The BEST episodes of HBO Documentary Film Series

Every episode of HBO Documentary Film Series ever, ranked from best to worst by thousands of votes from fans of the show. The best episodes of HBO Documentary Film Series!

HBO presents a full spectrum of non-fiction programming by leading documentary filmmakers. Taking viewers from the hidden corners of America to the shocking reality of global issues, these powerful, uncompromising and award-winning films never fail to leave an impact. Now, with HBO Podcast, listen to interviews with many of our award-winning filmmakers - and even some of their documentary subjects!

Last Updated: 1/21/2023Network:HBO
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Back Nine At Cherry Hills The Legends Of The 1960 U.S. Open
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9.00
28 votes

#1 - Back Nine At Cherry Hills The Legends Of The 1960 U.S. Open

Season 2008 - Episode 1 - Aired 6/11/2008

On a Saturday in June of 1960, at a golf course just outside of Denver, Colorado, three of the sport’s all time greatest and most colorful players found themselves locked in a battle. The climactic events of that day’s U.S. Open hit the newspapers the following morning, how Arnold Palmer staged one of the greatest comebacks in the tournament’s history to defeat a field that included 4-time champion Ben Hogan and a 20 year old upstart, Jack Nicklaus. But there was a deeper, underlying story that would come to fruition that afternoon.

Directors: Ross Greenburg
Writer: Mary Carillo
Manhunt: The Search for Bin Laden
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9.00
28 votes

#2 - Manhunt: The Search for Bin Laden

Season 2013 - Episode 10 - Aired 5/3/2013

An espionage tale from inside the CIA's long conflict against Al Qaeda, as revealed by the remarkable women and men whose secret war against Osama bin Laden started nearly a decade before most of us even knew his name.

Watch Now:Amazon
My Depression (The Up and Down and Up of It)
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9.00
28 votes

#3 - My Depression (The Up and Down and Up of It)

Season 2015 - Episode 19 - Aired 7/13/2015

Through inventive animation and music, this documentary short explores writer/director/composer Elizabeth Swados’ personal struggle with lifelong depression, as well as her efforts to keep her “cloud” at bay.

Hard Times: Lost on Long Island
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8.00
28 votes

#4 - Hard Times: Lost on Long Island

Season 2012 - Episode 7 - Aired 7/9/2012

Explorers the impact of the shrinking of the middle class by telling the story of four families' struggle to find employment during the summer of 2010.

Directors: Marc Levin
Watch Now:Amazon
Gideon's Army
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8.00
28 votes

#5 - Gideon's Army

Season 2013 - Episode 16 - Aired 7/1/2013

An official selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, this documentary follows idealistic young defenders in the deep south who face particularly difficult challenges due to high bonds, mandatory minimum sentencing and a culture that is traditionally “tough on crime.” Despite low pay, long hours and staggering caseloads, these young professionals, with the help of the Southern Public Defender Training Center (SPDTC), take on the job in the name of public service.

Directors: Dawn Porter
American Winter
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8.00
28 votes

#6 - American Winter

Season 2013 - Episode 5 - Aired 3/20/2013

Produced and directed by Emmy award-winning filmmakers, Joe and Harry Gantz, American Winter is a documentary feature film that follows the personal stories of families struggling in the aftermath of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Years after the recession began, millions of families are struggling to meet their basic needs, and many formerly middle class families are finding themselves in financial crisis, and needing assistance for the first time in their lives. Meanwhile, the social safety net that was created to help people in difficult times has been weakened by massive budget cuts, creating a perfect storm of greater need and fewer resources to help families in trouble. Filmed over the course of one winter in Portland, Oregon, American Winter presents an intimate and emotionally evocative snapshot of the state of our economy as it is playing out in many American families. Working together with the nonprofit organization 211info in Portland, the filmmakers were given full access to monitor and record calls from distressed families who were calling 211’s emergency hotline in search of help. They then began following the stories of some of these callers in more depth over several months. The film follows multiple families in their daily struggle to keep their heads above water, while facing overwhelming challenges and dwindling resources available to help them, creating a powerful firsthand view of Americans caught in today’s financial undertow. The experiences of the families in American Winter are a vivid illustration of what has been happening to families across America, including working families losing their homes, people who remain jobless or underemployed, children going hungry, families getting their heat shut off in the dead of winter, and people with health issues overwhelmed by medical costs. Framed through the personal stories of eight families, American Winter puts a face on the country's economic

