Top 10 Offbeat Documentaries
#10 - GRIZZLY MAN [2005]
GRIZZLY MAN [2005] Image

"I will die for these animals, I will die for these animals, I will die for these animals . . ." Legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog returns to his favorite theme, obsession, as he traces the story of Timothy Treadwell, an amateur naturalist who spent 13 summers among wild brown bears at Katmai National Park in Alaska. Treadwell and his girlfriend were tragically killed by one of the bears during the fall of 2003. This is an extraordinary and haunting documentary full of astounding footage and some great introspective narration. Sample Dialogue: "And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior."

#09 - SALESMAN [1968]
SALESMAN [1968] Image

A surprisingly engrossing documentary about door-to-door Bible salesmen, Salesman was directed by the Maysles brothers, Albert and David. Join the "Badger," the "Rabbit," the "Gipper" and the "Bull" as they desperately try to pawn off a bunch of overpriced Bibles on the unsuspecting masses. Mostly, we follow the Badger, who is in a hell of a sales slump. Badger spends most of the movie acting like a whiny little bitch as he longs for the ever-elusive pension that will lead him to the good life (a condo on Miami Beach?). Full of dreary locales such as an endless succession of cheap motels and greasy diners, Salesman pierces the heart of the American Dream. Watching this entire thing eventually depressed the shit out of me and I kept thinking of a quote from Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman: "To suffer fifty weeks a year for the sake of a two-week vacation." Other classic Maysles documentaries include Gimme Shelter (1970) and Grey Gardens (1976). Sample Dialogue: "If a guy's not a success, he's got nobody to blame but himself. What everybody's got to do is to quit making alibis and excuses and accept responsibility if a success or failure."

#08 - MURDERBALL [2005]
MURDERBALL [2005] Image

An Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature (but don't let that scare you away), Murderball follows the U.S. quad rugby team as they prepare for the 2004 Paralympic Games. Call it Murderball, Quad Rugby or Wheelchair Rugby, this is a brutal, full-contact and highly competitive sport where opponents are frequently knocked to the floor. And off the court, the Team USA rugby players shatter any and all stereotypes you may hold about the handicapped. Murderball simply kicks ass. Sample Dialogue: "We're not going for a hug. We're going for a fuckin' gold medal."

#07 - YOU SEE ME LAUGHIN' [2002]
YOU SEE ME LAUGHIN' [2002] Image

You See Me Laughin' explores the rundown juke joints of rural Mississippi as we get a rare opportunity to visit with the last of the true Delta bluesmen such as R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, Cedell Davis, Johnny Farmer and Asie Payton. The flick also follows Fat Possum Records founder Matthew Johnson as he tries desperately to record these great blues artists, some of whom are living in the most desperate of circumstances, to say the least. You See Me Laughin' would make a great double feature with Robert Palmer's earlier blues documentary, Deep Blues [1991]. Sample Dialogue: "I could really stomp some ass back then, stomp it good. I was a-sure-enough-dangerous man." —T-Model Ford

#06 - OVERNIGHT [2003]
OVERNIGHT [2003] Image

Overnight traces the meteoric rise and fall of aspiring filmmaker Troy Duffy, a former bartender who turns out to be one of the most misguided and obnoxious human beings on the planet. After fucking up a movie deal and alienating just about all his friends and family, Duffy somehow managed to go on to direct a reasonably entertaining little cult flick called The Boondock Saints. The last shot of Duffy talking to himself as he wanders aimlessly outside a bar is truly disturbing. Sample Dialogue: "As for my film career? Get used to it, cause it ain't goin' anywhere. Period."

