While our itch to travel can’t by physically scratched right now, that doesn’t mean we can’t still explore the world around us. Documentaries are always within our reach to hear, see, and experience the stories that expand further than our own backyards. If you’re all caught up on all your series – like the 40 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race – here are some of the best documentaries on Stan for you to get around.
The Best Documentaries On Stan Right Now
Stan has a whole heap of Louis Theroux‘s doco films and his extensive and deeply interesting Wild Weekends series, but one that stands head and shoulders above the rest is My Scientology Movie. After being denied from going through the processes to join the Church of Scientology, Theroux decides to cast and shoot his own promotional film about the church, which definitely gains the attention of the notoriously secretive sect.
Premiering eight years after his death, McQueen offers an intimate look at the career and achievements of influential English fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen. The documentary blends together archival footage of McQueen with interviews from people who were in his inner circle – including his sister, Janet, and his nephew, Gary – to capture the energy and legacy of the controversial haute couture designer.
One of the biggest stories before the world changed forever was the ongoing case of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and the unravelling of the grip he had on the rich and powerful. One of the people in his inner circle was his associate and former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, who was hit with fresh charges relating to sex trafficking earlier this year.
In Epstein’s Shadow, the British socialite’s life is dissected and scrutinised over three hours – combing through everything from her upbringing and her relationship with her parents, to her friendship with the Clinton family.
Yep, it’s a big undertaking but some essential viewing in the lead up to her trial in November 2021.
This award-winning doco follows two hardcore South African fans of psych rock artist Sixto Rodriguez as they try and figure out if the rumours of his death were true, and if not, where the hell he is. The American musician was all but forgotten in his home country, but found fame abroad – namely Australia, NZ, and South Africa – just before he quit the music industry entirely in the late 1970s.
Following the release of Searching For Sugar Man, Rodriguez gained popularity across America and Europe, well after he’d initially retired from the music biz. The documentary also strongly hinted at the allegation that Rodriguez had not been paid royalties over the years, which is something he’s still pursuing.
If any of David Lynch‘s works have left you scratching your head, maybe this documentary diving into his long and influential artistry will help you understand the brains behind the beautifully-abstract.
Made over four years and well over 20 interviews with Lynch at his home in Hollywood, The Art Life details Lynch’s journey from growing up in Montana, Idaho, and Washington state, his first move to Philadelphia to chase his dreams of becoming a painter, to the start of production of his first feature – the black and white cult horror, Eraserhead.
It’s an in-depth recount of the 75-year-old surrealist filmmaker, from his own perspective and in his own surroundings.
Honestly, I’m surprised he didn’t direct it himself.
6. The Summit
The story of the 2008 K2 disaster is told through a combination of doco footage and recreations of what happened that fateful day on the second-highest mountain on Earth.
Seen as one of the worst catastrophes in climbing history, 11 mountaineers died over two days on the trip to and from the summit of the mountain on the border of the Pakistan-administered and China-administered territories of Kashmir.
It was reported an ice avalanche along the route known as the ‘Bottleneck’ destroyed many of the rope lines and resulted in two deaths, but some of the details around what exactly happened during the rest of the disaster. This has resulted in some mystery around one of the climbers who seemed to disappear during the expedition.
7. Gayby Baby
One of the best Australian-made documentaries on Stan, Gayby Baby documents the experiences of children with same-sex parents as they navigate some of the most turbulent years of their lives.
Created and premiered at the height of the marriage equality debate in Australia, this intimate and sometimes very funny doco tells four kids’ stories from the mouths and perspectives of the kids themselves as they grow up in a family dynamic that looks a bit different from other kids at school.
We might not know his face or have seen him create his work but every bloody man and his dog knows who Bansky is. The guerrilla street artist is behind Exit Through The Gift Shop, which details the story of Thierry Guetta – an LA-based French immigrant with a serious street art obsession.
The documentary follows Guetta as he documents his whole life, including meeting a bunch of street artists, becoming Banksy’s guide in Los Angeles and befriending the anonymous artist, and eventually becoming a famous street artist himself.
Following its release, a conspiracy theory that the whole film was a hoax mockumentary from Banksy kicked up debate about the legitimacy and authenticity of the doco. When quizzed on whether the film was real or not, Bansky reportedly simply said “yes”.
Before it was a production house putting out cult comedy classics like National Lampoon’s Vacation and Van Wilder: Party Liaison, National Lampoon was a humour magazine spawned from Harvard University.
This 2015 documentary on Stan features interviews with the people who made the magazine a cult favourite and launchpad for many successful American comedians and comedy writers, like Judd Apatow, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Coming To America), Billy Bob Thornton, Meat Loaf, Al Jean (The Simpsons), and Janis Hirsch (Will & Grace, The Nanny).
It gives a look behind the Lampoon curtains, with archival footage of comedy legend John Belushi, as well as Gilda Radner and Michael O’Donoghue, who all went on to have success as original members of Saturday Night Live.
