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The best documentaries on Hulu, mind-bending to jaw-dropping

Everything from skaters to singers, Satanists, and identical strangers.
By Kristy Puchko  on 
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A collage of men from documentaries: a guitarist, a tattooed man, a skater.
Credit: Composite Mashable/ Hulu/Neon/Hulu

Sometimes you just need a true story — better yet a true story that's stranger than fiction. Hulu's got you covered with a rich array of documentary features. Whether you're craving a curious true-crime tale, a mindful memoir, a shocking hidden history, a deep dive into religious debates, a front stage pass to the greatest concert never televised, or the unconventional quest of a truly outrageous museum, we've selected a sensational non-fiction film that's sure to thrill.

Here are the best documentaries on Hulu streaming now.

1. The Painter and the Thief

A man hugs a woman in front of a painting.
The thief hugs the painter in front of her painting of him. Credit: EF NEON

This highly acclaimed 2020 documentary has a true-crime hook but a poignant twist, unveiling the bizarre heist that begat an unlikely friendship. It was a sunny day in Oslo, when the titular thief, Karl-Bertil Nordland, strolled into an art gallery and plucked a large painting from the wall before vanishing out the back door. He was caught, but the painting was not recovered. Seeking closure, Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova wanted to get to know the man who stole her work. Swiftly, this tattooed tough guy goes from a curiosity to her muse to something far more complicated.

Documentarian Benjamin Ree gets up close and personal with both painter and thief, exploring the intricacies that make up people, art, and the heady mix of emotions that forge relationships, treasured and toxic.

How to watch: The Painter and The Thief is streaming on Hulu.

2. The Queen of Versailles

If you're seeking something with a salacious slathering of schadenfreude, you'll relish this daffy 2012 documentary about a billionaire couple going bust.

He was a timeshare magnate; she was a pageant queen with high-society ambitions. Together, David and Jackie Siegel not only built a family of eight children (and a pack of lapdogs) but also began construction on "the biggest house in America," a garish Orlando mansion modeled after the Palace of Versailles. Then, the Great Recession of 2008 threatened to pitch them from riches to rags.

Through interviews with the couple, their kids, and their overwhelmed house staff, documentarian Lauren Greenfield creates a jaw-dropping journey that follows the Siegels from private planes to Walmart shopping sprees, and through their castle, bedecked with glamor, delusions, and dog shit.

How to watch: The Queen of Versailles is streaming on Hulu.

3. Minding the Gap

Two young men smile with their skateboards in hand.
Keire Johnson and Zack Mulligan in "Minding The Gap." Credit: Hulu

One of the most esteemed documentaries of 2018 began as ramshackle video recordings of a boy and his friends skateboarding in Rockford, Illinois. Through pulling tricks, epic falls, and sharing in both, these kids forged an unbreakable bond. All grown up, Bing Liu made his blistering directorial debut by training his camera once more on his childhood friends. Not only does Minding The Gap probe how skating gave them an escape from their abusive fathers, it also reveals how the trauma they endured from such volatile and toxic masculinity has shaped them for better or worse.

Far from saccharine or navel-gazing, Liu's film looks unblinkingly at poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, and the battle to be a better man.

How to watch: Minding the Gap is streaming on Hulu.

4. MLK/FBI

Many Americans might remember Martin Luther King, Jr. as the peaceful leader of the civil rights movement. Yet there was much more to this monumental Black icon than his "I Have a Dream" speech. Advocating for racial equality as well as major economic reform, he was an inspiration to millions. But to J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, King was a threat.

This heralded 2020 film explores the surveillance and harassment King endured from the FBI, who threatened to expose his private flaws to a judgmental public. Sam Pollard, the Academy Award-nominated documentarian behind 4 Little Girls, conducts interviews with historians and advocates, revisits archival footage, and delves into a wealth of recently declassified FBI documents to create a fuller portrait of King and his historic battle against white supremacy in America.

How to watch: MLK/FBI is streaming on Hulu.

5. Three Identical Strangers

Grown triplet men group hug.
Edward Galland, David Kellman, and Robert Shafran in "Three Identical Strangers." Credit: EF NEON

It's like something out of The Twilight Zone. Imagine you're walking down the sidewalk and all of a sudden, you come face to face with your exact double. Not a doppelgänger, but a twin you never knew you had. Then, a third comes out of the woodwork. You learn you are one of a set of triplets, adopted out to three different families, who had no idea such a savage separation had occurred.

In 1980 New York, three young men faced this mind-blowing reality. Just like that, they were national news and local celebrities, even scoring a cameo in Madonna's 1985 movie Desperately Seeking Susan. However, beyond the joy of reunion came an avalanche of life-changing revelations. Documentarian Tim Wardle speaks to the brothers, their families, and journalists to examine the complex story behind the flashy headlines.

How to watch: Three Identical Strangers is streaming on Hulu.

