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The Best Documentaries on HBO Right Now (July 2022)

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  • Posted on 20th Jul, 2022 21:36 PM

The best HBO documentaries include Between the World and Me, American Utopia, and John Lewis: Good Trouble.

HBO is best known for its fantastic original programming and first-run movies, but it also has a ton of great documentaries, and you can watch them all on HBO Max.

These documentaries teach us about the world and the human condition, open up windows on celebrities we never thought we'd get, and help illuminate some of the most pressing issues of our time. If you're just starting to get into documentaries, or you're not sure where to look next, we've compiled the best HBO has to offer for your convenience and edification.

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The Janes (2022): An Empowering and Timely History Lesson


IMDb rating: 6.6/10

Starring: Heather Booth, Judith Arcana, Marie Leaner

Director: Tia Lessin, Emma Pildes

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Prior to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, an underground network of women who all went by the pseudonym “Jane” assisted in thousands of illegal abortions. The infamous Jane network was uncovered in 1972 with the arrest of seven women in Chicago, but the whole story has only recently come to light.

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Tina (2021): Simply the Best


IMDb rating: 9.2/10

Starring: Tina Turner, Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey

Director: Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 58 minutes

This new HBO documentary offers a fresh look at music icon Tina Turner. It charts her early rise to fame, her struggles, and her return to household name status in the 1980s thanks to her album Private Dancer, an appearance in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and more. The film includes never-before-seen footage, audiotapes, photos, and interviews with celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Angela Bassett (who memorably portrayed Turner in the 1993 biopic What's Love Got to Do With It?).

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Hard Knocks '21: Dallas Cowboys (2021)—An In-Depth Look at 'America's Team'

Tom Pennington / Getty Images

IMDb rating: 8.5/10

Starring: Liev Schreiber, The Dallas Cowboys

Director: Shannon Furman

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 5

The latest season in the Hard Knocks documentary series takes a look at "America's Team," the Dallas Cowboys. They failed to make it to the playoffs for the second consecutive year in 2020 after losing to the New York Giants in week 17. Narrated by actor Liev Schreiber, the season follows the five-time Super Bowl champs during training camp and the preseason. Avid sports fans, and Cowboys fans in particular, will enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at the NFL.

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Navalny (2022): A Timely Biography About Anti-Authoritarianism


IMDb rating: 6.7/10

Starring: Alexei Navalny, Yulia Navalnaya, Dasha Navalnaya

Director: Daniel Roher

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hour, 38 minutes

What's it like being the primary political opposition to one of the world's most notorious dictators? Well, it's certainly not an easy life. This documentary candidly examines the trials of Russian politician Alexei Navalny.

Far from a fluff piece, Navalny focuses less on the man himself and more on what happens to him because of his activism. It's sad, but also inspiring.

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Spring Awakening: Those You've Known (2022)—Coming of Age Again


IMDb rating: 8.3/10

Starring: Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, John Gallagher Jr.

Director: Michael John Warren

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 1

If you missed Spring Awakening on Broadway, you can now watch it with the original cast from the comfort of your couch. They're a little older, but the songs are still timeless.

Based on a 19th-century German play, Spring Awakening pushed the boundaries of what's appropriate in coming-of-age narratives. Those You've Known documents the production of the one-night-only reunion concert in November 2021, from rehearsals to the actual live performance.

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John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020)—A Tribute to an Inspiring Activist

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IMDb rating: 7.1/10

Starring: Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 

Director: Dawn Porter

Rating: PG

Runtime: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Good Trouble is a look at the life and activism of the late Congressman John Lewis, a prominent figure in the United States' Civil Rights movement. During his lifetime, he participated in thousands of protests, was arrested more than 40 times, and spent three decades as representative of Georgia's 5th congressional district. This portrait of his life is timely given America's current socio-political climate, and some of the archival footage is moving, especially when you consider how much of Lewis' work remains unfinished.

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Tony Hawk: Until the Wheels Fall Off (2022): A Tribute to a Sports Legend


IMDb rating: 8.2/10

Starring: Tony Hawk, Stacy Peralta, Rodney Mullen

Director: Sam Jones

Rating: TV-MA

Episodes: 1

Tony Hawk is 53 years old, but he's still skateboarding. Through original interviews and archival footage, Until the Wheels Fall Off pays tribute to the most famous skateboarder in the world.

This movie was made for fans of Tony Hawk who may be interested in his personal life, but Hawk's story could inspire anyone to pick up a skateboard.

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15 Minutes of Shame (2021): Exploring the Behavior Behind Cyberbullying

Time Mason / Getty Images

IMDb rating: 6.7/10

Genre: Documentary

Starring: Max Joseph, Monica Lewinsky

Director: Max Joseph

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Cyberbullying has become a major problem in recent decades, and this documentary film seeks to examine the social behavior behind it. The filmmakers embed themselves with individuals who've faced public shaming or cyber-harassment, while also taking a look at the bullies themselves, including politicians and the media.

15 Minutes of Shame is about one of the most pressing and unaddressed issues of modern life, brought to you by the people who know it best.

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Beanie Mania (2022): Best Beanie Baby Exposé


IMDb rating: 6.4/10

Starring: Colleen Ballinger, Lina Trivedi

Director: Yemisi Brookes

Rating: TV-PG

Episodes: 1

Remember Beanie Babies? They're those little stuffed animals that you now see in the bargain bin of your local thrift store. But back in the 90s, they sold for hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars. What happened?

