The 9 Best Self Help Documentaries (Ranked)

Here are the best self-help docsI know of.

They include ones (at the end of the list) that poke fun of the self-help industry.

Enjoy!

1) Napoleon Hill’s Master Key (1954)

Napoleon Hill brings his A-game in this 1950s classic retro rags-to-riches story.

Hill struts into frame dripping in confidence to unload his 13-point framework for living the American Dream.

We follow Hill on his journey interviewing the Ritzy Riches like Andrew Carnegie and Thomas Edison to discover their Secrets of Success.

Spoiler alert: It all comes down to crazy wackadoodle ideas like “be purposeful”, “go the extra mile” and learn from adversity”. WHAAAT??

But it turns out Hill’s blueprint works for many.

Through the 2 hour doc (which is mostly Hill lecturing from his desk), Napoleon also shares his backstory.

He had some epic fails before his breakthrough.

At age 10 he’s already working like a dog in a coal mine (child labor laws—what are those?!).

In his 30s, he is still broke .

But then the universe hands him a winning lotto ticket: an interview with steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie.

Carnegie tells Hill he’ll be doing the world a mighty favor if reveals the mystical Master Key to wealth.

Napoleon gets all gung-ho, promising to spend decades decoding success by picking the brains of the Areas Biggest Ballers.

But the 1930s economy hits Rocky like a right hook and nearly KO’s his plans!

Down but not out, Hill perseveres and drops his Master Key philosophy on how to “Think and Grow Rich.”

(Spoiler: just think it, baby!).

Hill’s ideas go viral and his books sell by the millions.

Take that, Great Depression!

I love this doc so much that I dedicate a whole page to it at “Napoleon Hill’s Master Key” (including his 13 principles).

Watch “it on:”Napoleon Hill’s Master Key” for free on YouTube by clicking the embed video above or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6axI_VWvRg.

2) Dale Carnegie: A Man of Influence

Dale Carnegie was born in 1888 on a poor family farm in Missouri.

He attends the local teachers college, discovers a talent for public speaking, and moves to NYC in the early 1900s hoping to become an actor.

Struggling to find work, he sellsd Packard cars for a time before he begins teaching public speaking courses at the Harlem YMCA in 1912.

He changes the spelling of his last name to match the famous Andrew Carnegie.

His classes grow so popular (as he tailored them to help students overcome their fear of public speaking) that he attracts famous students such as Edward G. Robinson.

Carnegie ultimately transforms the curriculum to focus more on human relations and interpersonal skills.

In 1936, Carnegie publishes his classic bestseller “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” edited by Leon Shimkin and published by Simon & Schuster.

The book is an unprecedented phenomenon, selling 5,000 copies a day for years and getting translated into over 30 languages. While critics call it simplistic, it remains popular for decades around the world.

Carnegie becomes wealthy from book royalties and endorsements. He married and divorced Lolita Bocaire in 1921, and later happily remarried Dorothy Vanderpool in 1939.

Some of his famous students include Lee Iacocca, Warren Buffett and John Emery.

Carnegie builds up a national network of licensed Dale Carnegie Training courses across the country.

In his later years, Carnegie displays early symptoms of what would today be diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. He welcomes a daughter named Donna with Dorothy in 1951 at age 63.

In 1948 he writes the book “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.” Carnegie passed away in 1955 at age 66. However, the Dale Carnegie Training enterprise grew larger after his death.

His original book continued selling over 200,000 copies a year, and over 4 million people have completed Carnegie courses since 1912 – a number on track to hit 5 million graduates around the turn of the next century.

His common sense principles still stand the test of time.

Note: There are even clips of the fictional movie about Carnegie (The Dale Carnegie Story) (at the 7:23 mark)

Watch “Dale Carnegie: A Man of Influence” for free on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlNpveEIFps

3) Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru

Listen, I know the whole Tony Robbins shiny-teethed motivational thing ain’t for everyone.

The giant smile, the “unleash your inner giant” energy, the urging to sprint across hot coals in your bare feet.

Oh, and you can’t forget the “Whoa-Clap” audience participation chant –

Yeah, it’s a lot.

Dude seems like he mainlines sunlight and rainbows instead of coffee. I half-expected him to start firing motivation lasers out of his eyeballs at any minute.

But I’ve met with Tony’s team before and know a few people who’ve attended his events. Tony and his events do motivate people.

But love him or hate him, I’m confident you’ll be kinda fascinated by this Netflix doc.

It’s about the annual Date with Destiny mega-seminar down in Boca Raton, Florida.

It’s a week-long Tony Robbins extravaganza at some resort where five thousand regular Joes and Janes pay five grand to eat fire, breathe in pools, and generally lose their damn minds trying to “break through” whatever’s holding them back.

