Documentaries are an immersive, vivid way to learn about the biggest moments in history. However, with many documentaries now being compiled in either sprawling series or one-offs that are hours long, it can be hard to find the time to sit with these films. If you're looking for accessible, easily digestible documentaries, we've compiled a list of the best films under 90 minutes. Here are 10 short history documentaries you can watch tonight.
The Last Days
With a runtime of 87 minutes, this documentary from 1998 concisely shares the gripping fate of five Hungarian Jews who survived Auschwitz. As defeat loomed for the Nazis in 1944, they redoubled their efforts in the ethnic cleansing of Hungary. Now these remarkable survivors look back on the horrors they faced as a result of this rampant hatred. But now that they're on the other side of this atrocity, their personal victories are a testament to perseverance and humanity.
While many are now familiar with the efforts of incredible women mathematicians during the Space Race, such as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, few know that in 1961, women were rigorously tested and trained for spaceflight. However, these would-be astronauts had their dreams shattered when only men were selected to participate in the space program. This documentary profiles the women who never got to reach the stars. A Netflix exclusive, this film has a runtime of 79 minutes.
One Child Nation
This 2019 documentary, which won an award at that year's Sundance Film Festival, was created by Chinese filmmakers Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang. It weaves a moving portrait of the rippling consequences of China's one-child policy. Utilizing firsthand accounts from those who lived through the policy, the film portrays the devastation that crept into daily life. One Child Nation has a runtime of 88 minutes.
In the spring of 1939, Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus risked everything to go on a remarkable and selfless journey. They travelled to Nazi Germany, where they completed an unlikely mission: the rescue of 50 Jewish children, whom they escorted from Vienna to the United States. The Krauses saved the children from likely death in the Holocaust and resettled them in homes in Pennsylvania instead. This inspiring tale is told in just 63 minutes.
Diana, Our Mother
Princess Diana was a beloved member of the British royal family, known for both her glamour and her activism. But to Prince William and Prince Harry, there was no role that she played that was more important than "mother." More than two decades after her tragic passing, her sons look back on her incredible life and the legacy she left behind. This documentary has a runtime of 68 minutes.
The Loving Story
Told in just 77 minutes, this is the incredible story of Richard and Mildred Loving. The interracial couple got married in 1958, but in their home state of Virginia, their differing skin colors made their union illegal. They were quickly arrested for this crime, starting a long and vital battle against anti-miscegenation laws in the United States.
Paris is Burning
Clocking in at 77 minutes, this groundbreaking documentary is an essential slice of queer history. This work was filmed in New York City in the 1980s, chronicling the vitality of the drag scene against its backdrop of poverty, discrimination, and the AIDS epidemic. More than just glitzy drag balls and fashion competitions, this documentary imparts the tight-knit community and culture of the time, as well as hopes for a better future.
Nixon by Nixon
This 70-minute documentary explores the true character of Richard Nixon. The 37th president of the United States, Nixon is perhaps best known for his Watergate scandal. From 1971 to 1973, Nixon had secretly recorded his private conversations. This documentary uses those now-declassified tapes to paint a portrait of Nixon using his own words.
White Light/Black Rain
In August of 1945, the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were eviscerated by atomic bombs dropped by American forces. Hundreds of thousands of people perished in the blast—mostly civilians. This documentary uses powerful interviews with survivors of these devastating events to examine the aftermath of nuclear warfare. This film has a runtime of 85 minutes.
Sir! No Sir!
This 2005 documentary clocks in at 83 minutes. Taking us back to the Vietnam War, this gripping film captures the extraordinary efforts of American military men and women to pressure the U.S. government to bring the unpopular war to an end. While their antiwar efforts are almost entirely forgotten today, they played a vital part in charting the course of history.