They might not pack the theaters like the latest rom-coms or action-adventure blockbusters, but contrary to widely held belief, documentaries are not all snoozefests.
In fact, a documentary can be every bit as gripping as a mystery thriller, as funny as a slapstick comedy and as touching as a romantic drama. Don’t believe us? Check out one of these 10 great documentaries that are available for streaming, on-demand or rental, and you just might move the rest to the top of your queue.
World-renowned magician “The Amazing” Randi made a career on illusion, fictional characters and deception while following in Houdini’s footsteps. He later undertook a fervent quest, exposing faith healers and psychics as con artists. This exciting documentary features interviews and commentary by “Mythbusters” star Adam Savage, rocker Alice Cooper and other magicians and illusionists.
Ever wonder where your favorite Chinese food originated? This documentary deep dives into the history of a Chinese menu staple: General Tso’s Chicken. The filmmakers use food to take you on a journey through the immigrant experience. The oddest thing about the “classic” dish: Everyone makes it differently. Sometimes it’s even spelled differently. Pro tip: Don’t watch on an empty stomach or you’ll be starving mid-way.
If you’ve ever been to downtown Chicago and seen a man standing on a bridge in a brightly colored suit, that is Vincent P. Falk. He’s known for dancing in outlandishly colored outfits for the tour boats as they come down the Chicago River. Many Chicagoans are aware of his existence, but don’t know anything else about him. This film sheds a bit of light onto the man people call “Fashion Man.”
A dream come true for “Harry Potter” fans who long to jump on a broom and fly around a pitch, Quidditch has flown out of the pages of J.K. Rowling’s book and into real life as a full-contact, co-ed sport that is a mix of soccer, dodgeball and rugby. Oh yeah, players also tend to play one-handed since they are required to have a broom between their legs. This documentary follows the UCLA team on their journey to the 2011 Quidditch World Cup.
Roger Ebert was a Chicago icon. “Life Itself” looks back at his legacy and also gives an intimate view into the last four months of his life. If you love movies and admired Siskel and Ebert at all, this is a must-see film.
No matter the size of the restaurant, it takes a great chef and support system to make it work. There is so much that can go wrong: A chef loses his sense of taste; a fire destroys a location; there’s a lack of financial security. This film features the trials, tribulations and successes of three restaurants. Chicago chef and restaurateur Grant Achatz along with his restaurant Alinea are highlighted throughout.
This 30 for 30 production by ESPN recaps the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan scandal and features brand new interviews with both athletes. Get the back story on what happened before the 1994 Olympic Games and what the two are up to currently. Spoiler: Some of the most burning questions, like did Harding really know the plan, still aren’t answered conclusively.
“What do you do when you’re a full-grown man in a boy band?” The Backstreet Boys were once one of the biggest bands in the world. This documentary delves into the personal history of the group, whose diehard fans (if they’re still out there) will know that they are actually still touring and recording. Particularly interesting is the story of their creator, who is currently in the midst of a long jail sentence.
What goes into the creation of a brand new ballet? A young choreographer and dancer at the New York City ballet lets the cameras in to see his process. Learn how Justin Peck builds his ballet from the dancers to the lighting to costumes in this gorgeous behind-the-scenes tale.
Viewers know the voices of these actors, but you might not know their faces. Actually, it gets pretty weird seeing voice actors talking in the voices of their characters. Get a glimpse into their thought process and what it takes to be known for your voice.
This is a documentary-style TV show. But if you ever wondered how the 50 states that comprise the United States came to be, this show addresses many questions you might never have thought to ask.
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