The 15 Best Documentaries about Magic (Ranked)

In a magical whirlwind, these docs whisk us into the enchanting realm where cards, capes, and wands reign supreme.

From the tenacious triumph of a blind card maestro to the mysterious allure of a famed escape artist, they’re tales of awe and wonder.

There’s the spin on the old rabbit-out-of-the-hat, where storytelling meets sleight of hand, and science melds with the mystical.

From young hopefuls to seasoned pros, it’s a saga of an art form that refuses to vanish, captivating the imaginations of young and old alike.

1) Dealt

In “Dealt,” (2017) we’re dealt into Richard Turner’s world, where blindness isn’t a setback but a stage.

As a kid, he goes blind, his despair so profound he tries to burn out his eyes with a magnifying glass.

Talk about a rough start.

But Turner isn’t one to fold. He shuffles through life, practicing card tricks for 16 hours a day.

Church, grocery store, hot tub – you name it, he’s there with his deck.

Richard’s got moves, taught by the legendary “Professor” Dai Vernon, stuff so secret, it’s like magician’s gold.

And if card wizardry wasn’t enough, he kicks into high gear, earning a black belt in karate. Blind! That’s like playing life on hard mode and winning.

The climax? Richard owns his story in a one-man show, turning his blindness into a spotlight.

Then – bam! – he hits the jackpot, snagging “Close-Up Magician of the Year.”

“Dealt” (1 hr 25 min) isn’t just a film; it’s Turner’s reminder that life’s cards are what you make of them. In his hands, they’re pure magic.

Watch it on [Streaming Service it’s on]

2) An Honest Liar

“An Honest Liar” (2014) uncovers the life of James ‘The Amazing’ Randi, a magician who’s not just about tricks but truths.

Once an escape artist, Randi later devotes his life to debunking frauds. His crusade? To expose those who use magic for deceit.

He tackles psychics, faith healers, and con artists, revealing their deceptions. But there’s a twist – Randi’s personal life harbors its own secrets.

The film is a journey through Randi’s battles against trickery, both in the outside world and within himself. It’s a tale of honesty, illusion, and the gray areas in between.

“An Honest Liar” (1 hr 30 min) isn’t just about magic; it’s about the magic of truth. In Randi’s quest, we find the real magic – the magic of reality.

Watch this for free on Kanopy. These subscription services tend to have it: Peacock, Fubo, Roku, Tubi, Vudu, Plex, etc. Or you can rent it on Amazon, AppleTV, YouTube, etc.

Most viewing options an be found here https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/an-honest-liar

3) Dai Vernon: The Spirit of Magic

“Dai Vernon: The Spirit of Magic” (1999, 45 min) unveils the spellbinding tale of Dai Vernon.

He’s “The Professor,” a legend who “fooled Houdini.” s

He stands as a colossus in magic history.

His impact? Comparable to Joyce in literature, Einstein in physics.

As Max Maven eloquently states, Vernon revolutionized magic, bringing innovations that altered the craft.

The film delves into Vernon’s legendary clash with Houdini. Vernon, viewing Houdini as merely an escape artist, challenges his claim of being unfoolable.

The outcome? Vernon astounds Houdini seven times with a single card trick.

In 1946, Vernon’s “Magic Lectures” began, becoming seminal teachings for magicians globally. His cup and ball routine is now a worldwide standard, as Maven highlights.

Settling in Los Angeles at “The Castle,” Vernon became a magnetic force for magicians.

Directed by Daniel Zuckerbrot and narrated by Patrick Watson, this documentary features insights from Max Maven, Derek Verner, and magic luminaries like Ricky Jay and Persi Diaconis.

Watch it for free on YouTube by clicking the embed above or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeIBCLw4p8o; or for free on Magicana here: https://www.magicana.com/video/vernon

4) Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself

“Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself” (2020) is a cinematic alchemy of storytelling and illusion.

Derek DelGaudio, a master storyteller and magician, takes us on a profound journey. It’s an introspective exploration of identity and human connection.

Filmed over 552 performances, this one-man show blends personal narrative with jaw-dropping illusions. DelGaudio challenges perceptions, making viewers question not just what they see, but who they are.

This 90-minute film transcends traditional magic. It’s an emotional voyage that intertwines DelGaudio’s life with the audience’s innermost thoughts.

“In & Of Itself” isn’t just a film; it’s an experience that lingers, prompting reflection on the stories we tell ourselves. A mesmerizing blend of art and illusion.

