Politics, Music, and the Depths of the Ocean: The Best Documentaries of 2023

Best Documentaries 2023

In the ever-evolving landscape of documentary filmmaking, 2023 has seen the release of many compelling, thought-provoking, and just plain entertaining documentaries.

From riveting exposés on societal issues, like All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, to intimate character portraits, like Pamela: A Love Story and Sly; and explorations of history like Stamped From the Beginning, the cinematic landscape has been enriched.

As the year nears its end, it’s time to look back, and to highlight and celebrate the best documentaries of 2023.

With a wide array of subjects, the list ahead is a curated guide to the most impactful and resonant films that have graced our screens, both big and small, throughout the year.

The Best Documentaries of 2023

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Directed by: Laura Poitras
Starring: Nan Goldin, David Velasco, Megan Kapler
Synopsis: Follows the life of artist Nan Goldin and the downfall of the Sackler family, the pharmaceutical dynasty who was greatly responsible for the opioid epidemic’s unfathomable death toll.
Where to watch: Rent on Prime Video

If you liked Dopesick or Painkiller, then All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is an unmissable documentary to add to your watch-list. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2023 Academy Awards, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is an unflinching, unrelenting, and confronting look at the opioid crisis through the lens of Nan Goldin and her work.

American Symphony

Directed by: Matthew Heineman
Synopsis: In this deeply intimate documentary, musician Jon Batiste attempts to compose a symphony as his wife, writer Suleika Jaouad, undergoes cancer treatment.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

An emotional, engaging film about how music brings us together, even through life’s hardest times. A must-see for anyone who values the power of art, even for those unfamiliar with Batiste’s work.

Beyond Utopia

Directed by: Madeleine Gavin
Synopsis: The story of several families as they attempt to escape oppression in North Korea, revealing a world most of us have never seen.
Where to watch: In cinemas now

Cinematic journalism at its finest, Beyond Utopia is an unmissable work that’s sure to garner attention at the 2024 Academy Awards. An eye-opening, challenging, and often harrowing watch, this is a documentary that could just as easily sit alongside any high stakes political thriller.

The Deepest Breath

Directed by: Laura McGann
Written by: Laura McGann
Synopsis: A champion and expert safety diver seemed destined for one another. Despite different paths taken, they meet at the pinnacle of the free-diving world, experiencing the thrilling rewards and inescapable risks of chasing dreams through the depths of the ocean.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

If Free Solo had you on the edge of your seat, The Deepest Breath is the documentary for you. With incredible underwater cinematography, and an emotionally compelling narrative, The Deepest Breath also plays like a thriller that will keep you hooked from start to finish.

Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles

Directed by: Sally Aitken
Written by: Sally Aitken
Starring: Anthony Field, Murray Cook, Jeff Fatt, Greg Page, Emma Watkins, Paul Paddick, Lachlan Gillespie
Synopsis: The incredible true story of early childhood teachers and friends, The Wiggles, who rock ‘n’ rolled their way into the hearts of millions around the globe in one of the greatest entertainment stories of all time
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

A wholesome, heartwarming, and surprisingly emotional look at The Wiggles’ meteoric rise to global domination, Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles is bound to wiggle its way into your heart. Director Sally Aitken brings viewers behind the scenes as all the Wiggles, past and present, reflect on the journey of one of Australia’s biggest bands.

A House Made of Splinters

Directed by: Simon Lereng Wilmont
Synopsis: Children and staff in a special kind of home: an institution for children who have been removed from their homes while awaiting court custody decisions. Staff do their best to make the time children have there safe and supportive.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2023 Academy Awards, A House Made of Splinters is an emotional, intimate look at the reality of life for the children who reside in this Ukrainian orphanage. It’s a tough, sometimes bleak watch, but the message is clear: hope dies last.

