Sometimes inspirational documentaries can make real-life stories feel alive and magical. The emotional impact of seeing real stories on screen makes them genuinely exhilarating, and the best documentaries can stick with you for years.
Many people find documentaries inspire them to action. They are more than just stories on a screen; they allow the audience to connect on a deeper, often emotional, level.
If you love telly documentaries and are looking to be inspired, then look no further than the list we put together here at Bob. We hope you’ll find some of the most inspiring documentaries there. Quality productions that will touch you and help you reflect on life or, perhaps, aim to make a difference in the world.
(and to make life even easier, if you click the title we’ll show you where you can watch it!)
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Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
This documentary shows the world of Jiro Ono, the 85-year-old master sushi chef. He runs a small ten-person restaurant in a Tokyo subway station but is known all over the world and has earned three Michelin stars.
This movie delves into Jiro’s constant striving for perfection and how he plans to pass this passion down to the next generation. Inspirational!
Director: David Gelb
Grizzly Man (2005)
This may be one of the best documentaries ever, or at least one of the most well-known.
Werner Herzog follows the life of Timothy Treadwell, a conservationist who lived with the grizzly bears on an Alaskan reserve for 13 summers. The documentary explores Treadwell’s love of nature and how he grew to love the bears he spent his summers with.
This story is pretty wild and shows that those who are passionate about a cause can sometimes, sadly, meet a tragic end.
Director: Werner Herzog
Paris is Burning (1990)
This film about drag queens living in New York should be required viewing.
It explores ball culture and the impact it had and still has on the world. Paris is Burning shows drag in a profound way and sheds light on the drag scene’s complex dynamics, community, and language.
Paris is Burning also touches on issues of racism and poverty. It humanizes its subjects allowing us to see into their world.
Director: Jennie Livingston
This one makes the top documentaries list for sure.
13th explores the way slavery in the United States transitioned into the systematic imprisonment of African Americans. It is an eye-opening analysis that pulls academics, politicians, and those who have been incarcerated into the spotlight to face the harsh treatment on an industrial scale.
If this film doesn’t inspire you to action, we don’t know what will!
Senna explores the life of Ayrton Senna, a famous Formula One racer from the eighties and nineties.
The film shows his passion for driving, how it drove him into a rivalry with another racer on his team named Alain Prost, and his ultimate push for higher safety standards in the sport.
It is a heartbreaking and fantastic tale of a man who would not give up on his passion. You will want to be like him!
Director: Asif Kapadia
The Cove (2009)
The Cove was a documentary that opened up many people’s eyes to the devastation of dolphins and whales at the hands of the whaling industry in Japan. Though some people have come to criticize the film over the years, it is still a well-made film that shows the importance of ocean conservation.
Many reviewers have said this film plays out like a heist or spy thriller that keeps its audience on their toes.
Director: Louie Psihoyos
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
This documentary is about arcade gaming and how competitive it can be. The main throughline of the film follows Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, two arcade enthusiasts who hold high scores on a variety of 1980s arcade games.
The rivalry between the two grows throughout the film, eventually culminating in public challenges at various tournaments.
It is a fun documentary that shows human nature and the obsession to get to the top of the ladder.
Director: Seth Gordon
Food Inc. (2008)
Robert Kenner explores farming in the United States and how it has been taken over by massive corporations who don’t seem to care about the environment.
It explores how the average person eats and what the actual cost of “cheap food” is. This film will probably inspire you to eat locally and really think about what you are putting into your body.
Director: Robert Kenner
Man on Wire (2008)
This inspirational movie is about Philippe Petit, the man who decided to wire-walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
Man on Wire uses actual footage and reenactments to show the intense planning and crew this kind of feat required. It was not simple and took months of planning.
This film explores the character study of Philippe and what it takes to pull off a stunt like this.
Director: James Marsh
Tidying Up With Marie Kondo (2019)
This Netflix documentary series does a great job of inspiring people to look at everything they have and show gratitude for it.
There is a reason this feel-good series took the world by storm. People started asking if what they bought and owned “sparked joy” and how they could implement tidying up into their everyday lives.
Watch this series and take stock of the essential things in your life.
Director: Jade Sandberg Wallis
What Inspirational Documentaries Will You Watch Next?
There are so many inspirational movies in this film genre out there to amaze and enthral. There is something about watching a real person achieve their dreams that makes this particular style of filmmaking so compelling.
What is on your ‘top documentaries of all time list? Do you prefer films to be inspirational, feel good, or do you like a tear-jerker? These are our favourite inspirational documentary movies lists but do you agree?
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