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Five offbeat documentaries for your trip

Five offbeat documentaries for your travels

There is nothing I love more than watching offbeat documentaries. And the wackier, the better. Whenever we travel on short haul flights, I make sure to download a bunch of programmes that we can watch on the flight together, with our headphone splitters.

I also make sure I have a couple of films on my tablet for long haul flights because I have been unfortunate to have been on flights where the entertainment system has been down. Nightmare. Or the flight has been delayed and suddenly you’ve got 4 hours to get through in a small airport that you’ve already walked around three times.

So, if you love quirky documentaries like me, here are five (well, 22 if you count the bonus!) for your short haul or long haul trip:

The Barkley Marathons: The race that eats its young (2015)

We recently watched this on our flight back from Catania and it was riveting! It’s an ultra marathon race where runners from all over the world take on five loops of Frozen Head State Park near Wartburg, Tennessee. Each loop is 20 miles and to complete 3 loops (or 60 miles) is considered a ‘fun run’. The entry requirements are as bizarre as the race itself.

The gruelling course was designed by Gary “Lazarus Lake” Cantrell and he is the star of the documentary. He is also bloody hilarious. Seriously, watch this.

Watch the trailer here:

The King of Kong: a fistful of quarters (2007)

If you are of a certain age and remember arcade games then you will love The King of Kong: a fistful of quarters. Back in 1999, Billy Mitchell sets a record score in Donkey Kong and is crowned ‘Video Game Player of the Century”. Fast forward to 2003 and Steve Wiebe, learns about the record and sets out to beat it. What follows is an epic battle of thumbs as both men battle for inclusion in the 2007 Guinness Book of World Records to claim the title of the supreme king of the electronic game. But who will win?

Tickled (2016)

Oh my God, this film is so weird. In a good way! Think of tickling as an extreme sport. A journalist, David Farrier, discovers by chance a tickling competition online. He sets out to document it but instead comes up against fierce resistance and legal threats from the supposed company behind the competitions. Compelling watching if not very, very bizarre. Unfortunately there isn’t any resolution but that also kind of makes it more interesting.

Watch the trailer here:

Air Guitar Nation (2006)

This is one of those documentaries which could have gone either way for me. I love the randomness of it however I wasn’t enamoured with the thought of a film featuring people rocking out to air guitar. Well… IT WAS AWESOME. Of course there’s more to it than just a bunch of guys rocking out with their non-existent guitars in pursuit of representing the US at the air guitar world championships in Finland. Who will win the opportunity to represent their country and will they bring back the world title?

Watch the trailer here:

Spellbound (2002)

Spellbound follows eight young spellers as they compete for the top title of the National Spelling Bee in America. Yes, it’s about a spelling competition… pretty boring, right? NOPE. It’s really the story of young students who discover, through this documentary, their individual personalities, their obsessiveness when it comes to studying and their family dynamics – cue lots of ‘pushy’ parents. It’s fascinating stuff. If you’re a bit of a geek, you’ll love this film.

BONUS: Any of Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends (1998 -2000)

Did you know that Louis Theroux’s dad is American Travel writer Paul Theroux? Although I’ve been a massive fan of Louis for years, I only recently discovered this!

Anyway, back to the documentary series…. the first series was back in 1998, the second in 1999 and the third in 2000 with 17 episodes in total. Some might not be appropriate to watch on a plane, such as the ones entitled ‘Porn’ and ‘Swingers’. Particularly if you’re sitting near children! My favourites are: UFOs, Survivalists, Wrestling and Looking for Love.

In Louis’s own words:

Weird weekends sets out to discover the genuinely odd in the most ordinary setting. To me, it’s almost a privilege to be welcomed into these communities and to shine a light on them and, maybe, through my enthusiasm, to get people to reveal more of themselves than they may have intended. The show is laughing at me, adrift in their world, as much as at them. I don’t have to play up that stuff. I’m not a matinee idol disguised as a nerd.

I need more to add to my list so please share your offbeat documentary recommendations!

Five offbeat documentaries for travelling

Kirsty Marrins

Reader, writer, occasional runner, travel lover.




  • sheloveslondon

    I watched The Barkley Marathons a few months ago, great doc. Will have a look at the rest – absolutely love a documentary.

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Isn’t it great? I loved it so much! If you have any others you’d recommend, please let me know!

  • Amanda

    I just wanted to chime in and say that I’m obsessed with Louis’ Weird Weekends! xx

    • Kirsty Marrins

      Ha! I’m obsessed with any of his documentaries! Although the newer ones are maybe a bit too serious…

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