Coming up with documentary ideas isn’t simple. You have to consider several factors like budget, time constraints, and film-making experience.
Luckily, there are plenty of thought-provoking topics that are easy to execute.
What’s more, with an excellent documentary, you can even kick-start a potentially profitable project!
Today I’ll give you the inspiration you need so you can come up with original stories.
You can use my documentary samples list to create impactful films that start conversations.
If this sounds good to you, read on to discover some of the most interesting documentary ideas of the year.
You may also be interested to read about documentary photography.
Table of Contents
Documentary Genres List for 2023: An Overview
According to Parrot Analytics, documentaries are the fastest-growing streaming genre.
The demand for new documentaries grew by 142% from 2019 to 2021.
Here are some genres that are popular in the documentary film-making industry this 2023.
1. Science Documentary Topics
Did you know that out of all the documentary forms, science documentaries have the most growth?
One of the reasons why science documentaries are popular is because they are informative and educational. Yet, at the same time, they’re entertaining to watch!
Science documentaries discuss the little-known facts in our world today. You can cover a huge number of topics in the science genre alone!
Here are a few science documentary ideas to consider.
- The chemical reactions between food
- Technological advancements, eco vehicles, and other innovative gadgets
- Debunking of conspiracy theories
- Human psychology and its effects on decision-making
- Space, solar phenomenons, and mysteries of the universe
2. True Crime Documentaries
True crime documentaries are on the rise. According to Pew Research Center, over 34% of American adults are listening to true crime podcasts in 2023.
This is because true crime is a riveting topic that can be a source of news and information!
By making a true crime documentary, you can help raise awareness and shed light on real-life events.
True crime includes both light and heavy topics. Here are a few examples.
- Human trafficking in major corporations
- The hidden world of drug addiction
- Missing and cold cases
- The latest online scams
- Elaborate museum heists in history
3. Historical Documentary Shows
History is an excellent documentary topic because you can preserve archival footage as you make your film.
The Library of Congress says these types of films are the key to understanding our past. Plus, they can influence our future.
All the things around us, no matter how small, have their histories. You’ll be surprised how even the most unassuming things can have a controversial origin!
Here are a few inspirational ideas for your historical documentary.
- Historical fashion trends
- Medieval recipes and concoctions
- Ancient customs in Asia
- The history of toys
- War and its effects on the evolution of society
4. Documentary Topics on Social Issues
The Center for Media says social issue documentaries are the most impactful toward public engagement. You can choose thought-provoking topics that’ll spark conversations!
For instance, Al Gore’s The Inconvenient Truth led to a 50% increase in the buying of carbon offsets among people who watched the film.
Documentary projects of this type are great because they allow you to tell compelling stories. It’s a good idea to partner with nonprofit organizations to spread the word on your chosen topic.
Below are a few examples of social issues to cover.
- Gender identity and human rights
- Immigration issues among war refugees
- Cancel culture’s effects on free speech
- Negative workplace environments and the increasing burnout cases
- The rise of AI and its effects on modern society
5. Documentaries About Nature
Nature documentaries are about the complex relationships between animals, humans, and the world. There’s some difficulty in getting footage since you can get exposed to dangerous creatures.
Today, 55% of humans live in urban areas with very little nature. The number will reach 68% by 2050.
Because of this, there’s little opportunity for people to have first-hand experience of the wild. Fortunately, you can raise awareness of what’s invisible to the population through this topic!
These are some documentaries about nature you might want to try making.
- Air pollution and other environmental pollution
- The secret world of ants, termites, and bees
- Underwater ecosystems and conservation efforts
- A documentary on climate change and natural disasters
- Plant growth time lapses
6. Personal Stories
Last but not least, you may create an excellent documentary about people!
You can make a film about your personal stories. Moreover, you could research a celebrity’s life.
Stories about athletes are some of the fastest-growing documentaries today.
For personal stories, it’s best to interview all concerned parties and get a truthful account of their experiences.
Here are some examples of topics under this genre.
- A celebrity’s rise to popularity
- Your house redecorating experience
- An inside look at cults and other secretive groups
- A travel documentary about your visit to Cape Town, South Africa
- Your journey to mindfulness
Easy Documentary Ideas for Beginners
Don’t worry if you have no experience creating documentaries. You can make films on certain topics even with a tiny budget!
