The 10 best documentaries of 2021, according to Letterboxd

The documentary is one of those genres that is too often overlooked, especially in the era of superhero films and major franchises. However, the power of the documentary lies in its ability to force viewers to think more critically about both particular issues and the world around them. Luckily for fans of the genre, 2021 was a very strong year for documentaries, which covered a wide variety of topics and issues.

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While there are plenty of excellent documents to choose from, it’s worth taking a look at those that have been particularly well received by Letterboxd users.

ten Muhammad Ali – 4.2

In the history of boxing, there are few figures more famous and accomplished than Muhammad Ali, who was the subject of several very good sports films.

This documentary definitely deserves its high score on Letterboxd, as it not only reveals the full complexity of this highly successful person, but is also directed by Ken Burns, arguably one of the greatest documentarians working today. What is particularly remarkable about this documentary is that it examines Ali’s life from birth to death.

9 McCartney 3.2.1 – 4.2

Rick Rubin and Paul McCartney check equipment at McCartney 3 2 1

Just as Muhammad Ali is considered one of the most accomplished boxers in sports history, Paul McCartney is rightly considered one of the most talented musicians.

What really makes this documentary so powerful, however, is the fact that it’s vastly understated, focusing as it does on meaningful conversations between McCartney and music producer Rick Rubin. As a result, it offers a uniquely intimate view of one man’s particular creative genius, showing how some of the world’s most famous music came to be.


8 I can’t get you out of my head – 4.2

A graffiti wall in Can't Get You Out Of My Head

Among the various other types of programs it produces, the BBC is famous for its documentaries. Of particular note in 2021 I Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World. In its various episodes, the series offers a deep dive into the various social movements that have shaped life in the 20th and 21st centuries.

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With each episode, this powerful and sometimes disturbing documentary sheds a sometimes unflattering light on the nature of power and how it is exercised in modern society.

seven Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop and Power – 4.3

Leigh-Anne sitting on a bed in Leigh-Anne Race Power and Pop

There have been a lot of great racial justice documentaries, and Leigh-Anne: race, pop and power is sure to be considered as such.

As the title suggests, he is particularly interested in the singer Leigh-Anne Pinnock, known to be one of the members of the group Little Mix. While much of it is about her own life and music, it also focuses on the various struggles and hardships she endured as a woman of color working in the UK music industry. It is a powerful and authentic documentary about individual and systemic injustice.

6 A perfect planet – 4.3

A happy turtle in A Perfect Planet

David Attenborough has earned a reputation as one of the most acclaimed documentarians of the 20th and 21st centuries, especially when it comes to documenting the natural world. His many skills are on display in A perfect planetbroadcast on the BBC.

In addition to focusing on some of the most awe-inspiring elements of the natural world, such as volcanoes, the documentary also stands out for its ability to capture the devastating impact of climate change on various parts of the globe.

5 Insecurity: The End – 4.3

Insucur stars in front of an Insecure sign in Insucur The End

Unsafe became one of the best comedies broadcast on HBO. It not only manages to skillfully blend comedy and drama; it’s also a brilliant exploration of black women and their experience of modern America.

This documentary focuses in particular on the filming of the final season, as well as on the cultural impact of the series. Through its use of interviews with the show’s cast and crew, it offers a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most influential shows of the 21st century.

4 O Caso Evandro – 4.3

A promotional image with various items and a silhouette in O Caso Evandro

O Caso Evandro joins the slew of other extraordinary true-crime documentaries that have been released in recent years.

The documentary focuses in particular on the unusual (and disturbing) disappearance of Brazilian Evandro Ramos Caetano, whose body was later found but showed signs of evisceration. It reveals aspects of the case that had been overlooked, demonstrating that the truth is not always what it seems and showing the huge impact the case has had on those who participated in its investigation.

3 09/11: One Day in America – 4.4

The Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers in 9-11 One Day in America

9/11 was without a doubt one of the most traumatic moments in American history. Even more than twenty years later, it is still difficult to understand its impact. However, this is precisely what the documentary September 11: One day in America try to do. It succeeds largely because it covers the event in such detail that it opens up new kinds of understanding of what happened.

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In particular, the focus on survivor testimony helps the viewer understand just how horrific this event was and still is.

2 The Beatles: Come Back – 4.6

The Beatles' Get Back Rooftop Performance Featured

In the history of pop music, few bands have been as popular and influential as The Beatles, who continue to exert their unique charm on the audiences who listen to them.

Those who want to learn more about the band, their creative processes and their influence on the musical landscape will find much to enjoy in The Beatles: Come Back. Directed by Peter Jackson, and certainly considered one of his finest efforts, the film goes beyond the mythology surrounding the band to find the real people underneath.

1 Permission to dance on stage – 4.6

BTS members on a giant sofa

BTS is widely regarded as one of South Korea’s most successful bands, so it makes sense that they have a slew of live and recorded concerts, including one that aired in October 2021.

Permission to dance on stage is one of their biggest reviews, and it currently holds a 4.6 for Letterboxd users. Considering how well the filmed concert manages to capture the band’s unique and powerful performance, this is a fitting ranking.

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