45 Best Documentaries on YouTube You Can Watch for Free

45 Best Documentaries on YouTube You Can Watch for Free

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In this age, information has become so accessible. It’s a challenge to sift what’s real from what’s false. Thus, it’s more crucial than ever that we get our information from reliable sources. And in this regard, documentaries are the perfect tool.

Well-made documentaries captivate us and promote discussion of the topics that they feature. They are a great resource for educating ourselves on topics and issues that matter.

Watching documentaries benefits you in the following ways:

  • you are introduced to a new topic and provided a deeper understanding of it,
  • gives you a glimpse into new cultures and lifestyles,
  • inspires you to action or change in beliefs, and
  • they provide great conversation starters.

Simon Kilmurry, Executive Director of the International Documentary Association, sums up the social importance of documentary films:

Documentary film is a form that allows us to walk in another’s shoes, to build a sense of shared humanity, that gives voice to the marginalized and scorned, that strives to hold those in power to account. In these challenging times… it is all the more important to support the ever-risky endeavor that documentary filmmaking is becoming.

And YouTube provides one of the best venues for watching documentaries for free. So we’ve chosen 45 of the best documentaries on YouTube and collected them for today’s post.

These films are selected for their ability to promote a new way of thinking. All these let you learn something new about social issues, notable personalities, and the world we live in.

What You Will Learn

Best Crime Documentaries on YouTube

WARNING: Some films featured in this post are extremely disturbing.

1. Real Life Psychopaths

What goes on in the mind of a psychopath?

This documentary reveals evidence about psychopathic behavior that predisposes them to crime, parole, and re-offense. In the film, leading criminal psychologist Professor Robert Hare provides insight into the thought processes of a psychopath.

The film also reports on the common tendency of paroled psychopaths to reoffend after attending treatment programs prior to release.

2. The Crime of Josef Fritzl

Discover how a family has been torn apart because of the evil actions of the father.

In 2008, the world was horrified to learn that a woman has been kept prisoner in a basement for 24 years. But what truly shocked the world was the identity of the perpetrator. Elizabeth Fritzl’s own father, Josef, kept her locked in a basement, raped her, and fathered 7 children by her.

How this man concealed his abominable actions and how it affected the members of the family, their community, and the world is the subject of this 53-minute documentary that features interviews from family members, psychology experts, lawyers, and journalists who followed the case of Josef Fritzl.

3. The Iceman Tapes: Conversations With a Killer

Do you want to know what goes on in the mind of a killer?

This documentary allows you a glimpse into the mind of hitman Richard Kulinski. He is known for the calm, detached way he dealt with his victims, thus earning him the nickname “The Iceman.”

The most unbelievable aspect of the documentary is that despite the hundreds of murders Kulinski committed, his family did not have an inkling of his double life and he appeared to be a loving, devoted family man.

4. The Hacker Wars

This film features the US government’s targeting of hacktivists and several journalists who are critical of the country’s administrative body. The story revolves around 3 hacktivists who battled against the government over the control of information in the age of the Internet.

5. The Imposter

This film features the 1997 case of Frédéric Bourdin, a French confidence trickster, who made a grieving family in Austin, Texas, believe that he is Nicholas Barclay, their son who went missing in 1993.

The film features footages of interviews with different people involved in the case, including Bourdin himself, members of Nicholas Barclay’s family, a private investigator, and an FBI agent.

The Imposter” has won of several awards, including a BAFTA film award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director, or Producer.

6. Meet the Scammers Breaking Hearts and Stealing Billions Online

In this documentary, you’ll meet teenagers who establish online romantic relationships with people and scam them out of thousands of dollars. Reporter Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop uncovers that what the teenagers are doing is merely small-timer crime compared to the drug trafficking and money laundering he uncovers while doing this film.

Best YouTube History Documentaries

7. Finding Atlantis

Over the years, a lot of scientists have gone on a quest in an effort to find the ancient city of Atlantis. This documentary follows a group of scientists as they search for Atlantis using state-of-the-art equipment. Their search brings them to Spain, where some scientists and scholars believed that Atlantis was located.

8. Why the Romans Were so Effective in Battle

The ancient Roman army was known to be highly effective system in battle. It was this ability that allowed Rome to become a superpower in historic times.

This documentary showcases the genius of the Roman army in battle. It shows how its strategies and equipment were used to great effect in defeating enemies and conquering new and larger territories.

