While many people are anxiously awaiting huge upcoming releases like Avengers: Infinity War and Ready Player One, others may find themselves more excited for what real life has to offer, asking, “what are the best documentaries of 2018?”

The winner of the top documentary prize at the 90th Academy Awards, Icarus — a film that helped expose Russian doping which spanned 1,000 athletes across 30 sports — revealed the beauty of the genre and how it allows documentary filmmakers the ability to unlock many aspects of culture beyond what is often very surface level as it relates to big budget Hollywood fare.

2018 promises to be another banner year for documentary filmmaking. With daily occurrences that both shake us to our core, and others which restore our faith in humanity, there’s no denying that real life often makes for the best films.

Here are the 23 documentaries that should be on your radar in 2018.

Ladies First

Director: Uraaz Bahl
Release date: March 8 on Netflix

Ladies First is a documentary which chronicles Indian athlete, Deepika Kumari, who went from a life of poverty to representing her country, India, in archery at the summer Olympics – despite having had no previous experience – in the span of only four years.

Traffic Stop

Director: Kate Davis
Release date: March 12 on HBO

After being stopped for a routine traffic violation, 26-year-old, Breaion King, an African-American teacher, was pulled from her car by an officer and repeatedly thrown to the ground before being handcuffed. During the ensuing ride to jail, dash cam footage reveals the conversation between King and the officer which speaks to the heart of the problem between minorities and the police.

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject at the 90th Academy Awards.

Jane

Director: Brett Morgen
Release date: March 12 on National Geographic

Directed by Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck helmer, Brett Morgan,  Jane utilizes 100 hours of never-before-seen footage that has been tucked away in the National Geographic archives for over 50 years to tell the story of how Jane Goodall broke into a male-dominated field of primate research to unlock greater answers about our closest evolutionary ancestors.

Wild Wild Country

Directors: Chapman Way & Maclain Way
Release date: March 16 on Netflix

Spanning six-episodes, Wild Wild Country focuses on a controversial guru who built a utopian city in the Oregon desert. While at first seeming innocuous, a massive conflict with local ranchers ensued; producing the first bioterror attack in US history and the largest case of illegal wiretapping ever recorded.

Ramen Heads

Director: Koki Shigeno
Release date: March 16 in theaters

What goes into making a good bowl of ramen? Is it the time that the ingredients spend melding together? Is it the experience of a chef? Or it is something that can’t be put into words, and simply has to be illustrated by five of the best chefs in Japan serving up the iconic dish?

Focusing heavily on chef, Osamu Tomita, over 15 months of footage has been compiled which hopefully unlocks the secret for those that would love to make the dish at home.

The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling

Director: Judd Apatow
Release date: March 26/March 27 on HBO

Judd Apatow’s two-part look at the life of comedian, Garry Shandling, come from a place of love. Shandling was, after all, Apatow’s mentor. Featuring conversations with 40 of Shandling’s closest family and friends – including James L. Brooks, Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen, David Coulier, Jon Favreau, Jay Leno, Kevin Nealon, Conan O’Brien, Bob Saget, Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman – the film is sure to unlock what made Shandling such a comedy legend to so many.

Rapture

Directors: Sacha Jenkins, Ben Selkow, Geeta Gandbhir, Steven Caple Jr., Marcus A. Clarke & Gabriel Noble
Release date: March 30 on Netflix

Eight-episode series, Rapture, delves into the world of hip-hop and features in-depth looks into the lives and careers of artists like Nas, Dave East, T.I., Rapsody, Logic, G-Eazy, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, 2 Chainz and Just Blaze, with producers stating that viewers will witness firsthand, “the artists’ lives with their families and friends, to sitting front row in the studio and grinding on tour, to experiencing the ecstatic power of moving the crowd.”

Operation Odessa

Director: Tiller Russell
Release date: March 31 on Showtime

If you ever wondered what you’d get if you combined a Russian mobster, a Miami playboy, and a Cuban spy who once sold a Soviet submarine to a Colombian drug cartel for $35 million USD, you will get your answer in Showtime’s Operation Odessa which explores the meaning of friendship in the face of mounting pressure from some of the scariest criminal organizations in the world.

King in the Wilderness

Director: Peter Kunhardt
Release date: TBD on HBO

Delving into the last 18 months of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., Peter Kunhardt’s documentary looks to humanize the icon so that audiences may have a greater understanding of the anxieties, fears, and broken friendships which occurred after the groundbreaking passage of both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act,

I Am Evidence

Directors: Trish Adlesic & Geeta Gandbhir
Release date: TBD on HBO

When a sexual assault occurs, a rape kit is often the most valuable tool for investigators – as it allows for the collection of DNA which can be cross referenced with samples already in criminal databases worldwide. Yet, hundreds of thousands of these kits remain untested in police evidence storage rooms across the country.

Equal parts a story about survivors as it is an analysis of how bureaucracy and mismanagement are often culprits for bad police work, I Am Evidence promises to be a harrowing experience.

End Game

Directors: Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman
Release date: May 4 on Netflix

Directed by Academy Award winners Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman who won the award for their 1989 film, Common Threads, their latest, End Game, follows visionary medical practitioners as they explore the limits of both life and death.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Director: Morgan Neville
Release date: June 8 in theaters

In addition to his own pleasant on-screen demeanor, Fred Rogers also voiced beloved characters like King Friday XIII, Henrietta Pussycat, and Lady Elaine Fairchild on Mister Rogers Neighborhood – all of whom have given hundreds of millions of children around the world valuable lessons in friendship, tolerance, and kindness during the show’s run  which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.

Filmmaker Morgan Neville, said of the film, “The Fred Rogers I discovered making this film is at once comfortably familiar and completely surprising, I believe Mister Rogers is the kind of voice we need to hear right now.”

