With Hollywood and the film industry having lifted it's game in the last few years, 2017 is set to be a big one. Here, we've rounded up the 25 biggest and best documentaries to look out for this year.
In a world where Michael Bay movies are allowed to exist, it’s no surprise that sometimes, cinema-goers look to documentaries to give them something different – something real. As long as there are bombastic action flicks, visceral animated dreamscapes, cringe-inducing comedies and the rest, audiences will also yearn for the truth – or something close to it.
Last year saw a slew of critically revered documentaries that delved into everything from political scandal, volcanoes, slavery, the global weapons trade, climate change and existential life stories from musical maestros.
This year, we’ve got an equally broad selection of far-reaching documentary topics, from both acclaimed and proficient masters of documentary-making and hopeful first-time newcomers, highlighting our ongoing commitment to the genre and pointing directly to our increased capacity to capture, reproduce and respect truth.
So, in honor of the genre, we’ve put together a selection of 25 documentaries we think are worth keeping an eye on in 2017’s months to come… If you must procrastinate by watching a movie, do it proactively.
Director: Sabaah Folayan Release Date: August 11
An inside look at the Ferguson uprising after the unlawful murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown; how it inspired a community to fight back and began a global movement.
Served Like a Girl
Director: Lysa Heslov Release Date: August 16 (Limited release)
A look at five female veterans as they compete in Ms. Veteran America, where they band together in hopes of helping the 55,000 homeless women veterans, while battling their histories which involve PTSD, divorce, serious illness and military sexual abuse.
Ex Libris: New York Public Library
Director: Frederick Wiseman Release Date: September 13
Acclaimed documentarian Wiseman, known for his doc portraits of major institutions, such as National Gallery, received a grant from Sundance to make Ex Libris: New York Public Library, about the City of New York’s vast and complex library system.
Wrestling With Chyna
Director: Erik Angra Release Date: TBC
An intimate and deeply emotional look at WWE star Chyna's last months before her untimely death one year ago, alongside interviews with those that knew her best.
Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities
Director: Stanley Nelson Release Date: TBC
A haven for black intellectuals, artists and revolutionaries – and path of promise toward the American dream – Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have educated the architects of freedom movements and cultivated leaders in every field. They have been unapologetically Black for 150 years. For the first time ever, their story is told.
Director: Pamela Yates Release Date: TBC
From a historic genocide trial to the overthrow of a president, the sweeping story of mounting resistance played out in Guatemala’s recent history is told through the actions and perspectives of the majority indigenous Mayan population, who now stand poised to reimagine their society.
Give Me Future: Major Lazer in Cuba
Director: Austin Peters Release Date: TBC
In the spring of 2016, global music sensation Major Lazer performed a free concert in Havana, Cuba – an unprecedented show that drew an audience of almost half a million. This concert documentary evolves into an exploration of youth culture in a country on the precipice of change.
40 Years of Rocky: The Birth of a Classic
Director: Derek Wayne Johnson Release Date: TBC
Sylvester Stallone and John G. Avildsen narrate behind-the-scenes footage from the making of Rocky to mark the film's 40th anniversary.
Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman
Directors: Susan Froemke, John Hoffman, Beth Aala Release Date: TBC
Out on America's vast working landscapes – the ranches of the Mountain west, the farmlands of the Great Plains, the waterways of the Mississippi Delta – a huge, largely hidden, and entirely unexpected movement is being born.
Tens of thousands of heartland conservationists are leading some of the most consequential work in the nation to restore America's forests, grasslands, wildlife, soil and fisheries: the vast, rich bounty that shaped our national character and sustains our way of life.
Director: Alexandre O. Philippe Release Date: January 23
An unprecedented look at the iconic shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, the "man behind the curtain," and the screen murder that profoundly changed the course of world cinema.
This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous
Director: Barbara Kopple Release Date: February 3
Are there limits to your love for your family? One family’s acceptance is tested when a champion diver, destined for the Olympics, announces he’s transitioning into a woman – and invites his YouTube followers along for every moment. It’s a story about unconditional love and finding the courage to be yourself.
Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time
Directors: Ted Bourne, Mary Robertson, Banks Tarver Release Date: February 3
Unprecedented access and never-before-seen footage of candidate Trump, from the primaries through the debates to the dawning realization that the controversial businessman will become the 45th President of the United States. Particularly important viewing now that he's hitting his second month in office and going strong with policy changes.
