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These Documentaries Took A Hard Left Turn And Left Audiences Shocked And Confused

Updated October 14, 2020 24.8k votes 9.1k voters 833.7k views19 items

List RulesVote up the twists you really did not see coming.

Sometimes, the best stories are the ones where nothing goes as planned. The classic twist-ending synonymous with Hollywood thrillers can often be even more shocking when it happens in real life, and that's precisely what happened in these weird documentaries that shift directions partway through.

On a quest for one thing, these curious filmmakers unwittingly stumbled into all kinds of bizarre hidden truths, from the dangers of online dating, to celebrity falls from grace, get-rich-quick schemes, and unearthing horrific crimes. Here are some of the most abrupt changes in documentaries.

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  • Video: YouTube

    Filmmaker Andrew Jarecki initially set out to make a short film, Just A Clown, about children's party entertainers in New York. This included popular entertainer David Friedman, known by his clown name, "Silly Billy." 

    Things take a dark turn, however, when Jarecki unearths some buried family history. Friedman's brother, Jesse, and his father, Arnold, had pleaded guilty to child sexual abuse in the 1980s. Jarecki also discovers the family's old home movies, which—along with interviews with the Friedman children—he used to complete the newly refocused documentary in 2003.

    • Released: 2003
    • Directed by: Andrew Jarecki
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  • Video: YouTube

    Heidi Bub is an Amerasian born in 1968, in Danang, Vietnam, who was brought over to the United States as part of "Operation Babylift" (a campaign to evacuate children from war-torn Vietnam) in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War. She was adopted by an ultra-conservative Christian woman, Ann Neville, in South Carolina, but after breaking Ann's strict curfew (by a mere 10 minutes) as a teenager, Heidi found herself evicted from her home and estranged from her adoptive mother.

    After Heidi learned that her birth mother had contacted her adoption agency in 1991, this 2002 documentary intended to capture an uplifting reunion between mother and daughter. However, after traveling to Vietnam, Heidi struggles to come to terms with the extreme cultural differences and feels exploited when she is expected to financially support a family she has only just met.

    • Released: 2002
    • Directed by: Vicente Franco, Gail Dolgin
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  • Video: YouTube

    In documentary filmmaking, things rarely go according to plan. In the 1980s, Errol Morris began work on Nub City, a film that was supposed to expose a bizarre practice that had taken over the town of Vernon, Florida, in which residents over-bought insurance and then cashed in by chopping off their limbs.

    The residents became wise to Morris's plan, and after receiving death threats from them, the filmmaker was forced to dramatically switch his focus. Instead of going with the self-mutilation angle, he interviewed some of the town's most eccentric members. The result is equally weird, if not less gory. 

    • Released: 1981
    • Directed by: Errol Morris
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  • 8

    'Icarus' Starts As A Cycling Drama But Turns Into A Government Conspiracy Movie

    Video: YouTube

    Bryan Fogel's Icarus starts with a question: can Fogel, an amateur cyclist, beat an anti-doping test while taking performance-enhacing drugs? He enlists Grigory Rodchenkov, head of the Anti-Doping Centre in Moscow, to help administer the steroids.

    As Fogel and Rodchenkov become closer, Fogel discovers something shocking and blows the lid off one of the biggest doping scandals in history: Rodchenkov was a major player in a state sponsored doping program involving Olympic athletes in Russia. And he's willing to talk.

    • Released: 2017
    • Directed by: Bryan Fogel
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