The Lumière brothers were said to have caused quite a stir when their 50-second short film, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, premiered in Paris in 1896. Unaccustomed to the sensory experience of moving footage, audiences experienced a jolt of panic when an oncoming train seemed to be speeding directly toward them.
Over the years, the story has morphed into people fleeing from the theater entirely, though that’s not likely. Since the Lumières, however, many filmmakers have been successful in driving moviegoers out of their seats. The latest addition: Robert Zemeckis, whose film The Walk is quickly becoming notorious for its dizzying depiction of wire-walker Philippe Petit’s journey between the Twin Towers in 1974. The perspective of Petit more than 1300 feet in the air is reportedly too much for some to take. Here are seven other films that couldn’t keep audiences in the dark for long.
1. THE EXORCIST (1973)
Lines wrapped around the block for the film adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s bestselling novel about a young woman possessed by a demon. They quickly realized it was the cinematic equivalent of a hot pepper: something to be endured rather than enjoyed. News footage like the compilation above portrayed stricken filmgoers who had fled screening rooms out of sheer terror; one fainted in the lobby. “I just found it really horrible and had to come out,” one says. “I couldn’t take it anymore.” By the time the film premiered in London, ambulances were parked outside.
2. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1998)
Launching the found-footage genre with an economical story about filmmakers threatened by an unseen force, The Blair Witch Project was a sizable box office hit and remains one of the most profitable films ever ($22,000 budget, $240 million gross). But the documentary-style format, with actors jogging or falling over with a camera in hand, prompted waves of people getting motion sickness in aisles, lobbies, and bathrooms. The Associated Press reported Atlanta-area theaters were on puke patrol for most of opening weekend. “Someone threw up in the men’s restroom, the women’s restroom, and in the hallway,” said a theater manager. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, another theater manager made announcements before screenings to please vomit outside of the screening room.
By the time Cloverfield's (2008) handheld photography was churning stomachs a decade later, theaters wisely posted signs warning of a "roller coaster" effect. Instead of barf bags, theaters handed out refunds.
3. 127 HOURS (2010)
From the get-what-you-pay-for department: Audiences that streamed in for director Danny Boyle’s account of hiker Aron Ralston, who got himself wedged in a cave and had to amputate his own arm with a pocketknife, found themselves bearing witness to James Franco wedged in a cave and amputating his own arm with a pocketknife. Many, many people fainted; some vomited; one person fainted, was hauled away in an ambulance, and returned to the theater to declare the film “excellent.”
4. RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
It’s not necessarily shocking that the unflinching violence of a Quentin Tarantino movie would prompt audience evacuations: 1994’s Pulp Fictionlost patrons when Uma Thurman got a shot of adrenaline in her heart. But Reservoir Dogs is notable for the people it pulled from their seats. When Michael Madsen’s character began an unsolicited ear amputation of a hostage during an industry screening, the late Wes Craven (creator of The Last House on the Left and A Nightmare on Elm Street) fled the theater.
5. FREAKS (1932)
Tod Browning’s infamous portrayal of a circus sideshow with revenge in mind was a harrowing experience for filmgoers. Not strictly a horror film, its large cast of “actual” circus performers with a myriad of deformities was unsettling. Freaks suffered mass walkouts upon release, viewers unnerved by missing limbs; MGM insisted on editing the film after a woman claimed she was so aggrieved during a screening that she suffered a miscarriage.
6. IRREVERSIBLE (2002)
Panned for its depiction of a brutal assault, this revenge film from director Gaspar Noé prompted viewers to head for the exits—but not necessarily because of what was shown onscreen. Noé admitted to using a 27 hertz frequency of bass that can’t be picked up by the human ear during the movie’s first 30 minutes. Known as infrasound, it's been known to induce panic and anxiety in a manner similar to vibrations created by earthquakes. Paranormal Activity (2007) used a similar technique.
7. THE LION KING (1994)
Walt Disney Pictures
In the proud Disney tradition of maiming parents came The Lion King, where tiny Simba learns to fend for himself after his father is trampled during a stampede. The animated tragedy proved so intense for younger viewers—Disney’s key demographic—that they had to be temporarily relocated to the lobby until they calmed down.