#05 - MONSTER ROAD [2004]
MONSTER ROAD [2004] Image

"I go for the lowest common denominator. Just get some stuff in front of the camera and get some action out of it. Get the most I can out of those figures before they wear out . . ." Documentary explores the fascinating life and work of underground clay animation artist, Bruce Bickford, who collaborated with the late, great Frank Zappa on a number of projects such as the 1979 movie, Baby Snakes. This ain't Gumby and Pokey, folks. Some of Bickford's clay animation works are truly disturbing! Monster Road also introduces us to Bickford's equally eccentric father, George, a retired aerospace engineer who is suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. Sample Dialogue: "Isn't it remarkable? This little planet we're on . . . Is this the headquarters for something?"

#04 - GATES OF HEAVEN [1980]
GATES OF HEAVEN [1980] Image

"There's your dog; your dog's dead. But where's the thing that made it move? It had to be something, didn't it?" Practically any of Errol Morris' fascinating documentaries could occupy this slot such as Vernon, Florida, The Thin Blue Line, A Brief History of Time, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. and The Fog of War. Gates of Heaven, Morris' first feature documentary, centers around the pet cemetery business. 

#03 - AMERICAN MOVIE [1999]

American Movie documents the life of Mark Borchardt, an obsessed filmmaker who lives about as far away from Hollywood as you could possibly get - Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Borchardt's main goal in life is to finish a full-length horror film titled Northwestern. It's obvious that this guy's entire film career is based on the opening scenes of Night of the Living Dead. Mark's determined to live out his version of the American dream. He's also a deadbeat dad with three kids out of wedlock. To fund his masterpiece, Mark runs up credit cards, borrows from friends and relatives, and works a series of menial jobs - from delivering newspapers to vacuuming a mausoleum. His creditors are after him and so is the IRS. He doesn't give a shit. So he drops Northwestern and focuses on a shorter film called Coven, "a psychological thriller portraying an alcoholic writer's descent into the demonic abyss of a self-support group." He figures if he can sell 3,000 "units" of the flick at $14.95 apiece he can raise enough money to finish his dream project. The final scene of American Movie is very revealing. It shows some of Mark's old silent black-and-white film clips from the early '80s - the same friends racing around madly, drinking beer and raising hell. Nothing has really changed . . . Sample Dialogue: "Is that what you wanna do with your life? Suck down peppermint schnapps and try to call Morocco at two in the morning? That's senseless! But that's what happens, man. '"

#02 - BURDEN OF DREAMS [1982]

Les Blank's riveting documentary focuses on the utter chaos surrounding the filming of Werner Herzog's epic, Fitzcarraldo in the jungles of South America. Whether having to replace his entire cast, attempting to drag a 320-ton steamer over a small mountain or trying to deal with totally insane actor Klaus Kinski, Herzog reveals an unwavering obsession to finish his film. Sample Dialogue: "Without dreams we would be cows in a field and I don't want to live like that. I live my life or I end my life with this project."

#01 - CRUMB [1994]
CRUMB [1994] Image

As Crumb opens, R. Crumb, complete with his trademark cheap suit, thick glasses and porkpie hat, sits cross-legged on the floor, listening pensively to a scratchy blues record from his extensive and rare 78-rpm album collection. We soon learn that "bizarre" and "dysfunctional" don't even come close to describing Crumb's family. A bleak childhood led Crumb and his two brothers to escape into a fantasy world of comic books. Crumb admits that he was attracted to Bug Bunny as a child and later became fixated on Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. His first sexual memory is of hanging out in his mother's closet and humping a pair of her cowboy boots, while singing "Jesus loves me, yes I know . . ." Needless to say, he didn't get a single date during high school. It was during the late '60s that Crumb created his most popular work such as Keep on Truckin' (which caused him "nothing but headaches"), Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat, which was made into a cartoon that "embarrassed me for the rest of my life," he reveals. He finally got revenge on Fritz in a later comic by having a female ostrich stab him in the head with an icepick. Crumb's LSD-inspired comics during the '60s truly captured the seamy side of America's subconscious. Sample Dialogue: "My father was a rigid, gung-ho type who had a hard-ass attitude to life . . . All three of his sons ended up to be wimpy, nerdy weirdos. He wanted at least one of us to end up as a Marine. He always wore a fixed smile, which I later learned was a sign of deep depression."


