There are a ton of highly-regarded true stories coming to movie theaters in 2018. How do we know they're so highly-regarded? Their subjects have already seen exceptional documentaries made about them.
It's no rare thing. Documentarians often beat feature filmmakers to the creative punch, and the reverse is just as true. Filmmakers are filmmakers and great stories are great stories. It doesn't matter the format.
So treat this as a preview of some of 2018's most anticipated new biopics, as well as a list of documentary recommendations. Indeed it is both.
1. Documentary: For All Mankind (1989)
Coming to theaters in 2018: First Man (October 12)
The Neil Armstrong story has been documented many times in many formats as one of the greatest of the 20th century. The first man to walk on the Moon is one of the most famous Americans to ever live. His story will come to life in a big way this year when Ryan Gosling plays him in First Man.
First Man is based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen, but it will chiefly focus on the Apollo 11 lunar mission that saw Armstrong walk on the Moon's surface in 1969. If you've never seen the real thing, or only clips, you need to see the 1989 documentary For All Mankind. Using actual NASA footage, the film shows you what the astronauts saw that day as they became the first humans to see the full image of Earth in outer space, and, of course, the first to set foot in the snowy sands of the Sea of Tranquility.
2. Documentary: Deep Water (2006)
Coming to theaters in 2018: The Mercy (in UK theaters now, US TBA)
One of the greatest documentaries of the 21st century is Deep Water, about the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a non-stop, single-handed, round-the-world yacht race that was the first of its kind. The event summoned the greatest sailors from around the world, challenging them to become the first to circumnavigate the globe alone in a vessel without stopping. The film introduces the five chief participants, but focuses much attention on one man.
Donald Crowhurst, who'll be portrayed by Colin Firth in the 2018 film The Mercy, was the least-experienced sailor of the competitors. Leaving his family ashore, he set out late, went radio silent before resurfacing, and seemed to be making great progress. However, Crowhurst was lying about his positions and battling inner demons no one could've predicted. Alone in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Crowhurst went mad and disappeared, leaving behind a journal that spoke to the mystery.
3. Documentary: Marwencol (2010)
Coming to theaters in 2018: The Women of Marwen (November 21)
Here's a case of a documentary inspiring a feature film. Marwencol, one of the most-acclaimed films of 2010, is a unique portrait of an artist making something that transcends mere art. It's the story of Mark Hogancamp, a New York man who survived a savage attack only to emerge from a coma with brain damage and severe amnesia. Unable to pay for real therapy, Mark disappeared into a hobby — creating a miniature town in his backyard populated by the people in his life. His work was eventually shown in galleries and he's become famous in the art world.
Steve Carell is set to portray Hogancamp on the big screen this year in The Women of Marwen, directed by Robert Zemeckis. Already being picked as an Oscar favorite, the movie will tell Hogancamp's story and attempt to place us in his shoes. Diane Kruger, Janelle Monáe, Leslie Mann, and Gwendoline Christie will all portray characters based on Hogancamp's doll characters.
4. Documentary: I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
Coming to theaters in 2018: If Beale Street Could Talk (TBA)
The words and philosophies of author James Baldwin set the pace of I Am Not Your Negro, a history of racism in the United States. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the documentary talks race through the recollections of Baldwin, who was a leading social critic during the Civil Rights era with close ties to Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., among others.
If Beale Street Could Talk, one of Baldwin's most famous books, will come to life in 2018 under the direction of Barry Jenkins (Moonlight). The story is about a young black couple torn apart by a false rape accusation in 1970s Harlem. Before seeing the film, you should know the author. I Am Not Your Negro is a bold introduction.
5. Documentary: Lost in La Mancha (2002)
Coming to theaters in 2018: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (TBA)
Writer/director Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys, Time Bandits) has been trying to make a Don Quixote movie for 20 years and it appears to finally be happening in 2018. Adam Driver will play a time traveler found by the famous Don Quixote who mistakes him for Sancho Panza. Jonathan Pryce will play Quixote. However, you have to know the history of this project.
The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has been gestating for decades now as Gilliam has encountered every production problem imaginable in making the movie. Many of them are captured in Lost in La Mancha, a 2002 documentary about the film's first iteration and its seemingly cursed production. Back then, Johnny Depp was playing the time traveler and he appears, along with Gilliam, Vanessa Paradis, Jean Rochefort, and others as they try to get the movie made amidst a plague of flash floods, noise problems, and on-set injuries. It's one of the best movies ever made about the making of a movie.