100 Must-See Documentaries Streaming on Amazon Prime This September

100 Must-See Documentaries Streaming on Amazon Prime This Month

If you’re a Prime member, you’ve got plenty to watch for free.

Following a summer hiatus, the Amazon 100 is back, and we’ve got a lot of new additions to recommend. Enough that I’ve dropped short films and docu-series into their own categories at the bottom of the page. Be sure to check those out since there are some Les Blank classics and what’s left of an apparent Ken Burns purge. Meanwhile, there 11 fresh features on the list, including the brand new The Reagan Show and classics like Dark Days and Seven Second Love Affair (shot by Blank).

Here is how the Amazon 100 titles are numerically arranged:

They are mostly ranked in order of my favor with some objective authority, but there are some clumps throughout the list that obviously fit together. Some are by director, some are by genre or subject matter and some are by series. In fact, I see this whole list as being best watched in order of the rankings. There are a few double and triple features in the bunch and some groupings where I truly think the higher ranking title is best watched before a certain title or titles below it.

  1. The Reagan Show (Sierra Pettengill and Pacho Velez, 2017)
    “Much of this, it needs to be said, is mined for jokes. The Reagan Show is, at its heart, a comedic portrait of a president, revealing him to be as petty and insecure as we all are. As a platform, that’s the basis of most stand-up or situational comedy and, through a campy editing style and scoring, this is how The Reagan Show plays out.” — Andrew Karpan
  2. Dark Days (Marc Singer, 2000)
    “A film about the city beneath the city, this documentary reveals the homes of the homeless in the abandoned tunnels of Manhattan. And no New Yorker who saw it could think the same about the island (or the rest of the boroughs) again.” — Christopher Campbell
  3. Videocracy (Erik Gandini, 2009)
  4. The Cove (Louie Psihoyos, 2009)
    The Cove captures in unsparing detail the annual dolphin drive hunt held in the small town of Taiji, Japan. The efforts of the filmmakers and the team of activists they followed were blocked by the authorities, necessitating a covert shooting operation. The doc is presented like a heist movie, with much attention paid to the logistics required in setting up the various cameras and crew members.” — Dan Schindel
  5. Head Games (Steve James, 2012)
    “Steve James, best known for Hoop Dreams, directed yet another notable work with Head Games, which looks at the issue of concussions in sports, from football to girls’ soccer. There’s a fairly standard framework to it, but it’s a very important topic at the moment and the film does a great job at presenting the clash of science and culture that is keeping this from being a straightforward matter.” — Christopher Campbell
  6. Seven Second Love Affair (Robert Abel, 1965)
  7. All This Tea (Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht, 2007)
  8. David Lynch: The Art Life (Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes, and Olivia Neergaard-Holm, 2016)
    “One of the finest glimpses into the mind of David Lynch available…the documentary traces the years from Lynch’s childhood in Montana through the making of his first feature, 1977’s Eraserhead, but crucially uses only Lynch’s own words to do so.” — Jake Orthwein
  9. Paul Williams: Still Alive (Stephen Kessler, 2011)
  10. The Source Family (Maria Demopoulos and Jodi Wille, 2012)
    “Chronicles the rise and fall of the eponymous Source Family, a cult of young people who followed “Father Yod,” a charismatic faux-eastern soothsayer…Unlike most other docs about cults, this one is pretty upbeat about its subject. All of the former Family members look back on the experience fondly. It seems that the Source Family actually lived up to its ideals of peace and love.” — Dan Schindel
  11. Farmland (James Moll, 2014)
    “The film looks at the lives of a new generation of growers and ranchers. These subjects, all in their 20s, are a rarity right now, as a lot of children and grandchildren of the traditional American farmer is moving on to other kinds of work.” — Christopher Campbell
  12. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson, 2016)
    “Every time Johnson picks up a camera, there is an almost chemical reaction, a negotiation between vision and subject that yields only more questions. This is what nonfiction cinema should be, a living dialog that complicates the position of the camera person in invigorating, sometimes emotionally taxing ways. This mediation, for lack of a better term, is art.” — Daniel Walber
  13. Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012)
    “The reason Stories We Tell is so appealing and absorbing is in how her story is presented, with wonder and vigor and drama and a clever, well-executed structure involving a variety of technique.” — Christopher Campbell
  14. Amy (Asif Kapadia, 2015)
    “Another affecting rush of archival footage, like his previous, breakout film, Senna. But this one has a more interesting, sometimes troubling relationship between the footage and the subject.” — Christopher Campbell
  15. The Russian Woodpecker (Chad Gracia, 2015)
    “In his stunning debut, Chad Gracia has tried for a work of political and artistic importance and triumphantly succeeds with a constantly surprising mix of history, humor, drama, character study, journalistic odyssey, global intrigue and terror and what looks like a bit of sci-fi and fantasy but is all too real.” — Christopher Campbell
  16. Louisiana Story (Robert J. Flaherty, 1948)
  17. The Chair (Robert Drew, 1963)
  18. Love Meetings (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964)