User Comments - Add a Comment
Mr. Pepin - 2007-11-29 11:16:15
Coffee and Cigarettes? Or does that not qualify as a documentary.
joanne hatch - 2007-12-06 11:41:13
FMDC - 2007-12-06 18:47:46
Yeah coffee and cigarettes is not a documentary. How could you even have the slightest idea that it might be a documentary? You fail. Coffee and Cigarettes is a good movie though.
goathands - 2007-12-07 01:21:18
If you have a "runner-up" category. A documentary that really defines the darker corners of America is "The dancing outlaw". Amazing footage from what I can remember
chainsmoker - 2007-12-08 10:12:42
"F for Fake" anyone? :D Always wanted to see "Burden of Dreams"
ZMan - 2007-12-08 14:21:38
i came upon this with stumble upon and this is really cool
sean - 2007-12-08 15:35:37
yellow-brick road the wizard of oz play performed by retarded people. really really funny.
Capt. Obvious - 2007-12-10 17:20:02
"REAL Offbeat" Documentaries, you pretentious turds: SICK: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist Rest in Pieces: Joe Coleman HATED: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies Paradise Lost I and II Collectors (Directed by Julian Hobbs) Stevie
Silenzio - 2007-12-12 18:58:02
This is certainly a good list. But you forgot one of the greatest documentarist ever: Frederick Wiseman. Take a look at "Belfast, Maine" for instance and tell me what you think.
evan - 2007-12-27 07:24:44
American Pimp
Mr. Hands - 2008-01-02 20:12:13
Paul from Durham, Ontario - 2008-01-15 13:06:06
What has no one seen "Grey Gardens"?
Andrew - 2008-01-18 11:31:49
What about Roger and Me - Michael Moore when he was interesting?
matt - 2008-02-05 00:14:33
coffee and cigarettes is a horrible movie. you both fail.
joey - 2008-02-13 15:56:50
Seriously, Grey Gardens should be on this list.
CJS - 2008-03-22 02:22:50
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
faded glory - 2008-09-06 15:58:44

if offbeat is refering to "full of shit documentaries" then bowling for columbine, farenheit 911, and any other liberal works from michael moore should be on this list!

sm - 2008-10-27 19:56:21

jesus camp... the most disturbing documentary i have ever seen, its like horror, but real

N. Hamilton - 2008-11-18 00:31:55

I watched one called Grey Gardens. Its about Jackie O's crazy aunt and cousin in their filthy 28 room mansion. Truly a bizarre and sad movie. The doc Lynch(one) was quite an interesting look into David Lynch's creative process and I enjoyed it quite a bit. On a lighter more fun note, King of Kong A Fistful of Quarters was a great movie.

Slothtosser - 2008-11-21 08:22:54

Good list, but you need to make room for "Brother's Keeper." It doesn't get any more offbeat than the Ward brothers - Delbert, Lyman, and Roscoe.

Jannell - 2008-11-21 22:16:01

I really enjoyed your list - but the comment about Mark Borchdart being a deadbeat dad was uncalled for. From the film - he appeared to be a better dad than most of the dads that I know. Unless you know for sure that someone is as lowly as a "deadbeat dad," you should not publish the fact - even on a blog post. American Movie is my all-time favorite documentary (possibly all-time favorite film) and I don't think that piece of info was true or relevant. But again, wonderful list. Thank you for posting.

Anonymous - 2008-11-22 21:34:57


Scott - 2008-11-23 16:49:36

Great list! I would add "American Fabulous" to it. Waaay offbeat.

Col Kurtz - 2008-11-24 22:20:41

How about "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991)" That one was pretty effed up.

