The Best Documentaries on HBO Right Now (January 2023)

Why not learn something while being entertained?

HBO is best known for its fantastic original programming and first-run movies, but it also has 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 has to offer for your convenience and edification.

01
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My So-Called High School Rank (2023): A Stressful Musical About Stress

The cast of My So-Called High School Rank

HBO Max

IMDb rating: 6.4/10

Starring: David Taylor Gomes

Director: Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 41 minutes

In different parts of the country, students perform a musical about the pressures of high school and getting into college. Meanwhile, they have to actually deal with those issues. Is art imitating life, or is life imitating art?

Filmed prior to the coronavirus pandemic, My So-Called High School Rank has an unexpected twist in its final act that throws everyone's future into question.

02
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Master of Light (2022): A Portrait of an Artist

George Anthony Morton in Master of Light

HBO Max

IMDb rating: 7.7/10

Starring:  George Anthony Morton

Director: Rosa Ruth Boesten

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 23 minutes

Classical painter George Anthony Morton spent a decade behind bars for federal drug charges. Finally free, he returns to his Kansas hometown to reconcile with his family by painting their portraits.

Master of Light is a riveting personal story about redemption, but it also serves as an art history lesson about the complex relationship between African and European realism.

03
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Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (2021)

Anthony Bourdain in Roadrunner

HBO Max

IMDb rating: 7.7/10

Starring: Asia Argento, Anthony Bourdain, Ariane Bourdain

Director: Morgan Neville

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hour, 59 minutes

The director of Won't You Be My Neighbor? brings us another profile of an American icon. For decades, Anthony Bourdain traversed the globe to bring people together over cuisine. Through archival footage and original interviews with the people who knew him, Roadrunner takes viewers on a journey through the life and career of one of the world's most influential chefs.

04
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Phoenix Rising (2022): Bravest 'Me Too' Documentary

Evan Rachel Wood in Phoenix Rising

HBO Max

IMDb rating: 7.0

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Sara Wood, Illma Gore

Director: Amy J. Berg

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 2 hours, 35 minutes

In this two-part documentary, actor Evan Rachel Wood candidly recounts her early days in the entertainment industry, including the abuse she experienced off camera.

Phoenix Rising is uncomfortable to watch sometimes, but it's ultimately an inspirational story about healing and perseverance.

05
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The Janes (2022): An Empowering and Timely History Lesson

The Janes on HBO Max

HBO Max

IMDb rating: 6.6/10

Starring: Heather Booth, Judith Arcana, Marie Leaner

Director: Tia Lessin, Emma Pildes

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Prior to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, an underground network of women who all went by the pseudonym “Jane” assisted in thousands of illegal abortions. The infamous Jane network was uncovered in 1972 with the arrest of seven women in Chicago, but the whole story has only recently come to light.

06
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Tina (2021): Simply the Best

Tina Turner in the HBO documentary 'Tina'

HBO

IMDb rating: 9.2/10

Starring: Tina Turner, Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey

Director: Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 58 minutes

This new HBO documentary offers a fresh look at music icon Tina Turner. It charts her early rise to fame, her struggles, and her return to household name status in the 1980s thanks to her album Private Dancer, an appearance in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and more. The film includes never-before-seen footage, audiotapes, photos, and interviews with celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Angela Bassett (who memorably portrayed Turner in the 1993 biopic What's Love Got to Do With It?).

07
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Endangered (2022): A Bleak Look at the State of Free Press

A journalist takes pictures in a warzone in Endangered

HBO Max

IMDb rating: 6.2/10

Starring: Sáshenka Gutiérrez, Carl Juste, Oliver Laughland

Director: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Assaults on freedom of the press are rampant at home and abroad. Endangered follows journalists in Mexico, Brazil, and the U.S. whose jobs have gotten significantly harder since social media has become a substitute for local newspapers and conspiracy theories now have a broader platform than the truth. The slow extinction of trustworthy local news outlets is something that everyone should care about, no matter their political persuasions.

08
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The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971): An Important Look at the Death of a Civil Rights Activist

Chicago Police killed Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton when he was just 21 years old.

Getty Images

IMDb rating: 7.6/10

Starring: Skip Andrew, Edward Carmody, James Davis 

Director: Howard Alk

Rating: NR

Runtime: 1 hour, 28 minutes

The 2021 drama Judas and the Black Messiah helped bring new awareness to the tragic death of civil rights activist and Illinois Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. Now, HBO is releasing this 1970s documentary, which investigated his death shortly after it happened. The filmmakers went to Hampton's apartment, where he was shot in a police raid, and recorded footage of the scene before it was secured by law enforcement. They later used the recordings to dispute news reports and police testimony about what happened that day. Last year, the documentary was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and is now being preserved by the United States National Film Registry.