Here’s a documentary topics list for the newbie film composer.
1. Documentary Ideas for High Schoolers
Are you part of your school’s film club and you need fun documentary ideas? If so, you should think about topics that interest you.
Once you find the right topic, you can make a documentary that’s funny and relatable to classmates. Knowing how to make low-budget films (often with cheap video cameras) helps as well.
These are some easy documentary topics for students.
- TikTok addiction and its impact on the younger generation
- Fast fashion and greenwashing
- Behind the scenes of the school cafeteria
- The pros and cons of replacing textbooks with tablets
- A social experiment on the spotlight effect
2. Documentary on Current Events
Documentaries on current events are easy since you have plenty of resources to work with!
As a documentary filmmaker, you must pay attention to the news. If you’re updated on what’s trending, you’ll surely encounter a story that interests you.
Making this type of documentary is an excellent idea since people are searching for your topic in real time!
Here are a few documentary film examples to try.
- The years leading up to the Titan submersible disaster
- Unusual food trends
- Voting experience in America
- How Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour boosted the economy
- An in-depth analysis of the Barbie movie
3. Documentary Ideas at Home
You don’t need to leave the comfort of your home to make a documentary. You can film videos in your backyard and still make a high-quality documentary!
These are documentary ideas you can film at home.
- A family documentary on your daily lives
- The challenges of weekly meal prep
- Your vehicle upgrades
- Building a homemade wildlife pond in your backyard
- Your weight loss journey
4. Short Documentary Topics
Time and money are crucial factors in creating a documentary. Due to this, you may want to shorten your production to meet your budget.
Of course, making a short documentary has its challenges. You must find a way to tell a story within a few minutes.
To condense a long sample footage into a five-minute documentary, you can make a hyper-lapse video instead. It helps to have a specific topic to discuss.
Here are sample topics for short documentaries.
- Hidden tourist spots in your area
- The life of your local librarian
- An experiment on the wheelchair accessibility of stores
- Your cat’s daily routine
- Poverty rates in your city
Tips for Coming Up With Documentary Ideas
How can you come up with original documentary ideas? Here are some tips that may help you.
Mix and Match Genres
Avoid sticking to one genre. You can combine topics to produce an even more interesting topic!
For example, there’s a treasure trove of historical true crimes to uncover. You may also document the science behind a personal experience.
Let your creativity flow and allow ideas to bounce off of each other.
2. Choose Your Passion
If you pick a topic you love, you become more engaged and committed to the storytelling.
What are you passionate about? Do you have any beliefs you want to share with the world?
Everyone has a documentary inside them. Don’t be shy to unleash these ideas and use them as the basis for your film!
3. Observe and Reflect
Sometimes the best documentary ideas are right in front of you. You should use your critical thinking skills to uncover a story.
Is there anyone near you with a controversial story? Try to observe your surroundings and reflect on what makes certain things exciting.
4. Stay Updated
Lastly, documentary filmmakers should always pay attention to what’s happening in current times. This is because ideas can pop up from reading books or watching the news.
Doing research is a valuable habit that can help you discover documentary ideas. Moreover, if you stay updated on world news, the ideas will surely come to you!
What are the Key Ideas in a Documentary?
Creating a great documentary is a multifaceted endeavor that goes beyond merely presenting facts or exploring a topic
Here are some key elements of an award-winning documentary:
A great documentary goes beyond facts to tell a compelling story that emotionally engages the audience. The narrative arc, with a clear beginning, middle, and end, sets it apart from mere exposition.
The level of access to subjects, locations, and information is crucial. Unique and close access makes a documentary stand out and hard to replicate.
Characters should be real and relatable, adding depth to the story. A good documentary is an intimate study of human experience through strong, evolving characters.
Keeping the audience hooked from start to finish is key. Leaving some questions unanswered can maintain interest and make the film more compelling.
Sticking to one mode of storytelling, whether poetic or expository, sets the tone and pace, making it easier for viewers to follow.
High-quality cinematography enhances the film’s artistic value, making it as engaging as any other genre.
A great documentary often has a message that transcends the story, leaving the audience with something to ponder long after the film ends.