4 Inspirational Documentaries to Put on Your Watch List

After a long year of wrestling with the residual impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all eager to spring into a happier and healthier 2023. Looking for a film to entertain you over the holiday break? Skip Netflix’s more sensationalist drivel, like Tiger King, and expand your mind with a thought-provoking documentary. 

This list of four inspirational documentaries will tug at your heartstrings, stimulate your mind, and motivate you to overcome obstacles in your own life to start the new year right.

1. Survivor: The Aron Ralston Story (2006)

Produced by NBC News, Survivor: The Aron Ralston Story, depicts Ralston’s truly astonishing story of survival in Bluejohn Canyon, Utah. On April 26, 2003, the young American mountaineer set off on a routine canyoneering trip, never guessing that mere hours later he’d be trapped 100 feet down with his arm pinned under an immovable boulder. 

While his frantic mother raised the alarm back home, the missing hiker rationed his food and consumed his own urine to survive. After six days, the near delirious Ralston made the courageous decision to amputate his trapped limb with a dull knife and pair of pliers. In a remarkable show of fortitude, Ralston wrapped his residual limb in a tourniquet and proceeded to hike one-handed out of the canyon, traveling six miles until he was found and rescued by a vacationing family. 

Today, Ralston is a motivational speaker who credits this harrowing misadventure with changing his life for the better.

2. Wrestle (2018)

Wrestle, a film by executive producer Steve Streit, offers an eye-opening glimpse into the struggles and triumphs of Huntsville’s JO Johnson High School wrestling team. The coming-of-age documentary follows teammates Jaquan, Jailen, Jamario and Teague as they navigate the harsh realities of attending one of Alabama’s lowest-ranking schools. The teens battle to overcome peer pressure, drug addiction and mental health crises on the way to the State Wrestling Championships. Their coach, Chris Scribner, is also put under the microscope as he traverses issues of class and prejudice in present-day Alabama.  

This depiction of disadvantaged America is stark and confronting, but the way these young men rally together to push past their challenging beginnings will leave you truly inspired by the human spirit.

3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2010)

At 85 years old, Jiro Ono was still working daily in his tiny, 10-seat restaurant in Tokyo. His passion project, Sukiyabashi Jiro, hidden away in an unassuming subway station, was the first of its kind to achieve an amazing three Michelin stars. The documentary follows Jiro, who was born into relative poverty, through his culinary journey, highlighting the sacrifices he has made on the road to international acclaim. This captivating piece showcases Japanese culture and closely examines the meaning of family, duty and tradition in a modern world.

Jiro’s unrelenting obsession with perfection will force you to evaluate your own goals and the lengths you’re willing to go to achieve them.

4. Minimalism: A Documentary About Important Things (2016)

Directed by Matt D’Avellab, this topical documentary asks you to examine what you really need to be happy. Through interviews with artists, entrepreneurs, journalists and even neuroscientists, we uncover the joys of a minimalist lifestyle. 

In an age of economic downturn and excess, the film seeks to educate viewers about the impact of fast fashion, fast furniture and other contributors to our planet’s ill health. You’ll walk away from this frank but thoughtful documentary with a new appreciation for minimalism and the desire to declutter your life.

These timeless documentaries all outline the power we have as individuals to enact change, both in our own lives and on a global scale. Use them for inspiration as you step into 2023.