Loved Tiger King? Here are some documentaries to watch next
Unfortunately, Netflix's wildly popular docuseries Tiger King can only fill so much quaran-streaming time, even if you binge it repeatedly. Fortunately, there are plenty of other documentaries out there that scratch at least one of the many itches that Tiger King does. From a portrait of another eccentric animal lover to a pair of essential animal-rights films to a true-crime doc unlike any other, options abound for Tiger King fans to find their next obsession. Read on for EW's recommendations for what to watch next.
Timothy Treadwell would fit right in with Tiger King's outré ensemble, were it not for his preference for bears over big cats. Treadwell lived among the grizzlies in Alaska's Katmai National Park for 13 summers, before he and his girlfriend were killed by a hungry bear in 2003. Drawing on the 100-plus hours of video footage Treadwell shot on his expeditions, Werner Herzog's acclaimed 2005 documentary Grizzly Man attempts to burrow into his mind, resulting in a fascinating character study. It's also, at times, almost a morbidly funny odd-couple comedy, with Treadwell's sentimental view of nature brushing up against Herzog's oft-parodied deadpan nihilism: "To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears, and this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food," the German auteur intones over footage of one of Treadwell's ursine "friends." This is Herzog's chilling message to animal lovers like Carole Baskin: "I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility, and murder." (Available on Amazon Prime Video)
Baskin name-checked this 2013 documentary in a blog post slamming Tiger King, claiming the filmmakers lured her into participating by saying "they wanted to make the big cat version of Blackfish." It's true that Tiger King is decidedly not that, though the series does partially deal with the mistreatment of captive wildlife. If you found those portions particularly compelling, Blackfish is the movie for you. The film is an impassioned exposé of SeaWorld's treatment of killer whales, focusing specifically on Tilikum, a male orca involved in the deaths of three people. Blackfish argues that these majestic, highly intelligent creatures grow depressed and aggressive when kept in "a bathtub," as one interviewee puts it, and haunting footage throughout the film — of young killer whales being captured from the wild, of Tilikum's injuries from fellow captive orcas' attacks, of trainers being seriously injured or worse — makes a powerful case that humans have gravely erred in attempting to tame them. How powerful, you ask? The film's impact speaks for itself: SeaWorld no longer features orca performances at its parks. (Available on Hulu)
If, on the other hand, the true-crime side of Tiger King is more to your taste (namely the episode dealing with the disappearance of Baskin's husband), check out this utterly unique documentary from director Kitty Green (The Assistant). In 1996, six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was killed in her family's Colorado home, prompting widespread public interest and a nationwide media circus. JonBenét's parents, particularly her mother, Patsy — a former beauty queen who entered her daughter into pageants — were initially considered suspects but never charged with the murder, and the case remains open to this day. Green, however, is less interested in solving the case than in probing the interest and conspiracy theorizing it sparked. Casting JonBenet centers around the ostensible casting process for the film's dramatizations, with participants voicing their feelings, opinions, and theories about the case and its key players. A remarkable experiment in documentary form, the film is a thought-provoking exploration of our fascination with sensational crimes and the eccentric personalities around them — an exploration, in other words, of why we're so obsessed with things like Tiger King. (Available on Netflix)
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And then there's 2009's The Cove, which blends the polemic spirit of Blackfish with the trappings of a thriller. Produced by Tiger King executive produce Fisher Stevens, this Oscar-winning documentary follows Ric O'Barry — a dolphin-trainer-turned-activist who worked on the 1960s show Flipper — and the film's crew as they attempt to document the hunting and killing of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. The Cove takes on the air of an espionage caper as the filmmakers, facing stiff resistance from the local government and police, work to capture the brutal fishing practices with hidden cameras and expose the practice of selling dolphin meat, which contains dangerously high levels of mercury, in stores and school lunches. Like Blackfish, it's not exactly the most objective of docs, but The Cove combines activism and entertainment in a package whose power can't be denied. (Available to rent/buy on digital platforms)