I Am Not Your Negro
Director: Raoul Peck Release Date: February 3
Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and based on James Baldwin's unfinished manuscript about his personal recollections of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr., titled Remember This House, I Am Not Your Negro explores the history of racism in the United States of America.
Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends)
Director: Colin Hanks Release Date: February 10
An emotional retelling of one of the co-ordinated terror attacks which took place in Paris in November 2015, from the point of view of the Eagles of Death Metal, whose concert at the Bataclan was targeted. Over a year later, the band regrouped with the audience who were present, to finish their show in memory of those who lost their lives.
Water & Power: A California Heist
Director: Marina Zenovich Release Date: March
This doc uncovers the alarming exploits of California's most notorious water barons, who profit off of the state's resource while everyday citizens, unincorporated towns, and small farmers endure debilitating water crises. As the divide between water have and have-nots grows, we face a humbling reality: water is the new oil, and as it becomes less accessible, it is rapidly growing more valuable.
Cries from Syria
Director: Evgeny Afineevsky Release Date: March 10
This documentary focuses on child protesters, revolution icons, activists and their relatives, and high-ranking Army generals who defected to join the fight of the people. It tells the story of the Syrian people who have never lost hope, taking the audience on a unique journey in time, from Syria to Turkey, through Jordan, Lebanon and Europe.
Rock and a Hard Place
Directors: Jon Alpert, Matthew O'Neill Release Date: March 27
Inspired by Dwayne Johnson's own experiences with the law as a youth, HBO documentary Rock and a Hard Place captures the lives of incarcerated young people who are granted a second chance through a one-of-a-kind boot camp program.
The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson
Director: David France Release Date: April 21
Addressing the violence against transwomen of color, both today and historically, this documentary from France – the man behind Oscar-nominated flick How to Survive a Plague – is an investigation into the death of legendary trans-rights activist Marsha Johnson and sheds light on how she, along with fellow activist Sylvia Rivera, launched the transgender rights movement.
Director: Kitty Green Release Date: April 28
The unsolved death of six-year-old American beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey remains the world's most sensational child murder case. Over 15 months, responses, reflections and performances were elicited from the Ramsey's Colorado hometown community, creating a bold work of art from the collective memories and mythologies the crime inspired.
Mommy Dead and Dearest
Director: Erin Lee Carr Release Date: May 15
A look at the murder of Deedee Blanchard by her daughter Gypsey Rose; their history, and the lead up to the fateful event.
Legion Of Brothers
Director: Greg Barker Release Date: May 19
Afghanistan, immediately post-9/11: Small teams of Green Berets arrive on a series of secret missions to overthrow the Taliban. What happens next is equal parts war origin story and cautionary tale, illuminating the nature and impact of 15 years of constant combat, with unprecedented access to U.S. Special Forces.
Director: Michael Mazzola Release Date: May 23
Narrated by Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul's Gus Fring AKA Giancarlo Esposito, Unacknowledged delves into the Disclosure Project – a research project which aims to shed light on the government's secrecy surrounding UFOs, extraterrestrial intelligence and classified advanced energy and propulsion systems.
Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press
Director: Brian Knappenberger Release Date: June 23
After We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists and The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz, Knappenberger is the person we most want making documentaries on internet-related subject matter.
The trial between Hulk Hogan and Gawker Media pitted privacy rights against freedom of the press, and raised important questions about how big money can silence media. This film is an examination of the perils and duties of the free press in an age of inequality.
Director: Pete Gleeson Release Date: June 22 (Australia & New Zealand), TBA elsewhere
What begins as a somewhat quaint, if not rough-around-the-edges journey into outback Australia for two Finnish backpackers, turns into a hellish Blair Witch-esque nightmare. Hotel Coolgardie is at its best a sobering look at what isolation in a backwards small town will do to the human psyche, but at its worst it'll probably just purport the Northern Hemisphere's misconception of (the entirety of) Australia as a rough and lawless place full of bogans.
City of Ghosts
Director: Matthew Heineman Release Date: July 14
Heineman’s previous credits include the Academy Award-nominated Cartel Land, which followed the vigilantes on both sides of the US-Mexico border trying to end the drug wars and questioning the ethics of the self-proclaimed police forces. It was well worth our time.
His new documentary is the story of a new type of warfare: It follows the journey of a handful of anonymous activists who banded together after their homeland was taken over by ISIS in 2014, exploring how the terrorist organization's reign can be directly linked to their use of audio-visual propaganda.
Now that you're up to date on the biggest documentaries coming in 2017, check out the 40 best movies arriving this year.