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The Adult Man 11 Documentaries Every Man Should Watch Free Solo Into The Infero and Pumping Iron

11 Timeless Documentaries Every Man Should Watch

The truth is stranger than fiction.

Matt Gulielmi

Style, Jewelry, Watches, Skincare, Brand Activations

Matt is a NYC-based merchandise planner in the luxury space and moonlights as a retail documentarian through his TikTok blog @retailecology. His fashion career has waltzed through styling for Michigan State's VIM Magazine, translating brand copy into Spanish for cosmetic startups, to managing inventory for some of the biggest retailers in the US. Read full bio.

Published: Jul 4, 2024
7 min read

Blockbuster sci-fi flicks are my go-to for every movie night.

I know my girlfriend is sick of it, but even the most supportive partner will eventually put their foot down once subjected to Alien, The Fifth Element, and every single Star Wars (minus the Disney trilogy, of course) one after another.

She says those movies are “junk food for the mind.”

Fair. I’ll agree they’re food for fantasy rather than nutrition for the intellect. This is movie night, though, not TED Talk night.

Nothing encapsulates Twain’s famous “truth is stranger than fiction” than a mind-bending documentary that as soon as the credits scroll you shout “that actually happened!?”

Browsing through all of my favorite titles, I’ve arrived at this list.

Unless you’re trying to flaunt your stoicism in front of the lady, not all of these are for mowing through a bucket of popcorn on date night. There’s some pretty heavy stuff. That’s real life.

Regardless, they all have a message that every man can take something from. With that being said, lights, camera…

Grizzly Man (2005)

Grizzly Man carves another notch in Director Werner Herzog’s filmography covering talented oddballs and clashes with wilderness. In this case, conservationist Timothy Treadwell, who with his girlfriend Amy Huguenard, were devoured by a grizzly bear during an expedition in Katmai National Park, Alaska.

Herzog shuffles found footage and interviews with bear experts, park rangers, and Treadwell’s loved ones in an attempt to answer one thing: was Treadwell’s ultimate demise a product of man’s hubris, or was he a well-meaning wildlife admirer in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Regardless of your conclusion, Grizzly Man leaves you thankful to be a 21st-century human who instead of running from a bear to survive, squeezes one over their oatmeal for honey-sweetened breakfast.

Restrepo (2010)

Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, and Dunkirk are among the most important war movies to grace the silver screen. Like most depictions of violence, the lingering truth of their re-enacted production makes them a bit easier to watch.

Restrepo is a documentary in its purest form. Without any narration, Photographer Tim Hetherington and Journalist Sebastian Junger record a platoon of American Army soldiers fighting the War in Afghanistan. It captures the violence, boredom, paranoia, and resolve that these men endured.

No political bias here—Restrepo is merely a fly-on-wall look at 21st-century warfare and the brave men who had no other choice but to get through it.

Super Size Me (2004)

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Super Size Me hit screens during a pivotal decade for fast-food restaurants. No longer were they an occasional reward. Addictive sugar and sodium content, marketing to children, and inexpensive menus allowed drive-through chains to dot America like hives.

Morgan Spurlock scrutinizes the hamburger heavyweight, McDonald’s, as the key player in America’s obesity epidemic. For a month straight, Spurlock eats three square meals a day from the golden arches while documenting bodily changes alongside a handful of doctors.

The hazards of a gut-busting diet with minimal exercise isn’t a groundbreaking revelation, but that’s only one ingredient of Super Size Me. Spurlock’s entrée is the calculated framework these restaurants use to hook Americans. Shocking, yes, but it goes down easier with an extra serving of humor.

Free Solo (2018)

Free Solo makes your palms sweat, heart jump, and question whether Alex Honnold has boulder-sized cojones or a few screws missing—or both.

Chronicling preparation, setbacks, and the equipment-free climb itself, Free Solo puts you right on the face of Yosemite’s El Capitan right next to Honnold. This is the documentary to watch any time the phantom of doubt has you contemplating if you’re capable of chasing your goals.

Honnold, in all of his chalked-up bravery, puts on nothing short of a spectacle as to what a single man can muster in a quest towards self-actualization. It doesn’t take the outdoorsy type to find Free Solo relatable.

Stop Making Sense (1984)

No divisive political suggestions, heartwarming underdog story, or even a plot—only captivating Talking Heads silliness shot across four days at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre.