Anonymous - 2008-11-26 17:02:42

add Sicko: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Super Masochist

noob - 2008-11-27 11:14:11

its all photoshopped

doo - 2008-11-28 04:20:27

small town ecstasy and jefftowne

Tundra Tim - 2008-11-30 00:17:31

Why are the sample dialogues have 'ass' as a descriptor?

Drew - 2008-12-07 14:18:41


popoyaya - 2008-12-09 10:02:06

Cane Toads: An Unnatural History

lakshmi - 2008-12-09 15:15:22

The list is problematic; I'm not sure the author knows what a documentary is. None of these films are anywhere near as beautiful or shocking as the short In the Name of God: Scenes From the Extreme

talley - 2008-12-16 22:25:25

American Movie wasn't a documentary. It was all scripted and fake. Maybe you should spend ten minutes on google before you write these things.

Plainview - 2008-12-17 19:45:24

"I Think We're Alone Now"

VFORDT - 2008-12-18 00:57:37

Coffee and Ciggarettes was not a documentary. The film was entirely fictional playing themselves playing themselves from a written script.

thedude - 2008-12-24 22:05:40

darkdays is crazy and i dont know how to describe jesus camp

Billy Mitchell - 2008-12-25 14:31:23

What about "King of Kong: A Fistfull of Quarters"? This is definitely a documentary that should make this list. I will have to check out "Monster Road."

Gassoff - 2008-12-29 19:50:03

WOW, some problems: the poster never claims that "Coffee & Cigarettes" is a calm down. Further, on that point, "C & C" is a series of short subjects to which director Jim Jarmusch has been adding for about 20 yrs.--it was then released as a feature (compilation) a couple of years back. Also--notice that Werner Herzog keeps showing up in all the descriptions. These are nice documentaries, to be sure, but obviously come from a very narrow depth of experience with the genre.

moonfaery - 2009-01-03 21:48:31

nothin' wrong with Coffee and Cigarettes (despite of course it's not a documentary), AND Grey Gardens could surely be included!

big d - 2009-01-04 23:54:07

How could you have possibly left out Dancing Outlaw?

fourAtchu - 2009-01-08 16:51:53

Hey NOOB.... they can't photoshop their SOULS!!!!

John - 2009-01-22 13:44:35

Cool Docs, You're missing one called "Dark Days" that was made and won an award at Sundance. It's about a group of people living in the NYC Subway Tunnels. A must watch! <>

Danny - 2009-02-17 11:21:45

Good list, though I am surprised that Dark Days is nowhere to be seen. It's a great, eye-opening documentary about the homeless people living in the subway tunnels beneath Manhattan. Fascinating stuff.

Needlez - 2009-02-28 00:50:57

and don't forget the awesome NFB documentary, Project Grizzly this is an excellent film about a man who had a close encounter with a grizzly bear, survived, and became obsessed with meeting another bear on even ground.

Skibbidy Bop - 2009-03-04 21:32:17

How can you not have alone in the wilderness!?

Mike - 2009-03-05 09:24:01

Darkon should have definitely been on. I was baffled & enthralled the whole movie. Really surreal.

Larry Sellers - 2009-04-02 23:35:17

I agree with Cane Toads and Alone in the Wilderness and would add DiG!

Tanner - 2009-04-07 14:55:13

I love movies!

