The Best Documentaries on HBO Right Now (July 2021)

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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Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes (2021): A Showcase of Ronan Farrow's Pulitzer-Winning Journalism

Jon Lovett and Ronan Farrow

Getty Images 

IMDb rating: n/a

Starring: Ronan Farrow, Ken Auletta, Fabio Bertoni

Director: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato

Rating: TV-14

Episodes: 6

This six-part documentary series is based on Ronan Farrow's bestselling book and podcast Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and A Conspiracy to Protect Predators. The Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist helped expose Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator in 2017. Catch and Kill is his account of that investigation and the intimidation he received from high-priced lawyers and other operatives of the wealthy and powerful people who wanted the story to remain silent.

02
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Through Our Eyes (2021): Examining Social Issues Through the Eyes of Children

Key art for the documentary series 'Through Our Eyes'

Sesame Workshop

IMDb rating: n/a

Starring: n/a

Director: Geeta Gandbhir, Kristi Jacobson, Smriti Mundhra

Rating: n/a

Episodes: 4

This four-part documentary series is the first from Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind Sesame Street and other educational kids' programming. It tackles tough social issues from the perspectives of children facing them. The first episode deals with parental incarceration. Others focus on homeless, caregiving for military veterans, and the effects of natural disasters on families who lose their homes.

03
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Revolution Rent (2021): Exploring One Man's Complex Relationship to Cuba via Music

Director Andy Señor Jr. with the cast of Rent in 'Revolution Rent'

HBO

IMDb rating: 6.7/10

Starring: Andy Señor

Director: Victor Patrick Alvarez, Andres Señor

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Revolution Rent is a documentary about one director's efforts to bring the stage musical RENT to Cuba. Andy Señor Jr. played the character Angel in the late 1990s. Decades later, his version of the hit Broadway show is the first produced by an American company to appear in Cuba in over 50 years. The documentary highlights his struggles to make the show happen. Along the way, he explores his Cuban heritage and his complex relationship with the authoritarian country.

04
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Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018): Best Documentary for the Kid in All of Us

Fred Rogers
Was Fred Rogers hiding something under that long-sleeved sweater?. Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images

IMDb rating: 8.4/10

Starring: Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, John Rogers 

Director: Morgan Neville

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Looking for a heavy dose of nostalgia? Won't You Be My Neighbor? details the life and career of beloved TV icon Fred Rogers, host of the children's television show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Over 900 episodes aired on PBS from the 1960s to 2001. If you're reading this, odds are you grew up with the kindly Mr. Rogers and his bevy of puppet friends. The film humanizes him while also confirming what most of us already knew—that Fred Rogers was a wonderfully empathetic human being who genuinely loved children.

05
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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.

06
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Exterminate All The Brutes (2021): An Examination of Colonialism and Whiteness

A scene from the HBO documentary 'Exterminate All the Brutes'

HBO

IMDb rating: 6.4/10

Starring: Josh Hartnett, Ettore D'Alessandro, Luis del Valle 

Director: Raoul Peck

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 4

Exterminate All the Brutes is the latest from filmmaker Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro). The four-part documentary series examines the history of European colonialism and the exploitative and detrimental effects it had on America and Africa. It also explores the impact colonialism had on today's society. Peck's previous work won near-universal acclaim for its examination of American race relations. Exterminate All the Brutes looks like it could be just as insightful.

07
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Generation Hustle (2021): A Series About the Pursuit of Fortune and Fame

Stock money

IMDb rating: 6.9/10

Starring: Brian Jones, James MacCallum, Gregory Mandarano

Director: Yon Motskin

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 10

Generation Hustle is a new 10-part docuseries from CNN and Jigsaw Productions about the pursuit of fame and fortune by younger generations. A lot of people, young and old, have a side hustle, YouTube channel, or Etsy store these days, which makes this documentary series instantly relatable.

08
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Tina (2021): Simply the Best

Tina Turner in the HBO documentary 'Tina'

Ryan Stetz (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?).

09
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Black Art: In The Absence Of Light (2021) – Highlighting Up-and-Coming Artists of Color

Artist Amy Sherald paints a portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama in the documentary 'Black Art: In the Absence of Light'

HBO

IMDb rating: 6.5/10

Starring: Amy Sherald

Director: Sam Pollard

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Black Art: In the Absence of Light highlights up-and-coming Black visual artists like Amy Sherald, whose portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama instantly became iconic when it debuted in 2017. Sherald, along with painter Kehinde Wiley, were the first African-Americans to receive presidential portrait commissions from the National Portrait Gallery. The film looks at them and their work, along with other artists of their generation, detailing their creative process and their impact on Black culture.

10
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Tiger: A Look at One of Golf's Greats

Golfer Tiger Woods in the HBO documentary 'Tiger'

HBO

IMDb rating: 7.9/10

Starring: Tiger Woods

Director: Matthew Hamachek, Matthew Heineman

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 2

This new two-part documentary examines the life and career of famous golfer Tiger Woods. A child prodigy, he became one of the most celebrated athletes ever, but his dedication and obsession with the sport also led to a downward spiral that ended with an arrest, scandals, and an eventual comeback at the 2019 Masters. The series interviews some of Tiger's closest friends and family and, for the first time, interviews the woman at the center of the sex scandal that tarnished his reputation in 2009.