6. Hail Satan?

In the wake of 1980s Satanic Panic, many Americans developed a distorted view of what Satanists truly are. Irreverent documentarian Penny Lane aims to enlighten by training her keen eye on the modern Satanic Temple in this challenging 2019 film, which follows the group's political battles. Far from the violent villains painted by Christian propaganda, these Satanists are misfits, freethinkers, philosophers, provocateurs, and activists who are purposely provoking to push back against a government that is blurring the line between church and state. While the stakes are high, Lane's approach is playful, reflecting the devil-may-care attitude of her fascinating — and often damn funny — interview subjects. Whether revealing rituals, capturing protests, or conducting interviews, Lane charts this tricky terrain with a dry wit that makes this exploration even more entertaining than it is daring and informative.

How to watch: Hail Satan? is streaming on Hulu.

7. Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

A black man sings into a microphone before a big concert crowd.
Sly Stone in "Summer of Soul." Credit: Searchlight Pictures / Hulu

Hip-hop star Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson makes his directorial debut with a 2021 documentary that'll make you want to get up and dance. Weaving together footage forgotten for 50 years, he ushers audiences back to the summer of 1969, where for six weekends the Harlem Cultural Festival burst with song and elation. Dedicated to celebrating Black pride, unity, and music, this incredible event drew major crowds and major acts, including Gladys Knight, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, and Sly and the Family Stone. Critics have cheered the immersive cinematography of the never-before-seen footage, which pulls you onstage and into the mix. But Questlove does more than invite us to the party. Interviewing those who were there, he unfurls the hidden history of the festival and sings of the power of the people.

How to watch: Summer of Soul is streaming on Hulu.

8. The Final Member

The setup of this critically heralded doc might sound like a dirty joke. Yet, documentarians Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math erect a surprisingly stimulating tale about a history-making moment for the Icelandic Phallological Museum. It begins as a hobby doc, revealing museum founder Sigurður Hjartarson's collection of mammalian penises. Over 40 years, he's gathered penises from guinea pigs, bulls, and whales (oh my!). All he was missing was a human member. Finding volunteers proves the least of his troubles when two eccentric men vie for the honor. This race to the display case is littered with wild turns as well as surprisingly vulnerable moments about mortality, masculinity, and legacy. But be warned this funny yet heartfelt doc is not for the squeamish: Full frontal nudity, fermented flesh, and dismembered — uh — members are featured throughout.

How to watch: The Final Member is streaming on Hulu.

9. American Animals

Four young men in disguises as old men.
Jared Abrahamson, Evan Peters, Blake Jenner, and Barry Keoghan in "American Animals." Credit: The Orchard/Moviestore/Shutterstock

Documentarian Bart Layton first wowed film critics with The Imposter, which revealed a twisted tale of a French con man who posed as a missing American kid. His fascinating follow-up blurs the lines between documentary and docudrama to unravel the disturbing of case of the Transylvania University library heist. The stranger-than-fiction details involve an obsession with the movie Reservoir Dogs, a plot to fence a rare art book, and old man disguises. Yet Layton takes things to a mind-bending new level. Not only does he cast famous performers like Evan Peters and Barry Keoghan to play the young thieves, but also he weaves their real counterparts into sequences with them. Plopped into a movie set, the convicted crooks reflect and quibble over differing details with their movie-doppelgängers, as they barrel through to a disastrous plan. The result is a film that invites audiences to experience the rush of a heist flick, then the agony of its subjects, who got in over their heads and lived to regret it.

How to watch: American Animals is streaming on Hulu.

10. Notturno

Celebrated by critics in 2020, Notturno rejects traditional talking-head interviews, guiding voiceover, or any such means of cozy context. Instead, Academy Award-nominated director Gianfranco Rosi introduces a title card that tersely explains how the Middle East has been plagued by foreign intervention, tyranny, and war. Then, he introduces a wealth of footage, shot over three years around the borders between Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, and Lebanon. There are scenes of soldiers on patrol, women in mourning, children in therapy discussing an ISIS attack, and a fisherman going about his toil while explosions burn in the distance. But that's not all. His patient camera catches moments between lovers in swoon and a happy theatre troupe in play rehearsals. These scenes — and many, many more — meditatively carve out narratives that demand attention. Rosi is our silent yet insightful tour guide, revealing a richness of the Middle East too often obscured by headline-chasing news reports.

How to watch: Notturno is streaming on Hulu.

11. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

A classy old woman stands in front of photographers at a red carpet event.
Elaine Stritch living it up. Credit: John Angelillo/UPI/Shutterstock

With a voice of smoke and whiskey, Elaine Stritch is an American actress who made a big impression on Broadway. At 86, this theater icon invited cameras into her home and allowed director Chiemi Karasawa to follow her as she stomps down the sidewalks of Manhattan's Upper West Side, steals scenes on 30 Rock, and prepares another one-woman show. Amid all this, she'll reflect on her storied career and a life lived out loud. Whether or not you're familiar with Stritch, you'll be swiftly won over by this brassy broad, whose got the wit of a playwright, the mouth of a sailor, and the captivating attitude of a true New Yorker. Singing her praises are a star-studded ensemble of talking-head interviews, featuring Tina Fey, James Gandolfini, Alec Baldwin, Nathan Lane, Cherry Jones, and many more. 

How to watch: Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is streaming on Hulu.

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