This BAFTA-nominated documentary follows the capture and captivity of an orca named Tilikum, who spent most of his life as a performing killer whale at SeaWorld Orlando, and was infamous for killing three trainers across two sea parks.
Blackfish details research around the extreme stress that orcas are placed under when they’re separated from their calves either in captivity breeding programs or when captured in the wild, which likely lead to the aggressive nature of performance orcas kept in captivity.
Following the release of the damning documentary, California passed a law to ban captive orca breeding, and SeaWorld announced it would end its breeding program and said it would phase out all entertainment-driven performances using orcas. This is a famous doco, and truly one of the best documentaries on Stan to check out if you haven’t seen it yet.
The doco that brought David Farrier (basically the Kiwi Louis Theroux) to the limelight, Tickled explores the world of competitive endurance tickling. After finding a video of the sport online – where young, athletic men are restrained by hands and feet and are tickled as long as they can withstand – Farrier reached out to the organisers to learn more.
Instead, he found that despite the sport’s homoerotic and fetish energies, the people who were running the events were run by two people who were actively homophobic towards him for requesting access.
Tickled falls down a rabbit hole of sorts, exploring the sexual fetish subculture as well as the endurance sport, as Farrier tries to figure out who’s actually running the show.
12. Hoop Dreams
Hoop Dreams follows William Gates and Arthur Agee – two African-American teens who came from poor communities in Chicago – and their recruitment into a predominantly-white school 90 minutes away with a competitive but respected basketball program.
Noted as one of the best basketball documentaries, Hoop Dreams explores the differences between their home life and school life, including the pair balancing strict training with managing new social dynamics, highlighting deep social and class division prevalent in America.
This critically-acclaimed doco was initially meant to be a 30-minute short focusing on a playground court. Once filmmakers followed Agee and Gates back to their home lives, the team wound up with over 250 hours of footage across eight years as they pursued their dreams of breaking into the professional leagues.
Is there anything wrong with wanting to watch a bunch of Labrador puppies learn how to become guide dogs? Absolutely not.
Pick Of The Litter follows a litter of five impossibly adorable pups from Guide Dogs for the Blind as they strive to become trained guide dogs.
The five dogs – Patriot, Phil, Poppet, Potomac and Primrose – are documented for the first two years of their lives and training, which either results in them becoming a working guide dog, or have a “career change” if they’re not able to pass their training.
Regardless of how they perform in training and tests, there’s no doubt: these puppies are all so damn cute this documentary will make you piss tears before the credits.
14. Planet Earth
Pretty much everyone remembers where they were when Planet Earth dropped – it’s one of the most remarkably stunning documentary series (both on Stan and in general), and was the first nature documentary to be filmed in high definition. It’s arguably one of the best documentaries on Stan, and also just in general.
Narrated by David Attenborough, some of the most breathtaking natural wonders are showcased across the 11 episodes, including the Australian outback in ‘Deserts’ and Western Australia’s bottlenose dolphins in ‘Shallow Seas’.
Planet Earth took home four Emmy Awards in 2007, and four other accolades in the same year. A decade later, the sequel series Planet Earth II premiered, becoming the first nature documentary filmed entirely in 4K high definition.
The mystery around an unidentified man – known only as D.B. Cooper – who hijacked a flight between Seattle and Portland in 1971 is one that’s plagued theorists and sleuths for decades. After collecting a ransom worth over $1.5million in today’s money and parachuting out of the plane over southwest Washington some 45 years ago, it’s still not known what happened to D.B. Cooper, or who he even is.
This doco features gorgeously-shot recreations and in-depth archival footage, as well as interviews with people who claim they know – or knew – who D.B. Cooper truly is.
16. Citizen Bio
Citizen Bio dives into the underworld of bio-hacking and radical medicines by following four hackers who exist in this realm of people all trying to extend human life. It also explores each of the hackers’ involvement with notorious trans-humanism and life extension activist Aaron Traywick leading up to his mysterious death in a sensory deprivation tank in Washington DC in 2018.
Arguably the biggest story out of Hollywood in 2017 was the fall of Harvey Weinstein as allegations of historical sexual abuse were levelled against him dating back to the 1970s. The 2019 British documentary Untouchable focuses on interviews with a selection of Weinstein’s accusers – a group that’s over 80 people strong – including Rosanna Arquette, Paz de la Huerta, and Erika Rosenbaum.
If you’ve been obsessed with the Joshua Jackson-led Dr. Death series (also on Stan, FYI) based on the hit podcast of the same name, then the documentary about the story of former neurosurgeon Dr Christopher Duntsch. In 2017, Duntsch was sentenced to life in prison after he maimed, harmed, or killed 33 of his patients, and this documentary hears the lived experience of a range of people who survived his malpractice.
There’s a whole heap of other documentaries up for watching on Stan if you’re feeling a bit over everything else. Considering we can’t quite get out and about to explore the world ourselves right now, it’s still good to know we can have an escape and still learn about what’s beyond our backyards.
But if you’d rather escape, get around the best movies on Stan right HERE instead.