When most people think of documentaries, they think of depressing looks at politics, environmental disasters or war crimes but there are a ton of fun documentaries about movies, TV and games that offer interesting insights, hilarious anecdotes and colorful characters. Here are 10 of the best pop culture documentaries worth checking out.
10. Doc of the Dead
The most recent entry on the list, Epix premiered this look at all things Zombie at the beginning of last month. Covering all aspects of the undead, from the Romero series of “…of the Dead” movies, World War Z, The Walking Dead to the voodoo/mythology origins of zombies, people who cosplay as zombies and participate in zombie walks to the even crazier people who literally believe a zombie apocalypse is inevitable and are training and gearing up. Some of the people interviewed include Simon Pegg, Bruce Campbell, George Romero, Max Brooks, Robert Kirkman and Stuart Gordon. As a bonus, there’s a number of skits featuring Red Letter Media’s Mr Plinkett. It’s available to watch on www.epixhd.com (login needed) or Epix On Demand if you have Epix on your cable service.
9. Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan
Ray Harryhausen was an absolute legend, creating mind blowing stop motion animation for movies like Clash of the Titans and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, It Came from Beneath the Sea and so many more. He also inspired an entire generation of filmmakers and special effects artists like Peter Jackson, James Cameron, Phil Tippett, Joe Dante and Guillermo Del Toro, just to name a few. This documentary is basically spending about an hour and a half with the master as he runs through every movie he worked on and reveals the behind the scenes process behind making the creatures and stories from the set. You’ll get to see the surviving puppets, test footage and a whole lot more. For more Harryhausen and other sci fi legends, definitely check out The Sci Fi Boys documentary as well, which is on Netflix along with Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan.
8. With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story
One of the greatest figures in pop culture, the Marvel generalissimo, Stan Lee, is the subject of this great biographical documentary that follows Stan’s humble beginnings to becoming an editor/writer at Marvel and helping to turn it into the juggernaut it is today. There’s lots of fantastic old photos, footage and audio from the 60’s and 70’s and what’s interesting is that, while mostly a celebration of Stan, it also doesn’t gloss over things like Jack Kirby leaving Marvel, Steve Ditko wanting co-credit for creating Spider-Man or Stan Lee Media getting caught in an insider trading fiasco. It’s available on Netflix.
7. Trek Nation
Star Trek is a cultural touchstone that has effected millions of fans but the one person who surprisingly didn’t realize how much of an impact it had was creator Gene Roddenberry’s son, Rod Roddenberry. Determined to learn more about Star Trek, and by extension, his father, Rod sets out to meet fans, series stars and writers and get the inside story on the creation and impact of all things Trek. It definitely gives you a unique insight into Gene Roddenberry, who is seen now as a visionary but interviews with people like Ron Moore reveal he may have let that go to his head, especially during TNG when he put down a mandate that the main characters could never argue with each other, removing much of the drama and character development of the original series. It’s also interesting in that the focus is more on the show and it’s development and the personal life of Roddenberry, instead of the rabid, possibly insane fan base. It’s available on Netflix.
6. Rewind This!
If you love websites like Everything is Terrible! and cheesy, insane action and horror movies that have been lost in this digital age, this is the documentary for you. Covering literally everything you could ever want to know about VHS and the golden age of “straight to video”, you’ll learn how VHS was developed, the VHS vs Betamax war, how movies started to get released on VHS and movies skipped theaters and came directly to the video stores. It’s a little hipstery but there’s so many great clips and interviews that it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s available on Amazon and iTunes.
5. The People vs George Lucas
There’s been plenty of Star Wars docs but this one takes the unique perspective of airing fans grievances against the father of the saga, George Lucas. The main complaints seem to be the changes made to the original trilogy, the refusal by Lucasfilm to release the original, unedited films in a readily available format and the prequel trilogy and it’s various sins against canon (midi-chlorians?!). There are some great points raised with contradictory statements made by Lucas being pretty damning but everyone still admits they would rather deal with the stupidity rather than never having the movies at all. Even if you’re not a die hard Star Wars fan, it’s still a super interesting look into the creator vs audience issue of who owns what and when is something no longer the property of the artist.
4. Legends of the Knight
Not just because we helped Kickstart it, but Legends of the Knight would be on this list regardless because it’s easily the most inspirational and uplifting doc here. If you’re looking for some sort of refresher on Batman or look into the pop culture around the character, this is not the movie for you. If you’re looking for incredible stories of people looking to Batman for inspiration to achieve their dreams and overcome adversity, then you are in the right place. There’s a man who dresses as Batman and visits dozens of children’s hospitals every year to visit the kids and bring them gifts and encourage them, there’s people who have overcome disabilities and hardship because of the character and so much more. It will definitely get dusty in the room before the end of the doc. Head over to www.wearebatman.com to order a copy and check out where screenings will happen.
3. Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of James Bond
If you are Bond fan, this documentary is a must see. Covering the creation of Bond by Ian Fleming (in a much more straight forward, less soap opera way than the recent Fleming on BBC) and the progression of Bonds and movies over the years, there’s tons of fascinating insights from former Bonds like Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan but the most interesting is George Lazenby, who basically faked his way into the role with 0 acting experience and then blew his chance to appear in future movies by living too much like the character. Also interesting is the constant legal battle over Thunderball that resulted in Never Say Never Again being produced with Connery returning as Bond. It’s available on Netflix.
2. Best Worst Movie
It definitely helps to have seen Troll 2 prior to seeing this documentary by star Michael Paul Stephenson (who played the hero Joshua), because it becomes a sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic look into a trainwreck in film form that has become a cult phenomenon like Rocky Horror. Widely considered the worst movie ever made, Troll 2 (which has nothing to do with Troll 1 or trolls in general) was made by an Italian director, starring a dentist and features lines like “you don’t piss on hospitality”. Director Claudio Fragasso continues to labor under the delusion he made a legitimately interesting film while Dr. George Hardy goes on a roller coaster ride of getting his 15 minutes of fame back but learns that people are more interested in making fun of the movie than meeting it’s star at random horror conventions. If you ever wanted to know how truly terrible movies get made, this is a must watch. It’s available on Netflix.
1 The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
You could get the best screenwriters together in a room, they would not be able to come up with a villain as insane, sleazy and bemulleted as Billy Mitchell. Although out of date as far as the Donkey Kong record goes now, the story of underdog Steve Wiebe taking on the video game titan Mitchell is a matchup the likes of Rocky vs Ivan Drago, although more barrels and high scores and less brain injuries and death. The world of classic video game fanatics is a bizarre niche full of interesting characters, locations and lingo (This movie gave us the classic quote of “There’s a kill screen coming”) and there are twists of fate that match any sports movie. You can get it on iTunes or Amazon.