9. The Extraordinary Genius of Albert Einstein

Do you want to know how geniuses arrive at a breakthrough that deepens our understanding of our world and of life?

Produced by History.com, this 1 ½-hour documentary centers on Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, not for viewers to comprehend the theory itself, but to serve as a case study for demonstrating how humans think. The film attempts to show how the real thought processes of human beings happen beyond opinions and perceptions.

10. The Mary Magdalene Conspiracy (Secrets of the Cross Documentary)

Are you up for some mystery? As a Secret of the Cross documentary, this film explores one of the fascinating stories of Christianity, one of the oldest religions and most powerful religions of the world with more than 2 billion followers.

Mary Magdalene was identified as the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus, and yet she was rarely mentioned in succeeding texts. This film attempts to shed light on who Mary Magdalene truly was in connection to Jesus Christ.

11. Picasso’s Last Stand

Do you love art? This documentary features one of the greatest artists of all time.

The film reveals the life of Picasso a decade before his death. At that time, he was faced with criticism for his output and for his lifestyle. However, in the midst of this turmoil, he found impetus to bring forth his wittiest, most profound work.

12. The First Human

In this evolution documentary, we travel through time to uncover a new theory about the approximate time, the reason, and the way human beings began walking upright.

This film presents the story of scientists’ new discovery of a fossil much older than “Lucy” who was initially thought to be humans’ ancestors. This discovery challenges a lot of set ideas about how human beings have evolved.

13. Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home

What is the price of increased wealth and consumerism? For many Victorians, they paid for the luxury of their homes with their lives. In this film, Suzannah Lipscomb takes viewers on a tour of Victorian houses and reveals killers hiding in plain sight in the place where we are supposed to feel safe.

14. Human Zoos

This documentary tells the heartbreaking story of how indigenous people were put on display in 20th century America. The human zoos had the backing of prominent scientist. The film reveals how some people still channel Social Darwinism for them to oppress others.

This film also features eugenics and the tragedy it caused as some people attempted to breed humans using Darwinian principles.

15. The Real Jesus Christ

After Jesus’ death, there was a power struggle among his followers. This resulted into a split between Paul’s group and those of Jesus’ family and closest disciples. This latter group left no written references that could point to their version of the Christ’s message.

This documentary explores what could have happened if Jesus’ story was told by those who actually knew him: his family and closest followers.

Interesting Things to Watch on YouTube

16. Laos Wonderland

This documentary is about the glorious natural wonders of Laos, a country in Southeast Asia. It shows many of the unexplored spots in the country, as well as the wildlife that flourish there.

The film also features some festivals and traditions observed in Laos, which are strongly tied to the surroundings where they are celebrated. This film is treat for those who are interested in world cultures.

17. All Is Self

This documentary shows us that we are one with the whole creation. It proposes that the state of our thoughts and emotions is reflected in the state of our society. The film shows the concept of unity of all creation through different belief systems all over the world.

18. The Human Brain

If you’re interested to learn about the human brain, this documentary can supply you with the information you need. The creators of this film show viewers the physical features and structure of our brain. It explores the different areas of our own gray matter, and identifies the function of each.

19. The Living Body

Do you wonder how the human body works? What happens to our bodies as we age? Through the use of high-definition mini endoscopic cameras and stunning visual effects, this documentary allows you to get a truly up-close view of our organs and insight into the everyday functioning of the human body.

This documentary has won numerous awards, including an Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Graphic Design and Artistic Direction.

20. The Truth About Sugar

Thinking about quitting sugar?

Many nations have an obesity crisis among its citizens. In this documentary, BBC pinpoints sugar as a major culprit. The film also reveals the amount of sugar in our meals and drinks. It also reports on the reasons for our sugar addiction.

21. Food Choices

This film by Michal Siewierski is an exposé on the impact of our food choices on our health, our planet, and the lives of other species.

The documentary was three years in the making, and features interviews with 28 of the world’s leading experts in various fields. Misconceptions about diets and food are discussed in the film, too.

22. Mat Fraser: Making a Champion

Ever wondered how top athletes go about their day?

In this documentary, Mat Fraser – winner of the CrossFit Games in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 – shares a day in the life of a CrossFit champ. He also shares his personal backstory. This serves as an inspiration for those who aspire for greatness in the realm of sports.