Pennywise: The Story of IT

Director: Chris Griffiths
Release date: TBD

Thanks to the runaway success of the IT remake at the box office in 2017 – where it took in over $700 million USD – there is a renewed interest in the titular villain who sprung from the imagination of Stephen King, was fist portrayed on screen by Tim Curry, and was again introduced to whole new generation by Bill Skarsgård.

The fully-funded Indiegogo campaign promises a fully independent retrospective into the making of Stephen King’s IT and its cultural impact over the last 28 years – supported by dozens of the original cast and crew including Curry, Tommy Lee Wallace, and Bart Mixon.

Central Airport THF

Director: Karim Aïnouz
Release date: TBD

Utilizing Berlin’s shuttered Tempelhof Airport as the backdrop – a location which once housed prisoners in World War II – Karim Aïnouz’s documentary, Central Airport THF, follows two refugees, Ibrahim and Qutaiba, who are but two of the thousands of people who have found themselves stranded in a new place, and unable to return to their homelands.

Untitled Barbie Documentary

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Director: Andrea Nevins
Release date: TBD on Hulu

Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us revealed the inner workings at the companies behind some of the biggest toys in the world like Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Lego, Transformers, He-Man, Hello Kitty, and Star Trek.

Hulu aims to capture the same spirit with a further analysis of Mattel’s Barbie doll which became the most popular doll ever and subsequently a fashion icon despite only being 11.5in tall.

In The Realm Of Perfection

Director: Julien Faraut
Release date: TBD

With Shia LaBeouf set to play John McEnroe in an upcoming biopic, Julien Faraut has instead opted for a different strategy to cover the enigmatic tennis superstar; using previously unreleased footage from the hallowed ground of Rolland Garros which both shows his sports acumen, and also his uneven temperament which led to legendary outbursts.

Fahrenheit 11/9

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Director: Michael Moore
Release date: TBD

Dubbed a sequel to what is still the highest-grossing documentary of all time, Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore’s latest film, Fahrenheit 11/9, commemorates the date that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.

“The filming has been done under a strict cloak of secrecy and is expected to be key in dissolving Trump’s ‘teflon’ shield and, in turn, his presidency,” a press release read when the film was announced. “No matter what you throw at him, it hasn’t worked,” Moore stated. “No matter what is revealed, he remains standing. Facts, reality, brains cannot defeat him. Even when he commits a self-inflicted wound, he gets up the next morning and keeps going and tweeting. That all ends with this movie.”

The movie’s future was thrown into jeopardy when the financier, The Weinstein Company, was subsequently disbanded in the wake of the allegations made against Harvey Weinstein.

Yet, we’re holding out hope that the film sees the light of day in 2018 despite no new news since May of 2017.

Three Identical Strangers

Director: Tim Wardle
Release date: TBD on CNN

Three Identical Strangers tells the story of three triplets who were separated at birth – Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman – who were reunited by chance 19 years after their births with absolute no knowledge that two identical replicas existed.

While it would seem like this would be a heartwarming tale, instead, the film unearths the deep, dark secret about how and why the brothers ended up living separate lives – resulting in a conspiracy-laden thriller of a film.

Generation Wealth

Director: Lauren Greenfield
Release date: July 20 on Amazon

Materialism in America has often been a point of focus in the work of Lauren Greenfield who has explored the theme in both photography and filmmaking in the past.

Her latest, Generation Wealth, is a deep analysis of the phenomenon which looks to answer what drives our desire to acquire things, and why the continuing divide between the top 1 percent and the rest of America only continues to fan the flames of greedy principles.

Dark Money

Director: Kimberly Reed
Release date: TBD on PBS

Winner of the Sundance Institute/Amazon Studios Producers Award, Dark Money follows a Montana-based reporter who investigates the undeniable impact and influence corrupt money has on of American democracy and why we continue to allow a systems which allows unlimited, anonymous money to pour into elections nationwide.

“In this era, it is crucial that we give a platform to stories that shine a light on the impact of political forces outside the traditional corridors of power,” said Marie Nelson, Vice President of News and Independent Film for PBS (who acquired the film after Sundance). “Dark Money deftly examines the way that money in politics can affect our political process from the ground up, and we are deeply committed to getting this film seen by the widest possible audience as Americans head back to the polls this November.”

Weinstein

Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Director: Ursula MacFarlane
Release date: TBD on PBS

Even the most casual movie fan is now aware of the horrors perpetrated by disgraced Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein. But shockingly, the BBC promises what we know is but just the tip of the iceberg.

Featuring interviews with the victims who have already come forward – as well as journalists, producers and directors who have previously been unable or unwilling to talk publicly – Weinstein promises a much greater understanding of how his behavior was tolerated for so many years.

XY Chelsea

Bryan Bedder/OUT Magazine/Getty Images

Director: Tim Travers Hawkins
Release date: TBD on Showtime

The story of whistle-blower, Chelsea Manning – who received a 35 year sentence at an all-men’s military prison for releasing state secrets – is a multi-layered narrative which digs into facets of the military, national security, and the transgender community.

Untitled John DeLorean Documentary

Keystone/Getty Images

Director: Don Argott & Sheena M. Joyce
Release date: TBD

Fusing both interviews with people who knew the eccentric car manufacturer best, and recreations with Alec Baldwin in the role of John DeLorean, the untitled documentary will surely shed a much needed light on the designer who was the Elon Musk of his era.

  • Main & Featured Image:Netflix
Words by Alec Banks
Features Editor

Alec Banks is a Los Angeles-based long-form writer with over a decade of experience covering fashion, music, sports, and culture.

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