From racial justice to stories about giants, these are the best documentaries to watch on HBO Max
HBO announced its consolidation of HBO Now and HBO Go last spring due to its new venture, HBO Max. Joining the ranks of other streaming services like Disney Plus, Hulu, and Netflix, HBO Max brings an extensive list of movies and shows with some of the biggest names in Hollywood like Kate Winslet, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
HBO Max also brings an expansive selection of extraordinary documentaries that touch on everything from the stories behind our favorite celebrities to social issues affecting life in the world today. Proving the versatility of the documentary genre, they’ll immerse you in the world of professional wrestling, spelling bees, fights for racial justice and mental health, and so much more.
It can be challenging to find the right one to watch with so many titles to choose from — that’s why we put together the top 10 best documentaries available on HBO Max in 2021!
Not in the mood for a documentary? Check out the best movies on HBO Max right now and see if anything piques your interest.
André the Giant
- Release Year: 2018
HBO’s original documentary, André the Giant, gives viewers an inside look at what it means to be larger than life. This film is a loving tribute to the real-life giant actor, wrestler, and personality, André Roussimoff.
Interviews with Hulk Hogan, Billy Crystal, Ric Flair, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robin Wright, and Vince McMahon offer a rare glimpse behind the curtain by those who knew him best. Roussimoff’s family also provides an inside look at his childhood years in France. The film depicts his struggles with gigantism and how he turned his medical condition of being seven-foot-four, 520 pounds into a profitable career to proudly become the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and change the world of professional wrestling.
Whether you are a huge fan of WWE, love The Princess Bride, or want a show that can prove the impossible, this documentary is for you.
- Release Year: 1976
Brothers Albert and David Maysles bring viewers into the lives of a reclusive, deeply eccentric, and mutually dependent mother and daughter, both named Edith Beale. The brother’s visit to a rundown mansion in the Hamptons called Grey Gardens helps tell the tragic story in a strange and twisting character study unlike any other we have seen.
The lives of “Little Edie” and “Big Edie,” relatives of First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis, have been argued to be sensationalized in the documentary. However, Grey Gardens is a must-watch, as it does a fantastic job capturing a unique family at the heart of the decline of political royalty in 1960’s America.
Robin Williams: Inside My Mind
- Release Year: 2018
From Good Morning, Vietnam and Mrs. Doubtfire, to Dead Poets Society and the Genie from Aladdin, Robin Williams was an actor like none other. His untimely death caused shock and disbelief to fans around the world.
This documentary aims to help answer how a man with so much talent could be suffering enough to take his own life. Diving deep behind the public mask and into the intensely private and wounded soul, we get to see parts of a man that were hidden by his acting and humor for so long. We see William’s battle with addiction, mental health, and self-love, leaving no doubt that he was the irreplaceable talent of our generation gone much too soon.
Director Marina Zenoch does a fantastic job honoring the brilliant genius of Williams, both on a personal and professional level. The film also includes clips of his performances to remind us of that special Williams’ iconic spark of madness.
- Release Year: 2020
In an essential and unapologetic look at what gender identity means today, this film follows the journey of four transgender kids in Kansas City, Missouri.
Going beyond sexual preference, Transhood helps illustrate the difference in gender identity and the struggle trans people face in who society wants them to be and who they are. From family division and religious conflict to equal healthcare and financial constraints, this film also explores many LQBTQIA+ challenges individuals face today. This documentary is an honest look at personal, sexual, and gender identity and what that means in today’s America.
- Release Year: 2021
Social media brought a new kind of celebrity in the 21st century: the influencer. This documentary aims to understand the meaning of fame and influence through the digital age. Part investigative documentary and part social experiment, this film turns three wannabe influencers into social media giants by buying bots as followers, faking exotic lifestyles, and other shortcuts.
Watching the participants’ journies is eye-opening and speaks volumes about our society with the rising use of social media.
- Release Year: 2002
The Academy Award-nominated documentary chronicled the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee events, focusing on the competitors themselves. This spelling competition has become known as the Super Bowl of spelling competitions, and director Jeffrey Blitz creates a captivating picture of high-level competition and the personalities that help shape it.
Spellbound is a film that has it all: suspense, heroes, villains, drama. You might almost forget the subject is a national spelling bee competition.
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Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland
- Release Year: 2018
This documentary tells the story of a 28-year-old Black woman, Sandra Bland, who allegedly took her own life after being behind bars for a few days. She was pulled over for an illegal lane change and charged with assault for talking back to a police officer.
The film investigates her poorly managed case and her family’s battle with law enforcement. It also shares Bland’s video blogs and history of activism. Though her death was ruled a suicide, it remains surrounded by questions in this racial justice documentary.
Everything is Copy
- Release Year: 2016
Journalist Jacob Bernstein explores the life, career, and death of Nora Ephron. The world knew her as the writer and filmmaker to movies such as Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and Julie & Julia — Bernstein knew her as “mom.” Bernstein gives viewers a more personal, intimate look inside Ephron’s life with home videos and archival footage.
Featuring interviews from big-name stars including Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, and Meg Ryan, this film teaches us how Ephron impacted the careers of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Class Action Park
- Release Year: 2020
Get taken back in time with this documentary on the famous Action Park! Built by former Wall Street tycoon Gene Mulvihill, this New Jersey amusement and water park gained popularity in the ’80s because of attractions like Cannonball Loop and the Alpine Slide. However, it also built a reputation of poorly-designed rides, under-trained and under-age staff, and intoxicated staff and guests that caused numerous injuries and deaths. Class Action Park shows viewers just how insane the story behind the scenes was.
Through a mixture of fun animation and interviews with comedians who attended Action Park as children, Class Action Park keeps things light and entertaining. However, it still uses seriousness and restraint when discussing the park’s casualties. Class Action Park is a wild documentary about a wild place that’ll have you wondering how it existed at all while feeling a sense of nostalgia for the 1980s.
At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal
- Release Year: 2019
Dr. Larry Nassar has been formally accused of assaulting at least 250 people during his 20-something years as an athletic trainer for Michigan State University and the women’s USA Gymnastics national team. We may never know the actual number.
The disturbing, painful, and infuriating story of the sexual abuse scandal lasted so long and affected so many people that it’s nearly impossible to capture the full scope of it. But this film allows many brave survivors of the abuse to share their stories. Director Erin Lee Carr dives into the depths of Nassar’s manipulation, his arrogance, and the dangerous system that dismissed numerous warnings and complaints to protect the highly respected doctor.