All the Documentaries You Need to See in December 2021

This month brings the best documentary of the year to theaters and a streaming showcase of works by women filmmakers.

documentaries december 2021

Welcome to Documental, a monthly column keeping fans of nonfiction films and docuseries up to date on all the documentary content coming to theaters and your favorite streaming services. Here’s a guide to all the essential documentary titles to watch in December 2021.

The holiday season is here, and that means it’s a great time to watch documentaries. They make the best gifts, and buying someone a subscription to any number of great streaming services specializing in nonfiction film and television is like many gifts in one.

This month sees a number of the best documentaries of 2021 releasing on their exclusive streaming platforms plus a few essential curations and classics to find on others. After reading about our highlights, check out everything else in our trusty calendar listing. Note: we may update over the next few weeks, so be sure to return here on occasion for additions to the chart.

In addition to providing documentary fans with streaming options through the month, we’re also expanding the Documental guide to include the now-rare occasional theatrical releases for nonfiction features and shorts as well as any known VOD and digital release dates.

Now, without further ado, here’s your guide to all the documentary films and series new to theaters and streaming in December 2021.

Pick of the Month: Flee


The very best documentary feature of the year, in my opinion, Flee is an animated film chronicling the life of a man only identified as Amin. He was born in Afghanistan, fled to Russia with his family, and then eventually made his way to Denmark, where he met and married his husband.

Reminiscent of the animated documentary Waltz with Bashir as well as Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis and the film adaptation she co-directed, Flee made me cry multiple times, some of them happy tears and some of them sad. It’s a powerful story depicted in a magical medium.

I haven’t stopped thinking about it since seeing it at Sundance in January. In a roundup of the best of the fest at Film School Rejects, I wrote of its layered storytelling: “Throw in some unconventional structural aspects and some implicit questions about the truth and you’ve got a brilliant work of nonfiction.”

In theaters on December 3rd.

More Critics Choice Documentary Awards Favorites

The Rescue documentary December 2021

Among its accolades (which are significantly being added to this month and will surely lead to Oscar glory), Flee was nominated for two Critics Choice Documentary Awards: Best Documentary Feature and Best Director, for Jonas Poher Rasmussen. But the film did not win in either category.

One of the documentaries to tie for the win for Best Director, however, is also a new release this month. Following its theatrical release, The Rescue arrives on Disney+ in the National Geographic brand tab on December 3rd. The film presents an intense record, some of it re-enacted, of the 2008 Tham Luang cave rescue, in which hobbyist divers saved a team of youth soccer players.

The honored filmmakers are previous Oscar-winners Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (Free Solo), and they weren’t the only ones recognized for their work on the doc. Daniel Pemberton also won for his original score, and David Katznelson, Ian Seabrook, and Picha Srisansanee won for the film’s cinematography. The Rescue was also nominated for Best Editing and Best Documentary Feature.

The First Wave documentary december 2021

Two other documentaries nominated at the CCDAs this year for their editing are also new to streaming this month. The First Wave, from Oscar-nominee Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land), hits Hulu on December 5th following a brief theatrical run. An observational look at the first few months of COVID-19 hospitalizations in NYC in 2020, it’s gut-wrenching but absorbing. And it was also nominated for the Best Science/Nature Documentary award.

The other Best Editing nominee to check out is The Real Charlie Chaplin, which debuts on Showtime and its app on December 11th. The biographical portrait of silent comedy film icon Charlie Chaplin gets into some serious subject matter regarding the actor and filmmaker, but the brightly engaging narration by Pearl Mackie keeps a light tone throughout. The doc was also nominated in the Best Narration and Best Archival Documentary categories.

Another documentary nominated for Best Archival Documentary, Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, chronicles the history of the iconic PBS children’s program, and it’s available to stream on HBO Max beginning December 13th. And another documentary nominated for Best Science/Nature Documentary, as well as Best Cinematography, is Puff: Wonders of the Reef, a hypnotic underwater nature film coming to Netflix on December 16th.

