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Ever since HBO Max launched in May 2020, the streaming service has given its subscribers access to some extraordinary content, from the slate of Max Originals to all of the Warner Bros. 2021 releases landing on the platform the same day they open in theaters, to a massive back catalogue of brands under the Warner Media corporate umbrella.
One of the best things about the all-in-one service is the abundance of great CNN docuseries available with nothing more than just a few clicks. From recent standouts like Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy to CNN’s entertaining and robust “Decades” series there are a lot of great stories waiting out there. Below is a quick yet thorough list of some of the best options you can choose from when looking for a great docuseries on HBO Max.
Stanley Tucci: Searching For Italy (2021)
For nearly 40 years now, Stanley Tucci has been one of the most captivating names in Hollywood, showing up in beloved films like The Devil Wears Prada and Spotlight. During that time, the two-time Golden Globe winner has appeared in several movies that center on the culinary world with Big Night and Julie and Julia. But, these are more than just roles for Tucci, who has written two cookbooks and even hosted his own CNN food/travel docuseries in 2021.
The Emmy Award-winning series Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy follows the actor as he travels to the some of the lesser-known areas of famous cities and regions like Rome, Tuscany, and Sicily. On his culinary and cultural explorations of these historic places, Tucci dives head-first into everything from their respective histories to the culinary dishes that put them on the map. It’s fun, informative, and a great way to learn about Italy with a lot of style and substance.
Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (2013 - 2018)
The world lost one of its great luminaries when Anthony Bourdain tragically passed away in June 2018, but thanks to the abundance of books and television series the chef and documentarian released over the years, the iconic figure will always be with us. One of the best of those docuseries is Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which followed Bourdain all over the world over the course of 12 seasons on CNN.
This is not only one of the best productions Anthony Bourdain ever had his hand in, but also one of the greatest examples of a fun, informative, and eye-opening travel docuseries. Whether it’s ice-fishing on a frozen lake in Quebec, having a family dinner in Armenia, or eating late-night Waffle House, Bourdain was at the top of his game in this long-running series. Seriously, there’s nothing better than watching Bourdain eating Waffle House for the first time.
The Decades Series (2014 - 2018)
If you are looking for a quick yet comprehensive look at the biggest events that transpired between 1960 and 2009, then CNN’s “Decades” docuseries are the way to go. Dating back to May 2014, CNN and Playtone (Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s production company) have teamed up for a total of six chapters in this collection of docuseries — The Sixties, The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties, and The 2000s — which take a look at everything from the impact television had on culture over the years to historical moments like the JFK assassination, the Challenger explosion, and September 11, 2001.
Even though a lot of what is covered in the “Decades” line of docuseries is known by much of the general population, these series help better show the context of each of those moments and help argue that nothing happens in a vacuum.
The Movies (2019)
The world of cinema is a major aspect of the “Decades” docuseries, but the topic got a series of its own with the 2019 release of The Movies, an extremely in-depth exploration of the biggest moments on the silver screen and influential figures who helped the medium grow into a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry. Over the course of six episodes (each having a runtime of a feature-length film), the docuseries shows how cinema was changed by the outside world and how it helped lead to major social changes, as well as great details about the best movies of all time.
With new interviews, old movie clips, and rare or never-before-seen behind-the-scenes footage, The Movies is jam-packed with great stories and history. The Movies is for someone who is just getting into film studies just as much as it is for someone who has spent most of their lives in dark movie houses.
The History Of Comedy (2017 - 2018)
With a title like The History of Comedy, you would think that this CNN docuseries would be nothing but funny jokes and great laughs over the course of its two-season run, but, in reality, it’s about so much more than that. Through extensive interviews with some of the most prolific comedic minds of the past several decades — Larry David, Conan O’Brien, Sarah Silverman, and more — The History of Comedy not only looks at what makes people laugh, but how comedians and the art of comedy led to major societal changes of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Everything from sketch shows like Saturday Night Live to satirical news programs like The Daily Show are examined and discussed by the creative minds who put them together, as well as those who were influenced by their impact.
United Shades Of America (2016 - Present)
Since its debut in 2016 United Shades of America has followed comedian W. Kamau Bell as he visits various communities and cultures throughout the United States to better understand issues and other challenges people who live there face each and every day. So far, Bell has spent extended stretches of time with groups like the Ku Klux Klan, hipsters, people who choose to live off the grid, and homeless populations while also diving into topical issues like education, humanity’s impact on the environment, and gun culture.
The first five seasons of United Shades of America are available on HBO Max right now, and the sixth season (which aired in 2021) should be added to the service sooner or later. Even if you’ve watched every episode, there’s never a bad time to go back and explore this enlightening, and at times difficult, docuseries.
Amanpour: Sex And Love Around The World (2018)
In a world with so many diverse cultures it should come as no surprise that few people around the world have the same idea of modern love and sex, and that is what longtime CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour aims to explore in the 2018 docuseries Amanpour: Sex and Love Around the World. Over the course of six episodes, Amanpour interacts with everyday people in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East to see how their respective cultures have influenced their opinions on love as well as those who aim to break free of social norms in their pursuit of happiness.
Through visits to Tokyo, Delhi and several other major metropolitan areas, the series touches on topics ranging from sexual exploration to consent and how they may or may not be different from one culture to the next.
Lincoln: Divided We Stand (2021)
Over the years, Americans have come to know Abraham Lincoln as one of the great political minds of our nation’s history, someone who was honest, fair, and gentle. The 2021 CNN docuseries Lincoln: Divided We Stand takes an in-depth look that goes beyond a basic history lesson and shows viewers the more complicated and tortured side of the 16th President of the United States. From his early days on a farm with a father who refused to understand him, all the way up until his assassination in 1865, this series leaves no stone unturned.
After watching Lincoln: Divided We Stand, you not only will have a greater appreciation of the political decisions “Honest Abe” made throughout his adult life but also the boy and young man who became a driving force of societal change in the 19th Century.
1968: The Year That Changed America (2018)
Following the success of the episode of The Sixties that focused on the turbulent year that was 1968, CNN gave the pivotal year in the history of western civilization a series of its own in 2018. What follows is 1968: The Year That Changed Everything, a four-part docuseries split up into winter, spring, summer, and fall that gives more time to the assassinations of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, the ongoing Vietnam War, and the presidential bid by Richard Nixon.
However, it’s not all gloom and doom for 1968: The Year That Changed Everything as the series also focuses on the resurgence of Elvis Presley, the Apollo space program, and other milestones that are still felt more than 50 years later.
Crimes Of The Century (2013)
There are plenty of great true crime documentaries and docuseries that call HBO Max their home right now, and one of the best is Crimes of the Century. Having originally aired back in 2013, this eight-part series focuses on some of the most infamous crime cases of the past few decades including the terror caused by the DC Sniper in the fall of 2002, the April 1993 siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, the Oklahoma City Bombing, the mysterious case of Amanda Knox, and much more.
It should be noted that while there are better and more in-depth true crime shows out there, Crimes of the Century is a great point of entry into that grisly world and spends just enough time with each topic to have you wanting more.
As amazing as these CNN docuseries are, this is just a small sampling of all the great offerings on HBO Max. If you want even more great stories, check out our list of the best documentaries on HBO Max.
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Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop barking at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.