To this day, very few people understand the Beanie Baby craze, and all of those people are interviewed in this documentary.

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The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971): An Important Look at the Death of a Civil Rights Activist

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IMDb rating: 7.6/10

Starring: Skip Andrew, Edward Carmody, James Davis 

Director: Howard Alk

Rating: NR

Runtime: 1 hour, 28 minutes

The 2021 drama Judas and the Black Messiah helped bring new awareness to the tragic death of civil rights activist and Illinois Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton. Now, HBO is releasing this 1970s documentary, which investigated his death shortly after it happened. The filmmakers went to Hampton's apartment, where he was shot in a police raid, and recorded footage of the scene before it was secured by law enforcement. They later used the recordings to dispute news reports and police testimony about what happened that day. Last year, the documentary was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and is now being preserved by the United States National Film Registry.

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The Forever Prisoner (2021): The Story of Abu Zubaydah


IMDb rating: 7.3/10

Starring:  Stephen Gaudin, Chantell Higgins, Daniel Jones

Director: Alex Gibney

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 59 minutes

This new documentary from director Alex Gibney (The Crime of the Century, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley) examines the story of Abu Zubaydah, the first person subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques following 9/11. Those techniques were later deemed torture by others outside the agency.

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Phoenix Rising (2022): Bravest 'Me Too' Documentary


IMDb rating: 7.0

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Sara Wood, Illma Gore

Director: Amy J. Berg

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 2 hours, 35 minutes

In this two-part documentary, actor Evan Rachel Wood candidly recounts her early days in the entertainment industry, including the abuse she experienced off camera.

Phoenix Rising is uncomfortable to watch sometimes, but it's ultimately an inspirational story about healing and perseverance.

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Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes (2021)—A Showcase of Ronan Farrow's Pulitzer-Winning Journalism

Getty Images 

IMDb rating: 7.2/10

Starring: Ronan Farrow, Ken Auletta, Fabio Bertoni

Director: Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato

Rating: TV-14

Episodes: 6

This six-part documentary series is based on Ronan Farrow's bestselling book and podcast Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies and A Conspiracy to Protect Predators. The Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist helped expose Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein as a sexual predator in 2017. Catch and Kill is his account of that investigation and the intimidation he received from high-priced lawyers and other operatives of the wealthy and powerful people who wanted the story to remain silent.

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The Crime of the Century (2021): A Sobering Look at America's Drug Epidemic and Those Responsible

Owaki / Kulla / Getty Images 

IMDb rating: 8.2/10

Starring: Lenny Bernstein, Roy Bosley, Alec Burlakoff 

Director: Alex Gibney

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 53 minutes

Nearly 841,000 Americans died from a drug overdose between 1999 and 2019, according to the CDC. Opiate abuse is a serious problem in the country, and this two-part documentary turns a critical eye toward Big Pharma and the corrupt system that allows it to overproduce drugs and distribute them recklessly. With the help of leaked documents, whistleblowers, interviews with opioid addicts, and more, the series puts forth the argument that drug companies largely helped create an epidemic it's also profiting from while costing Americans thousands of lives.

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The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (2020)—An Iconic '60s Musical Trio


IMDb rating: 8.2/10

Starring: Barry Gibb

Director: Frank Marshall 

Rating: TV-MA

Runtime: 1 hour, 51 minutes

This documentary chronicles the lives of the 1960s musical trio The Bee Gees. The three brothers, Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, wrote over 1,000 songs during their career. They had 20 No. 1 hits. Their biggest tune, "Stayin' Alive," was immortalized in pop culture thanks to the film Saturday Night Fever, actor John Travolta, and a flashy white suit. The documentary interviews Barry Gibb and features archival footage of Robin and Maurice. There's also never-before-seen concert performances, home videos, and interviews with a variety of notable musicians.

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Between the World and Me (2020): An Adaptation of the Critically-Acclaimed Book


IMDb rating: 7.4/10

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Angela Bassett, Courtney B. Vance

Director: Kamilah Forbes

Rating: TV-14

Runtime: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Between the World and Me is based on the critically-acclaimed best-selling book from Ta-Nehisi Coates. Written as a letter from Coates to his teenage son, it's a raw recounting of Coates' life and a sobering look at racial inequality in America. This film adaptation combines animation, archival footage, and appearances by Coates, Mahershala Ali, Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey, and many more. It's just as pointed as its source material, and just as relevant in America's current socio-political landscape.

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The World of Jacques Demy (1995): A Celebration of a French Filmmaker


IMDb rating: 7.4/10

Starring: Anouk Aimée, Richard Berry, Nino Castelnuovo

Director: Agnès Varda

Rating: TV-PG

Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Filmmaker Jacques Demy was part of the controversial French New Wave movement in the mid-1900s. By combining disparate genres from all around the world, Demy gained international fame thanks to musicals like The Young Girls of Rochefort.

Directed by his wife Agnès Varda, The World of Jacques Demy is a love letter to its subject. Through clips and behind-the-scenes interviews, the film provides a comprehensive survey of Demy's career for those unfamiliar with his work.

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