Every New Movie, TV Series, and Special Coming to Netflix in May
BY Alvin Ward
April 24, 2018
Netflix is making way for loads of laughs in its library in May, with a handful of original comedy specials (Steve Martin, Martin Short, Carol Burnett, Tig Notaro, and John Mulvaney will all be there), plus the long-awaited return of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Here’s every new movie, TV series, and special making its way to Netflix in May.
27: Gone Too Soon
A Life of Its Own: The Truth About Medical Marijuana
Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures: Season 1
God's Own Country
Hachi: A Dog's Tale
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
High School Musical 3: Senior Year
John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous Live at Radio City
My Perfect Romance
Pocoyo & Cars
Pocoyo & The Space Circus
Queens of Comedy: Season 1
Simon: Season 1
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Carter Effect
The Strange Name Movie
Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V: Season 2
A Little Help with Carol Burnett
Busted!: Season 1
Dear White People: Volume 2
Forgive Us Our Debts
Kong: King of the Apes: Season 2
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Tina Fey
No Estoy Loca
The Rain: Season 1
The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale
Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives
Bill Nye Saves the World: Season 3
Evil Genius: the True Story of America's Most Diabolical Bank Heist
Spirit Riding Free: Season 5
The Kissing Booth
The Who Was? Show: Season 1
Ali Wong: Hard Knock Wife
The Phantom of the Opera
Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce: Season 4
Grand Designs: Seasons 13 - 14
Only God Forgives
The Game 365: Seasons 15 - 16
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Inspector Gadget: Season 4
Bridge to Terabithia
Disney’s Scandal: Season 7
Small Town Crime
Some Kind of Beautiful
Señora Acero: Season 4
Mob Psycho 100: Season 1
Shooter: Season 2
Terrace House: Opening New Doors: Part 2
Tig Notaro Happy To Be Here
Fauda: Season 2
Survivors Guide to Prison
Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life
The Toys That Made Us: Season 2
Trollhunters: Part 3
The Break with Michelle Wolf
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 4
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman: Howard Stern
If your main interests are true crime and cooking, you’re in the middle of a Renaissance Age. The Michelangelos of nonfiction are consistently bringing stellar storytelling to twisty tales of murder and mayhem as well as luxurious shots of food prepared by the most creative culinary minds.
But these aren’t the only genres that documentary series are tackling. There’s a host of history, arts, travel, and more at your streaming fingertips. When you want to take a break from puzzling out who’s been wrongfully imprisoned, that is.
Here are the 20 best docuseries to watch right now, so start streaming.
1. WILD WILD COUNTRY (2018)
What happens when an Indian guru with thousands of American followers sets up shop near a small town in Oregon with the intent to create a commune? Incredibly sourced, this documentary that touches on every major civic issue—from religious liberty to voting rights—should be your new obsession. When you choose a side, be prepared to switch. Multiple times.
If your heart is broken by what’s going on in Flint, Michigan, be prepared to have that pain magnified and complicated. The filmmakers behind this provocative series were embedded with police in Flint to offer us a glimpse at the area’s local struggles and national attention from November 2015 through early 2017.
Narrated by Meryl Streep, this three-part series covers a half-century of American experience from the earliest days of second-wave feminism through Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination in the 1990s. Ellen DeGeneres, Condoleezza Rice, Sally Ride, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and more are featured, and the series got six more episodes in a second season.
After the massive success of Serial in 2014, a one-two punch of true crime docuseries landed the following year. One was the immensely captivating study of power, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which chronicled the bizarre, tangled web of the real estate mogul who was suspected of several murders. The show, which could be measured in jaw-drops per hour, both registered real life and uniquely affected it.
The second major true crime phenom of 2015 was 10 years in the making. Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos uncovered the unthinkable story of Steven Avery, a man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault who was later convicted of murdering a different woman, Teresa Halbach. Not just a magnifying glass on the justice system and a potential small town conspiracy, it’s also a display of how stories can successfully get our blood boiling.
Speaking of good conspiracies: documentary titan Errol Morris turns his keen eye to a CIA project that’s as famous as it is unknown—MKUltra. A Cold War-era mind control experiment. LSD and hypnosis. The mysterious death of a scientist. His son’s 60-year search for answers. Morris brings his incisive eye to the hunt.
Based on Mark Harris’s superlative book, this historical doc features filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Guillermo del Toro discussing the WWII-era work of predecessors John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens. Also narrated by Meryl Streep, it looks at how the war shaped the directors and how they shaped the war. As a bonus, Netflix has the war-time documentaries featured in the film available to stream.