We get to see behind the scenes of what it takes to put on this epic six-day feel-good spectacle.

Team Tony works round the clock on sets, lighting, scheduling these insane 17-hour days for the attendees.

No wonder tickets for this thing rake in over $25 million annually!

At first, when Tony revs up the crowds into a goal-setting frenzy, I was rolling my eyes.

But slowly I found myself getting sucked in too – rooting for these people as Tony urges them to face their fears, ditch toxic relationships, envision their “magnificent obsession.”

Sure, he uses every pump up cliché out there.

But dang if he doesn’t eventually break through even this cynical mug’s defenses!

We follow a few subjects in particular – like the farmer struggling after his son’s suicide who finds the will to go on.

By the end, I gotta say I was weirdly inspired too. Then I remembered I still had three loads of laundry to fold and hadn’t done the dishes in awhile. Baby steps to unleashing my potential I guess!

Now I heard the director Joe Berlinger caught some heat for glossing over the controversies around Tony’s teachings.

But Joe told Business Insider he just wanted to capture the positivity that he’s experienced being around Tony.

Watch “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru” on Netflix at https://www.netflix.com/title/80102204

4) How To Get Rich (Ramit Sethi)

Ok, I’m probably biased here.

I know Ramit and I love the guy.

He’s not your usual financial yoda.

The names of his self-help finance products might be corny (“I Will Teach You To Be Rich” (a no-nonsense guide to finance) was his first major one).

But I’ve been to his home. He’s been in mine. We’ve broken bread…talked about real life.

He’s built an awesome small biz (completely bootstrapped) and hired people I know.

If I wanted someone’s take on an important part of my life, he’d be the short list of who I’d call.

In short, he knows his sh!t

So, it’s no surprise he nails his Netflix series “How To Get Rich” makes my list of Top Self-Help docs.

Here’s a summary of the 8 episodes of “How To Get Rich” (hopefully they’ll be more):

  • S1 E1 · Design Your Rich Life — Three families allow Ramit to analyze their complete financial histories and actual spending habits.
  • S2 E2 · Financial Hot Water — Ramit helps a couple with 12 credit cards and potential $1.3 million lost on interest and fees.
  • S1 E3 · HOA Not Okay — Ramit debates the merits of home ownership. He then works with a couple on financial teamwork and evaluates another family’s conscious spending.
  • S1 E4 · New Cash, Old Problems — Ramit treats one couple to a fantasy getaway then helps a reality TV star manage his overspending issues.
  • S1 E5 · Pet Checking Accounts — Ramit assists a drag performer living paycheck-to-paycheck and a couple making high-risk investments.
  • S1 E6 · Mult-Level Marketing Madness — Ramit helps one couple plan their wedding and addresses multilevel marketing issues with another client.
  • S1 E7 · Bills & Wedding Bells — One couple tackles substantial credit card debt, while another goes over budget after finding a dream wedding dress.
  • S1 E8 · Destination Rich Life — Three couples learn financial languages, pay off debt, and achieve specific money goals.

Watch “How To Get Rich” on Netflix at https://www.netflix.com/title/81410436

5) The Brian Tracy Story (Maximum Achievement)

Self-improvement icon Brian Tracy has been serving up life lessons like a human crane machine for decades—and people just keep gobbling them up!

This self-made Canuck stepped onto the speaking circuit in the 1980s and has since delivered over 5,000 seminars and pumped out 80+ books translating into enough languages to make a UN translator’s head spin.

Tracy’s been dropping truth bombs about leadership, salesmanship and maximizing your potential in front of audiences from Vancouver to Dubai.

Over 1,000 companies have brought in the big guns, paying Tracy’s consulting fees which I’m guessing ain’t chump change!

No matter what, this guy keeps dishing out the real talk whether it’s in top sellers like “Eat That Frog!” or viral speeches with titles like “Release Your Brakes!”

Get this: Back in 2003 Tracy even jumped into the California Governor scramble with 135 other hopeful hype men! Our main man only scored 729 votes before bailing last minute to jetset to Dubai.

Maybe he got distracted by a speaking gig? Gotta chase those Benjamins and change lives!

Even so, you gotta respect Tracy’s hustle spreading the wisdom over decades and continents like a human meme machine.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s one heck of a likeable guy (I met him at a seminar once).

Watch “The Brian Tracy Story” for free on YouTube by clicking the video embed above or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qft9IS0K-8A

6) The Soul Of Success: The Jack Canfield Story

Nick Nanton’s ‘The Soul of Success: The Jack Canfield Story’ is a puff piece for a man who deserves some puffing:

It’s Jack Canfield of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul phenomenon.

If you’re looking for hard-hitting exposés, this ain’t it.

