10 documentaries that will make you smarter and more interesting

Keen to expand your general knowledge? Behind on the sexbot craze? Want to know more local history? You could start with these documentaries on TVNZ OnDemand. 

Forget the latest fad of “books” and set fire to ye olde newspaper, because there’s no better way to discover the mysteries of our weird and wonderful world than through a brilliant, blow your mind and knock your socks off, TV documentary. In many ways, documentaries are the book of the small screen and, luckily for us, TVNZ OnDemand’s library is heaving with must-sees.

They’ll make you laugh, they’ll make you cry, and they’ll make you the coolest person to talk to at parties. Whatever your taste, there’s a doco for you: sports, politics, true crime, and my own personal fave, the timeless love-conquers-all story, Harry and Meghan: Truly Madly Deeply.

Because who doesn’t want to be smarter in this crazy old world of ours? Get ahead of the sexbot curve and unleash your inner, profound genius on these bizarre, brilliant offerings: 

Who Killed Lucy the Poodle? 

Impress your mates and amaze complete strangers with your knowledge about New Zealand’s most batshit murder mystery. In 1986, three lions attacked a performing poodle, escaped the circus and roamed loose along the Rotorua lakefront, watched by a young Kent Briggs. 20 years later, Kent wants to find out what really happened. Did Lucy the Poodle accidentally enter the lion cage, or was she fed to the lions by a clown with a grudge? Justice for Lucy!

Project Nim

The 70s were a wild time filled with Abba, big trousers, and an American professor who wanted to see if you could teach a chimpanzee to communicate like humans if it was raised as one. Project Nim will teach you more than you’ll ever want to know about raising a wild animal like a real person and reminds us that in the entire animal kingdom, us fickle humans really are the worst. It’s a heartbreaking, astonishing story.

Ten Billion

Fun fact: the Earth is expected to reach a population of 10 billion by 2050, which will make the planet officially crap itself. “We are the drivers of every global problem we face,” says scientist Steven Emmott in Ten Billion, a documentary that won’t cheer you up but will certainly keep you well informed as we smoulder into a screaming pile of regret. I mean, who doesn’t love a catastrophic yarn at a party? A bleak but necessary watch.

Pecking Order

How much can you love a chicken? Pick a number, quadruple it and then cover it in feathers, because Pecking Order will teach you how to embrace your inner hen whisperer. This glorious documentary follows a bunch of bird-loving Kiwis in the lead-up to the cutthroat world of the National Poultry Show and celebrates all that’s good and quirky about our fine country. It’s delectable from start to finish, much like a hot bucket of KFC.

A still from Hīkoi: The Land March

Hīkoi: The Land March

Hīkoi commemorates the 40th anniversary of the 1975 Māori Land March, led by Dame Whina Cooper in protest against Māori land loss. It reflects on the 1000km hīkoi that travelled the length of the North Island, growing in strength and numbers as it neared Wellington, and speaks to those who were there on the ground at the time. A must watch for all New Zealanders.

A still from The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

The King of Kong: a Fistful of Quarters

Ever wondered who has the best mullet in television? The answer lies in King of Kong, a gripping adventure of arcade warfare that features hair so luscious even Michael Bolton would cry tears of jealous rage. King of Kong follows Steve Wiebe as he attempts to beat Billy Mitchell’s 20-year Donkey Kong world record, in an epic battle set in a video arcade of broken hopes and dreams. It’s the sports documentary you never knew you needed.  

Funny As: The Story of New Zealand Comedy

Wrap your laughing gear around Funny As, the Kiwi comedy journey that starts with Fred Dagg falling out of a Land Rover and ends with Cal Wilson being pelted with chicken drumsticks.  It’s bursting with archival footage and classic LOLs from our comedy best, including the Topp Twins, Rose Matafeo and Flight of the Conchords. You’ll never be short of a) a laugh and b) fun trivia about our comedy icons (did you know the Conchords named themselves after a toilet?). 

David Attenborough’s Dynasties

Can a lion overcome 20 hungry hyenas? Why do emperor penguins nurture snowballs instead of eggs?  Will your best Attenborough impression ever be as good as the lord and saviour himself? Dynasties is an incredible natural history doco about five of our most celebrated animal species as they face extinction in a changing world. Be warned, your brain may swell from all the knowledge. A masterclass from start to finish.

The Case Against Adnan Syed

If you’ve devoured the Serial podcast about the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, then HBO’s The Case Against Adnan Syed will reveal fascinating new details about the case. This true crime doco dives deep into the flawed investigation against Adnan Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend who was found guilty of the crime, and pulls up new witness testimonies and startling information about what happened the day Lee was killed. True Detective? More like You: Detective.


Once you’ve nourished your big, bulging, beautiful brain with a degustation of delicious facts, it’s time to look after the rest of you. Embrace Embrace, the empowering documentary that wants you to love your body, just the way it is. Australian activist Taryn Brumfitt travels the globe to explore issues around body negativity while encouraging us to change the way we feel and think about ourselves. Watch it with the girls and women in your life.

This content was created in paid partnership with TVNZ. Learn more about our partnerships here

Go to TVNZ OnDemand, where you’ll find a ton of other great shows (…way beyond just what’s played on TV)

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