The 15 Best Documentaries on HBO Right Now (November 2020)

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
of 15

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: n/a

Genre: Documentary

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

Director: Kamilah Forbes

Motion Picture Rating: n/a

Running Time: 1 hour, 30 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 recounts his experiences growing up as a Black man in Baltimore and grapples with the issue of White supremacy in America. This film adaptation is a combination of a 2018 stage adaptation at the Apollo Theater, documentary footage from Coates' home life, archival footage, and animation. It features appearances by Coates, Mahershala Ali, Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey, and many more.

02
of 15

Crazy, Not Insane: A Chilling Look at Violent People

Forensic psychologist Dorothy Otnow Lewis stands with an open book in her hands.

 Yale University

IMDb rating: 6.6

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Richard Burr, Laura Dern, Park Dietz

Director: Alex Gibney

TV Rating: n/a

Running Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

This chilling new documentary profiles forensic psychiatrist Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, who spent her life investigating the inner lives of violent people. She worked with many serial killers during her career, including Ted Bundy. Crazy, Not Insane is directed and produced by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney, who also did HBO's The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.

Crazy, Not Insane doesn't have an exact release date yet, but it's expected to come out sometime in November.

03
of 15

The Mystery Of DB Cooper: One of America's Most Enduring Mysteries

Artist sketches of DB Cooper.

FBI.gov

IMDb rating: n/a

Genre: Documentary

Starring: n/a

Director: John Dower

TV Rating: n/a

Running Time: n/a

The man known as "DB Cooper" is responsible for the only unsolved plane jacking in U.S. history. In 1971, Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 between Portland and Seattle. He jumped out of the plane somewhere over Washington State with a parachute and $200,000. He was never heard from again. The FBI maintained an active investigation for 45 years after the hijacking, but the case remains unsolved. This new documentary takes a look at the case and profiles four people believed to be the infamous Cooper.

The Mystery of DB Cooper doesn't have an exact release date yet, but it's expected to come out sometime in November.

04
of 15

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

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

HBO

 

IMDb rating: 8.0

Genre: Documentary, Musical

Starring: David Byrne, Chris Giarmo, Angie Swan

Director: Spike Lee

Rating: n/a

Running Time: 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.

05
of 15

A World of Calm (2020): Most Relaxing Docuseries

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

HBO

IMDb rating: n/a

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Idris Elba, Oscar Isaac

Director: n/a

Rating: n/a

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 immersive imagery with narration from a star-studded cast that includes Mahershala Ali, Idris Elba, Oscar Isaac, Nicole Kidman, Zoë Kravitz, Lucy Liu, Cillian Murphy, and Keanu Reeves. Each half-hour episode is built to help calm your nerves and soothe your mind. And we could all use a little of that in 2020.

06
of 15

The Soul Of America (2020): A Timely Look at America's History

american_flag_on_porch
American Flag on Porch. Joanna McCarthy / The Image Bank / Getty

IMDb rating: n/a

Genre: Documentary

Starring: n/a

Director: Katie Davison

Rating: n/a

Running Time: n/a

The Soul of America is a timely documentary based on the best-selling book by Jon Meacham. Like Meacham's work, the film takes a look at the U.S.'s current political climate and its political past. Abraham Lincoln once called on the "better angels of our nature," and the documentary paints portraits of him and other presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson, along with citizen activists, civil rights pioneers, and more. The premise of the film and the book is that America has seen dark days before and found ways to prevail, and it's a much-needed message right now.

07
of 15

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

John Lewis
Congressman John Lewis was a Freedom Rider. zflickr.com

IMDb rating: 6.6

Genre: Documentary

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

Director: Dawn Porter

Rating: PG

Running Time: 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 U.S.'s 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.

08
of 15

Siempre, Luis (2020): Best Pick for 'Hamilton' Fans

Luis A. Miranda Jr. gets a medical checkup in 'Siempre, Luis.'

HBO 

IMDb rating: n/a

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Luis Miranda

Director: John James

Rating: TV-MA

Running Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes

Siempre, Luis follows Luis A. Miranda Jr. over the course of a year as he organizes relief efforts following Hurricane Maria and works to bring his son Lin-Manuel's Broadway blockbuster Hamilton to the island nation. Described as "an unstoppable force of nature," Miranda's passion for his homeland and his family is evident, and the film portrays his struggles with humor and heart.

