10 Mind-Blowing Documentaries You Have To See

1. The Woman Who Wasn’t There

Tania Head’s 9/11 story shook the world. She was in the World Trade Center the moment the first plane hit. She walked down 78 floors. Her husband Dave died at Ground Zero.  After surviving, her involvement as a founding member of the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network helped her conquer her grief and trauma.

Tania never told anyone her husband’s last name, but she told the story of their wedding in Hawaii, the moment they met. She’d bring a toy yellow taxi to his memorial. People mourned with her. An entire nation held on to Tania’s account of 9/11. Now comes the mind-blowing part. It was all lies. Why? Watch this documentary on Netflix.

2. The Imposter

Nicholas Barclay went missing from San Antonio, Texas, at the age of 13. The community looked for him. He had just $5 on him when he left, and as the days turned into weeks and months, everyone feared the worst. Months later, his uncle Jason reported that he saw him attempting to break into the family home. The police were certain, after a search, that Jason hadn’t seen Nicholas, and were wondering if he had something to hide. But in the face of no leads and no evidence, this was a slow search for Nicholas.

Three years later. Nicholas was found, in Madrid. But he wasn’t really Nicholas. He was Frédéric Bourdin, a mixed-race Parisian who was 23, not 16. Strangely enough, despite having brown eyes, stubble, and dyed blonde hair, despite missing the little tattoos Nicholas had, despite having a French accent, the family welcomed him with open arms. The documentary is fascinating, particularly as Frédéric insists the family knew he wasn’t Nicholas all along.

2. The Imposter

Nicholas Barclay went missing from San Antonio, Texas, at the age of 13. The community looked for him. He had just $5 on him when he left, and as the days turned into weeks and months, everyone feared the worst. Months later, his uncle Jason reported that he saw him attempting to break into the family home. The police were certain, after a search, that Jason hadn’t seen Nicholas, and were wondering if he had something to hide. But in the face of no leads and no evidence, this was a slow search for Nicholas.

Three years later. Nicholas was found, in Madrid. But he wasn’t really Nicholas. He was Frédéric Bourdin, a mixed-race Parisian who was 23, not 16. Strangely enough, despite having brown eyes, stubble, and dyed blonde hair, despite missing the little tattoos Nicholas had, despite having a French accent, the family welcomed him with open arms. The documentary is fascinating, particularly as Frédéric insists the family knew he wasn’t Nicholas all along.

3. Dear Zachary

Andrew Bagby was killed by his ex-girlfriend, Shirley Turner. After his death, she announced she was pregnant with Andrew’s baby. Amidst their grief, Kurt Kuenne, a close friend of Andrew’s decided to make a cinematic scrapbook for Andrew’s son Zachary.

Watch this documentary with a box of tissues to hand. There’s an awful turn towards the end of this documentary. Shirley kills Zachary by putting pills into his food and jumps into the Atlantic Ocean with him strapped to her chest. It is seriously devastating viewing but it raises important questions about mental health, the justice system, and parental obligations.

4. The Staircase

December 2001. Novelist Michael Peterson makes an alarming 911 call regarding his wife Kathleen. She’d fallen down the stairs and died, after a night of heavy drinking. Police don’t believe his story, and believe, instead, that he attacked her with the fireplace poker which was missing from the house.

Peterson was soon charged with murder. But this documentary starts shortly after Kathleen’s death. The truly mind-blowing part is the twists and turns of the case, the revelation that a family friend, Elizabeth Ratliff had already died after ‘falling down the stairs’.

Michael adopted Elizabeth’s two daughters who appear in the documentary defending Michael and still stand by him, despite the fact that after a re-examination of Elizabeth’s body, it was found that she had been beaten to death. There’s also a theory that she was attacked by an owl, based on a tiny microscopic feather found in her hair, definitely one for the armchair detectives.

4. The Staircase

December 2001. Novelist Michael Peterson makes an alarming 911 call regarding his wife Kathleen. She’d fallen down the stairs and died, after a night of heavy drinking. Police don’t believe his story, and believe, instead, that he attacked her with the fireplace poker which was missing from the house.

Peterson was soon charged with murder. But this documentary starts shortly after Kathleen’s death. The truly mind-blowing part is the twists and turns of the case, the revelation that a family friend, Elizabeth Ratliff had already died after ‘falling down the stairs’.

Michael adopted Elizabeth’s two daughters who appear in the documentary defending Michael and still stand by him, despite the fact that after a re-examination of Elizabeth’s body, it was found that she had been beaten to death. There’s also a theory that she was attacked by an owl, based on a tiny microscopic feather found in her hair, definitely one for the armchair detectives.

5. Making A Murderer

One of the most famous true crime documentaries of the past few years, Making A Murderer is back. The first season focused on Steven Avery, who had wrongfully been convicted of sexual assault and attempted murder. He was exonerated by DNA testing and released, only to be convicted in another murder case two years later.

This season, more evidence, more explosive revelations, and more confusion is coming. You’ll be sure that he did it one second, and then decide that he couldn’t have the next. You’ll have your own line of suspects lined up after watching this one.

