11 Inspiring New Documentaries You Should Stream RN

Press play to a new perspective.

By Isabelle Eyman

There’s nothing like a good book to transport you to past times, take you to different places, and immerse you in new contexts. But in lieu of literature, films, for me, have the power to do exactly the same—with the benefit of a visual and audio component added, of course. And while I love a good narrative and can’t get enough of an addictive plot (I see you, Normal People), there’s really nothing better than wrapping up a movie or series and stepping away with transformative knowledge you can’t wait to share. Sound good? I thought so, and that’s exactly why I’ve rounded up the 11 best new documentaries that Netflix, Hulu, and all our fave streaming platforms have to offer.

While spring is a season of getting outdoors, stepping into the sunshine, and gathering with loved ones any chance you can, it’s also a time to refresh your perspective and reinvigorate your lust for life. There are plenty of ways to do this, but one of my favorites is indulging my inner life-long learner. So if you find yourself with a rainy spring day or without plans on a Friday evening, try pressing play to one of the titles below. Conversation-starting inspo awaits.

Feature image by Teal Thomsen.

Keep scrolling for the best new documentaries to watch this spring, summer, and beyond.

White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch

If you’re in need of a bit of nostalgia, here’s the documentary for you. Having come of age in the early 2000s, I’m well-versed in the mall culture of the time, and there was nothing more representative of it than the ubiquitous Abercrombie & Fitch stores of the era. Jokes and memories I’d rather not relive aside, this documentary explores how the influential brand dominated not only the apparel realm but really all of pop culture at the time. It takes a deep dive into how Abercrombie & Fitch built a brand based not only on selling perceived “hotness,” but exclusivity and a narrowed and harmful representation of American culture. If you love a good cultural exposé, first off, same. Second? You need to watch White Hot immediately.

Available on: Netflix

Phoenix Rising

As an Emmy-nominated actress, model, and singer, Evan Rachel Wood’s work is beyond impressive. But as an activist speaking out against domestic violence and abuse, Wood offers a voice that needs to be heard. This two-part documentary shines a spotlight on her three-year relationship with rock star Brian Warner (Marilyn Manson) and the alleged abuse she suffered. As a survivor, Wood is adamant in lobbying the passage of The Phoenix Act—“legislation that extends the statute of limitations for domestic violence cases in California.” With courage, passion, bravery, and heart, Wood is pursuing support and justice for fellow survivors, and offering a strong foundation of solidarity.

Available on: HBO Max

This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist

Having grown up in New England, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has always been one of my favorites. I love looking up through the impressively vast atrium and turning every corner to be met with portraits, pieces, and parts of the collection that leave me in awe. That’s why when Netflix released this four-part docuseries tracking the notorious 1990 art heist, I dropped everything and watched.

With intrigue, scandal, and a true-crime spin at the center of this story, prepare to be fascinated (and to follow up your viewing with countless internet deep-dives). How does $500 million of art go missing without a trace? Watch and find out.

Available on: Netflix

Moby Doc

As an animal rights activist and electronic musician revolutionizing the genre, Moby is the ultimate multi-hyphenate. He narrates this surrealist, biographical documentary, taking viewers through his not-without-challenge life and the many ups and downs of his music career. Admittedly, I knew nothing of Moby’s work before coming across this documentary, but don’t let that stop you from diving in. “Moby Doc” tells the powerful story of a man who transformed from a struggling addict to a vegan activist, and shows how childhood trauma can shape us and influence the person we are today. It’s introspective, awe-inspiring, and perspective-shifting—in other words, everything the best documentaries should be.

Available on: Hulu

Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art

Clearly, crimes surrounding art are on my watchlist and are catching the streaming eyes of platforms everywhere. This documentary centers on the most successful forgery scam ever to hit the American high-end art world. A brief summary sure to intrigue: An under-the-radar couple enters the art scene with an impressive collection of art… fake art. Pieces from the collection were sold to the Knoedler Gallery (the oldest gallery in New York), trickling out to the art world elite. With $80 million of con money on the line, this is a fast-paced, fascinating documentary that’ll be talked about for years.

Available on: Netflix

FYRE: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

Okay, 2019 isn’t exactly new, but if you haven’t seen the film yet, this unbelievable (though well-documented) story of hype and subsequent failure is one to be consumed as fast as you can. And while I’m sure you’ve been briefed on the basics, this documentary takes a deeper, more considered look at the true victims of the disastrous festival. Hint: It wasn’t the influencers who didn’t get the once-in-a-lifetime experience they were promised. Instead, it was the local Bahamian people who built the site, had food at the ready, and were organizing to make entrepreneur Billy McFarland’s con come to life. The documentary provides an important commentary on hubris, privilege, and social media’s power to make us blindly trust the unbelievable.

Available on: Netflix

Fantastic Fungi

This film is for all the fans of nature films out there and even those who are just coming around to the genre. And while mushrooms are starting to get the attention they’ve always deserved, a more comprehensive, over-arching look at fungi’s true magic was missing until now. Fantastic Fungi takes viewers on a truly immersive journey, spanning the development of the mycelium world. Guaranteed it’ll surprise you how much you’ll love—and be transformed by—this film.

Available on: Amazon Prime

Beanie Mania

When it comes to my relationship to inanimate objects, the cuter and cuddlier, the better. Clearly, that’s the case for many, but what was it about Beanie Babies that garnered such interest and widespread cultural obsession? Beanie Mania looks at the, admittedly odd, moment in recent history (I’m talking late 90s) when it seemed everyone needed not one nor two Beanie Babies, but closets and garages full of the soft, small creatures. This documentary dives into the company’s fascinating origin story and provides a look into how even the most surprising trends can gain traction and dominate the culture.

Available on: HBO Max

The Tinder Swindler

During my nightly Netflix scroll, this title immediately caught my interest (thankfully putting an end to the browsing that can last an hour or more). In a world where online dating has become the norm, the possibility of coming across a catfish or being the victim of any level of deceit is a small, but persistent thought in the back of our minds. Well, needless to say, The Tinder Swindler didn’t do anything to quell those anxieties. Shimon Hayut, the real-life “Tinder Swindler” conned multiple women out of a combined $10 million. The film takes a detailed look at his history of scamming—and shares the shocking story of how he lived the luxe life while defrauding countless women through the app. Oh, and if you aren’t convinced yet, know that The Tinder Swindler is now Netflix’s most-watched documentary. Join the millions.

Available on: Netflix

My Octopus Teacher

Throughout my life, I’ve had cats, dogs, and yes, even hamsters that I’ve considered close friends. I’m sure you can relate, and it’s perhaps that common experience that’s allowed My Octopus Teacher to resonate as it has. The documentary follows the year filmmaker Craig Foster spent befriending a wild octopus in South Africa. What began as a free-diving adventure became an intimate relationship forged between a human and animal. Throughout the film, Foster reflects upon all that he learned from the octopus, and the lessons he’s garnered in how we relate to nature and the true, undeniable fragility of our lives.

Available on: Netflix

Life Of Crime 1984-2020

Life of Crime 1984-2020 is the third in a trilogy of films that director Jon Alpert spent 36 years creating. Following One Year in a Life of Crime (1989) and Life of Crime 2 (1998), documentaries that put a spotlight on the lives of three people afflicted by addiction and crime in Newark, New Jersey, the third and final part of the series gives a raw, intimate look into their journey between prison and rehab and the small promises of change woven throughout. It’s hard to watch at times, but the film provides a window into a world that afflicts countless individuals, and will leave you with a newfound sense of empathy for everyone’s experience and story.

Available on: HBO Max