Watch Now:Amazon
The Education of Mohammad Hussein
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8.00
28 votes

#7 - The Education of Mohammad Hussein

Season 2014 - Episode 2 - Aired 1/9/2014

"The Education Of Mohammad Hussein" is an intimate look at how the largest Muslim community in the U.S. responds to the provocations of an antiIslamic preacher. Through the eyes of children, the film examines what it is like to come of age as a Muslim in the United States a decade after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Watch Now:Amazon
Mondays At Racine
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8.00
28 votes

#8 - Mondays At Racine

Season 2013 - Episode 26 - Aired 10/14/2013

Mondays At Racine-- visits a Long Island beauty salon that welcomes women with cancer.

Watch Now:Amazon
Toe Tag Parole: To Live and Die on Yard A
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8.00
28 votes

#9 - Toe Tag Parole: To Live and Die on Yard A

Season 2015 - Episode 21 - Aired 8/3/2015

In 2000, a California State Prison inmate serving Life Without Parole (LWOP) approached the warden to request a dedicated yard for men serving life sentences that would break the code of violence dominating prison life. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) subsequently transformed Yard A at California State Prison into The Progressive Programming Facility, which inmates call The Honor Yard. The only one of its kind in the United States, this experimental prison yard is free of violence, racial tensions, gang activity and illegal drug and alcohol use.

Watch Now:Amazon
Traffic Stop
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0 votes

#10 - Traffic Stop

Season 2018 - Episode 5 - Aired 3/12/2018

In 2015, African-American schoolteacher Breaion King was stopped for a minor traffic violation in Austin, Texas — and what should have been a routine encounter quickly escalated into a harrowing arrest that was captured in detail by police dash cams.

Directors: Kate Davis
The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, Part 1
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#11 - The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, Part 1

Season 2018 - Episode 7 - Aired 3/26/2018

When Garry Shandling passed away in 2016, he was widely remembered as a top stand-up comic and the star of two of the most innovative sitcoms in TV history. But to those who knew him, the “real” Garry Shandling was a far more complex person.

Directors: Judd Apatow
The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, Part 2
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#12 - The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, Part 2

Season 2018 - Episode 8 - Aired 3/27/2018

Part Two of The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling offers an extensive examination of The Larry Sanders Show, his landmark HBO comedy series. Colleagues remember the demands of producing material that met Shandling’s high standards, while his diaries reveal an ongoing struggle with complacency and search for authenticity.

Directors: Judd Apatow
King In The Wilderness
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#13 - King In The Wilderness

Season 2018 - Episode 9 - Aired 4/2/2018

A documentary on the last years of Martin Luther King Jr., this doc explores the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to MLK’s assassination in 1968. It is designed to find a clear window into King’s character, showing him to be a man with an unshakable commitment to nonviolence in the face of an increasingly unstable country.

Directors: Peter Kunhardt
Writer: Chris Chuang
I Am Evidence
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#14 - I Am Evidence

Season 2018 - Episode 13 - Aired 4/16/2018

“I Am Evidence,” produced by Law & Order:SVU actress Mariska Hargitay, is about the untested rape kit backlog in the U.S. The doc tells stories of survivors who have waited years for their kits to be tested, as well as the law enforcement officials who are leading the charge to work through the backlog and pursue long-awaited justice

Arthur Miller: Writer
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#15 - Arthur Miller: Writer

Season 2018 - Episode 6 - Aired 3/19/2018

An intimate portrait of one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century, told from the unique perspective of his daughter, who filmed interviews with her father over decades. The doc features a host of personal archival material and provides new insights into Miller’s life as an artist and explores his character in all its complexity.

Directors: Rebecca Miller
Elvis Presley: The Searcher, Part 1
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#16 - Elvis Presley: The Searcher, Part 1

Season 2018 - Episode 11 - Aired 4/14/2018

He was a boy from Tupelo who grew up to become the biggest star in music. Along the way, he absorbed a staggering range of influences, creating a revolutionary sound in his lifelong search for self-expression. Part 1 details Elvis’ early life in Tupelo, Mississippi and his unprecendented rise to fame over a single year.

