Comprehensive Multimedia List: Educational Documentaries, Shows, Websites and Podcasts for Older Kids and Adults

Here’s my documentary philosophy in a nutshell: it’s far more important that you regularly watch documentaries than it is which documentaries you watch. The reason is twofold: first, documentaries are, by nature, mini adventures. They’re excursions into an unknown place in which you might not even be able to guess what’s around the corner. If you choose a documentary based on the importance of the subject matter, you lose this element of the unknown.

The second reason is that no matter the subject, documentaries expand your mind. They increase your knowledge of politics, economics, history and psychology, and along with these, your mental flexibility and creativity. After I watched Being Elmo, I wondered what other art forms are currently underappreciated and what might be done with them in the future. After I watched The Staircase I considered the snowball effect that often happens when the desire to be right trumps the desire to know the truth.

In short: documentaries make you smarter. They do. Even if you’re just learning about puppets.

There’s a third reason to watch documentaries, too, I suppose: they get us talking, leading to some top-notch conversations with friends and family.

The following list of documentaries, then, is merely a suggested starting point. My advice is to watch any documentaries you can find that interest you–any, and every, and all.

By the way, IMDB has a few great top-100 lists for documentaries, and many more for other film categories. When looking for something to watch, don’t peruse Netflix; find stuff on there first instead.

A final note: this list is a work in progress. Check back for updates anytime. (There’s a link to this series, School in a Book, on mollieplayer.com.)

Best Educational Documentaries and Shows for Older Children and Adults

Planet Earth*
Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey*
Through the Wormhole*
America: The Story of Us*
American Experience*
Food, Inc.
King Corn
The Future of Food
Food Matters
Ken Burns: America
American Masters
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
A Brief History of Time (1991)
The Civil War (1990)
Guns, Germs, and Steel (2005– )

The Arrival of a Train (1896)
In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914)
Nanook of the North (1922)
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927)
Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
Las Hurdes (1933)
The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936)
Night Mail (1936)
Triumph of the Will (1935)
Night and Fog (1956)
Primary (1960)
Empire (1964)
The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
Jaguar (1968)
Titicut Follies (1967)
The Hour of the Furnaces (1968)
Harlan County U.S.A. (1976)
The Atomic Cafe (1982)
Babies (2010)
Black Gold (2006)
Born Into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids (2004)
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Broken Rainbow (1985)
Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary (2008)
Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
The Celluloid Closet (1995)
Crumb (1994)
Devil’s Playground (2002)
Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (1967)
Earth (2007)
500 Nations (1995)
500 Years Later (2005)
The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)
Freakonomics (2010)
GasLand (2010)
Gates of Heaven (1978)
Gaza Strip (2002)
Ghosts of Cité Soleil (2006)
The Gleaners & I (2000)
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008)
Good Hair (2009)
Grizzly Man (2005)
Hell House (2001)
Hitler: A Film from Germany (1977)
Hoop Dreams (1994)
How Bruce Lee Changed the World (2009 TV Movie)
Human Planet (2011)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Inside Deep Throat (2005)
Invisible Children (2006)
I.O.U.S.A. (2008)
Jesus Camp (2006)
Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Lake of Fire (2006)
Life and Debt (2001)
Mad Hot Ballroom (2005)
Man on Wire (2008)
March of the Penguins (2005)
Matthew Barney: No Restraint (2006)
Microcosmos (1996)
Mojados: Through the Night (2004)
Murderball (2005)
No End in Sight (2007)
Paper Clips (2004)
Paragraph 175 (2000)
Paris Is Burning (1990)
Powaqqatsi (1988)
Restrepo (2010)
Religulous (2008)
Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time (2001)
Rize (2005)
Salesman (1969)
Sans Soleil (1983)
Scared Straight! (1978)
Shoah (1985)
Sicko (2007)
The Silent World (1956)
Spellbound (2002)
Stop Making Sense (1984)
Super Size Me (2004)
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)
This Is It (2009)
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
Trekkies (1997)
Touching the Void (2003)
Waiting for ‘Superman’ (2010)
Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005)
War Dance (2007)
The War Game (1965 TV Movie)
Wasteland (2010)
Wheel of Time (2003)
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006–2007)

How It’s Made
Myth Busters
Drive Thru History
Timeshift
The Most Extreme
How the States Got Their Shapes
Worst Case Scenario
Ancient Discoveries
Chasing Mummies
Steven Hawking’s SciFi Masters
The Adventures of Captain Hartz
The Unknown War
Castle Secrets and Legends
Get Schooled
Super Structures of the World
United Stats of America
Joseph Campbell: Myths
Travel with Kids
The Rachel Divide
Amanda Knox
Searching for Sugar Man
Going Clear
Paradise Lost
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Life Itself
The Wolfpack
Amy
Room 237
Grey Gardens
Undefeated
How to Survive a Plague
Abacus
Jiro Dreams of Sushi*
Blackfish
The Act of Killing
Icarus
13th
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Casting Jonbenet
20 Feet from Stardom
Strong Island
The Look of Silence
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Citizen Four
The Cove
Faces Places
The Staircase
The Keepers
Herb & Dorothy
Iris
Sour Grapes
Bisbee ’17
Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
The Last Race
Minding the Gap
Shirkers
306 Hollywood
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Three Identical Strangers
McQueen
Momentum Generation
Breakthrough

Best Educational Websites for Older Children and Adults

TED talks*
Wikipedia

Best Educational Podcasts for Older Kids and Adults

Revisionist History with Malcom Gladwell
Invisibilia by NPR
Maven Interviews
Where Should We Begin

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