Watch the “Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself” on Hulu. See here for all options: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/in-and-of-itself

5) Women in Boxes

“Women in Boxes” (2008) spotlights the unsung heroines of the magic world: the assistants.

This 82-minute documentary pays tribute to the women who bring magic to life, often overshadowed by their male counterparts. It’s their story, their risks, and their artistry.

Featuring interviews with magic’s most influential women, the film breaks the stereotype of the ‘lovely assistant.’ It shows their skill, bravery, and indispensable role in the craft of illusion.

The film is a revelation, uncovering the rich history and contributions of these talented performers in a male-dominated field.

“Women in Boxes” is not just a film; it’s a much-needed correction to magic’s history books. A celebration of the women who make the impossible seem effortless.

You can watch “Women in Boxes” for free on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocy3mLhTljM (or check back here for additional options as the come up: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/women-in-boxes

6) BBC History of Magic – Close-Up Magic

The above embed is from “Close-Up Magic”, Part 1 of BBC History of Magic

The “BBC History of Magic” (2004) is a compelling three-part BBC series exploring different facets of magical art.

The first episode, “Close-Up,” delves into the ancient and pure form of close-up magic, with insights from Penn & Teller.

The second part (“Disappearances”_ examines how magicians utilize scientific advancements to innovate in illusion, making the impossible seem real.

The final episode (“Mind Reading”) offers rare interviews with icons like Doug Henning, alongside designer John Gaughan and consultant Charles Reynolds. It includes the crucial role television played in Henning’s career. Check out the classic Maria Shriver interview of Doug.

You can watch “BBC History of Magic”‘. I see’s 3 parts for free on YouTube:

7) The Art of Magic

“The Art of Magic” (1998, 2h 30m), presented by PBS, is a magical extravaganza that’s more than just sleight of hand.

This isn’t just a show; it’s a journey through magic’s illustrious past and vibrant present.

Think of it as a time-traveling spectacle, where legends like Isaac Fawkes, Cagliostro, and the Fox Sisters first lit the spark.

The doc shines a spotlight on the giants of the craft. From the enigmatic Cardini, who could make cards dance, to John Nevel Maskelyne and the legendary Harry Houdini, who turned escape into an art.

And let’s not forget Channing Pollock, the gentleman of magic.

But it doesn’t stop in the past.

Fast forward to modern marvels like Siegfried and Roy, who redefine grandeur, Jamy Ian Swiss, with his card finesse, and Lance Burton, a master of the stage.

These contemporary magicians are not just performers; they’re the dream weavers of our era.

“The Art of Magic” is more than a documentary; it’s a celebration of an age-old art that continues to bewitch and bedazzle.

Watch “The Art of Magic” for free on YouTube by clicking the embed above or this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KXyjq_8RsA

8) Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery

“History Channel presents ‘Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery’ (2005, 2h), a doc that delves deep into the life of the legendary Harry Houdini.

This doc takes us through an extraordinary auction of Houdini’s most treasured possessions and trick props. It offers a rare glimpse into the world of the master escape artist.

Directed by Michael Meadows and penned by Richard Brehm, doc features renowned magicians like Lance Burton and David Copperfield, along with Mary Corey.

Together, they help unravel the enigma of Houdini, showcasing why his legacy continues to fascinate us.

You can watch “Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery” for free on Kanopy at https://www.kanopy.com/en/product/houdini-unlocking-mystery.

Or you can subscribe to The History Vault to get it (https://www.historyvault.com/collections/landmarks-events-and-culture/houdini-unlocking-the-mystery) or via a trial on Amazon Prime here: https://www.amazon.com/Houdini-Inc-New-Wave-Entert/dp/B09G6S2H2Z.

9) Penn & Teller’s Magic and Mystery Tour

Penn & Teller’s Magic and Mystery Tour (2003) is a fascinating three-episode series exploring global magic traditions.

Famous magicians Penn & Teller travel across Egypt, India, and China, uncovering the unique magic styles of each culture. Each episode (about 50 min) is an adventure into the history and heart of magical practices.

They delve into street magic, traditional performances, and rituals, adding their characteristic humor and skepticism. The series is as educational as it is entertaining, revealing the diversity and depth of magic worldwide.

“Penn & Teller’s Magic and Mystery Tour” is more than a travelogue; it’s a journey into the soul of magic.

It showcases how magic reflects and affects different cultures.

