HBO has been cultivating the creation of world-class docu-series and documentaries for years, and it’s only gotten better with time. From true crime to social justice to exposes, HBO has produced some of the most culturally relevant non-fiction of the twenty-first century.
Now HBO Max users have got access to all of it, as well as many docu-series and documentaries produced for HBO Max and WarnerMedia’s other brands (e.g., CNN, TNT) that don’t carry the prestigious HBO Documentary Films banner.
HBO Max has an incredible selection of films, and its documentary library alone contains enough gems to keep you entertained for hours. We’ve filtered through HBO Max’s hundreds of documentaries to find the ones you absolutely must-see.
In terms of subject matter and form, these films demonstrate the documentary genre’s versatility. They’ll immerse you in high school basketball, spelling bees, concerts, and racial justice battles, among other things.
You will find the list of the best documentaries ever to watch on HBO Max below. Read out the storyline of each documentary.
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1. Class Action Park
Cannonball Loop and the Alpine Slide were among the attractions. It was constructed by former Gene Mulvihill (Wall Street tycoon) at this New Jersey amusement & water park. It was also badly managed, resulting in numerous injuries and deaths. From the park’s insane rides to Mulvihill’s shady tactics for keeping his venture afloat, Class Action Park reveals just how insane the story behind Action Park was.
Class Action Park keeps things light and funny with a mix of fun animation and interviews with comedians who grew up going to Action Park. When discussing the park’s fatalities, however, it maintains the appropriate level of seriousness and restraint.
Overall, Class Action Park is a wild documentary about a truly wild place; come for the descriptions of the insane rides, stay for the nuanced exploration of nostalgia and childhood in the 1980s. — Entertainment Fellow Belen Edwards.
2. Everything Is Copy
Everything Is Copy, from HBO Films, is the best kind of love letter: one that is effusive in its admiration for its subject, but also candid about her flaws and flaws. Nora Ephron, known to us as the writer and filmmaker behind films like Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and Julie & Julia, and to Bernstein as his mother, is profiled by journalist Jacob Bernstein.
Interviews with family members and famous friends (including Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and Mike Nichols), as well as archival interviews and excerpts from Ephron’s own work, paint a portrait of a brilliant and ambitious spirit who lived by the motto stated in the title: “Everything is Copy,” which means that anything that happens in life can be used as fodder for a story later on.
Though Bernstein’s documentary isn’t a direct copy of Ephron’s work, its warmth, candor, and humor make it a fitting tribute to the icon she was. — Deputy Entertainment Editor Angie Han
3. Gimme Shelter
Gimme Shelter was conceived as a behind-the-scenes account of the Rolling Stones’ legendary 1969 U.S. tour, but the circumstances that unfolded around it ultimately transformed it.
While the film covers various aspects of the UK band’s cross-country tour, its historical significance is best demonstrated by its on-the-ground account of the infamous Altamont Free Concert in 1970 and the events leading up to it.
California’s Attempt to replicate Woodstock’s success took the form of a massive free concert held at the Altamont Speedway in 1969, which drew around 300,000 people. The event’s security was provided by the Hells Angels motorcycle club, which proved to be a poor decision that resulted in a stabbing during the Stones’ performance.
Albert and David Maysles, as well as Charlotte Zwerin, led the filmmaking team that captured it all, and the result is Gimme Shelter, a triumph of the cinéma vérité movement. — Senior Entertainment Reporter Adam Rosenberg
4. Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland
Sandra Bland, 28, was arrested for a traffic violation and found hanged in her jail cell days later, kicking off a two-year legal battle. Filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner chronicle the family’s legal battles while also sharing Bland’s own video blogs and activism history.
Despite the fact that her death was ruled a suicide, it is still shrouded in mystery and the unavoidable fact that it cannot be reversed. P.K. is a writer who lives in the United States.
Over the course of five years, director Sharon Liese documents the lives of Phoenix, Leena, Avery, and Jay, 4 transgender children, & teenagers residing in Kansas City. It’s a moving portrait of its subjects’ childhoods and transitions, who were 4, 7, 12, and 15 at the time of filming.
Transhood is intimate but never intrusive, with a caring and understanding eye on its subjects. We get to know Phoenix, Avery, Jay, and Leena, as well as their parents, through consultations about gender-affirming treatments and interactions with friends. Their parents’ support and sacrifices fuel some of the film’s most emotional moments.
Phoenix, Jay, Avery, and Leena aren’t held up as monoliths of the trans experience by Transhood. Rather, it highlights the similarities and differences between their journeys, as well as the beauty in their transitions, all while inspiring compassion and empathy. B.E., B.E., B.E., B.E.
6. A Dangerous Son
Liz Garbus is the most skilled, prolific, and versatile documentary movie makers working to date, with countless HBO partnerships under her belt, including the true-crime film There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane (2011) and the docuseries I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (2020), both of which are currently available on HBO Max.
She tackles the timely issue of kids with fierce emotional and mental illness while separately profiling 3 struggling families in the important and deeply concerning feature A Dangerous Son, which is difficult to watch at times.
Garbus’ emotional, character-driven film serves as an alarming expose and another achievement in dramatic nonfiction storytelling for the director, providing an alternative focus on the growing problem of school violence (in contrast to the greater prevalence of gun-control-focused docs).