Director Jonathan Demme’s footage is more so a full-length concert shot on film than it is a traditional documentary, but that doesn’t mean Stop Making Sense doesn’t have anything to say.

The message, albeit unofficial, hits harder in the context of modern concert performance. With nothing more than mic stands, instruments, and a projector transmitting childlike drawings across the background, Talking Heads’ electrifying performance blatantly reminds us that half-baked talent can’t hide under a fattening layer of pyrotechnic frosting.

If you can get past the sting of knowing you’ll never see them live again, you’ll be on your feet trying to keep up with Byrne’s iconic “Life During Wartime” dance routine.

Into the Inferno (2016)

The second Werner Herzog film on this list (also sharing the man vs. nature theme), Into the Inferno is equal parts introspective and hypnotizing.

Volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer and Herzog embark on a world tour of the globe’s most active magma fountains. Cinematic shots red-hot magma hucked over black rock are eye candy, but Herzog explores more than just mounds of cooled lava.

The duo visit these hot spots to understand the bond between humanity and volcanoes. How did they become god-like entities for so many cultures over thousands of years? Was it mankind’s sick fascination with destruction or a respect for mythological power? A thunderous score, interesting cultural commentary, and Herzog’s rich narration keep you invested until the pyroclastic dust settles.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

The world of competitive arcade gaming isn’t anything like slot car racing or cribbage. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters reveals that, to this day, the competition is rife with pixelated ruthlessness.

At the center of it all is the cabinet classic: Donkey Kong. The film sees two gaming savants go at it for the high score world record, and the challengers themselves share a rivalry like Mario and the titular ape. Unemployed engineer Steve Wiebe dodges meddling referees and strict score verification as he climbs towards the prideful record holder Billy Mitchell beating his chest throughout it all.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters encapsulates the determination of men, no matter how absurd the prize.

Particle Fever (2013)

Some documentaries on this list expose the ugly side of the human experience. Particle Fever, on the other hand, is a feel-good flick to shift your focus on the good parts. We’re brilliant, hard-working, and we discovered that the Higgs boson imparts mass to particles via the Higgs field, confirming a pivotal aspect of the Standard Model.

In all seriousness, Particle Fever does a great job at explaining the science to us non-STEM majors. Whether you’re interested in what the Large Hadron Collider does, how the Higgs boson particle explains why atoms have mass, or you just want to gawk at human ingenuity, nerd-out to Particle Fever.

Pumping Iron (1977)

Actor, politician, and fitness deity—Arnold Schwarzenegger dominates any field he sinks his teeth into. Before he was camouflaging himself from aliens in the jungle or governing the state of California, he was a 7x Mr. Olympia. Pumping Iron recounts his final bodybuilding competition against soon Hollywood-adjacent Lou Ferrigno.

It might reek of a self-congratulatory puff piece. That’s unavoidable when you’re jacked and talented with all the awards to prove it. It’s better described as a star-in-the-making with an emphasis on the mind-body balance. A hypothetical Terminator vs. Hulk showdown wouldn’t be such a mighty display of fortitude as the psychological warfare Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno exchange in Pumping Iron.

Man on Wire (2008)

Man on Wire has all the high-flying suspense of Free Solo, but with an urban coat of paint.

Watching Philippe Petit is nauseating enough. By splicing together his preparation footage with live re-enactments, Man on Wire digests like a heist film. It’s a ride-along with Petit as he gains entry to the World Trade Center, suspends the wire, and all of the madness that ensues.

Sometimes, you can’t help but admire the lengths a man will go to put themselves in danger just to say “I did it.”

Blackfish (2013)

Like Super Size Me, Blackfish was a phenomenon that halted the culture to reflect on our amusements.

In a way, it’s the non-fiction counterpart to Jurassic Park. Man’s arrogant belief that we control nature, coupled with our insatiable thirst for entertainment, culminates in a string of incidents between humans and carnivorous beasts in a theme park. Who knew the ocean’s smartest predator trapped in a comically small pool would eventually snap?

Considering Blackfish kicked off a global drawback of orca shows, you can probably guess how impactful it is and whether or not you should watch it.

With all of the acclaimed documentaries that exist, boiling it down to eleven required an overwhelming amount of discretion.

As hard as it was, a blind selection from this will guarentee a a couple hours of pondering, cheering, and maybe even a reach for the Kleenex.