The Insurrectionist Next Door

Directed by: Alexandra Pelosi
Synopsis: Alexandra Pelosi turns her camera on some of the people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Through a series of candid interviews, Pelosi talks to several individuals charged with crimes for their participation.
Where to watch: Streaming on BINGE

The Insurrectionist Next Door is the kind of documentary that will grab your attention and not let you go. In it, Alexandra Pelosi sits down with people who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to have a conversation with them. But can you have a conversation with someone if they refuse to hear you?

Judy Blume Forever


Directed by: Davina Pardo, Leah Wolchok
Synopsis: Judy Blume and the generations of readers who have sparked to her work. Examines her impact on pop culture and the occasional controversies over her frankness about puberty and sex.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

A fun, informative and smartly-approached documentary, Judy Blume Forever seeks to capture and contextualise both Judy Blume as a person, and the impact her work has had on the world. Essential viewing for fans of Blume and anyone interested in pop culture.

King of Clones

Directed by: Aditya Thayi
Synopsis: From human cloning research to a scandalous downfall, follow the life and work of Korea’s most notorious scientist, Hwang Woo-suk.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

Although the topic of human cloning is scientifically complex, King of Clones is engaging, informative and educational in a way that remains accessible to the viewer throughout.


Directed by: Daniel Roher
Synopsis: Follows the man who survived an assassination attempt by poisoning with a lethal nerve agent in August 2020. During his months-long recovery he makes shocking discoveries about the attempt on his life and decides to return home.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

The winner of Best Documentary Feature at the 2023 Academy Awards, Navalny is an unmissable film. With several jaw-dropping moments, Navalny is a political documentary that often feels like a thriller, and will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

ONEFOUR: Against All Odds

Directed by: Gabriel Gasparinatos
Synopsis: This documentary traces the meteoric rise of Australia’s first drill rap stars, defiant in the face of police’s efforts to stop them from performing.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

An engaging, compelling, and deeply frustrating watch, ONEFOUR: Against All Odds depicts ONEFOUR’s defiant rise to fame in the face of a targeted effort from the New South Wales police to ban the group from performing live.

The on-camera police featured in the film defend their actions with a somewhat astonishing lack of remorse, in a story that’s bound to remind anyone familiar with NWA of the systemic racism that hip-hop artists from non-white backgrounds face daily.

Related: “Football, Factories or Prison”: How ONEFOUR Is Shifting Australian Stories

Pamela: A Love Story

Directed by: Ryan White
Synopsis: Follows the life of pop culture icon Pamela Anderson, including never-before-seen archival footage and personal journals.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

In the ’90s, Pamela Anderson was one of the most famous women in the world, which means she was one of the most scrutinised women in the world. Pamela: A Love Story is a sincere and thoughtful look at Anderson’s life beyond the headlines, and beyond her life as the blonde bombshell of Baywatch.

The Pigeon Tunnel

Directed by: Errol Morris
Synopsis: Spans six decades as le Carré gives his final and most personal interview, interrupted with rare archival footage and dramatic anecdotes. It is set against the stormy Cold War backdrop that extends into the present day.
Where to watch: Streaming on AppleTV+

A fascinating and expertly-constructed documentary, The Pigeon Tunnel gives the viewer a glimpse into the life of acclaimed spy novelist, the ever-enigmatic John le Carré. A must-see for fans of the author, The Pigeon Tunnel has enough to captivate those unfamiliar with le Carré’s work, also.

The Ringleader: The Case of the Bling Ring

Directed by: Erin Lee Carr
Synopsis: Rachel Lee, the so-called teenage mastermind behind a string of high-profile celebrity robberies in 2008 and 2009, shares what motivated her to rally her friends to break into celebrity homes in Hollywood to ransack and steal.
Where to watch: Streaming on BINGE

Anyone familiar with the much-discussed Bling Ring will know that up until now, there’s been one voice missing from the conversation: Rachel Lee, the supposed ringleader of the group. Here, Lee breaks her silence for the first time since her arrest, offering a new side of the story for viewers to consider.

Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed

Directed by: Stephen Kijak
Synopsis: The biography of renowned actor Rock Hudson is examined in this relevant investigation of Hollywood and LGBTQ+ identity, from his public “ladies’ man” character to his private life as a gay man.
Where to watch: Available to rent or buy on Prime Video

Compelling, bittersweet and poignant, Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed is an intimate look at Rock Hudson’s life, death, and legacy. Featuring interviews with those who knew him, it’s a must-see documentary about our not-too-distant queer history as much as it is a tribute to the late Hudson.

The Saint of Second Chances

Directed by: Jeff Malmberg, Morgan Neville
Synopsis: Mike Veeck, son of legendary Major League Baseball owner Bill Veeck, blows up his father’s career and then spends the next few decades learning the value of a second chance.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

If you’re in the mood for an engaging documentary that will tug at your heartstrings, look no further than The Saint of Second Chances. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it has Charlie Day (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) playing Mike Veeck in re-enacted scenes. What more could you want, really?


Directed by: Thom Zimny
Synopsis: The nearly 50 year prolific career of Sylvester Stallone, who has entertained millions, is seen in retrospective in an intimate look of the actor, writer, director-producer, paralleling with his inspirational life story.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

For fans of Rocky, Rambo, or any of Sylvester Stallone’s work, Sly is a must-watch. Stallone tells the story of his life and career with honesty and insight, and taps into his rarely-seen vulnerable side, which may surprise the viewer.

Stamped From the Beginning

Directed by: Roger Ross Williams
Synopsis: A hybrid documentary/scripted feature based on Dr. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

A compelling, thought-provoking and passionate film, Stamped from the Beginning is a look at the myths, lies, and racist tropes that have permeated culture for centuries, tracing them back to their origins.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

Directed by: Davis Guggenheim
Written by: Michael J. Fox
Synopsis: Follows the life of beloved actor and advocate Michael J. Fox, exploring his personal and professional triumphs and travails, and what happens when an incurable optimist confronts an incurable disease.
Where to watch: Streaming on Apple TV+

Older millennials who grew up watching Michael J. Fox in the Back to the Future franchise or on shows like Family Ties and Spin City will likely still remember hearing the news that the actor had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Still: A Michael J. Fox movie reminds the viewer why Fox was, and remains, so beloved. Fox’s star power is undeniable, and his ability to laugh in the face of illness is engaging, inspiring, and heartening.

The Super Models

Directed by: Roger Ross Williams, Larissa Bills
Synopsis: Follows Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington revisiting their modelling careers and how they disrupted the 90s’ fashion scene.
Where to watch: Streaming on Apple TV+

With style and substance, The Super Models brings the viewer back to the 1980s for the birth of the super model, offering a riveting look at life beyond the catwalk, what it takes to find success in the fashion industry, and the power of women coming together.

Take Care of Maya

Directed by: Henry Roosevelt
Synopsis: As a medical team tries to understand 10-year-old Maya Kowalski’s rare illness, they begin to question her parents. Suddenly, Maya is in state custody – despite a family desperate to bring their daughter home.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

A challenging, heartbreaking and often infuriating watch, Take Care of Maya is a compelling, well-told story that will stay with you long after the film’s end.


Directed by: Adam Bhala Lough, Sam Lipman-Stern
Synopsis: Follows former telemarketing employees Pat Pespas and Sam Lipman-Stern, two longtime office friends who find themselves hot on the trail of a sobering look at the ugly side of American capitalism and the abuse of customer trust.
Where to watch: Streaming on BINGE

Scam stories are undeniably having a moment right now, and Telemarketers is a wild ride from start to finish. Part true crime documentary, part underdog-hero-buddy story, Telemarketers is exciting, entertaining, and affecting.

Yellow Door: ’90s Lo-fi Film Club

Directed by: Lee Hyuk-rae
Synopsis: This intimate documentary explores a bygone era of cinematic passion and the emergence of young film enthusiasts in South Korea, including Bong Joon Ho.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

Nostalgia enthusiasts and cinephiles, this one’s for you. Yellow Door is a sweet trip down memory lane that invites the viewer into their circle as the participants reconnect and reflect on a bygone era.

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