If you can’t afford film school, and your local college won’t let you audit any more courses, Mark Cousins’s 915-minute history is the next best thing. Unrivaled in its scope, watching it is like having a charming encyclopedia discuss its favorite movies. Yes, at 15-episodes it’s sprawling, so, yes, you should watch it all in one go. Carve out a weekend and be ready to take notes on all the movies you want to watch afterward.
David Chang, the host of the first season of The Mind of a Chef, has returned with a cultural mash-up disguised as a foodie show. What does it mean for pizza to be “authentic”? What do Korea and the American South have in common? With his casual charm in tow, Chang and a variety of special guests explore people through the food we love to eat as an artifact that brings us all together.
A legend of nonfiction, Ken Burns has more than a few docuseries available to stream, including long-form explorations of the Civil War and baseball. His 10-episode series on jazz exhaustively tracks nearly a century of the formation and evolution of the musical style across the United States. You’ll wanna mark off a big section of the calendar and crank up the volume.
In 2001, author Michael Peterson reported to police that his wife had died after falling down a set of stairs, but police didn’t buy the story and charged him with her murder. Before the current true crime boom, before Serial and all the rest, there was Jean-Xavier de Lestrade’s Peabody Award-winning docuseries following Peterson’s winding court case. The mystery at the heart of the trial and the unparalleled access Lestrade had to Peterson’s defense make this a must-see. (Netflix just announced that it will be releasing three new episodes of the series this summer.)
The sequel to the 2006 original is a real stunner. Narrated (naturally) by Sir David Attenborough, featuring music from Hans Zimmer, and boasting gorgeous photography of our immeasurably fascinating planet, this follow-up takes us through different terrains to see the life contained within. There are snow leopards in the mountains, a swimming sloth in the islands, and even langurs in our own urban jungle. Open your eyes wide to learn a lot or put it on in the background to zen out.
13. THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA’S BEST IDEA (2009)
The cheapest way to visit Yosemite, Yellowstone, Muir Woods, and more. This Emmy-winning, six-part series is both a travelogue and a history lesson in conservation that takes up the argument of why these beautiful places should be preserved: to quote President Roosevelt, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
Experience the too-often-untold stories of conflict zones through the lenses of world class photographers like Nicole Tung, Donna Ferraro, and João Silva. This heart-testing, bias-obliterating series is unique in its views into dark places and eye toward hope.
Far more than a sports documentary, the story of the players at East Mississippi Community College will have you rooting for personal victories as much as the points on the scoreboard. Many of the outstanding players on the squad lost spots at Division I schools because of disciplinary infractions or failing academics, so they’re seeking redemption in a program that wants them to return to the big-name schools. There are two full seasons to binge and a third on the way.
Currently in its sixth season, the series is known for asking tough questions that need immediate answers and giving viewers a street-level view of everything from killing cancer to juvenile justice reform. Its confrontational style of gonzo provocation won’t be everyone’s cup of spiked tea, but it’s filling an important gap that used to be filled by major network investigative journalists. When they let their subjects—from child soldiers suffering PTSD after fighting for ISIS to coal miners in Appalachia—tell their stories, nonfiction magic happens.
From David Gelb, the documentarian behind Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this doc series is a backstage pass to the kitchens of the world’s most elite chefs. The teams at Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Pujol, and more open their doors to share their process, culinary creativity, and, of course, dozens of delicious courses. No shame in licking your screen.
For those looking to learn more about culture while chowing down, world-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa guides guest chefs to different regions of Japan to ingest the sights, sounds, and spirits of the area before crafting a dish inspired by the journey. History is the main course, with a healthy dash of culinary invention that honors tradition.
Should a jury decide if a child is sentenced to life in jail without parole? How can you go to jail for 20 years for shooting your gun inside your own home to deter thieves? These are just two of the questions examined by this knockout series about the conflicts, outdated methods, and biases lurking in America’s criminal justice system. Insightful and infuriating, it makes a strong companion to Ava DuVernay’s 13th.
It won’t be available until April 27 (so close!), but it’s well worth adding to your queue. This four-part series utilizes a wealth of footage, including unseen personal videos, to share the tragic story of Robert F. Kennedy’s run for president in the context of an era riven by racial strife. Watching this socio-political memorial told by many who were there (including Marian Wright and Congressman John Lewis), it will be impossible not to draw connections to the current day and wonder: What if?