09
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The World of Jacques Demy (1995): A Celebration of a French Filmmaker

Jacques Demy in The World of Jacques Demy

HBO Max

IMDb rating: 7.4/10

Starring: Anouk Aimée, Richard Berry, Nino Castelnuovo

Director: Agnès Varda

Rating: TV-PG

Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Filmmaker Jacques Demy was part of the controversial French New Wave movement in the mid-1900s. By combining disparate genres from all around the world, Demy gained international fame thanks to musicals like The Young Girls of Rochefort.

Directed by his wife Agnès Varda, The World of Jacques Demy is a love letter to its subject. Through clips and behind-the-scenes interviews, the film provides a comprehensive survey of Demy's career for those unfamiliar with his work.

10
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The Princess (2022): A Historical Reconstruction of Princess Diana's Last Days

The Princess on HBO Max

HBO Max

IMDb rating: 7.5/10

Starring: Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth II

Director: Ed Perkins

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hour, 49 minutes

To mark the 25th anniversary of Princess Diana's shocking death, this film uses archival footage to document the events leading up to the tragedy and its aftermath. With no commentary, The Princess is a snapshot of history that unfolds exactly how the world experienced it a quarter-century ago.

There are no new revelations about Princess Diana, but if you're fascinated by her life and death, this movie is the most intimate portrait we have of the princess's final days.

11
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Spring Awakening: Those You've Known (2022)—Coming of Age Again

Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in Spring Awakening: Those You've Known

HBO Max

IMDb rating: 8.3/10

Starring: Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, John Gallagher Jr.

Director: Michael John Warren

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 1

Runtime: 1 hour, 23 minutes

If you missed Spring Awakening on Broadway, you can now watch it with the original cast from the comfort of your couch. They're a little older, but the songs are still timeless.

Based on a 19th-century German play, Spring Awakening pushed the boundaries of what's appropriate in coming-of-age narratives. Those You've Known documents the production of the one-night-only reunion concert in November 2021, from rehearsals to the actual live performance.

12
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15 Minutes of Shame (2021): Exploring the Behavior Behind Cyberbullying

Closeup of a MacBook Pro LED backlit keyboard.

Time Mason / Getty Images

IMDb rating: 6.7/10

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Max Joseph, Monica Lewinsky

Director: Max Joseph

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Cyberbullying has become a major problem in recent decades, and this documentary film seeks to examine the social behavior behind it. The filmmakers embed themselves with individuals who've faced public shaming or cyber-harassment, while also taking a look at the bullies themselves, including politicians and the media.

15 Minutes of Shame is about one of the most pressing and unaddressed issues of modern life, brought to you by the people who know it best.

13
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Navalny (2022): A Timely Biography About Anti-Authoritarianism

Alexei Navalny in Navalny

HBO Max

IMDb rating: 6.7/10

Starring: Alexei Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, Dasha Navalnaya

Director: Daniel Roher

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hour, 38 minutes

What's it like being the primary political opposition to one of the world's most notorious dictators? Well, it's certainly not an easy life. This documentary candidly examines the trials of Russian politician Alexei Navalny.

Far from a fluff piece, Navalny focuses less on the man himself and more on what happens to him because of his activism. It's sad, but also inspiring.

14
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Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off (2022): A Tribute to a Sports Legend

Tony Hawk in Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off

HBO Max

IMDb rating: 8.2/10

Starring: Tony Hawk, Stacy Peralta, Rodney Mullen

Director: Sam Jones

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 1

Runtime: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Tony Hawk is 53 years old, but he's still skateboarding. Through original interviews and archival footage, Until the Wheels Fall Off pays tribute to the most famous skateboarder in the world.

This movie was made for fans of Tony Hawk who may be interested in his personal life, but Hawk's story could inspire anyone to pick up a skateboard.

15
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Beanie Mania (2022): Best Beanie Baby Exposé

Beanie Mania documentary on HBO Max

HBO Max

IMDb rating: 6.4/10

Starring: Colleen Ballinger, Lina Trivedi

Director: Yemisi Brookes

Rating: TV-PG

Episodes: 1

Runtime: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Remember Beanie Babies? They're those little stuffed animals that you now see in the bargain bin of your local thrift store. But back in the 90s, they sold for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. What happened?

To this day, very few people understand the Beanie Baby craze, and all of those people are interviewed in this documentary.

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The Crime of the Century (2021): A Sobering Look at America's Drug Epidemic and Those Responsible

prescription drugs.

Owaki / Kulla / Getty Images 

IMDb rating: 8.2/10

Starring: Lenny Bernstein, Roy Bosley, Alec Burlakoff 

Director: Alex Gibney

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 53 minutes

Nearly 841,000 Americans died from a drug overdose between 1999 and 2019, according to the CDC. Opiate abuse is a serious problem in the country, and this two-part documentary turns a critical eye toward Big Pharma and the corrupt system that allows it to overproduce drugs and distribute them recklessly. With the help of leaked documents, whistleblowers, interviews with opioid addicts, and more, the series puts forth the argument that drug companies largely helped create an epidemic it's also profiting from while costing Americans thousands of lives.

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