NobodysHeros - 2009-04-11 17:21:00

Yeah,.... So, Somebody back there recommended the Bob Flanagan documentary & the GG documentary, Hated. I just had to say that whoever wrote that is an idiot who aspires to be in some counter-culture or sub-culture. Desperately craving so to the point that they will recommend & name drop any jerk off, off-beat shitty documentary, in what appears to be an attempt to show their understanding, appreciation & belonging to said sub-culture. Perhaps that person thought that made them cool in some scene's book. Well, I'll tell you this: Both those documentaries suck,... Majorly suck. Too bad too, because both could have been fucking fantastic,.. Both could have been as fantastic as the losers that drop the names of them act like they are. That is, they could have been if they were done better. GG would be an interesting person to do a fantastic documentary of, but sadly the dude that did that one just made a lame movie,... Like he thought the fact it was about GG was enough; that that fact with out much substance would make it amazing,... But it didn't. They should have put some actually effort into the film. And Bob Flanagan's would have been alright if it hadn't been for the same shitty film making done by some other fuck. I mean a masochist who's dying?? That should make a fucking great film,... But since the masochist isn't that intense with their received injuries, at least not much more intense than any other BDSMer, the fact that he's dying adds very little,... Both films I heard of, and upon hearing of them, thought they'd be genius. I even shared with others the fact that I had heard about them, and that they should be fantastic,... But upon actually viewing them, I was extremely disappointed. And not just disappointed that they were documentary ideas that could have been great, but disappointed, and irritated, that so many fucks had recommended them, with so much praise, that I got trick-fucked into wasting some time of my life, I'll never get back, on offensively butchered good ideas,.... Butchered just so some want-to-be film-making fuck could act like he was out of the norm, and part of a cool underground scene,.... So they could feel like the same kind of idiots that praise these documentaries like they were actually well done, or as if they even shared enough of the interesting parts of their subjects to at least be half-assed informative & decent,.. Just fucking pathetic,..... And a pathetic person,... So, yes, wow, coooool,... You know of some movies most people don't. Movies that cover taboo subject matter,.. You are sooo neat,.... Hopefully at some point in the not too distant future you'll make the jump further; to stop caring enough about what stereo-type of a person you can make yourself be, and start having some overall substance in not only your movie taste, but in your entire life,.... Until then, you're a loser.

Jared - 2009-05-14 17:28:41

Missing 3 I really like The Devil and Daniel Johnston I Like Killing Flies Stevie


[Editor's Note: I watched I Like Killing Flies recently, it was awesome and I would have added it if I had seen it before compiling this list. The Devil and Daniel Johnston is also totally offbeat and worthy of the list. I haven't seen Stevie yet but will check it out soon.]

Vinyl Junkie - 2009-06-11 23:35:02

There's a short documentary called "Thoth" about a street performer who made up his own language, culture and mythology and performs an opera he wrote in his fictional language. It's pretty cool!

Anonymous - 2009-06-20 21:29:07

This Is Spinal Tap?

Doc Docs - 2009-06-24 20:53:16

In no particular order Doc Docs' list of must see docs: Stevie Rize Life and Debt Kanasatake: 270 Years of Resistance Girl Trouble War Dance

RomOno - 2009-07-02 17:57:00

I believe it was the documentary previously referred to in the comments as "The Dancing Outlaw" but I'm not sure. I saw it on a bootlegged VHS. It told the story of an Appalachian fellow who was schizophrenic at best. If I remember right he was Jesse, he was Jesus, and he was Elvis. The fact that I even remember the damn thing after nearly twenty years says something about it's impact. If anyone knows the name or knows where it might be available let me know. Thanks.

Joe Momma - 2009-07-09 04:43:55

How about the Poughkeepsie Tapes. About the water street butcher. haha that jawner is buggie as hell. its def worth watching. esp if you live along the east coast of the USA.

Anonymous - 2009-07-09 12:20:59

check out Life without death by Frank Cole. should definetly be on the list.

A Fav of Mine - 2009-07-21 17:35:40

WHOLE: A Documentary on Voluntary Amputation.

lodown - 2009-07-24 13:30:54

The Devil and Daniel Johnston? 7up etc?

DEJANbgd - 2009-08-12 10:47:25

you did not finde enithing smrther to wraight

count_schemula - 2009-08-15 17:18:18

Vernon, Florida (gobble gobble!) Gimme Shelter Devil and Daniel Johnston

Amy - 2009-08-16 18:21:42

I highly recommend "Off the Charts: The Song-Poem Story" to any fan of offbeat documentaries.

anonymous - 2009-08-19 22:03:50

Vernon, Florida. The Dancing Outlaw, The Devil's Playground. These three are a must.

robertocass - 2009-08-24 00:26:57

La Musica Che Sento - Piccola Storia della Musica Blues Jazz Country e Classic Rock

dwg - 2009-08-28 17:55:16

"How To Draw A Bunny."

billy - 2009-08-29 09:26:41

What's so "off beat" about them? I just call them "documentaries."