23. SEALFIT 20X SLTC

SEALFIT 20X is a documentary about the challenges that members of the Southeast Lineman Training Center encountered when they volunteered for the 20X program of SEALFIT. The goal of the program is to train apprentice lineworkers to become better qualified, physically, for the job.

The film shows the grit and determination of these lineworkers as they struggled to overcome the challenges of the grueling training to become the best at what they do.

24. The Cola Wars

This film showcases the intense marketing campaigns of the two leading soft drink companies, PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company. The competition between these two companies reached a peak in intensity during the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, and this period was dubbed as the “cola wars”. In recent times, the rivalry between the two companies is still strong, with no sign of letting up as consumers are still almost equally divided in their soft drink preference.

25. Where Dreams Go to Die

People are saying that this is a magnificent running documentary.

This inspirational documentary is about Canadian ultrarunner Gary Robbins and his attempts to complete the Barkley Marathons. The Barkley Marathons has a full course of a hundred miles and is considered one of the toughest ultramarathon races in the world.

Learn about the sacrifices Robbins made to participate in this grueling test of strength, stamina, and spirit.

26. Self-Medicated: A Film About Art

While we’re on the topic of art, here is another documentary featuring art and artists.

In 2000, several artists who got fed up from getting excluded from the fine art scene formed a movement in defiance to this exclusivity. They called themselves The Antagonists, and they preferred to express their art through physical media – walls and the outdoors. The movement has spread throughout the globe.

This documentary tracks several Antagonists. We get to know them through their stories often of loneliness and depression and how art helps them cope.

27. The Next Black – A Film About the Future of Clothing

Do you want to know what clothes will look like in the future?

In this film, sustainability advocates, clothing companies, and a bio firm all give their opinions and forecasts about the clothes we’ll be wearing in the future. One interesting thing to see in this documentary is the way living organisms are being made to grow wearables.

28. The Year the Earth Went Wild

This documentary features what happened in the year 2005 when the planet seemed to go wild, with numerous natural disasters occurring in different parts of the world.  The film helps you understand the impact of tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes on people’s lives, the economy, and the environment

29. The Reality of Truth

This film was created by spiritual guru Deepak Chopra and entrepreneur Mike Zappolin. It introduces viewers to the ways by which people throughout history have transcended into an alternate reality, such as through meditation, music, and the use of psychotropics.

The content it features makes this film controversial. Top scientists, spiritual gurus, and thought leaders discuss the common understanding of reality, as well as the methods for transcending that and reaching an alternate reality.

30. The Congo Dandies: Living in Poverty and Spending a Fortune to Look Like a Million Dollars

This film features members of the Congolese Le Sapeur, or the Congo Dandies.

These well-dressed men are known to spend thousands of dollars on designer clothes and accessories. This is despite the fact that most of them live in poverty-stricken communities in Congo, Central Africa.

31. Organic Food – Hype or Hope?

These days, we are made to believe that eating organic food is healthier, so people are willing to pay a higher amount to get these products on their tables.

In this DW documentary, viewers are taken behind the scenes of the organic food industry. The lack of consistent testing, quality control, and monitoring of organic food products makes the consumers vulnerable to labeling fraud.

32. Four Horsemen

This documentary, produced by Renegade Inc. and directed by Ross Ashcroft, explains how the world works and what could be done to create a better society.

The title refers to what the film creators identify as American-led ills: financial misconducts, violence, appalling poverty, and the environmental crisis. The film hopes to inspire the audience to take action for change.

33. The Power of Meditation

If you’re not new to this blog, you’ve probably come across several articles about meditation and mindfulness. We believe that these practices have a positive effect on health and well-being.

The Power of Meditation features various practices of meditation for achieving relaxation, healing, and happiness, as well as developing positive emotions. The film is a good starting point for those who want to gain a deeper understanding about meditation

34. Enlightenment

This film, produced by Anthony Chene, attempts to find answers to the question, “Who are we really?”

If you are looking for ways to develop self-awareness, this movie is a good jump-off point to find answers. The film contains insightful interviews that create modern-day interpretations of our true purpose here on earth.

35. A Simpler Way: Crisis as Opportunity

More and more people are waking up to find solutions to global crises. Some of these individuals formed an off-the-grid community in Australia, living a simpler lifestyle to help save the planet.

