A lot of folks have been praising 2018 as a great year for movies. While I believe it’s been a solid year with some great movies, one thing is certain: it has been a phenomenal year for documentary film, both at the theaters and on streaming. But enough rhetoric, let’s take a gander at some statistics that support this statement, starting with the theatrically released films.
The past twelve months saw the release of four of the top thirty highest-grossing documentary films of all-time. The Mr. Rogers doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor? made it all the way up to the #12 spot with $22.6 million. Next was the Ruth Bader Ginsberg study RBG, which landed at #22 all-time with $14 million. The miraculous triplet drama Three Identical Strangers hit the #26 spot at $12.3 million. Coming in just under the wire at #29 with a $10.9 million haul is the free-hand mountain climbing thriller Free Solo.
If box office totals are a strong indicator of how much general audiences liked or disliked a film, then Rotten Tomatoes nicely sums up what critics thought of it. Each four of these documentaries performed very well on both fronts. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? currently sits comfortably atop the Tomatometer at 99% with 211 reviews submitted. RBG dismissed at 94% with 138 reviews. Three Identical Strangers adopted a 96% rating with 156 reviews. Free Solo climbed all the way up to 98% with 102 reviews.
It is also worth noting that all four of these films have been shortlisted for the “Best Documentary Feature” category at the Academy Awards and all will likely receive the nomination come January.
If you were more inclined to stay home this year, there were still plenty of great options to help satisfy your documentary viewing habits. We’ll get to them in a second. I first want to mention that how much more difficult it is to track general audiences’ responses to this incoming bunch of films because streaming giants like Netflix and Hulu don’t tend to release detailed viewing numbers, if at all. Still, we can still rely on Rotten Tomatoes and the aforementioned Oscars shortlist to help form somewhat of an understanding of how these films were received.
Starting over at Netflix with Shirkers, which follows a now middle-aged novelist trying to hunt down footage of a movie she made as a teenager. It currently boasts a 100% rating via the Tomatometer with 56 submitted reviews. Then there’s the Orson Welles doc They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, directed coincidentally by Won’t You Be My Neighbor documentarian Morgan Neville. Neville’s second film of 2018 currently rates in at 91% with 35 reviews. The Stanley Kubrick-centric Filmworker has 73 reviews and a 96% rating on the Tomatometer. The Other Side of the Wind, funny enough, is a long-lost mockumentary actually directed by the aforementioned Orson Welles and sits at 82% with 84 critic reviews. Again, like the theatrically released docs named in this article, these Netflix exclusives have also been shortlisted for the “Best Documentary Feature” at the 2018 Oscars.
Netflix, however, isn’t the only streaming service to brand a couple shortlisted Oscar hopefuls. Hulu’s own Minding the Gap, which explores the correlation between skateboarding and masculinity, is rocking the Tomatometer at 100% with 62 confirmed reviews. Crime + Punishment delves into an important class action lawsuit regarding illegal policing quotas and has arrested a 95% rating with 22 reviews.
Despite all these impressive statistics and glowing recommendations, the films I’ve just mentioned are only a select handful of the wonderful documentaries that 2018 has given us. Whether it’s on the big screen or your Vizio, I highly encourage you to seek out as many as possible. Documentaries offer insight into topics and issues in a way no Hollywood blockbuster or indie darling ever could and are a cornerstone of the filmmaking landscape. Lovers of film, let’s treasure them while we can!
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Were you able to check out any of these insightful films? If so, which ones? I would love to hear your thoughts too, so hit me up in the comments below!