  19. Only the Young (Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet, 2012)
  20. Approaching the Elephant (Amanda Wilder, 2014)
  21. Last Train Home (Lixin Fan, 2009)
  22. Manufactured Landscapes (Jennifer Baichwal, 2006)
  23. The Gleaners and I (Agnes Varda, 2002)
  24. Foreign Parts (Verena Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki, 2010)
  25. Picture of Light (Peter Mettler, 1994)
  26. Nuts! (Penny Lane, 2016)
  27. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 1996)
  28. Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 2000)
  29. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 2011)
  30. The Central Park Five (Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, 2012)
  31. Private Violence (Cynthia Hill, 2014)
  32. Private Practices: The Story of a Sex Surrogate (Kirby Dick, 1986)
  33. Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (Nick Broomfield, 1992)
  34. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill, 2003)
  35. Driving Me Crazy (Nick Broomfield, 1988)
  36. Kurt & Courtney (Nick Broomfield, 1998)
  37. Biggie & Tupac (Nick Broomfield, 2002)
  38. Who Cares (Nick Broomfield, 1971)
  39. Soldier Girls (Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill, 1981)
  40. Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam (Nick Broomfield, 1995)
  41. Tracking Down Margaret (Nick Broomfield, 1996)
  42. Altman (Ron Mann, 2014)
  43. The People vs. George Lucas (Alexandre O. Philippe, 2010)
  44. Drew: The Man Behind the Poster (Erik Sharkey, 2013)
  45. The Last Laugh (Ferne Pearlstein, 2016)
  46. Kung Fu Elliot (Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau, 2014)
  47. Author: The JT LeRoy Story (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2016)
  48. Elena (Petra Costa, 2012)
  49. Prelude to War (Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak, 1942)
  50. Divide and Conquer (Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak, 1943)
  51. The Battle of Britain (Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak, 1943)
  52. The Battle of Russia (Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak, 1943)
  53. The Battle of China (Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak, 1944)
  54. War Comes to America (Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak, 1945)
  55. Desert Victory (Ray Boulting and David MacDonald, 1943)
  56. The True Glory (Garson Kanin and Carol Reed, 1945)
  57. Let There Be Light (John Huston, 1946)
  58. The Battle of the Somme (Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell, 1916)
  59. The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks (Geoffrey Malins, 1917)
  60. The Oath (Laura Poitras, 2010)
  61. The Kill Team (Dan Krauss, 2013)
  62. Street Fight (Marshall Curry, 2005)
  63. In the Shadow of the Moon (David Sington, 2007)
  64. Fake It So Real (Robert Greene, 2011)
  65. The Endless Summer (Bruce Brown, 1966)
  66. On Any Sunday (Bruce Brown, 1971)
  67. On Any Sunday II (Ed Forsyth and Don Shoemaker, 1981)
  68. 12 O’Clock Boys (Lotfy Nathan, 2013)
  69. Gleason (Clay Tweel, 2016)
  70. Indie Game: The Movie (Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, 2012)
  71. Jig (Sue Bourne, 2011)
  72. Gimme Danger (Jim Jarmusch, 2016)
  73. Shut Up and Play the Hits (Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, 2012)
  74. The Yes Men Are Revolting (Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno and Laura Nix, 2014)
  75. Unraveled (Marc H. Simon, 2011)
  76. Almost There (Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden, 2014)
  77. Art and Craft (Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman and Mark Becker, 2014)
  78. Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press, 2010)
  79. Stations of the Elevated (Manfred Kirchheimer, 1981)
  80. The Parking Lot Movie (Meghan Eckman, 2010)
  81. Berkeley in the Sixties (Mark Kitchell, 1990)
  82. American Commune (Rena Mundo Croshere and Nadine Mundo, 2013)
  83. Thin (Lauren Greenfield, 2006)
  84. 4 Little Girls (Spike Lee, 1997)
  85. When the Levees Broke: An American Tragedy (Spike Lee, 2006)
  86. Trouble the Water (Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, 2008)
  87. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (Chad Freidrichs, 2011)
  88. Fatherland (Nicolas Prividera, 2011)
  89. We Come as Friends (Hubert Sauper, 2014)
  90. Sick Birds Die Easy (Nicholas Fackler, 2013)
  91. Meru (Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, 2015)
  92. Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul (Sebastian Copeland, 2010)
  93. Voyage to the Edge of the World (Philippe Cousteau, 1976)
  94. The Living Sea (Greg MacGillivray, 1995)
  95. Kon-Tiki (Thor Heyerdahl, 1950)
  96. Song From the Forest (Michael Obert, 2013)
  97. Reindeerspotting: Escape From Santaland (Joonas Neuvonen, 2010)
  98. Super High Me (Michael Blieden, 2007)
  99. Herman’s House (Angad Bhalla, 2012)
  100. Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Benjamin Christensen, 1922)

And here are the eight must-see shorts:

  1. Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (Les Blank, 1980)
  2. The Sun’s Gonna Shine (Les Blank, 1968)
  3. The Negro Soldier (Stuart Heisler, 1944)
  4. The Nazis Strike (Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak, 1943)
  5. The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (William Wyler, 1944)
  6. With the Marines of Tarawa (Richard Brooks and Louis Hayward, 1944)
  7. The Battle of San Pietro (John Huston, 1945)
  8. To the Shores of Iwo Jima (Milton Sperling, 1945)

And here are the must-see series:

  1. Jazz (Ken Burns, 2001)
  2. The Dust Bowl (Ken Burns, 2012)
  3. Makers: Women Who Make America (Barak Goodman, 2013)
  4. Makers: Women In… (2014)

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