What is a Docudrama?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A docudrama is a film or television show which combines the fields of documentary and drama. One might call a docudrama a non-fiction drama, with a focus on real events and real people presented in a dramatized way. In addition to being filmed, a docudrama can also be written; in written form, the docudrama began to emerge in the latter half of the 20th century in the world of people like Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, with film following suit.

Docudramas depict real events and people in a dramatized way.
Docudramas depict real events and people in a dramatized way.

Several characteristics define a docudrama. The first is a tendency to stick to the facts as they are known, without offering commentary. The goal is to give people basic information, allowing them to draw their own conclusions. Most documentaries, on the other hand, include narrative and positional stances which are designed to influence watchers and readers. Docudramas also use techniques to bring the events discussed to life; rather than saying that person X and person Y had a conversation, for example, a docudrama will stage a recreation of the conversation.

A docudrama may be presented in written form.
A docudrama may be presented in written form.

Unlike a true documentary, a docudrama may include staged footage with actors. Depending on the topic, little to no documentary footage may be used. In some cases, docudramas may also create entirely staged hypothetical situations, as in the case of the 2006 film Death of a President. Some organizations use docudramas to draw attention to current events and issues, with several environmental films making docudramas about the effects of global warming, for example, illustrating what might happen if the sea levels rise dramatically.

The use of “drama” in the term “docudrama” can be confusing, because drama is usually associated with fiction. Docudramas do not integrate fictional elements, however, remaining true to the events they document as much as possible. Docudramas can make historical events feel more accessible, from the Roman Empire to current events, and many of them stimulate discussion and debate by not offering opinions, forcing viewers and readers to talk about the content with each other.

You may also hear docudramas called drama documentaries or dramatized documentaries. Some people criticize the field of the docudrama, arguing that the literary license used to reconstruct scenes and bring events to life can be somewhat misleading, especially for people who are not skilled at differentiating fact from fiction. Even when well-researched, a docudrama is only one presentation of events, and it is important to remember that there may be other interpretations and that many filmmakers are guilty of sins of omission, leading people to erroneous conclusions by not providing them with all of the facts.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Oceana – I am also a fan of docudramas. I like knowing that what I am watching really happened, because it makes it more intriguing for me.

I also love that there are no opinions or biases included in docudramas. There are no experts offering up their angles on the subject. Debate may arise later, when the audience members argue over their takes on the film, but the film itself stands alone.

I am not a fan of fiction, because to me, it lacks substance. I like watching something I can appreciate for its authenticity, and having it presented in story form makes it seem even more real.


I think that docudramas often stray too far from the truth. Yes, they use the basic elements of the real story, but they often put too much extra stuff in, and I feel that this is being untrue to history.

If we let our children watch docudramas to learn about a historical event or time period, then we do them a disservice. Their perceptions will forever be colored by the actors and the extra flair thrown into the films, and when they think of the person or event, they will see the movie in their heads.

Docudramas are a waste of film, in my opinion. Documentaries are fine, because they are basically history books read aloud, presented with real images and interviews.


I would much rather watch a docudrama than a regular old documentary. My mind tends to get bored and wander off when presented with historical facts, but if they are being acted out like a story, I can get into it.

That's why I always did so poorly in history class. I would fall asleep whenever we had to watch boring documentaries, and I had trouble memorizing bland facts for exams.

However, if I were to watch a docudrama on the same topic, I would be intrigued. It's all in the presentation, and if I can relate to the subjects as real people doing real things, I can pay attention and even enjoy the story.

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