The 11 best documentaries on Apple TV+


Apple TV+ best documentaries collage, with photos from six Apple TV+ documentaries.
From music to nature to history, Apple TV+ documentaries offer something for everyone.
Photos: Apple TV+

TV+ Review The best Apple TV+ documentaries bring something extra to the nonfiction party. From historical subjects to oddball artistic projects, the streaming service’s finest docs deliver interesting insights in compelling ways (even politically irresponsible).

Here’s a look at the best Apple TV+ documentaries — both series and films — so far.

The 11 best documentaries on Apple TV+ (August 2023)

From presidents on the eve of their most important decisions to pop stars reflecting on superstardom to children just starting their lives, the Apple TV+ nonfiction slate has taken in the vastness of the human condition in a dozen ways and packaged that experience in as many different forms.

Watch on Apple TV

Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues

Jazz legend Louis Armstrong plays his trumpet.
Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues offers an in-depth and unflinching look at the musician’s life and legacy.
Photo: Apple

Genre: Music documentary
Rated: R
Watch if you like: Bird, Round Midnight, I Called Him Morgan.

This magnificently bracing look at the original legend of jazz gets into the harshest realities and the plush highs of a career spent entertaining Americans. Louis Armstrong’s joyous image is investigated, as are all the ways in which a musician, even a dynamo whose audience crossed racial barriers, can be run ragged by the demands of their career.

The film is unsparingly candid about what Armstrong had to endure and how hard it was to become beloved in a country still torn apart by hatred. Impressively put together by director Sacha Jenkins, this is an emotional and frequently scathing piece, aware that Armstrong’s balancing act was not clean or easy.

Read our full review: Louis Armstong’s Black & Blues takes a bold look at a jazz legend

Stream now: Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues on Apple TV+

Lincoln’s Dilemma

Abraham Lincoln in a scene from Apple TV+ documentary "Lincoln's Dilemma."
Lincoln’s Dilemma offers fresh a look at the 16th president and the Civil War.
Photo: Apple TV+

Genre: Historical documentary
Rated: TV-PG
Watch if you like: Lincoln, Ken Burns’ The Civil War, The Conspirator

Lincoln’s Dilemma charts the rocky road to the slavery-abolishing 13th Amendment taken by President Abraham Lincoln. From the moment he boarded a train to his inauguration (incognito, to avoid assassination attempts) to his death at the end of an assassin’s pistol, this four-part series gives much-needed insight into both Lincoln the man and Lincoln the politician.

Produced by Barak Goodman, Jacqueline Olive and David S. Reynolds, upon whose book the limited series was based, Lincoln’s Dilemma mixes archival imagery with excellent voiceover work from the very talented likes of Jeffrey Wright, Bill Camp, Leslie Odom Jr. and Jeff McNeal. You already know how this story ends, but Lincoln’s Dilemma proves as warmly entertaining as it is shocking and informative.

Read our full review: Lincoln’s Dilemma delivers a compelling history lesson

Stream now: Lincoln’s Dilemma on Apple TV+

Watch the Sound With Mark Ronson

Producer Mark Ronson plays a synthesizer in a scene from Apple TV+ docuseries "Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson."
A master producer breaks down the elements of music in the hugely enjoyable Apple TV+ docuseries Watch the Sound with Mark Ronson.
Photo: Apple TV+

Genre: Music documentary
Rated: TV-MA
Watch if you like: QuincyScore: A Film Music Documentary, Making the Band

Super-producer Mark Ronson helped craft dozens of iconic hits over the last two decades, from Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” to “Uptown Funk,” his killer collaboration with Bruno Mars. What’s less known are Ronson’s methods of creation. Watch the Sound offers a rare and engaging look into the producer’s bountifully curious mind as a musician and collaborator, his constant search for new sounds, and his deep appreciation for music history.

The six-part series takes us on a welcome walk into the depths of the creative process with an incredible roster of musical guest stars, from legends to rookies. Through it all, Ronson remains innovative, indefatigable and incredibly magnanimous.

