2020 is (thankfully!) coming to a close, and it’s time to take a look back at some of the best documentaries we’ve streamed during this unforgettable year. From Ancient Rome to outer space, MagellanTV members have covered a lot of territory. In what’s become a holiday season tradition, we’ve looked into our most popular categories, reviewed the data, and rounded up our picks for the year’s best documentaries. With selections from Best Visuals; War and Military; Science, Tech, and Space; History; and True Crime, here is MagellanTV’s cream of the crop for 2020.
Best Visuals in a Documentary
Winner: Chicken Planet 4K
When it comes to stunning visuals, Chicken Planet delivers in spades. Right from the beginning of the film, you’ll be treated to eye-catching, artistically delivered portraits of colorful fowl (or what most of us think of as food). Catch breathtaking views of locations worldwide – from the lush jungles of Khao Yai National Park in Thailand to La Ferme du Vallon in Mont Breliban in the south of France – as you explore the history and evolution of the relationship between chickens and humans.
Runner-Up: Europe From Above
This year changed everything, that’s for sure, and a lot of our plans were put on hold. For many, one of the things that has been postponed is travel. But while we had to stay at home, it didn’t mean we had to stop exploring. Europe From Above presents a bird’s eye view of the many historic and natural landmarks of Europe. Soar above the continent in each of the docuseries’ eight episodes, from the snowy mountain tops of Switzerland to the green bluffs of Scotland. It’s so pretty, you might just forget you’re on the couch.
Best War and Military Documentary
Winner: WWII in the Pacific
This year’s winner for best War and Military documentary depicts the Second World War in the Pacific theater from Japan’s early success to the Allies’ eventual victory. Pairing historical narration with colorized footage shot by troops themselves, the three-part series, WWII in the Pacific, is a clear fan-favorite among MagellanTV members. The series begins with the days leading up to the infamous December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor and provides a riveting account of the key battles leading up to the climactic atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Runner-Up: Operation Foxley: Mission Liquidate Hitler
Packed full of espionage, spy gadgets, hidden telegrams, and whispered secrets, Operation Foxley: Mission Liquidate Hitler is a must-watch for aficionados of World War II history and perfect for fans of the perennial favorite, The Real Inglorious Bastards. Get up close to the action with declassified wartime documents from the British secret service, and learn all about Operation Foxley, the mission that almost succeeded in assassinating Adolph Hitler.
Best Science, Technology, or Space Documentary
Winner: The Jupiter Enigma 4K
Humankind might have taken that giant leap into space, but most of what’s beyond our world is still very much unknown. And among the most enduring mysteries is the planet Jupiter. With close-up (well, as close as possible) looks at the planet’s colorful, endlessly changing appearance, MagellanTV’s original The Jupiter Enigma will have you asking, “Am I looking at a planet or a piece of artwork?” Because of the gas giant’s impenetrable clouds and ferocious storms, much about the planet resists our attempts to learn its secrets. But recent discoveries are finding that Jupiter may just be the key to the origins of our Solar System.
Runner-Up: Secrets of Quantum Physics
Join Professor Jim Al-Khalili in one of this year’s most-watched documentaries, Secrets of Quantum Physics. You might recognize Al-Khalili as the host of other member-beloved documentaries such as The Amazing World of Gravity and Everything and Nothing. Now, he brings an exciting and engaging look at some of science’s toughest questions. Using props like a spinning coin and a cocktail shaker, Al-Khalili demonstrates quantum mechanics in an efficient and accessible way, ensuring you are right there with him as you tumble down the rabbit hole of weird and strange science. Al-Khalili begins the adventure by saying, “everything we call real is made up of things that cannot be themselves regarded as real,” and makes good on that logic-defying promise.
Best History Documentary
Winner: Evolution of Evil
This year’s winner for Best History documentary goes to Evolution of Evil, a documentary series any history buff (or psychology enthusiast) will find binge-worthy … and cringe-worthy. Each of the series’ 10 episodes focuses on one of history’s most notorious rulers – from Joseph Stalin to Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier. The psychotic, the greedy, and everything in between: Evolution of Evil portrays the worst of the bad guys and their unapologetic reigns of terror.
Runner-Up: Meet the Romans
Meet the Romans is a refreshing break from the Roman history we typically hear about – the dramatic stories of famed emperors, conquerors, and warriors that appear in history books and in films. Instead, this documentary series focuses on the “normal” people of the ancient Roman Empire. Host and historian Mary Beard is clearly passionate about the people she studies, and it’s because of this that she delivers such excitement as she looks into their lives. In fact, her level of care is contagious, and it makes you want to stroll down the streets of Rome with her, reading inscriptions and “meeting” everyday people of the past. Divided into three easy-to-digest episodes, this documentary is an enjoyably quick adventure filled with fascinating stories of the ordinary people of Rome.
Best True Crime Documentary
Winner: Murder in Paradise
This year’s top True Crime documentary will have you wondering what ugly secrets are buried within beautiful places, and the juxtaposition of paradise and horror could make anyone shiver. Murder in Paradise explores Thailand’s island of Koh Tao, where not everything is as idyllic as it appears. Sure, on the surface, the island seems like a remote paradise – a party scene with picturesque beaches where young travelers can fill their itineraries with equal parts Spring Break-style partying and outdoor exploration. But some say it’s this destination’s physical isolation that allows for its troubling history. Watch to see what happens when an investigation of a double murder uncovers a past filled with even more bodies.
Runner-Up: A Question of Innocence
A Question of Innocence invites viewers to take an intimate look into a 45-year-old murder case that, despite resulting in a verdict, remains disputed to this day. The story is delivered with first-hand accounts from lawyers, law enforcement officials, family members, and the accused himself. Part murder mystery, part ethical debate, this riveting documentary challenges the imposition of capital punishment in a world full of uncertainty. A Question of Innocence is for true-crime buffs and philosophical debaters alike, and is reminiscent of other popular documentaries that question the evidence and outcomes of certain notorious murder cases.