Lives That Inspire: Documentaries on World-Changing Personalities

Jan. 15, 2024

Throughout history, there have been individuals whose contributions, ideas, and actions have significantly shaped the world. Their stories of innovation, courage, and resilience continue to inspire generations. In the realm of documentaries, the lives of these influential personalities are explored with depth and nuance, offering viewers an intimate look into their journeys. This article highlights some of the most powerful documentaries and docuseries that chronicle the lives of such world-changing figures, showcasing their achievements, struggles, and lasting impacts.

Documentaries on influential personalities do more than chronicle significant lives; they provide context to their achievements and struggles. These films and series delve into the backgrounds, motivations, and challenges faced by these icons, offering a comprehensive understanding of their journey. By doing so, they provide valuable lessons in leadership, innovation, and resilience, making these stories not just biographical accounts but sources of inspiration and learning.

The documentaries listed here not only celebrate the achievements of their subjects but also humanize them, revealing their vulnerabilities and the obstacles they overcame. They remind us that greatness is not just about success but also about the ability to persist, adapt, and impact the world positively. These stories encourage viewers to find inspiration in these lives and perhaps see a part of themselves reflected in these narratives.


Top 10 Documentaries on Influential Personalities:



In Search of Walt Whitman

old man with beard

This educational film tells the story of Walt Whitman’s remarkable life (1819-1892), the turbulent era in which he lived, and the timeless poetry he created. Interweaving narration and dramatic readings with captivating period music, insights from scholars, and photography filmed in key locations, this documentary brings to life Whitman’s unique character and poems.  The film also explores the mystery of how a seemingly ordinary writer, with little education or training, could have created the literature-altering masterpiece, Leaves of Grass.


Abel Raises Cain

a man holds an advertising poster

The story of the world's greatest hoaxer. An unprecedented glimpse into the life and bizarre career of Alan Abel, the notorious media prankster who has made a name for himself several times over with stunts that are just ridiculous enough to be believable, especially to a media that feeds on salacious stories. In this loving portrait of an eccentric father, Alan's daughter, Jenny, takes the audience on a roller coaster ride through the myriad of elaborate hoaxes and schemes that Abel pulled off over the years, all of which were designed to provoke, amuse, and make people question everything that they see, hear or read.


Sins of My Father

the digital drawing of a man with a cold look and mustaches

It tells the story of the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar from the inside perspective of his son, now living in Argentina under the name Sebastián Marroquín. The role of the son in the history of the mafia bears a responsibility that very few people would be willing to assume. From the beginning, the descendent is doomed, against his own will, to the consequences of the actions of his ancestors. In theory, he is compelled to preserve the clan and family tradition. The latter is always the only emotional core and real motivation of the gangster to remain alive and for which he, as the son of his father, has the exclusive right to seek revenge. 


Black Sun

digital poster

When he became blind, visual artist Hugues Montalembert had to learn life again. Basic things like finding his way through the streets of New York, cooking his meals, and learning to be patient were some of his most essential challenges. Curiously, he was not left in total darkness. From the beginning of his blindness, his brain began to produce images uninterruptedly, as if he saw a movie in the privacy of his mind.


Cat's Cradle

two women look at each other very closely

In this unusual documentary, directors Filipa Reis and Joao Miller Guerra make the state of inequality a benefit of their film approach. Based on a script by Pedro Pinho, the filmmakers use the imagination of the visual narrative of fiction films to solve an eternal dilemma in documentary work: how to film the life of someone who exists.


Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine

a long-haired man with a computer on his thighs

This gripping documentary provides an insightful look into the life and legacy of Steve Jobs, exploring how his innovations in technology have shaped modern society while also delving into the complexities of his personal and professional life.


Steve Irwin: He Changed Our World

a smiling man in front of uluru

A ceremony commemorating beloved conservationist Steve Irwin is held at the Crocoseum in Australia. If you're old enough to remember, the mention of Steve Irwin, the Australian wildlife enthusiast known as the "Crocodile Hunter," likely brings back vivid memories of his daring encounters with some of the world's most dangerous creatures. On November 15, people all over the world gather to celebrate Steve Irwin Day, a day dedicated to honoring the life and legacy of this remarkable individual. This day serves as a reminder of the incredible impact he had on the world of animals. Steve Irwin's name is forever associated with environmental activism and wildlife conservation, and in this blog post, we'll explore the significance of Steve Irwin Day and his enduring influence.



a pilot in a red suit looks at the track

A captivating documentary about Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, who won the F1 world championship three times before his death at age 34. Senna is a 2010 documentary film that depicts the life and death of Brazilian motor-racing champion Ayrton Senna, directed by Asif Kapadia.


The Decision to Drop the Bomb

a scientist with a cloudy look and a blackboard with notes

J Robert Oppenheimer and other key figures involved in the decision to drop the first atomic bomb discuss their motivations in this rare NBC News documentary. Originally produced two decades after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this presentation features new insight from NBC News Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss.


Moonage Daydream

a blonde man who looks at the sky

This captivating documentary is a cinematic odyssey exploring David Bowie's creative and musical journey. From visionary filmmaker Brett Morgen a little-known world of the legendary star.


These documentaries remind us of the profound impact that individuals can have on the world. They celebrate not only the achievements but also the human spirit that drives change. As Albert Einstein once said, "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." These films inspire us to learn from the lives of these great personalities and to strive for a positive impact in our own lives and the lives of others.


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