11
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The Lady and the Dale (2021): An Audacious Auto Scam

Elizabeth Carmichael in the documentary 'The Lady and the Dale'

HBO

IMDb rating: 6.8/10

Starring: Elizabeth Carmichael

Director: Nick Cammilleri and Zackary Drucker

Rating: TV-14

Episodes: 1

This documentary film from Emmy-winning producers Mark and Jay Duplass details an ambitious auto scam perpetrated in the 1970s by an entrepreneur named Elizabeth Carmichael. She promised a fuel-efficient vehicle, called The Dale, at a time when Americans were suffering through a gas crisis. But, it was all a fraud, as investigators found out when they went to the factory she was supposedly manufacturing the cars at and found it empty. If you enjoy tales of audacious criminals, this is worth a look.

12
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Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults (2020): A Look at the U.S.'s Biggest Mass Suicide

Marshall Herff Applewhite, founder and co-leader of the religious cult Heaven's Gate, speaks to his followers via television.

Brooks Kraft LLC/Sygma via Getty Images

IMDb rating: 7.3/10

Starring: Robert Balch, Janja Lalich, Benjamin Zeller

Director: Clay Tweel

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 4

Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults is a four-part documentary series about the strange UFO-based religious movement that led to a tragic mass suicide. The series talks with former members and loved ones and includes never-before-seen footage and first-person accounts. Decades later, many just remember vague jokes about Nike shoes and Kool-Aid. This documentary is a good refresher on a chilling and unusual moment in U.S. history.

13
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The Bee Gees - How Can You Mend a Broken Heart: An Iconic '60s Musical Trio

Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, and Robin Gibb of The Bee Gees

HBO

IMDb rating: 8.2/10

Starring: Barry Gibb

Director: Frank Marshall 

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 51 minutes

This documentary chronicles the lives of the 1960s musical trio The Bee Gees. The three brothers, Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, wrote over 1,000 songs during their career. They had 20 No. 1 hits. Their biggest tune, "Stayin' Alive," was immortalized in pop culture thanks to the film Saturday Night Fever, actor John Travolta, and a flashy white suit. The documentary interviews Barry Gibb and features archival footage of Robin and Maurice. There's also never-before-seen concert performances, home videos, and interviews with a variety of notable musicians.

14
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Between the World and Me: An Adaptation of the Critically-Acclaimed Book

Artwork from the HBO documentary 'Between the World and Me.'

HBO 

IMDb rating: 7.4/10

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Angela Bassett, Courtney B. Vance

Director: Kamilah Forbes

Rating: TV-14

Runtime: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Between the World and Me is based on the critically-acclaimed best-selling book from Ta-Nehisi Coates. Written as a letter from Coates to his teenage son, it's a raw recounting of Coates' life and a sobering look at racial inequality in America. This film adaptation combines animation, archival footage, and appearances by Coates, Mahershala Ali, Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey, and many more. It's just as pointed as its source material, and just as relevant in America's current socio-political landscape.

15
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David Byrne's American Utopia (2020): A Joyous Meditation on Art

David Byrne performs in 'David Byrne's American Utopia.'

HBO

 

IMDb rating: 8.3/10

Starring: David Byrne, Chris Giarmo, Angie Swan

Director: Spike Lee

Rating: TV-14

Runtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Director Spike Lee has adapted Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and Brian Eno's show American Utopia, and it's a boisterous celebration of life and art. Talking Heads fans will enjoy classic songs like "Once in a Lifetime" and "Burning Down the House," along with a timely cover of Janelle Monae's "Hell You Talmbout." And if you're not a David Byrne fan, well, maybe this movie can convince you to convert.

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A World of Calm (2020): Most Relaxing Docuseries

Fish swim in the ocean in the documentary 'A World of Calm.'

HBO

IMDb rating: 7.7/10

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Idris Elba, Oscar Isaac

Directors: Ben Devlin, Karen McGann, Daniel M. Smith, Nic Stacey

Rating: TV-G

Episodes: 10

A World of Calm is a new, 10-episode docuseries from Nutopia, the team behind Nat Geo's One Strange Rock, and the makers of the meditation app Calm. It combines beautiful and serene nature footage with narration from a bevy of notable actors. Imagine chilling out to images of sea life while Idris Elba quietly spouts factoids at you. It's basically big-budget ASMR. The cast also includes Mahershala Ali, Oscar Isaac, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Lucy Liu, Cillian Murphy, and Keanu Reeves.

17
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John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020): A Tribute to an Inspiring Activist

A mug shot of civil rights activist John Lewis, following his arrest in Jackson, Mississippi for using a restroom reserved for 'white' people during the Freedom Ride demonstration against racial segregation, 24th May 1961.
A mug shot of civil rights activist John Lewis, following his arrest in Jackson, Mississippi for using a restroom reserved for 'white' people during the Freedom Ride demonstration against racial segregation, 24th May 1961. Kypros/Getty Images

IMDb rating: 7.1/10

Starring: Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 

Director: Dawn Porter

Rating: PG

Runtime: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Good Trouble is a look at the life and activism of the late Congressman John Lewis, a prominent figure in the United States' Civil Rights movement. During his lifetime, he participated in thousands of protests, was arrested more than 40 times, and spent three decades as representative of Georgia's 5th congressional district. This portrait of his life is timely given America's current socio-political climate, and some of the archival footage is moving, especially when you consider how much of Lewis' work remains unfinished.

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