Read our full review: Watch the Sound With Mark Ronson is a fun dive into music production

Stream now: Watch the Sound With Mark Ronson on Apple TV+

Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry

Apple TV+ promo image for documentary "Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry."
Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry gives you a window into the young superstar’s surprising world.
Photo: Apple TV+

Genre: Music documentary
Rated: R
Watch if you like: Homecoming, Framing Britney Spears, Miss Americana 

Pop star Billie Eilish suddenly appeared everywhere a couple of years ago, leading many of us to wonder just who this songstress was. Enter R.J. Cutler and his behind-the-scenes documentary, Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry.

The film follows Eilish during a several-week period, from gigs to interviews to home recordings to festivals to breakdowns. She comes across as very human, very busy and very easily stressed, but above all: incredibly talented and shrewd. For a home-schooled kid from California, she seems born for the spotlight and endlessly inventive. This easily digestible and sensitive documentary shows the highs and lows of her journey t0 fame.

Read our full review: A superstar opens up in Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry

Stream now: Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry on Apple TV+

Tiny World

A small rodent sits on a tree in a scene from Apple TV+ nature docuseries "Tiny World."
It’s all cute all the time in Tiny World.
Photo: Apple TV+

Genre: Nature documentary
Rated: TV-G
Watch if you like: David Attenborough documentaries, National Geographic, Disney and Pixar animal movies

Tiny World shows the ecosystems that lie just out of sight of the human eye and makes them look larger than life. The world’s smallest bugs, rodents, birds, primates, crustaceans and reptiles live complicated lives, filled with extraordinary danger and complex routines that will make your head spin.

The film crew behind Tiny World used innovative techniques and crazy camera rigs to capture animals largely unseen by other nature specials. And both seasons of the Apple TV+ docuseries rendered these tiny creatures’ lives in beautiful detail. Plus, for every supremely cute critter, there’s a feat of death-defying heroism. It’s all just a day in the life of Earth’s smallest creatures — and Tiny World offers an unparalleled look at them.

Read our full review: Tiny World amazes with an Ant-Man view of nature

Stream now: Tiny World on Apple TV+

Beastie Boys Story

A promo spot for Apple TV+ film "Beastie Boys Story," a live documentary by Spike Jonze.
Beastie Boys Story tells the group’s story using its members own words.
Photo: Apple TV+

Genre: Music documentary
Rated: TV-MA
Watch if you like: Amy, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, This Is Spinal Tap

Music video master, ironic fantasy filmmaker and occasional Apple ad man Spike Jonze relived a crucial moment in his development when surviving Beastie Boys Adam Horowitz and Mike Diamond took to the stage in a New York City theater armed with video clips, photographs and stories about the rise of their group. Beastie Boys Story tells how they, along with their late partner Adam “MCA” Yauch, became the most famous and respected white hip-hop artists for two decades.

Jonze’s “live documentary” is thus both the recording of a performance, shot with his typical clarity and brio, and a documentary about a moment in music history born of an anything-goes New York underground.

Read our full review: Beastie Boys Story relives the beer-soaked glory days of hip-hop’s original hell-raisers

Stream now: Beastie Boys Story on Apple TV+

Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You

In a scene from Apple TV+ documentary "Bruce Springsteen's Letter to You," the singer/songwriter rehearses with members of the E Street Band.
Meet the band that made the anthems.
Photo: Apple TV+

Genre: Music documentary
Rated: TV-PG
Watch if you like: The History of The Eagles, Springsteen on Broadway, Stop Making Sense

In November 2019, Bruce Springsteen brought the famous E Street Band together to record their 20th studio album together in New Jersey and director Thom Zimny was there to capture the process. The film Letter to You is both an energetic look at a band with chemistry older than some of their fans and at Springsteen’s earliest days as a songwriter and hell-raiser. The film is at once a chronicle of a band recording new music and at the history of American rock and roll using one of its endearing figures as the center and storyteller.

