While Netflix has a large stable of fantastic Netflix Original documentaries, and Hulu has a solid, wide-reaching library of choices, Amazon Prime has a more limited offering.
That said, limited does not mean nonexistent.
For a few years in the middle of the last decade, Amazon acquired a few top-notch Original documentaries, such as “One Child Nation” and “Generation Wealth.” The company has taken the foot off the gas in that category since, but these choices from a different era at the company are still very much worth checking out.
In addition to its small offering, Amazon also has a lackluster user experience for finding the documentaries it does have.
When clicking on “Documentary movies” from my home screen (which, granted, differs in slight ways with each user), documentaries of questionable merit filled the first couple rows. I’ve attached a screenshot below, which features a collection of old drive-in movie ads and a spammy title called “From Fat Lolli to 6 Pack Lolli: The Ultimate Transformation Story.”
Searching for documentaries on Amazon Prime also lacks the intuitive ease of searching its competitors. When I did a search for documentaries, “Jackass 3” was one of the top results. Is “Jackass 3” a bad movie? Of course not. But I’m not sure I’d call it a documentary.
As such, I’ve sifted through the offerings to recommend 11 actual documentaries worth watching on Amazon Prime. And if you want to stay informed about the good things joining streaming services each week, subscribe to the Streamline newsletter.
“Generation Wealth” (2018, Amazon Original)
Premise: With rising inequality across the globe, the obsession with obtaining more wealth also seems to be on the up. This movie examines the lives of unhappy rich people and the cultures that celebrate their possessions.
Runtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes
“One Child Nation” (2019, Amazon Original)
Premise: China only allowed its citizens to have one child (with rare exceptions) between 1979 and 2015 (now it has a two-child policy). The movie explores the brutal enforcement of this rule, and the emotional fallout for families who lost children during that time.
Runtime: 1 hour, 28 minutes
“City of Ghosts” (2017, Amazon Original)
Premise: Since 2014, the citizen journalist publication Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently has reported on the Syrian war and atrocities committed by ISIL. The movie follows a few of these journalists as they try to do their work and live their lives under death threats and the retaliatory executions of their family members.
Runtime: 1 hour, 32 minutes
“Gimme Danger” (2016, Amazon Original)
Premise: The Stooges (fronted by Iggy Pop) formed in the late 1960s in Michigan, incorporating a new sound that mixed rock with what’s now considered punk. The movie, directed by Jim Jarmusch, follows the band’s arc and pairs that narrative with interviews of the surviving members.
Runtime: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Premise: Hale County, Alabama, is a majority-Black county named after a Confederate officer. The movie couples slice-of-life filmmaking with commentary about the underlying racism this community experiences.
“Hale County, This Morning This Evening” earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
Runtime: 1 hour, 16 minutes
“Author: The JT LeRoy Story” (2016)
Premise: The author JT LeRoy spent a brief time as a literary “it” person in the early 2000s for seemingly authentic tales of American hardship — before journalists discovered “LeRoy” was a made-up persona. The movie tells the story of how LeRoy came to be and interviews the creator, writer Laura Albert.
Runtime: 1 hour, 50 minutes
“The Act of Killing” (2013)
Premise: The Indonesian Army perpetrated genocide in the country during the mid-1960s, killing about 1 million people. The movie follows a few of those responsible for the killings, examining how they still glorify their actions.
“The Act of Killing” earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
Runtime: 1 hour, 57 minutes
“Janis: Little Girl Blue” (2015)
Premise: Janis Joplin experienced brief but meteoric stardom in the West Coast rock n’ roll scene during the 1960s. The movie uses archival footage to tell the story of her rise and memorable personality.
Runtime: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Premise: The British fashion designer Alexander McQueen was one of the most successful designers of his generation before his death in 2010. The movie tells the story of his life and the impact of his work.
Runtime: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Premise: No one had successfully climbed the “Shark’s Fin” route to Meru Peak in the Himalayas, given the extremely difficult last stretch to the peak (while other routes feature that type of difficulty earlier on in the journey). The movie, co-directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, follows the harrowing first ascent of the route.
Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes
“Bill Cunningham: New York” (2011)
Premise: American photographer Bill Cunningham worked at The New York Times for nearly four decades, popularizing street photography and shaping fashion trends. The movie covers his work while also diving into his unique personal life.
Runtime: 1 hour, 24 minutes