Finally, and most fascinatingly, December brings the release of Listening to Kenny G, directed by Penny Lane (Hail Satan?), on the 2nd. Nominated at the CCDAs for Best Music Documentary, the film profiles the famous — and infamous — titular smooth jazz musician and songwriter, and it’s hardly the typical subject-canonizing music doc. Although it is highly respectful in spite of its recognition that Kenny G is not universally loved and admired.

Listening to Kenny G is an installment of the anthology music doc series Music Box, two more episodes of which are also releasing this month.

Spotlight on Documentaries by Women Filmmakers

Mur Murs documentary

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Penny Lane are two of the greatest filmmakers working today, and they happen to be women. So, while they have new documentaries out in December 2021, it’s a fitting time to celebrate all women filmmakers. That’s what The Criterion Channel is doing with their month-long program “Female Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers.”

The selection consists of around 50 films, all directed and shot by women, and they cover narrative and nonfiction works and include both features and shorts. Among the big names that overlap multiple quadrants (though not necessarily in this curation) are Agnes Varda, Chantal Ackerman, and Sarah Polley. You can find docs by all of them and more in the bunch.

The nonfiction favorites that we recommend as priority viewing include the following Polley’s incredibly personal Stories We Tell, Chantal Ackerman’s hybrid “structuralist city symphony” News from Home, Laura Poitras‘ Oscar-winner Citizenfour, and Varda’s muralist-focused masterpiece Mur Murs. Others in the program are marked as such in the calendar below.