This documentary was made by several members while they stayed in the community for a year. During that period, they built tiny houses, planted vegetable gardens, and experienced what it’s like to live in a sustainable community.

36. Without Bound – Perspectives on Mobile Living

This film features people who made a choice to trade the comforts of living in a house for the freedom of living on the road. In this documentary, you’ll get to know a group of people who live in trailers, RVs, and other vehicles of their choice to experience freedom through mobile and minimalistic living.

Without Bound attempts to answer the question: “How much do we need?” The documentary focuses on people who live in mobile homes by choice, and not on people rendered homeless by various social and economic circumstances. The subjects have significantly scaled down their possessions, living day to day with the most basic essentials.

37. Real Value

These days, the demand for business enterprises that give back to society is rising. This inspiring documentary explores the concept of social enterprise.

Various notable personalities are interviewed in this film, to give the viewers a better understanding of what happens when businesses truly consider the welfare of the people and the planet.

38. Poor Kids of America

Poverty is on the rise in the United States. Many families are affected, the children more so.

This award-winning documentary shows the negative effects of a flagging economy, widespread unemployment, and poverty through the perspective of the most vulnerable members of society: the children.

39. New Money

In this documentary, former stock broker and hedge fund manager Dr. Steve Sjuggerud reveals a great money-making opportunity in a very unlikely place in the world: China.

The documentary reveals how people’s perception of China and what is actually happening there right now are completely different. In the film, Dr. Sjuggerud shows a China that is far more sophisticated than most business districts in the US.

40. Modern Day Miracles

This documentary follows 3 children with correctable disabilities who were treated by CURE International medical team in the countries of Niger, Philippines, and the Dominican Republic.

The documentary features the work of non-profit and Christian organization CURE. It is inspirational in the sense that we get to see people investing their time and effort to reach out and help others who are in need of healing and hope.

41. The Science of Acupuncture

Produced by BBC, this documentary features the traditional Chinese treatment of acupuncture.

There are many who are skeptical about this alternative treatment. The documentary explores how acupuncture is used to cure a host of ailments. Moreover, in the film, acupuncture is used on a patient in lieu of general anesthetic during open-heart surgery.

Scariest & Disturbing YouTube Documentaries

WARNING: Again, some of the films featured in this section can be extremely disturbing.

42. Child of Rage

In this CBS documentary, we see the far-reaching and destructive impact of sexual abuse. The film is based on the life of Beth Thomas who, as a young child suffered from sexual abuse. She was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder as a result of what she had experienced.

One bone-chilling scene shows her calmly telling the interviewer that she’d like to kill her new adoptive family.

43. Madness in the Fast Lane

This documentary features the events of May 2008 when Swedish identical twins, Ursula and Sabina Erikkson, dashed into oncoming traffic on a London  highway. They tried to fight off the police in the ensuing rescue and were eventually subdued and taken to the hospital. However, when Sabina was released the next day, she stabbed a well-meaning stranger to death.

The documentary is an attempt to make sense of all that happened, with insight from Dr. Nigel Eastman, a criminal psychiatrist.

44. The Great Plague (Black Death Documentary)

This documentary paints a grim and disturbing portrait about the Great Plague as it happened in London in 1665. Through reenactments and a riveting narration, this film brings to live the terror lived by the residents of Cock and Alley parish as they fought for survival against a pandemic that eventually claimed more than 100,000 lives in their parish.

45. Beware the Slenderman

This documentary is about the 2014 attempted murder of a 12-year-old girl by two of her best friends. When the two suspects were apprehended and interrogated, they insisted that the death of best friend had to happen in order to appease the Slenderman.

The Slenderman was a character developed for an online Photoshop contest in 2009. Its gained popularity as a character in online horror stories, creepy art features, in forums, and social media.

The film shows just how unclear the line is between reality and fiction for children. And this is often exacerbated by other factors (e.g., neurological, social, etc.).

Conclusion

Are you ready to binge-watch these films soon?

Self-education can be enhanced by watching quality documentaries. As your knowledge about topics that interest you increases, so does your potential for personal success.

Can’t get enough of learning new things? You might want to visit this post featuring 21 fun tools for learning something new every day.

Finally, if you're a really big fan of documentaries, check out our CuriosityStream review.

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45 Best Documentaries on YouTube You Can Watch for Free