Directors: Thom Zimny
Elvis Presley: The Searcher, Part 2
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#17 - Elvis Presley: The Searcher, Part 2

Season 2018 - Episode 12 - Aired 4/15/2018

Elvis Presley: The Searcher includes stunning atmospheric shots taken inside Graceland, Elvis’ iconic home, and features more than 20 new, primary source interviews with session players, producers, engineers, directors and other artists who knew him or who were profoundly influenced by him Part 2 begins with his return home after his Army discharge and facing a rapidly changing pop-music scene.

Directors: Thom Zimny
Pearl Harbor: The Accused
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#18 - Pearl Harbor: The Accused

Season 2016 - Episode 15 - Aired 11/24/2016

As well as marking the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbour, this documentary will reveal the untold story behind the failure to stop the Japanese attack.

Unlocking The Cage
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#19 - Unlocking The Cage

Season 2017 - Episode 6 - Aired 2/20/2017

Unloclking The Cage explores animal rights lawyer Steven Wise’s unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans. After 30 years of struggling with ineffective animal welfare laws, Wise and his legal team, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), are making history by filing the first lawsuits that seek to transform an animal from a “thing” with no rights to a “person” with legal protections.

Atomic Homefront
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#20 - Atomic Homefront

Season 2018 - Episode 4 - Aired 2/12/2018

In 1942, the U.S. government chose downtown St. Louis as a processing center of uranium for the first atomic bombs. Over the next 25 years, the radioactive waste from this processing center was moved to sites throughout the city’s northern and western suburbs and eventually dumped into the West Lake Landfill in North St. Louis County. But until recently, many residents living near the landfill were unaware the waste had become a ticking time bomb.

Directors: Rebecca Cammisa
May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers
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#21 - May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers

Season 2018 - Episode 3 - Aired 1/29/2018

Founded by Scott and Seth Avett and Bob Crawford in 2001, The Avett Brothers have gone from obscurity to critical acclaim and sold-out tours, experiencing profound heartbreak and exceptional joy along the way. Filmed with extensive access over the course of more than two years, May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers is an inside look at the North Carolina band, from their origins to a recent collaboration with legendary record producer Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash, Jay Z, Beastie Boys, Dixie Chicks, etc.) on the Grammy-nominated album True Sadness.

The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm
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#22 - The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm

Season 2018 - Episode 2 - Aired 1/27/2018

When ten-year-old Elliott asks his 90-year-old great-grandfather, Jack, about the number tattooed on his arm, he sparks an intimate conversation about Jack’s life that spans happy memories of childhood in Poland, the loss of his family, surviving Auschwitz and finding a new life in America. Directed and produced by Emmy winner Amy Schatz, the short film The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm interweaves haunting historical footage and hand-painted animation to tell a heartbreaking story of Jewish life in Eastern Europe, sharing memories and lessons of the Holocaust with a new generation.

Directors: Amy Schatz
Writer: Amy Schatz
Warning: This Drug May Kill You
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#23 - Warning: This Drug May Kill You

Season 2017 - Episode 10 - Aired 5/1/2017

Warning: This Drug May Kill You takes an unflinching look at the devastating effects of opioid addiction in the U.S., profiling four families whose lives have been decimated by addictions that all began with legitimate prescriptions to dangerous painkillers. Through the personal and emotional stories of people on the front lines of this epidemic, the film sheds light on the struggles of ordinary people who were prescribed highly addictive opioid pain medications, which are often the gateway to a very similar opioid, heroin.

Directors: Perri Peltz
Beware The Slenderman
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#24 - Beware The Slenderman

Season 2017 - Episode 2 - Aired 1/23/2017

The true story of 12-year-olds Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, who lured their best friend into the woods, stabbed her 19 times and confessed they did it to appease a tall and faceless man known online as Slenderman. Featuring heart-wrenching access to the girls’ families, the haunting documentary plunges deep down the rabbit hole of their actions, exploring how the dark corners of the Internet can influence society’s most impressionable young consumers of media.

Studs Terkel: Listening to America
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#25 - Studs Terkel: Listening to America

Season 2009 - Episode 7 - Aired 7/25/2009

Documentary about the life and career of the author and pioneer of radio & television, Studs Terkel.

Directors: Eric Simonson

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