6. Crazy Love

This truly is a crazy story. Linda Riss was 20, dark-haired, and with the world ahead of her when 32-year-old lawyer Burt Pugach met her. He pursued her relentlessly. She was tired of waiting for him to divorce his wife and called it off. He found out she had moved on and hired three men to throw lye in her face, permanently blinding her.

He went to jail for it.

He still pursued her, even from jail. He would write to her and convinced her to go and see him. When he was released, she married him. She stayed with him until her death in 2013. Crazy love…right?

6. Crazy Love

This truly is a crazy story. Linda Riss was 20, dark-haired, and with the world ahead of her when 32-year-old lawyer Burt Pugach met her. He pursued her relentlessly. She was tired of waiting for him to divorce his wife and called it off. He found out she had moved on and hired three men to throw lye in her face, permanently blinding her.

He went to jail for it.

He still pursued her, even from jail. He would write to her and convinced her to go and see him. When he was released, she married him. She stayed with him until her death in 2013. Crazy love…right?

7. The Keepers

The question at the heart of this documentary is who killed Sister Cathy? An English and drama teacher at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School who suspected that a priest at the school was guilty of sexual abuse of students. She went out to buy an engagement gift for her sister and never returned.

After her death, allegations of the abuse and torment the students had faced came out, with one former student alleging that the priest in question took her to Cathy’s body and said “You see what happens when you say bad things about people.”

8. Icarus

In the wake of the Lance Armstrong scandal, Bryan Fogel set out to prove how easy it was to evade cycling’s testing system by competing in a race while chemically enhanced. The idea behind the documentary was simple, boost his best time, pass all of the tests and show the flaws in the system in documentary form.

However, to help him along he needed some experts. And one of those experts he met along the way was Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Moscow’s Anti-Doping Centre. Unbeknownst to Bryan, his documentary gold had just landed in his lap. Rodchenkov helped Fogel cheat the system, smuggling urine through airport security and coaching him on the ways athletes at the Sochi Winter Olympics had enhanced their performances. Basically, on film Rodchenkov was doing all things you wouldn’t expect the director of an Anti-Doping Centre to do.

Rodchenkov was eventually named in the World Anti-Doping Associations report on Russian state-sponsored doping. Fogel’s documentary became a front row seat on one of the biggest sporting scandals in decades, which makes this compelling viewing, and a little bit mind-blowing – too.

8. Icarus

In the wake of the Lance Armstrong scandal, Bryan Fogel set out to prove how easy it was to evade cycling’s testing system by competing in a race while chemically enhanced. The idea behind the documentary was simple, boost his best time, pass all of the tests and show the flaws in the system in documentary form.

However, to help him along he needed some experts. And one of those experts he met along the way was Grigory Rodchenkov, the director of Moscow’s Anti-Doping Centre. Unbeknownst to Bryan, his documentary gold had just landed in his lap. Rodchenkov helped Fogel cheat the system, smuggling urine through airport security and coaching him on the ways athletes at the Sochi Winter Olympics had enhanced their performances. Basically, on film Rodchenkov was doing all things you wouldn’t expect the director of an Anti-Doping Centre to do.

Rodchenkov was eventually named in the World Anti-Doping Associations report on Russian state-sponsored doping. Fogel’s documentary became a front row seat on one of the biggest sporting scandals in decades, which makes this compelling viewing, and a little bit mind-blowing – too.

9. Evil Genius

On 28th August 2003, Brian Wells walked into a bank in Pennsylvania, he was carrying a cane fitted with a gun and had a bomb around his neck. The note he slid to the cashier instructed him to get $250,000.

The police intercepted him and, despite Brian’s pleas and bargaining, the bomb went off shortly after he robbed the bank. But this is not an open and shut case, for it was soon discovered that Brian had a series of scavenger hunt style tasks to complete in order to remove the bomb from his neck and free himself. He was not in charge of what happened. Next, a call comes in, a man declares there’s a body in his freezer, he knows who murdered him, and he’s turning all the information over to the police.

The two things are interlinked, it turns out, and police are in for a ride that’s stranger than fiction once they start unraveling this case, and the culprits behind it.

10. Rotten

Everybody should watch this documentary. While it can be comforting to turn a blind eye to the food you eat, start by watching this and educate yourself on the truth behind some of your favorite foods. From honey to peanuts, there are some uncomfortable truths about the food we eat.

This documentary is mind-blowing because it forces you to think about where things have been made, processed, and what they’ve been treated with. Do you really know the entire journey of your food before it lands on your table? We all know that the food industry has some uncomfortable secrets (everyone knows the pink slime story!) but seeing some of them in documentary form is shocking.

10. Rotten

Everybody should watch this documentary. While it can be comforting to turn a blind eye to the food you eat, start by watching this and educate yourself on the truth behind some of your favorite foods. From honey to peanuts, there are some uncomfortable truths about the food we eat.

This documentary is mind-blowing because it forces you to think about where things have been made, processed, and what they’ve been treated with. Do you really know the entire journey of your food before it lands on your table? We all know that the food industry has some uncomfortable secrets (everyone knows the pink slime story!) but seeing some of them in documentary form is shocking.

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Beth Macdonald

Managing Editor

Managing editor, content marketer, copywriter, and researcher. I write about self-development and time-management and believe that anything's possible with hard work and a plan.

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