But hey, don’t let that deter you.

The doc’s got heart, featuring Canfield’s rise from a nobody to a self-help superstar.

Raised by a stepdad who tanked in business, Canfield grew up thinking rich folks were sketchy.

But hey, he had a turnaround, thanks to mentors like William Clement Stone, who raked in cash with self-help books.

Pretty soon, Canfield was co-authoring his own and packing auditoriums with his wisdom.

Nanton throws in some tidbits about Canfield’s partnership with Patty Aubery, the woman behind his speaking empire.

And there’s the Cinderella story of ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ itself – how it went from 144 rejections to flying off shelves faster than they could print ’em.

The Origin Story of the name “Chicken Soup for the Soul”

My favorite part of the doc is the origin story for the title: “The name “Chicken Soup for the Soul”.

The name came through a meditation. Jack Canfield and his partner Mark Victor Hansen had a book but no title.

They both agreed they’d meditate for thirty minutes to an hour per day to ask God for a title. On the first two days, they find nothing.

Then (here’s Jack telling the rest of the story

“[On the] third day, there’s a chalkboard that emerges. And on that chalkboard a hand writes the word ‘chicken soup’. And I said to the hand who I assumed was God.

What does chicken soup have to do with my book?

And he said: ‘When you were a kid your grandmother gave you chicken soup when you were sick.

And I said but this is not a book about sick people. And the voice said “People’s spirits are sick.

This was 1993, first Gulf War, major recession…So, I went, “Chicken Soup for the Spirit, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and I got goosebumps”…

“That name “Chicken Soup for the Soul” is now a brand that’s worth a hundred million dollars.”

— Jack Canfield

Watch “The Soul Of Success: The Jack Canfield Story” for free on Tubi or Freevee (with ads); or rent it (usually $1.99 to $3.99) on Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube and Google Play). The streaming options should be here.

7) Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (Self-Helpless Episode)

by Angela George via Wikipedia

Penn Jilette calls bullsh!t on the “suckers” who follow Tony Robbins.

He also pooh-poohs Dr. Phil.

William Cohen (licensed psychologist): “The self-help business is enornmous [$2.4 billion) because of the American Dream…all of us have been taught that we should expect to have certain things in life and most of us don’t get them…if someone can offer us a solution, we’re right there to grab them.”

Dr. Steve Levinson (Clinical Psychologist): “There are no magic pills”. “The fact of the matter is people are simply not getting results”

Penn also calls BS on The “House of Learning” where they say “Tonight, you’ll see people do the impossible”. He films the self-help retreat run by Gail Bayman, a certified fire walk instructor there. She charges students $125 to improve their lives through a one-day fire-walking experience.

Watch it on Paramount+ at https://www.paramountplus.com/shows/video/aZFMXMVT83sxHnwQxmcp2DL29CUGTWEK/

8) Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends (Self-Fulfillment)

Louis Theroux goes to Vegas to cover 2 self-help gurus:

Dennis Lowry, Director of the American Academy of Hypnosis.

Louis joins Dennis in a workshop in which a small group goes through hypnosis.

Then, Louis hangs out with Ross Jeffries (original name is Paul Jeffrey Ross) who some call the “godfather” of the modern pick-up artist community.

Ross helps Louis try out some pick up approaches on women in the street.

Watch “Weird Weekends: Self-Fulfillment” for free on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAKRZC86Jyk .There’sanother video you can watch here (with ads): https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6q1htb (sorry, that both of these vids are poor quality but they are the best I can find on the free side).

You can also stream all seasons of “Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends” on The Roku Channel here (it’s Season 3, Episode 1).

Check here to see if other streaming options come up

9) The Secret

I still have mixed feelings on The Secret.

It’s probably the most watched self-help documentary ever (it’s got 59,000 thumbs-ups and 3,340 comments on YouTube; and it has 14,000 ratings on IMDB (though the IMDBers give it a paultry 5.5/10)

Still, “The Secret” has one core message that if you take just that alone, it will likely lead to positive things in your life:

It’s “The Law of Attraction”.

The gist of the the law of attraction is to put out what you want and the universe will reward you.

That’s no guarantee, but I do think that if you put your best self out in the Universe, it’s going to help a lot more than it hurts.

So there you have it. You don’t even have to watch the doc.

🙂

Watch “The Secret” for free on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj16MvB9YyE or (with a library) on Kanopy at https://www.kanopy.com/en/product/secret and on Hoopla at https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/11353527.

It’s also free to watch (with ads) on Plex, Roku and Filmzie. And Amazon’s Prime Video has the doc too.

Check out all the streaming options (including renting it on Apple TV, Microsoft, Vudu/Fandango, etc.) at https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/11353527

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc