fills in the portrait of a complex and contradictory individual. Flashes of Williams' vulnerability shine through his quick wit and comedic genius, providing a better, if still painfully incomplete, understanding of the man behind the smiles and laughter.

03
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Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief (2015): Best Inside Look at Scientology

Going Clear

HBO 

IMDb rating: 8.0

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Paul Haggis, Jason Beghe, Spanky Taylor  

Director: Alex Gibney 

TV Rating: TV-MA

Running Time: 121 minutes

Going Clear is the deep dive into Scientology that you probably didn't realize you needed. Building on research done for Lawrence Wright's 2013 book of the same name, director Alex Gibney uses a mixture of interviews, reenactments, and real archival footage to explore a deeply critical look at Scientology in a way that few have attempted before.

With the help of ex-Scientologists like Spanky Taylor, John Travolta's one-time church liason, and Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis, Going Clear is able to paint a distressing picture of internal Scientology politics, including the mechanisms used to hold and control members.

04
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Bowling For Columbine (2002): Best Gun Culture Critique Documentary

Bowling for Columbine

 HBO

IMDb rating: 7.9

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Michael Moore, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson  

Director: Michael Moore

Motion Picture Rating: R

Running Time: 120 minutes

Bowling for Columbine is an older documentary, but it's just as relevant now as it was nearly two decades ago. Director Michael Moore took home an Oscar for this fiery exploration of US gun culture in the wake of the mass shooting in Columbine, CO.

Moore looks at the potential motivations of teenage killers Harris and Klebold and at how elements of their environment may have shaped them. He also skewers US gun laws and an American culture that has become too comfortable with violence.

05
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David Bowie: The Last Five Years (2018): Best Last Hurrah Documentary

David Bowie: The Last Five Years

HBO 

IMDb rating: 7.5

Genre: Documentary

Starring: David Bowie, Earl Slick, Gail Ann Dorsey 

Director: Francis Whately

TV Rating: TV-14

Running Time: 94 minutes

David Bowie: The Last Five Years comes to us from Francis Whately, the same director responsible for David Bowie: Five Years, an earlier documentary that covered Bowie's career from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. This doc, as the name implies, covers the final years of his life and was released on what would have been his 71st birthday.

Filmed toward the end of Bowie's life with his permission and seal of approval, this documentary provides a rare look into the massive burst of productivity that brought us Lazarus, The Next Day, and Blackstar. We learn a bit more about this mysterious and prolific artist, but are left, as always, wanting more.

06
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I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter (2019): Best Crime Documentary

I Love You, Now Die

HBO 

IMDb rating: 7.5

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Jesse Barron, Emily Bazelon, Sam Boardman  

Director: Erin Lee Carr

TV Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 2

The question this documentary posits is, "Do our words make us responsible for the actions they may cause others to take?" If you aren't yet familiar with the heartbreaking case of Michelle Carter and her boyfriend Conrad Roy, you're about to be. In this 2019 documentary, Carter stands accused of involuntary manslaughter, of having caused her boyfriend to kill himself through cruel and abusive text messages.

Regardless of which side you stand on, this might seem like a clear cut case. If that's the case, this two-part docu-series is likely to plant doubts in your mind. Carter may not be the irredeemable monster some think she is, but when our words spur others to action, might we not hold some responsibility?

07
of 10

Atomic Homefront (2017): Best Nuclear Waste Awareness Documentary

Atomic Homefront

HBO 

IMDb rating: 7.4

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Dawn Chapman, Douglas Clemens, Robbin Ellison Dailey

Director: Rebecca Cammisa

TV Rating: TV-14

Running Time: 97 minutes

Nuclear energy could serve as a much-needed stepping stone between fossil fuels and clean, renewable energy, but only if we're fully aware of its inherent dangers and the sketchy history of dealing with nuclear waste. In this shocking documentary, director Rebecca Cammisa takes a look at just one American city, St. Louis, and its little-known history as a nuclear dumping ground.

Atomic Homefront focuses on St. Louis' legacy as a nuclear processing site and dumping ground, but it also looks at what might be done to fix the problem. The issue is that radioactive materials were illegally disposed of in landfills around St. Louis. With a subsurface fire burning dangerously close to radioactive materials in one landfill, and a distressing concentration of incidences of cancer, it's clear that something has to be done.

08
of 10

Ice On Fire (2019): Best Climate Documentary

Ice on Fire

HBO 

IMDb rating: 7.4

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Raymond Baltar, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ottmar Edenhofer  

Director: Leila Conners

TV Rating: TV-PG

Running Time: 88 minutes

Produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, Ice on Fire is a different kind of climate change documentary. It asks the question of whether we can reverse climate change, or if we're too late, and it provides ways that the average person can help.

Director Leila Conners sought to make this documentary and its ideas accessible and approachable, tackling the issue of climate change at a human level. Footage is shot by drone at the height of an average person, for example, instead of showing vast sweeping vistas taken by plane or satellite. It's an effective technique, but whether Conners and DiCaprio's ideas resonate is up to the individual viewer.

09
of 10

McMillions (2020): Best Corporate Scam Documentary

McMillions

HBO

IMDb rating: 7.3

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Chris Graham, Doug Mathews, Amy Murray  

Director: James Lee, Hernandez, Brian Lazarte

TV Rating: TV-14

Episodes: 6

McMillions is the sort of documentary that tells a story so perfectly weird that it hardly seems possible. This six part docu-series explores how one man, with a little greed and some questionable choices, managed to defraud McDonald's out of $24 million dollars. That's a lot of Bic Macs.

The fraud, of course, was centered on the Monopoly sweepstakes game that McDonalds ran between 1989 and 2001, promising fantastic prizes for buying burgers and collecting game pieces. Featuring in-depth interviews with people involved in just about every aspect of this massive web of crime, McMillions shines a light on how perpetrator Jerry Jacobson was able to carry out this bizarre act of fraud and get away with it for so long.

10
of 10

Atlanta's Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children: Best Unsolved Crime Documentary

Atlanta's Missing and Murdered

 HBO

IMDb rating: 7.1

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Tony Axam, Monica Kaufman Pearson, Jim Procopio  

Director: Sam Pollard, Maro Chermayeff

TV Rating: TV-MA

Number of Episodes: 5

The material covered in this five part docu-series may seem familiar if you've watched the Netflix original series Mindhunter, as the second season of that show is a fictionalized version of real events. Atlanta's Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children is the real deal, taking a deep dive on the events that transpired between 1979 and 1981 in Atlanta, GA.

Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms reopened the unsolved cases of at least 30 young African-Americans who were either murdered or went missing nearly four decades ago. This docu-series examines what happens next, looking at previously unseen court documents, archival footage, and interviews that shine a light on this brutal period in Atlanta's past.