Mandatory Top 10 of the 2010s: The Most Influential Documentaries of the Decade
One of the reasons we watch movies is to be transformed. The best films put us in other people’s shoes and allow us to experience life from a new perspective. Documentaries are particularly powerful because the events we experience vicariously through the screen actually happened. Whether it’s a feature on growing up, going to war, taking a stand, or caring for others, documentaries teach and inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves. These 10 films from the 2010s were particularly influential. If you haven’t seen them yet, catch them now. And if you have, watch them again. They only become more impactful with repeat viewings.
Cover Photo: Hulu
More true stories: RANKED! Our 20 Favorite Documentaries of the Last 20 Years
10. 'Cartel Land' (2015)
The drug war is being fought on both sides of the border between Mexico and the United States. On one side are the Autodefensas, a group of fed-up Mexican citizens who vow to fight the cartels. On the other side are self-proclaimed “border defenders” who believe that by keeping undocumented immigrants out of the U.S., they’ll spare themselves the brutality inflicted by drug traffickers. Neither side can truly stop the all-powerful lure of power, money, and drugs, however.
Photo: A&E IndieFilms
9. 'The Tillman Story' (2010)
Arizona Cardinals player Pat Tillman left an illustrious career in football and a new wife to enlist in the Army nine months after 9/11. Two years later, he was dead, hailed as a hero for giving his life in Afghanistan during a Taliban ambush. But his family didn’t buy the military’s story surrounding his final moments, and launched their own investigation. What they found was a convoluted conspiracy that attempted to propagandize the sport star’s death and cover up the fact that Tillman was killed by friendly fire when no enemy forces were even present.
Photo: Diamond Docs
8. 'Weiner' (2016)
Former congressman and New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner is a weirdo (and his last name isn’t the half of it). Many recognized the controversial figure's creep factor long ago, but this entertaining documentary shows even more unflattering and downright embarrassing sides to the politician, so much so that we’re surprised he agreed to appear in it. Dick pics, angry outbursts, passionate speeches on the floor of the U.S. Congress – all the adrenaline-pumping, dirty details are laid bare here, often witnessed by his then-wife Huma Abedin, whose facial expressions say more than her chatty, charismatic husband ever could.
7. 'Kedi' (2016)
It’s about time cats got their own documentary. This endearing film follows the felines of Istanbul as residents care for and comment on them as if they were family members. Ultimately, this is not so much a film about cats as it is about the power of community and kindness.
6. 'Monogamish' (2017)
Polyamory is all the rage in entertainment these days, but what does it actually look like in reality? How does it work? Recently divorced filmmaker Tao Ruspoli explores the alternative relationship structure via history, philosophy, commentary from sexperts like Dan Savage and Esther Perel, and couples who’ve been living the lifestyle for years. Oh, and there’s a surprise twist in the final moments of the film that just might leave your jaw on the floor.
Photo: The Clearance Lab
5. 'Minding the Gap' (2018)
This critically acclaimed coming-of-age doc follows skater dudes on the cusp of adulthood as they grapple with growing up, making ends meet, toxic masculinity, and unexpected fatherhood. This heartfelt film will have you rooting for all of them to succeed.
4. 'Prophet's Prey' (2015)
This chilling documentary is about Warren Jeffs, the president and prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), an extremist and bigamist sect of the Mormon faith. Jeffs, whose father and predecessor had as many as 75 wives and 65 children, picks up where his dad left off, “marrying” (read: raping) young girls and spreading his seed in obscene numbers under the guise of religious obedience. What’s more shocking than Jeffs’ sexual perversity is the heartlessness; wives and children are often torn apart and sent to compounds in disparate parts of the country as punishment. Thankfully, the authorities do eventually capture Jeffs, who is now serving life in prison, but few of the women or children audiences witness silently scuttling away from the cameras in matching dresses have managed to escape.
Photo: Showtime Documentary Films
3. 'The Departure' (2017)
Ittetsu Nemoto is a Japanese punk-rocker-turned-Buddhist-monk who comforts those experiencing severe depression and guides them to the light. While his work is admirable, it also takes a toll on him, interrupting his family life, wearing heavy on his face, and affecting his health. Still, the film inspires as viewers realize that as we help others weather suffering and reach for joy, we help ourselves, too.
Photo: Candescent Films
2. 'Amy' (2015)
Jazz singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse was an inimitable talent taken too soon by the siren song of drug and alcohol addiction. This bittersweet film follows her from her humble beginnings as a “Happy Birthday” belting teen to fervent fame following her Grammy Award-winning album Back to Black. Unfortunately, her insensitive parents and an abusive husband douse gasoline on the already self-destructive embers of Winehouse’s personality, leading to untamable burnout and her ultimate demise.
1. 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?' (2018)
Did you know Mister Rogers was a Presbyterian minister? And a Republican? We’re not sure which of those revelations is more shocking, but there’s plenty more to learn about the man many of us grew up watching “make believe” on public television. This intimate documentary follows Fred McFeely Rogers as he dignified children’s television, broke down racial barriers, and even testified in front of Congress for funding. You wouldn’t think friendly ol’ Mister Rogers was a rebel, but oh yes, he was.