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What to Watch: Documentaries That Teens Can Genuinely Enjoy

A promotional poster for the documentary,

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A promotional poster for the documentary, "Who Took Johnny."


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The disappointment of watching a movie in class, only to realize it is a documentary, is a feeling that every student has experienced. In Spanish class, the majority of teens rather watch Coco over a film chronologizing the life of Frida Kahlo. Documentaries have been given a bad rap amongst teens. Not many kids want to spend their time watching a series about ecovillages or Mangrove trees. Yet what many don’t realize is the large variety of topics and genres that documentaries can focus on. Compiled is a list of documentaries that every teen can appreciate and enjoy.

Horror Lovers Will Love:

Beware the Slenderman (2016)

The terrifying American documentary recounts the story of two young girls who murder a friend “under the influence of Slenderman.” The film delves deep into the story of the creepy internet phenomenon and the effects it had on the two young murderers. With Slenderman being a staple of the horror culture, this documentary is a frightening but fascinating tale for any horror-lover that can stomach it.

Child of Rage: A Story of Abuse (1990)

Child of Rage is based on an interview with 6-year old Beth Thomas, an abused child with an attachment disorder. In the interview, Thomas explains her desire for violence against her adoptive family and animals. The documentary then sequences her treatment and her road to recovery. The young girl’s interview is terrifying and will make any horror-lover feel a little bit queasy.

Mystery Lovers Will Appreciate:

Who Took Johnny (2013)

The film explores the stories, the theories, the evidence, and the effects of the infamous thirty-year old cold case in which an Iowa boy mysteriously disappeared. Johnny Gosch became the first missing child on a milk carton and his disappearance remains one of America’s great mysteries. It is a True Crime documentary at its finest and one will keep the audience intrigued.

The Thin Blue Line (1988)

The documentary delves into the story of Randall Dale, a convicted felon who remains adamant about his innocence in a murder case involving the death of a Dallas police officer. The storytelling is phenomenal and will keep viewers on their toes. The ending will leave viewers in disbelief. 

Comedy Lovers Will Laugh at Loud at:

Bowling for Columbine (2002)

The film is based on a very serious topic, the Columbine High School Massacre. The creator explores what led to the tragedy and discusses America’s crime rates involving firearms. The story is meant to make a very bold point. While it is on a very serious topic, the director uses humor to solidify his claim and bring laughter to his audience. 

Teens interested in Teen Fiction Should Watch:

American Teen (2008)

The documentary follows the stories of five very different teens as they navigate their way through high school. The story is about ordinary lives that teens can easily identify with. It is a real story that is interesting and relatable.

Music Lovers Will be Jazzed When They See:

Amy (2015)

The film conveys the very intimate story of music legend, Amy Winehouse. Viewers get a glimpse into the career and life of the famous singer/songwriter. The documentary allows the public to get to know the sensationalized artist. 

As clearly illustrated, there is a documentary for everyone. These films don’t have to be boring and draining, they can be educational and give more in depth information on a topic that one finds interesting. Many teens never consider adding a documentary to their queue, but “I guess if I find something interesting, I’ll watch it, even if it is a documentary” (Jayden Hawley 11).  Documentaries can be immensely enjoyable, but it is a matter of discovering where these hidden gems are.

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What to Watch: Documentaries That Teens Can Genuinely Enjoy