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10 Mind-Blowing Documentaries That Are Stranger Than Fiction

Proof that reality can be just as entertaining
by Chandra Pepino | Mar 25, 2018
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Have you ever been neck-deep in a House of Cards or Orange Is The New Black binge on Netflix, only to find yourself wanting? While the thrill that is the suspension of disbelief can be great for blowing off steam after a long week, sometimes we long for something closer to reality (read: reality). Documentaries are especially harrowing because there’s no room for blissful escapism—everything you’re seeing actually happened, and the list we’ve put together for you below is a reminder of the consequences of primal impulse, the alluring power of capitalism, and the sheer fuckery of the human condition.

1) Wild Wild Country (2018)

Does the name Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh sound at all familiar to you? No? We thought so—we didn’t know who the heck he was, either. But Rajneesh was one of the most notorious cult leaders on earth during his time, coming into direct conflict with American authorities and the rest of the world alike for his criticisms of Gandhi’s teachings and controversial views on sex. Though it’s the most recent Netflix release on this list, this six-episode series has already racked up a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the critics are falling all over themselves with praises.

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2) Rotten (2018)

It’s not often we think about the dark origins of each and every ingredient on our plate. The food industry, for all its self-proclaimed “we’re saving the world” rhetoric, is as morally bankrupt as they come, with fraud, unsanitary practices, and animal cruelty in every damn corner. GQ described it as “the opposite of Chef’s Table,” and we can’t help but agree.

3) (Dis)honesty: The Truth About Lies (2015)

From a mother who lied about her address to get her children in a better school district to a man engaged in an extramarital affair that rocked the world, this docu unravels the massive effects that one person’s little white lies can have on society at large. So why do humans lie, anyway? Dan Ariely, behavioral scientist and author of Predictably Irrational, examines these case studies to remind audiences that we, too, can ruin our lives just as easily.

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4) Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things (2016)

Imagine being able to store all your earthly possessions in one backpack as you and a partner travel the world to tell other human beings about the beautiful liberation of freeing oneself from material desire. A duo of motivational speakers who call themselves The Minimalists take center stage in this documentary—and rather than give audiences a laundry list of things they need to get rid of, they lead by example, proving once and for all that you don’t need a house full of stuff to live a full life.

5) Dirty Money (2018)

We all love a good rage-against-the-machine production, whether it’s The Big Short or Inside Job—there’s something gratifying about cracking open systematic corruption and greed in both our public and private industries. Dirty Money takes an especially daring aim at President Trump’s burgeoning business empire, as well as other corporations who’ve cut corners and taken the easy way out.

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6) Icarus (2017)

Much like the mythological figure who hurtled towards an early grave thanks to his own hubris, American cyclist Bryan Fogel examines the long and storied history of doping in the world of international competitive cycling. Along the way, he meets Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who heads Russia’s anti-doping program. Fogel’s initial plan is to take performance-enhancing drugs that are able to cheat current drug testing methods. But Rodchenkov isn’t who he says he is, and a chance encounter turns into an international scandal as Russia struggles to cover up their dirty secrets.

7) What The Health (2017)

Branding itself as “the film health corporations don’t want you to see,” What The Health is a determined assault on meat, dairy, and Big Pharma, and how they’ve screwed us over for decades—because one thing’s for sure, it goes well beyond pricks like Martin Shkreli. The film’s ultimate goal is for audiences to majorly overhaul their eating habits (read: they want you to go vegan), but critics have noticed inconsistencies and fallacies in the content. Who’s in the right? You can be the judge of that.

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8) Amanda Knox (2016)

Do you remember the 2007 story of Amanda Knox, who was convicted and eventually acquitted for the alleged murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher in Italy? This Netflix doc breathes new life (and death?) into the headline, baring the damning consequences of tabloid journalism and the unpredictability of the jury of public opinion.

9) Hot Girls Wanted (2015)

Florida is crazy enough already, judging from their consistently crazy headlines, but their porn is even crazier (they’re the second largest supplier of porn stars in the US). What most purveyors of the online sex industry don’t know is how badly their actresses are exploited, objectified, and undervalued despite their efforts (if you think about it, it’s an acting job on steroids). Some might argue that choosing to go into porn can be empowering, but it’s the subtleties in power dynamics that make this profession morally ambiguous. Curious? Of course you are.

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10) The Confession Tapes

This series of six true crime tales are unique not because they eventually brought their victims to justice, but because the perpetrators contend that their confessions to the crime were either coerced or grossly falsified. Don’t watch this if you don’t want to lose faith in the justice system, but if that was dead and gone to begin with, then this is the most fun way to get pissed off. Several critics have been skeptical, but it’s still worth at least a one-episode try.

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