You can stream Penn & Teller’s Magic & Mystery Tour for free on YouTube at:

…or stream the docuseries on Roku and Amazon’s Freevee (with ads). Check here for those options: https://www.justwatch.com/us/tv-show/penn-and-teller-magic-and-mystery-tour

10) Our Magic

“Our Magic” (2014, 1h 35m), directed by R. Paul Wilson, pays homage to the art of magic.

This doc is not just about tricks but the essence of magic itself, told by the magicians who live it. “Our Magic” is an intimate exploration, revealing the personal and often hidden side of this mysterious art form.

Through the lens of magicians and their craft, Wilson crafts a narrative that’s both enlightening and deeply human. It’s a celebration of an art form that thrives in the shadows, yet illuminates so much.

Watch “Our Magic” on Roku or Tubi. Check here for all streaming options: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/our-magic

11) Make Believe

“Make Believe” (2010, 1h 28m), directed by J. Clay Tweel, follows six aspiring young magicians vying for the title of Teen World Champion.

This isn’t just a competition; it’s a journey into the dreams and dedication of these young illusionists. From their personal struggles to their awe-inspiring performances, “Make Believe” captures the spirit of magic in its purest form.

Tweel’s direction brings to life a story of hope, ambition, and the magic of youth. It’s a documentary that reminds us why we fell in love with magic in the first place.

Watch “Make Believe” on Tubi and Plex. Check here for full streaming options: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/make-believe

12) The Magic Life

“The Magic Life” (2012, 1h 13m), directed by Nelson Cheng, explores the challenging path of three aspiring professional magicians.

Cheng’s documentary delves into the sacrifices and passion required to pursue magic not just as a hobby but as a way of life. It’s a journey filled with trials, triumphs, and the relentless pursuit of a dream.

“The Magic Life” is an intimate look at the dedication behind the dazzle, a reminder of the hard work that makes the magic happen.

This doc isn’t just about tricks; it’s about the determination and spirit needed to live a life less ordinary.

Watch “The Magic Life” for free on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qIKMYFBJQi8

13) The Amazing Johnathan Documentary

“The Amazing Johnathan Documentary” (2019, 1h 31m), directed by Ben Berman, is a wild ride into the life of comedian and magician Johnathan Szeles.

This doc is as unpredictable and eccentric as its subject.

Part documentary, part reality-bending journey, Berman captures the essence of a performer who defies categorization.

With twists and turns, “The Amazing Johnathan Documentary” is more than a biographical account; it’s an experience, a blend of humor, magic, and the unexpected.

Watch “The Amazing Johnathan” on Hulu. Check here for the link and potential other option: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/the-amazing-johnathan-documentary

14) Magic Camp

“Magic Camp” (2012, 1h 24m), directed by Judd Ehrlich, is a heartwarming peek into the world of Tannen’s Magic Camp, where young magicians hone their craft.

Ehrlich’s documentary is a celebration of the next generation of magicians. It’s a tale of passion, friendship, and the magic of childhood dreams.

“Magic Camp” is more than a doc; it’s an invitation to believe in magic again, to see the world with wonder and excitement.

This delightful documentary is a must-see for anyone who remembers the thrill of their first magic trick.

Watch “Magic Camp” on Fubo, Curiosity Stream or Magellan. All links and potential other streaming options can be found at https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/magic-camp

15) Magicians: Life in the Impossible

“Magicians: Life in the Impossible” (2016, 1h 27m), directed by Christoph Baaden and Marcie Hume, is an insider’s look into the world of professional magicians.

The documentary explores the highs and lows of pursuing magic as a career. It’s a story of passion, perseverance, and the art of illusion.

Baaden and Hume provide a rare glimpse into the lives of magicians, beyond the stage and into the real struggles and triumphs of their art.

“Magicians: Life in the Impossible” is a must-watch for anyone intrigued by the dedication behind the deception, the people behind the performance.

Watch “Magicians” Life in the Impossible” for free (with ads) on PlutoTV, Tunbi, Freevee, Vudu Fandango and Plex. Rent it for a few bucks on Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube and Google Play. All options and links should be here: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/magicians-life-in-the-impossible

Two Netflix Shows on Magic

Netflix is surprisingly light on documentaries about Magic.

The 2 main magic documentaries/shows I plan to check out on Netflix are:

  • Magic for Humans — This reality TV series is a bit more on the funny side as Magician Justin William performs weird tricks on the street (and in classrooms)
  • Death by Magic — This is also a bit more reality TV in which magician Drummond Money-Coutts travels around performing stunts.

Thanks for reading!

-Rob Kelly