Bizznych - 2009-09-02 12:07:17

Dancing outlaw and glue sniffing hillbillies, two great Appalachian films.

yri - 2009-10-07 03:59:54


myrrtin - 2009-10-21 09:12:54

Loved The Devil and Daniel Johnston... Two of my favorite documentaries that perhaps don't qualify as "offbeat" (but are good nonetheless) would be In the Edges: the Grizzly Man Session and Man on Wire. Man on Wire definitely focuses on an offbeat character, though, so do with it what you will

Bill Brueggemeyer - 2009-11-18 00:39:08

Frederick Wiseman fails to make the list? Titticut Follies was so offbeat that it was literally banned in the US for thirty-five years. And then there is the scene in Primate where we watch a guy get a sperm specimen from a monkey, using a glass tube and a bottle of grape juice.

joe - 2010-05-04 17:37:04

i like the werner herzog references and he is amazing, but what about antonioni's piece about allende in chile? i found it amazing, chilling. and if you mention herzog, what about "my best fiend"? that's my all time favorite, just completely hysterical (it's about his relationship with kinski, which was, well, entertaining if nothing else, tortured as it was)....

jade56 - 2010-09-11 06:28:57

Most F***ed up documentary without a doubt is Chickenhawk ( Sick stuff.

John Shannaha - 2010-09-23 22:11:00

Passes Nobody's hero, a joint. Damn man you nailed it. To all the sheep, please walk away from the pack!!

Zoobs - 2010-09-28 16:34:33

Marjoe Mondo Cane Motodrom

Stoehr, E - 2010-11-11 20:15:15

Billy The Kid, about a teen from Maine who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, and his obsessions. Awesome soundtrack includes KISS!

Fudge 44 - 2010-11-16 18:27:01

By the far the most offbeat documentary I have ever watched is Fudge 44 which is about creatures spotted in Tokyo in the early eighties I think

NomDePlume - 2010-11-24 16:12:19

Upon reading a comment that suggested This Is Spinal Tap be on this list I immediately assumed that it was said with some degree of irony. Thinking on it tho I realize that, given the rampant stupidity that permeates the internet, it is entirely possible that some asshat might suggest a mockumentary as a good offbeat documentary. However, without said pandemic ignorance, the world wouldn't be half as funny as it is, and so, for the further entertainment of the readers, I suggest that FUBAR should be given an honorable mention as it really is a shocking look into the lives of two directionless canadian hosers. Plus no one can argue with the commanding screen presence of the chemo immune moustache.

Sam - 2010-12-21 05:06:13

You have never watched "The Dancing Outlaw." I know this because, if you had, this documentary would be near the top, if not at the top, of your list.

rico - 2011-01-31 04:27:33

Last Days of Left eye. TLC's Lisa Lopes

ohsweetnuthn - 2011-02-09 19:59:48

Watch: "The Cruise" Best documentary ever!

b - 2011-03-30 13:33:18

The wild and wonderful whites of west virginia


[Editor's Note: Just watched this movie the other day, highly recommended and definitely offbeat!]

Blastoid - 2011-08-27 11:14:18
"The Slasher" is offbeat for sure, it's about a used car salesman. "Cat Dancers" is perhaps one of the strangest docs of all time
keisha - 2012-06-22 22:04:27

snow on tha bluff

kilby - 2012-11-18 14:12:54

carts of darkness is one of the best ive ever seen...

mary - 2012-12-11 09:23:52

Crazy Love Marwencol You're Gonna Miss Me