10 Best Documentaries on HBO, Ranked

Tired of superheroes and space ships? Waiting for ice zombies and dragons? Here are the 10 best documentaries on HBO to help tide you over.

HBO Beware the Slenderman Poster

Sometimes when in search of something to watch, something fictional just doesn’t cut it. Maybe it’s because the final season of Game of Thrones isn’t out yet or watching D2: The Mighty Ducks for the fourth time in a row seems somehow depressing, but there are times when a documentary might be the right answer. They can make your skin crawl or fill you with wonder as good as any movie or TV show plus, you get to learn something.

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But choosing a good documentary to settle down with for the night can be as difficult as finding the right movie or show to binge. Fortunately, we went ahead and created this list to help you out! Here are the 10 best documentaries on HBO.

10 The Crash Reel 

Before there was Shaun White, there was Kevin Pearce. The Crash Reel follows the story of a talented young snowboarder who was almost certainly going to compete in the 2010 Olympics. But a bad fall leaves him with a traumatic brain injury and in a fight for his life.

The film uses footage going back twenty years and paints a picture of not only an athlete faced with the most difficult challenge in his life, but also a kid and family. It’s as inspiring as it is heartbreaking, and even someone who isn’t into snowboarding can appreciate that.

9 Baltimore Rising

Baltimore Rising focuses on the difficult subject of police violence against black Americans. It specifically follows the eruption of protests following the death of Freddie Gray and how the city of Baltimore reacted to what happened.

The documentary focuses on several different activists from young, first-timers to more seasoned folks. But despite the difference of experience, they’re all fighting for the same cause -- to have their outrage lead to real change in U.S. law enforcement and in our society as a whole.

8 Beware the Slenderman

Beware the Slenderman Review Banner

A lot of people probably remember this story of two girls who lured their friend into the woods and them attempted to kill her. When asked why, they said they did it because of Slenderman, which essentially started off as a meme. The documentary details not on the crime and subsequent trial, but also the myth of Slenderman itself.

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Beware the Slenderman uses footage from internet videos and games to paint a picture of how Slenderman came to be. It’s a fascinating look into how the internet affects children and their actions.

7 Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief

Scientology feels like it’s always been just a thing that we make fun of Tom Cruise for. For a lot of us who don’t know much about Scientology, it’s just sort of a joke. However, Alex Gibney's masterful documentary shows the truly sinister side of this religious establishment.

Through interviewing a slew of ex-Scientologist, the film shows what really is going on behind all of those celebrity endorsements. Going Clear was a major hit for HBO, and won the Emmy for Outstanding Documentary.

6 The Case Against 8

In 2008, California voted to pass Proposition 8, a ban against gay marriage. This documentary follows the five-year court battle that followed to overturn it. Despite the fact that we all know how this ends, there’s still a sense of drama, not to mention emotion involved. It’s a fight for marriage equality, after all; emotion is a huge part of it.

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The battle may have been in the past, but the topic is still relevant even now. The documentary also shows how hard and how long these fights can be, but even when it feels hopeless, the fight is worth it.

5 Mommy Dead & Dearest

This documentary follows the wild story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who murdered her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard in 2015. The story is chilling and not just because of the murder, but the events leading up to the murder itself. It deals with a condition known as Munchausen by proxy syndrome, in which a person fakes illnesses or injury in someone under their care to garner sympathy.

The documentary is a bizarre ride into the lives of mother and child and even includes interviews with Gypsy herself. This story is also set to hit Hulu in the true crime-based anthology The Act, set to debut on March 20.

4 The Final Year

The Final Year documents the last year of President Barack Obama’s last year as the president of the United States. No matter the viewer’s politics, the documentary is a fascinating look into the inner workings of our government. The crew of The Final Year has unprecedented access to the White House and to the president and his staff.

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For anyone interested in politics and how U.S. foreign policy works, this is an important documentary. It shows the work and the people behind the decisions the government makes.

3 Tickled

The title of this documentary is misleading. It sounds like something that might be cute and funny and truth be told, it starts out as something funny. Reporter David Farrier stumbles across something called “competitive endurance tickling” and what starts off as just his attempts at finding out more turns into something much darker.

The filmmaker very much becomes part of the story as he endures the attacks from the owner of the competition. But instead of backing down, Farrier dives deeper, giving us a weird and unexpected look into this part of the internet that we never knew existed.

2 Leaving Neverland

Leaving Neverland is probably one of the most controversial documentaries to come out on HBO for a while. The film focuses on the experiences of two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who allege to have been sexually abused by Michael Jackson when they were boys. It’s an intense, deeply disturbing two-part documentary that is difficult to watch.

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But despite the subject matter being controversial, Leaving Neverland is an important film, especially in the current times. It sheds a much-needed light on the truth about abusers and why many abused children don’t speak up.

1 Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Fred Rogers in Won't You Be My Neighbor?

A lot of documentaries are more than a bit depressing. They focus on something wrong in our world and highlight it. While that can be good, sometimes, we need something uplifting and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is like the Queer Eye of documentaries. It documents the life of Fred Rogers, known as Mr. Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He’s so very good and pure and the documentary shows just how much he cared about children and their well-being.

It’s not dramatic or intense in any way, but it’s still a wonderful documentary. It shows what type of person this man truly was and how he influenced so many people’s lives through his show.

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