Documentary Release Calendar for December 2021

DateTitleStreaming ServiceNote
12/120 Feet from Stardom (2013)HBO Max
Adrienne (2021)HBO MaxHBO Original
The Beaches of Agnès (2008)The Criterion Channel
By Way of Canarsie (2021)The Criterion Channel
Candified: Home for the Holidays (2021)Hulu
Citizenfour (2014)The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters (2019)Crackle
Clorae and Albie (1975)The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
Cocaine Cowboys 2: Hustlin' With The Godmother (2008)Crackle
Control Room (2006)HBO Max
Conversations with Intellectuals About Selena (1999)The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
Daguerréotypes (1975)The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery (2015)HBO Max
Fruitcake Fraud (2021)Discovery+
Girls at 12 (1975) The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
Jane B. par Agnès V. (1988)The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
Joyce at 34 (1972)The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
Man on Wire (2008)Crackle
Mur Murs (1981)The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
News from Home (1976)The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
The Oath (2010)The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
Pope: The Most Powerful Man In History (2018)HBO Max
Right to Try (2021)Peacock
Shooting Women (2008)The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
Stories We Tell (2012)The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
Venus and Serena (2012)Crackle and DOX
The Willmar 8 (1981)The Criterion ChannelFemale Gaze: Women Directors + Women Cinematographers
The Wolfpack (2015)HBO Max
The Wrecking Crew! (2008)HBO Max
12/2The Alpinist (2021)Netflix
Listening to Kenny GHBO MaxHBO Original - Music Box Episode
12/3Coming Out Colton - Season 1 (2021)NetflixNetflix Original Series
Flee (2021)In Theaters
The Great British Baking Show: Holidays - Season 4 (2020)NetflixNetflix Original Series
The Hunt for the Chicago Strangler (2021)Discovery+
Koshien: Japan's Field of Dreams (2019)
The Johnnyswim Show (2021)Discovery+
To Live and Die in Alabama (2021)HuluThe New York Times Presents Episode
Love and Fury (2021) Netflix
The Rescue (2021)Disney+
We Are X (2016)Amazon Prime Video
12/590 Day Journeys: The Other Way Couples (2021)Discovery+
At the ReadyHBO Max
The First Wave (2021)Hulu
12/6Águilas (2021)PBSPOV Shorts
The Forever Prisoner (2021)HBO MaxHBO Original
The Hairdresser (2021)PBSPOV Shorts
Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over (2019)The Criterion Channel
Voir - Season 1 (2021)
12/7Alaskan Killer Bigfoot (2021)Discovery+
All About My Sisters (2021)
Poor Kids (2021)PBSFrontline Episode
The Slow Hustle (2021)HBO MaxHBO Original
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (2015)DOX
12/8 The Great Christmas Light Fight - Season 9 (2021)Disney+
Life Below Zero: Northern Territories - Season 1 (2021)Disney+
Welcome to Earth (2021)Disney+National Geographic Original Series
Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks - Season 8 (2021)Disney+National Geographic Original Series
12/9Bathtubs Over Broadway (2018) Netflix
The Family That Sings Together: The Camargos - Season 1 (2021)Netflix
Mr. Saturday Night (2021)HBO MaxHBO Original - Music Box Episode
12/10Family Dinner (2021)Discovery+
Joy Womack: The White Swan (2021)VOD
Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story (2021)NetflixNetflix Original Series
Twentysomethings: Austin - Season 1 (2021)NetflixNetflix Original Series
12/11The Pioneer Woman: Hometown Stories (2021)Discovery+
Radford Returns (2021)Discovery+
The Real Charlie Chaplin (2021)Showtime
12/12Ken and Barbie Killers: The Lost Murder Tapes (2021)Discovery+
12/13Elaine is Almost (2021)PBSPOV Shorts
Integrate.Me (2021)PBSPOV Shorts
The Rise and Fall of LuLaRoe (2021)Discovery+
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street (2021)HBO Max
12/14Discovering David Dobrik (2021)Discovery+
A Fierce Green Fire (2012)
The Future Diary - Season 1 (2021)NetflixNetflix Original Series
The Murders at Starved Rock (2021)HBO MaxHBO Original Series
Noma: My Perfect Storm (2015)DOX
12/15Black Ink Crew New York - Seasons 3 & 4 (2015-2016)Netflix
The Challenge - Seasons 12 & 25 (2006 & 2014)Netflix
Foodtastic (2021)Disney+
Life Below Zero - Season 17 (2021)Disney+National Geographic Original Series
The Repair Shop (2021)Discovery+
Science Of Stupid - Season 8 (2021)Disney+
Selling Tampa - Season 1 (2021)NetflixNetflix Original Series
Teen Mom 2 - Seasons 3 & 4 (2011-2012)Netflix
12/16Dead Asleep (2021)Hulu
Diego, The Last Goodbye (Diego, el último adiós) (2021)HBO MaxMax Original
Juice WRLD: Into the Abyss (2021)HBO MaxHBO Original - Music Box Episode
Prince Philip: The Royal Family RemembersDiscovery+
Puff: Wonders of the Reef (2021)NetflixNetflix Original
12/17President (2021)In Theaters
12/18Drew’s Dream Car (2021)Discovery+
My Dream Kitchen: Carla Hall (2021)Discovery+
My Dream Kitchen: Giada De Laurentiis (2021)Discovery+
12/19Home Town: Ben’s Workshop (2021)Discovery+
12/21 Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson (2008)DOX
Gustav Stickley: American Craftsman (2021)
12/22The Velvet Queen (2021)In Theaterss
12/23Dead Man’s Switch: A Crypto MysteryDiscovery+
12/24King Tut In Color (2020)Disney+
Lost Tombs Of The Pyramids (2020)Disney+
12/25Stories of a Generation – with Pope Francis - Season 1 (2021)NetflixNetflix Original Series
12/27Le Frère (2021)PBSPOV Shorts
Unapologetic (2020)PBSPOV Episode
12/28Hillside Strangler: Mind of a Monster (2021)Discovery+
I'm Still Here (2010)DOX
12/29Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer - Season 1 (2021)NetflixNetflix Original Series
12/31'80s Top Ten - Season 1 (2021)Disney+
The Established Home (2021)Discovery+
Queer Eye - Season 6 (2021)NetflixNetflix Original Series
Restoration Road with Clint Harp (2021)Discovery+
DateTitleStreaming ServiceNote

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.