Best science and tech documentaries of 2018 [Year in Review]

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Year in Review Best Documentaries 2018
Here's some holiday viewing for you.
Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

Cult of Mac Year in Review 2018 Do you want to celebrate the end of another year by relaxing in front of a great informative documentary? Nobody would blame you! Fortunately, 2018 was a great year for tech- and science-focused factual filmmaking.

Here are our choices for the best science and technology documentaries 2018 had to offer.

Best tech documentaries 2018

App: The Human Story

App: The Human Story actually came out at the very end of 2017. But I’m still including it on this list because it’s well worth watching if you’ve not yet seen it.

Apple previously tried to make reality TV about the plight of developers with its ridiculous and annoying Planet of the Apps series. App: The Human Story takes a, well, more recognizably human approach by showing the triumphs and struggles of those who pins their livelihoods on the app economy.

If you’ve ever wondered about the real people behind the software you download on your iPhone, this is the film for you.

Science Fair

Science Fair is a great documentary featuring at least a few names that we’re going to hear a whole lot more from over the coming decades. It focuses on America’s enormous International Science and Engineering Fair, a competition that’s open to high school science students everywhere.

The most innovative and, potentially, world-changing entries join 1,699 other students in a high stakes final at Los Angeles. By turns funny, poignant and, above all, inspiring. This is a tribute to nerdy students from around the world who are doing their best to put a ding in the universe.

The Most Unknown

The Most Unknown is a whistle-stop tour through some of fascinating scientific research ranging from dark matter to the origin of life on Earth. Stringing all of this together is an intriguing high concept premise.

It’s essentially a game of tag with scientists as scientist one visits scientist two to find out about the work they’re doing. Scientist two then visits scientist three, and so on. The scientists are all experts in completely different fields, with the results being an intelligent introduction to a number of different fields.

You won’t come away with an in-depth knowledge of any one topic, but with plenty of questions to follow up on.

Love Notes to Newton

The Newton MessagePad is simultaneously one of Apple’s biggest flops and one of the company’s most underrated products. A line of Apple PDA devices from the 1990s, the Newton prefigured later devices like the iPhone and iPad. Even today, some of its features remain impressively innovative.

Love Notes to Newton (which I reviewed here) aims to tell the story of both the Newton’s history and also the ardent fans who keep it alive today. It’s a bit too structurally messy, but there’s plenty of good material here to make it worthwhile. If you’re a fan of Apple history, this is definitely one of the 2018 films worth watching.

The Bleeding Edge

Cutting edge technology has the potential to transform healthcare, and America enjoys one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world. However, there’s the temptation to think that groundbreaking devices automatically represent the way forward. That covers everything from high-tech medical implants to surgical robots.

But as it turns out, the Mark Zuckerberg quote of “move fast, break things” also applies to medical technology. And when the results are unproven, that can get really terrifying.

As an expose of the medical tech industry, Netflix’s The Bleeding Edge is not an easy watch. If you look at documentaries as being something to inform as well as just to entertain, though, this absolutely deserves your time. A very important movie.

General Magic

Created by former Mac engineers, General Magic was a startup which briefly soared as one of tech’s hottest startups of the 1990s. It was filled with tech legends like Andy Hertzfeld, Joanna Hoffman, Bill Atkinson, “father of the iPod” Tony Fadell and Android’s Andy Rubin. Together they set out to build a handheld touchscreen mobile device years before the iPhone. Before it all came crashing down.

The General Magic documentary premiered to strong reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival. If you’re looking for a well-made documentary about ahead-of-its-time technology, this is the doc you want to seek out.