09
of 15

The Perfect Weapon (2020): A Chilling Look at Cyberwarfare

Computer code appears over a city street in 'The Perfect Weapon.'

HBO

IMDb rating: n/a

Genre: Documentary

Starring: n/a

Director: John Maggio

Rating: TV-14

Running Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Based on the best-selling book by New York Times national security correspondent David E. Sanger, The Perfect Weapon takes a look at the rise of cyberwarfare between nations and how they use it to sabotage one another. It features interviews with top members of the military, intelligence, and political fields and spans the globe, traveling from Las Vegas to Iran, Beijing, Moscow, and more.

10
of 15

Being Serena (2018): Best Look at a Sports Icon

Serena Williams
Serena Williams of the USA plays a shot against Flavia Pennetta of Italy during Day 2 of the Rogers Cup at the Aviva Centre on August 11, 2015. Getty Images

IMDb rating: 5.7

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Serena Williams

Director: Ryan White

Rating: n/a

Number of Episodes: 5

Serena Williams needs no introduction. She's one of the most famous faces in sports. She's won 39 Grand Slam titles, four Olympic gold medals, and many other accolades. This documentary series focuses on two pivotal moments in her personal and professional life: the birth of her first child and her efforts to get back on the court afterward. Viewers get a look into her career, her family life, her role as a businesswoman, and more.

More than just a sports documentary, Being Serena is a portrait of Black motherhood and Black womanhood that's just as vital now as it was when the series premiered in 2018.

11
of 15

Ravi Patel's Pursuit of Happiness (2020): Best Rumination on Life's Biggest Questions

Ravi Patel shares a drink with friends in 'Rave Patel's Pursuit of Happiness'

HBO Max 

IMDb rating: n/a

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Ravi Patel

Director: n/a

Rating: n/a

Number of Episodes: 4

Ravi Patel's Pursuit of Happiness is a buddy comedy docuseries that follows actor Ravi Patel as he travels the globe looking for the answers to some of life's biggest and most universal questions. His stops include Mexico, Japan, Korea, and Denmark, where he discusses topics like aging and retirement, parenting and gender roles, work/life balance, and immigration.

Usually accompanied by a friend or family member, Patel offers his own unfiltered opinions and struggles on all of these topics while comparing social norms both in the U.S. and abroad.

12
of 15

Hard Knocks: Los Angeles (2020): Best Documentary Series for Football Fans

Stock photo of a football field

Doug Wilson/Getty Images

IMDb rating: n/a

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Los Angeles Rams, Los Angeles Chargers

Director: n/a

Rating: n/a

Number of Episodes: 5

Hard Knocks: Los Angeles is the latest in HBO's Emmy Award-winning sports series about the National Football League. For the first time, the show follows the head coaches of two teams, the Los Angeles Chargers and the Los Angeles Rams. Since both are sharing a new home this season at SoFi Stadium, fans are getting a behind-the-scenes peek at both teams' training camp activities.

What's also notable is that Hard Knocks: Los Angeles was filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic. That means fans can expect a radically different training season, one filled with social distancing, mandatory temperature checks, and no preseason.

13
of 15

The Swamp (2020): Best Look at America's Broken Politics

(Left to Right) Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Ken Buck (R-CO), and Thomas Massie (R-KY) in 'The Swamp'

HBO

IMDb rating: n/a

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Ken Buck, Matt Gaetz, Ro Khanna

Director: Daniel DiMauro, Morgan Pehme

TV Rating: n/a

Number of Episodes: 1

Debuting on Aug. 4, The Swamp is a deep dive into the Washington political machine from the perspective of three Republican Congressmen—Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Thomas Massie (R-KY), and Ken Buck (R-CO). Over the course of a year, cameras follow these men during events like the Robert Mueller hearing and President Trump's impeachment (the film doesn't tackle the Coronavirus, though). The documentary examines how fundraising matters above all else in Washington, and how some politicians like Gaetz are finding different ways to raise money for their campaigns.

14
of 15

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

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.

15
of 15

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.