From award-winners to fascinating curiosities, there’s something for everyone.
Whether it’s a chance to explore a slice of the world you’ll never personally experience, or a jaw-dropping reminder that truth is very often stranger than fiction, a good documentary will often leave you eager to dive even deeper into the subject than the film did. Hulu’s documentary selection shines in this regard, offering a diverse mixture of award-winners and fascinating curiosities. From the high-pressure newsroom of the New York Times to a high-wire act between the Twin Towers, Hulu has a solid lineup of documentaries on tap and just waiting for you to dive in.
But there’s no need to spend half an hour scrolling through the Hulu catalog. We did the legwork for you. Here are the best documentaries on Hulu you can stream right now.
The best documentaries on Hulu
Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie is a nuanced balancing act as it tells two stories side-by-side: the long and often weighted history of Barbie and Mattel’s efforts to change Barbie’s iconic shape for the first time in its history. Barbie may be an avatar, but it’s evident that the doll has always been much more than that—for better and worse—to critics and consumers alike. —Michelle Jaworksi
In Batman and Bill, author Marc Tyler Nobleman details his years-long quest to get Batman co-creator Bill Finger the credit he deserves. Most people don’t even know Finger’s name, but any element that comes to mind when you think of Batman, there’s a good chance Finger had a hand in it. Like a Batman comic, the documentary has secret identities, mysteries, injustices demanding to be brought into the light, and even a conniving villain determined to steamroll the meek for his own personal gain.
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With his starring role in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, an Australian male model and former used car salesman named George Lazenby entered the small fraternity of men who’ve played James Bond on the big screen. But then Lazenby just walked away from a seven-film contract and a million-dollar bonus. Decoding the enigma of Lazenby is the focus of Hulu’s original documentary, Becoming Bond. It’s a funny, compelling look at a man determined to go his own way, even if his choices make no sense to the rest of the world.
With the market flooded with more true crime stories than anyone can watch, Tales of the Grim Sleeper is more proof that these stories need to be told. Beyond the entertainment value, whatever that term means, it’s important to expose the societal and procedural failings that allowed these cases to become what they did. Grim Sleeper covers a Los Angeles serial killer who preyed on women in the 1980s. Aiding the Grim Sleeper’s (the nickname of Lonnie David Franklin Jr.) crimes was a shoddy police investigation that ignored clues and witnesses that could’ve end led the reign of terror long before Franklin Jr.’s arrest in 2010.
Ron Howard directed this 2016 documentary look at the Fab Five during the height of their touring years in the mid-‘60s. That period includes some of the Beatles’ most memorable shows, taking the band from their early days playing gigs at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, all the way up to their 1966 concert in San Francisco. Eight Days a Week was produced in full cooperation with the surviving Beatles and their spouses, and the documentary even includes a half-hour of footage from the band’s 1965 concert at Shea Stadium in New York City. All of that 35mm footage has been digitally restored and remastered up to 4K resolution.
Hulu’s marketing leaned heavily on the whole “Jackass: Origins” angle, but there’s a lot more to Big Brother Magazine’s legacy than just helping make Johnny Knoxville famous. Dumb is a ride through the history of a weird little publication that kickflipped over every sacred cow it could find, redefining skater culture in the process. Even if you don’t know Tony Hawk from Tony Robbins, Dumb is fast, slick, and a lot of fun.
7. Life Itself
Steve James is debatably the most important documentary filmmaker of the last quarter century, with acclaimed works like Hoop Dreams, Stevie, and The Interrupters under his belt to show for it. But while all his films are personal in nature, James’ 2014 portrait of fellow Chicagoan Roger Ebert feels especially close to home. Ebert had championed his work for years by the time James decided to do a film on America’s most famous film critic. But the result is no mere hagiography, pulling pieces from Ebert’s own memoir to create a warts-and-all portrait that is made all the more affecting by scenes in which James visits him during the last few months of his life. The overall achievement proves to be both a moving tribute to a unique American voice and a touching meditation on mortality itself. —Chris Osterndorf
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The New York Times has never been more in the spotlight than it has been during the Trump presidency, with Trump’s brash anti-media approach seemingly having lit a fire under the ass of the fourth estate. That makes this 2011 documentary more timely than ever. Director Andrew Rossi and his crew got to spend a year inside the New York Times’ bullpen, watching the staff as they struggled to deal with declining readership, the strain between good business and good journalism, and the question of what journalism’s place would be in the 21st century.
9. The Cove
The Cove is the kind of documentary that plays to the crowd. It wants a specific reaction from its audience and hits its target easily. Most people are probably against the hunting and killing of dolphins, but The Cove takes viewers inside the notorious Taiji, Wakayama, Japan dolphin hunt to make its points. The doc plays like a heist movie, with the film crew having to sneak around authorities to get much of their footage. While the film makes a logical, reasoned case for curtailing dolphin hunting, the moment that makes the biggest impact is the shot of the cove with its blue water turned bright red after a mass killing.
Imagine if one of the regional myths you grew up believing held more truth than you ever knew. That’s the setup for this documentary based on a New York urban legend. The filmmakers get more than they intended as their search for the truth leads them to the case of convicted child kidnapper Andre Rand. The truth, or whatever the doc uncovers, proves to be far scarier than the legend.
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Too Funny to Fail continues a streak of outstanding niche original documentaries from Hulu this year. Too Funny to Fail dives deep into the conception, execution, and failure of The Dana Carvey Show, a one-season wonder that featured the talents of Louis C.K., Robert Smigel, Charlie Kaufman, and both Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell. The documentary also examines the origins and assembly of individual sketches—both those that worked and those that didn’t.
12. Behind the Mask
Not to be confused with the 2006 mockumentary horror film, this documentary examines a group of sports heroes who never seem to get their due: the mascots. Behind the Mask introduces viewers to seven different sports mascots, operating at all levels of the field, from enthusiastic high school amateurs, all the way up to the major leagues. Following the mascots’ lives both in and out of their colorful costumes, the show earned Hulu a nomination at the Sports Emmy Awards in 2014.
13. Obey Giant
Watching Hulu’s original doc Obey Giant is akin to reading someone’s Wikipedia page. That someone is renowned artist Shepherd Fairey, best known for the Obama Hope poster. The doc, like your average wiki, has two distinct halves. The first half is a straightforward bio for Fairey and tracks his path from a precocious child to a prodigious street artist. The second half deals with the legal issues Fairey has faced. Obey Giant is a straightforward documentary, frustratingly so at some point. For a figure who represents a punk-rock attitude, you would hope for a more interesting presentation. Still, Fairey, who got his start with the co-opted imagery of Andre the Giant and the Obey posters, is an affable figure and listening to him recount his story is enjoyable enough.
Weiner is a fascinating look at Anthony Weiner’s comeback run for mayor of New York. What starts out as a tale of redemption and someone moving beyond their flaws turns into a stunning portrait of self-sabotage. Regardless of your stance on Weiner as a man and/or politician, he’s a compelling and charismatic figure. As you watch him make campaign appearances, it’s easy to see that he’s passionate about helping people, but he just can’t get out of his own way.
15. Minding the Gap
Director Bing Liu took footage shot over the course of 12 years and distilled it down into a feature length documentary. Liu focuses on his hometown friends and tracks their growth and how it the events of their youth set the course for their future. It’s a personal story and Liu doesn’t shy away from that at all. Minding the Gap focuses on specific stories in order to get at larger societal issues and, ultimately, larger emotional truths.
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Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.