Discover The Extraordinary: 16 Documentaries That Defy Expectations

Jim Carrey smiles on the red carpet

Many documentaries out there follow a typical mold of storytelling through interviews. But there are other types of documentaries out there that are worth exploring.

One cinephile turned to social media for suggestions for good documentaries to watch that aren't the usual suspects. “Not the classical people talking and telling the story,” they wrote. “Not that there is something wrong with that, it is a classic. But interested to see some fresh takes on documentaries.”

Documentary fans took to the comments with their suggestions, and we added some of our own, too.

1. Tokyo Olympiad (1965)

Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
Image Credit: Mr. James Kelley /

Released after the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Kon Ichikawa's Tokyo Olympiad is seen as one of the greatest sports docs ever, in large part because it focused on the totality of the event and the participants. This one focused on how the athletes reacted to wins and losses, and who they were as people, making it a three-dimensional portrait rather than a recap of a spectacle.

2. The Pez Outlaw (2022)

The Pez Outlaw
Image Credit: Sidestilt Films.

The Pez Outlaw follows the peculiar case of one man who became rich by smuggling Pez dispensers everywhere from the U.S. to France. Who knew there was a black market for candy?

3. Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)

Jim and Andy: the Great Beyond Jim Carrey
Image Credit: Netflix.

One fan shared, “Jim and Andy. Jim Carrey goes all in playing Andy Kaufman. He stays in character during the whole recording. It is insane (in a good way I guess) I saw it last night for the 4th time.”

4. The Kid Stays in The Picture (2002)

The Kid Stays in the Picture Nanette Burstein, Robert Evans, Brett Morgen
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

A moviegoer answered, “‘The Kid Stays In The Picture’ is kind of a rich visual audiobook if that makes any sense.”

5. The Act of Killing (2012)

The Act of Killing Anwar Congo
Image Credit: Det Danske Filminstitut/Dogwoof Pictures.

One film buff said, “The Act of Killing – documentarians let a group of fascist soldiers recreate their genocide campaigns by letting them act it out however they want, most choosing to portray their actions like Hollywood movies.”

6. The Amazing Jonathan (2019)

The Amazing Jonathan
Image Credit: Sundance Institute.

One critic suggested, “The Amazing Johnathan– a magician comedian known for playing with people's minds is now chronically ill and the documentarian sets out to find out whether he is really dying or it's all a joke.”

7. Leviathan (2012)

Leviathan Brian Jannelle Adrian Guillette Arthur Smith
Image Credit: Cinema Guild.

A filmgoer added, “Leviathan (2012). It’s a strange and moody atmospheric documentary about a fishing boat. IIRC there isn’t really much narrative or talking in it if any. It’s just an unusually hypnotizing snapshot of life. Look up the trailer and you’ll see what I mean.”

8. The Velvet Underground (2021)

The Velvet Underground Sterling Morrison, Lou Reed, Maureen Tucker, The Velvet Underground, Doug Yule
Image Credit: Apple TV+.

One movie fanatic responded, “The Velvet Underground doc that came out a year ago does some great stuff with music/image.”

9. Paul T. Goldman (2023)

Paul Goldman
Image Credit: Peacock.

One critic said, “Paul T. Goldman tells a wild story in a variety of ways, including talking heads, but there's so much more to it.”

11. Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns (2003)

Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns John Flansburgh John Linnell Gina Arnold
Image Credit: Cowboy Pictures, Plexifilm.

One person replied, “Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns. It’s an antidote to the typical sex and drugs rock doc.”

“Instead of covering drama and scandals, it follows the band They Might Be Giants, who are very wholesome and free of controversy. There’s a unique and charming angle in how it focuses on the friendship of the two guys at the core of the band, and also interviews a diverse variety of fans.”

12. American Movie (1999)

American Movie Mark Borchardt, Mike Schank
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Classics.

One filmgoer shared, “American Movie (1999) is a transcendent fly-on-the-wall film of two suburbanites trying to make a movie.”

13. Alamar (2009)

Alamar Jorge Machado, Natan Machado Palombini, Garza Silvestre
Image Credit: MK2.

One fan added, “Alamar (2009) is ASMR of a daughter and father fishing at a reef. I cried.”

14. Uncle Yanco (1967)

Uncle Yanco Jean Varda Tom Luddy Agnès Varda
Image Credit: The Criterion Channel / The Criterion Collection.

One movie buff said, “Agnes Varda has a bunch of incredible short documentaries, but my favorite is Uncle Yanco (1967). Hang on a boat with Uncle Yanco. Do it!”

15. The Seasons (2015)

The Seasons Mickaël Jachimiak-Duffner
Image Credit: Galatée Films – Pathé.

One critic replied, “The Seasons (2015) is about the history of Europe since the ice age, and the animal work is like nothing I've ever seen.”

16. Icarus (2017)

Image Credit: Icarus Films.

One person answered, “Icarus. It’s amazing, and the reason it’s “different” is because the story unfolds as the footage is taken in a totally unexpected and incredible way.”

(Source: Reddit)

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Maya (she/they) is a queer entertainment and culture journalist from Worcester, MA with bylines in publications like Pulse Magazine, HorrorPress, CM Pride, Fangoria, and TransLash News & Narrative. They cover interviews, reviews, roundups, news, and more in the entertainment and lifestyle space. She loves horror, LGBTQ+ representation, and creativity. They hope their writing both entertains readers and inspires them to think critically.