Documentaries are sometimes dismissed as just being about really obscure topics, but there are some that genuinely provide a fascinating look at things we see every day or something we may never have even heard of.

Here's ten you absolutely need to see before you die.


10.  INTO ETERNITY (2010)

Although environmental documentaries are common enough, Into Eternity is different in that it doesn't necessarily carry a message. The documentary is about the construction of Onkalo, a nuclear waste facility in Finland that is being built to house spent used rods for a period of up to 100,000 years. No man-made structure has survived that long. The documentary gives technical details about how it will work and, not only that, how they're going to warn off future generations from the site. Once construction is complete and the fuel rods are buried, the entire area is to be sealed off and never touched again. The documentary explores how they'll warn away people - even though language as we understand it today may be gone in 100,000 years. How do you communicate with someone that far into the future?


9. BLACKFISH (2013)

One of the greatest nature documentaries we've seen to date, Blackfish almost has you forgetting that the interviewees are talking about an orca whale. There's a few moments when you think, honestly believe, that they're talking about a serial killer instead of a mammal. The documentary explores the dark underbelly of theme park attractions like SeaWorld and the surprising level of intelligence these creatures have. Truly riveting stuff.



Documentaries are often about obscure topics that you may or may not have any interest in. Instead, what draws you in is the story behind it. That, on some level, you can connect with what you're seeing. TT3D makes no attempt at this and, yet, it's still incredibly relatable. Narrated by Jared Leto, it follows Guy Martin and his journey to - it would seem - kill himself in the most spectacular possible fashion. The film explores both Martin's journey to the Isle of Man TT as well as other motorcycle racers and their fascination with speed, death and adrenaline. It's one of those films where you find yourself wincing every five minutes.



It says something about an artist when his name is more immediately recognisable than his works. With Exit Through The Gift Shop, graffiti artist Banksy looks at a contemporary of his - Thierry Guetta - and his evolution from a clothing shop owner to an international "artist". The documentary explores the whole idea of commercialism in art and whether or not it's still art if somebody pays for it. The whole idea, in fact, of paying for art is something that Banksy has explored numerous times and is relevant today. With the likes of Spotify and online piracy, there's a real debate as to what's worth paying for and what's worth stealing. Is art something that has to be bought and paid for or should be done for its own sake?


6.  SHUT UP & PLAY THE HITS (2010)

Part concert-film, part documentary, Shut Up & Play The Hits is the story of LCD Soundsystem's sudden breakup. The documentary is split between band leader James Murphy being interviewed the day after their final show at Madison Square Garden and the show itself. Murphy gives an appraisal of the band, their beginnings and his own views on what being in a band meant to him. Although certain areas aren't explored as fully as one would like, it's still entertaining to see their greatest hits interspersed with gut-wrenchingly honest dialogue about where they would have ended up if they continued on. Sometimes it really is better to quit while you're ahead.



Muhummad Ali is a fascinating character and, as you can imagine, has been the subject of many films and documentaries. However, the best of them has to be When We Were Kings. Telling the story of Ali's greatest battle with George Foreman, it takes in soul music, the Black Power movement, Pan-Africanism and Norman Mailer's wife getting hit on by Ali. You don't have to be into boxing, you don't even have to know who Ali or Foreman are. The talking head interviews with Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, two old journalists who were covering the fight in Zaire explain everything about the mechanics of the fight and anecdotes with enthusiasm and wit. For our money, it's one of the greatest sporting films ever made.



No, not the sitcom with Rowan Atkinson. Errol Morris investigates the murder of a police officer in Dallas and uses re-enactment to investigate and ultimately overturn the conviction that would have saw two young men put to death. You have to understand that, back in 1988, this type of documentary was completely unheard of. The Jinx, Making A Murderer, Serial - all these and many more owe their genus to The Thin Blue Line. Morris' tenacious interviewing style, mixed with a dogged persistence makes The Thin Blue Line as engaging and thrilling as any police procedural you'd see on TV. As much as it is about investigating a crime and revealing the facts, The Thin Blue Line is about the power of the truth to overturn evil in society.



If you've never heard of Titicut Follies, you've definitely heard of the documentaries and filmmakers it's inspired. Without Titicut Follies, there would be no Dispatches. There would be no Louis Theroux. In fact, the whole idea of investigative journalism and documentaries would been nothing without it. In 1966, Frederick Wiseman received permission to film in Bridgewater State Hospital for The Criminally Insane. However, when the film was completed, a lengthy legal battle that spanned almost twenty years was waged in order to stop the film seeing the light of day. It's easy to see why. The documentary shone a light on an area of America that it was perfectly willing to ignore - mental health in prisons. The film showed inmates routinely tied down and force-fed drugs and food, being harassed and taunted by guards and being strip-searched on a whim. It's still a hot-button topic today and is a reminder that institutions such as these need transparency. If you do find a copy of this, be warned - it's straight-up nightmare fuel.



If you're a film buff or any kind of serious film fan, Hearts of Darkness is required viewing. The shoot of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now was nothing short of legendary. It had near-death experiences, Communist insurgencies, a prima-donna actor, inflated budgets and a director slowly going mad from heat exhaustion. Community even based an episode on it. It's an intriguing insight into what it's like to actually make one of the greatest films, complete with all the agony and anguish and the eventual triumph.


1.  MAN ON WIRE (2008)

For a film that's about the Twin Towers in New York, there isn't a single mention made of 9/11 or its reconstruction. In fact, Man On Wire earnestly sets out that it isn't about the building. It's about what happened between them - namely one man tightrope-walking between them in 1974. Phillipe Petit is a renowned circus performer who's a penchant for tightrope-walking in public places. On a trip to New York, he becomes utterly fascinated by the World Trade Center and sets about a plan to perform his greatest act, or as it became known, the artistic crime of the century. Petit's narration and the use of archival footage, together with recreations, brings you fully into the story. It's equal parts hilarious, heart-warming and bittersweet. Just don't watch the remake with Joseph Gordon-Levitt.