Greatest Documentaries With Surprising Endings Even The Filmmakers Didn’t Expect

The best documentaries are those that cause their viewers to question their beliefs about the world and learn something new. Redditor u/you_cant_pause_toast asked for some recommendations that take it up a notch.

“What are some documentaries where the filmmakers set out to document one thing but another thing happened during filming that changed the entire narrative?” Redditor u/you_cant_pause_toast asked r/movies.

“I was telling my daughter that I love when documentaries stumble into something that they were totally not suspecting and the film takes a complete turn to covering that thing. But I couldn’t think of any examples where it did. Pretty sure there’s a bunch that covered the 2020 election that stumbled into covering the January 6th insurrection. So something like that.”

Hundreds of Redditors took to the comments to share their recommendations of documentaries that ended in ways even their filmmakers couldn't predict.

1: The Act of Killing (2012)

Redditor u/schnit123 suggested, “The Act of Killing. Joshua Oppenheimer initially set out to interview survivors of the Indonesian genocide of the 1960s until he found out that the men who carried out the killings are protected by the government and as such had no problem with openly discussing their actions.”

“Instead, he turned his focus to them and got them to reenact how they would kill people. He did wind up returning to his original premise in his follow-up film The Look of Silence.”

2: The Thin Blue Line (1988)

Redditor u/ShutterBun said, “The Thin Blue Line was originally intended to be a documentary about a prison psychologist in Texas nicknamed “Dr. Death” who made sure a lot of condemned men in Texas were executed. But during filming, Errol Morris became intrigued with the story of a man on death row who proclaimed his innocence, so he set out to get the full story on the events of his case instead.”

3: Icarus (2017)

Redditor u/GoodTodd1970 shared, “Icarus (2017) is a great “accidental” documentary. The filmmaker, a cyclist, set out to document how (and if) using performance-enhancing substances could net significant performance improvements in his races. He reaches out to a Russian doctor who is known for his work with PED’s and ends up uncovering an international sports-doping scandal.”

4: Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

Redditor u/missanthropocenex said, “You’d be surprised OP, how many documentaries became a thing they didn’t set out to do. Finding Vivian Maier was originally a doc about Storage Wars style unit hunting until they discovered her photography.”

5: The Queen of Versailles (2012)

Redditor u/InternetDickJuice voted, “The Queen of Versailles. Doc was intended to be and began about the construction of a mansion. Then the 2008 financial collapse happened. The rest of the doc is about this insanely wealthy couple losing lots of money and being unable to complete construction.”

6: Into the Deep (2020)

Redditor u/doitcom suggested, “Into the deep. Netflix. A documentary about an inventor who makes his own submarines and trying to build a rocket into space. He gets arrested during it for murder.”

7: Collective (2019)

Redditor u/lucamichelson92 shared, “Colectiv (Collective) about a Romanian discotheque fire, which ends up being a national scandal and uncovers some crazy high-level corruption in all branches of government. Absolutely crazy documentary hard to believe it’s not scripted.”

8: Collapse (2009)

Redditor u/NameLessandFamous suggested, “Collapse (09). If I remember correctly, the doc makers set out to interview Michael Rupert ab him calling out the CIA publically for drug trafficking, but he redirected their entire path by taking them down a depressing road of both financial and energy crises.”

9: Capturing the Friedmans (2003)

Redditor u/ToxicAdamm answered, “A documentarian was doing a film about professional clowns and one of his subjects was the son and brother of two men who were convicted of a high-profile child sexual abuse case in the 80’s.”

“So, he delved into that family’s history and the wreckage of that case. They were pretty creepy people. It’s called Capturing the Friedman’s.”

10: Stevie (2003)

Redditor u/bopojuice responded, “Stevie (2002). Not an entirely different subject but starts with a guy reconnecting with the kid he worked with as a Big Brother. Then it just gets darker and more depressing and not where I expected it to go.”

11: Sasquatch (2021)

Redditor u/MaddMaddworld said, “Sasquatch (2021). Started with investigating a barely remembered story of a Sasquatch attack, then ended up discovering the horrifying world of the weed growing industry of Northern California.”

12: Sherman's March (1985)

Redditor u/dewayneestes shared, “Sherman's March (1985) is about a guy who sets out to document an historical event but ends up sort of stalking an ex. Is it a real documentary? Not sure. I do know that he runs into Burt Reynolds but it turns out to be a Burt Reynolds impersonator but maybe just maybe it actually is Burt Reynolds.”

13: The White Diamond (2004)

Redditor u/fffath answered, “The White Diamond (2004) kinda fits the bill. It’s a documentary about a man who created a dirigible designed to document the rainforest canopy. He’s working through the trauma of having tragically lost a friend several years prior on a similar aircraft.”

“But the entire documentary undergoes a random and beautiful tangent when the filmmaker encounters a fascinating man and his chicken. Made by Werner Herzog, and definitely worth a watch.”

14: Under the Sun (2015)

Redditor u/j_marquand suggested, “Under The Sun (2015) is a Russian documentary that was meant to capture the daily life in Pyongyang, funded by the Russian and North Korean governments.”

“When the filming crew arrived in Pyongyang, they realized what they were supposed to shoot wasn't a realistic depiction of a North Korean life, but rather a fully staged and scripted show with hired actors, who pretend to be “normal” North Koreans living a “normal” North Korean life – basically a propaganda film disguised as a documentary.”

“So they decided to secretly run the camera between shots to record all the “behind the scenes”, like how the stage was being set, North Korean officials nitpicking over everything, and a child actor in total confusion with the propaganda lines she was supposed to throw.”

“At the end of each day's shoot, North Korean officials would review the footage and delete whatever they didn't like; the filming crew had to secretly make and keep a copy of the full footage behind their backs. What they completed after they returned to Russia was not what the North Korean government wanted it to be.”

15: The Woman Who Wasn't There (2012)

u/Lopsided_Elk_1914 responded, “The Woman Who Wasn't There (2012) they started to do a story about the survivors of 9/11 and they find out one of the most famous survivors, Tania Head, wasn't even in the US on that day. it's a wild ride.”

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.