Read our full review: You’ll want to open Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You again and again

Stream now: Bruce Springsteen’s Letter to You on Apple TV+

The Velvet Underground

John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed perform in a scene from "The Velvet Underground," an Apple TV+ documentary about the band.
John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Lou Reed perform in a scene from The Velvet Underground.
Photo: Apple TV+

Genre: Music documentary
Rated: R
Watch if you like: Chelsea Girls, Echo in the Canyon, Danny Says

Todd Haynes put himself in the lineage of artists interested in chronicling the 60s counterculture, joining the likes of Jim Jarmusch (Gimme Danger), Oliver Stone (The Doors), and photographer Robert Frank. His film on the first major art rock band (who predicted punk, noise rock, and post-punk) The Velvet Underground is as gorgeously abstract at times as the music of the band themselves, which oscillated between pop songcraft and bursts of untranscribable feedback. Haynes interviews the surviving band members as well as scenesters and friends to paint a portrait of a moment when anything in art seemed possible.

Read our full review: The Velvet Underground pays tribute to the ’60s coolest band 

Stream now: The Velvet Underground on Apple TV+

Boys State

A promo poster for Apple TV+ documentary "Boys State."
Who says politics needs to be nasty?
Image: Apple TV+

Genre: Social documentary
Rated: PG-13
Watch if you like: Ava DuVernay movies, Knock Down the House, The West Wing

Though its conclusions are grim, indeed, there is a charge to be found in Amanda McBaine & Jesse Moss’s Sundance-winning documentary about an American institution. Every year kids from across the country get together to playact at democracy. The kids who make up the majority of the entrants are burgeoning neo-conservative ideologues who know how to turn an election into a popularity contest, just as American politics seem to be at their lowest ebb and belief in a functioning democracy itself a thing of the past. Boys State is a shocking sign of things to come.

Read our full review: Boys State is a timely and terrifying political documentary

Stream now: Boys State on Apple TV+

Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds

A scene of the night sky from Apple TV+ documentary "Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds."
Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds is suitably out of this world.
Photo: Apple TV+

Genre: History and nature documentary
Rated: TV-PG
Watch if you like: The Pearl Button, Into the Inferno, Workingman’s Death

Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer followed up their 2008 and 2016 documentaries Encounters at the End of the World and Into the Inferno with this gorgeous, meditative look at the origins of life through destructive prehistoric events.

The film’s investigation of the origins of the world (and the way it posits them as the result of chaos) is typical of Herzog’s psychedelic cinema. From his earliest work investigating volcanoes (1977’s La Soufrière), to his studies of colonists with Klaus Kinski (the most famous of which must be 1973’s Aguire, the Wrath of God), Herzog has long been curious about where man fits in on the planet he destroys. Fireball wonders at the origins of both Earth and humanity.

Read our full review: Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds will fill you with wonder

Stream now: Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds on Apple TV+

Becoming You

A girl holds a red balloon in a scene from Apple TV+'s adorable and educational docuseries, "Becoming You."
Apple TV+ docuseries Becoming You is both adorable and educational.
Photo: Apple TV+

Genre: Social documentary
Rated: TV-G
Watch if you like: Sesame Street, PBS, Old Enough!

The adorable and informative Becoming You was the third of Apple TV+’s docuseries when the streaming service was branching out into more nonfiction programming. It’s also one of its most charismatic.

Lacking the cutesy framing of Tiny World, Olivia Colman‘s narration aims at a slightly more patient audience. The editing team and photographers delivered a picture of the earliest stages of human development as told through the stories of a bunch of delightful children from all over the world. Predicting the likes of Netflix’s Old Enough!, Becoming You makes for perfect rainy-day viewing.

Read our full review: Becoming You will make you marvel at human development

Stream now: Becoming You on Apple TV+

Watch these documentaries and more Apple TV+

Need more Apple TV+ recommendations? Try these:

Watch on Apple TV

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at


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