The Best Documentaries To Watch On Netflix Today
Keep these amazing Netflix documentaries in mind for a rainy day.
It's difficult to remember a time before bingeing Netflix was an acceptable weekend activity, and even harder to believe we once watched movies all the way through without pausing to run to the bathroom. This list of the very best documentaries on Netflix you can watch right now is proof there's no better way to spend your free time. Whether you're feeling history, food, culture, travel, journalism, or society — or anything else, really — Netflix's documentary selection is here for you.
You've probably heard of Making a Murderer, and if you're like us, you were fascinated by the Duplass brothers' docu-series, Wild Wild Country, but there are so many more fantastic, informative documentaries to stream. Best of all, our picks are so compelling, you won't even be tempted to check your phone halfway through. When you're looking for something new to watch — something that's entertaining, surprising, and informative! — the best documentaries on Netflix are the perfect choice for the whole gang.
In addition to a selection of documentaries from new and acclaimed filmmakers, the streaming giant has produced several documentaries of its own. Netflix's documentary, Icarus, won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2018. But not every documentary is so serious. Many of them you learn from, but many more are a survey of real, interesting people. Granted, many of the best documentaries on Netflix have to do with murder, but that's just the trend these days.
When you're looking for something to learn from — old or new — the Netflix documentary genre is packed with good stuff you won't find on Google. Prepare to be shocked, amazed, energized, and maybe a bit teary. Here's the best part: Not a single documentary on this list is boring. Every single one, regardless of its production year or topic, is captivating from start to finish.
Here are the best documentaries available to stream on Netflix today:
1. 13th (2016)
Ava Duvernay's 13th is a master class in documentary filmmaking. It's a study of racial discrimination in the United States — the prison system in particular. It borrows its name from the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Described as "powerful, infuriating and at times overwhelming" by the New York Times, 13th is a standout film of our decade and the genre.
2. Blackfish (2013)
Remember a few years ago when everyone got really into being anti-SeaWorld? That's because of Blackfish. The tragic documentary centers on the story of Tilikum, a performing orca who lives in captivity. It shares interviews, scientific information, and footage of whales in captivity to present the case against keeping them in tanks. Don't watch without a box of tissues nearby.
3. Nobody Speak: The Trial of the Free Press (2017)
Nobody Speak is for everyone in a tin hat who likes to be proven right. It focuses on the influences of big money and secrecy in journalism — particularly via two notable events from the last decade. The first part chronicles Peter Thiel's revenge fantasy against Gawker, while the second explores what happened when a secretive billionaire bought a newspaper and tried to hide the truth from his own journalists.
4. GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (2012)
Before the fictional Netflix original series, GLOW, there was a documentary about the real series that inspired it. It's a deep-dive into the circumstances that made the unlikely show a cultural phenomenon in the '80s. Rounding up as many of the original stars as possible, the doc explores how the wild cable access series came together and what it was like for the female wrestlers, many of whom achieved instant fandom overnight.
You don't have to know a thing about wrestling to get something out of this. An appreciation for the magic of TV — and an interest in what happens next — is all you need.
5. Long Shot (2017)
Long Shot, Netflix's sleeper hit, has to be seen to be believed. It's the true story of a man convicted of a crime he didn't commit. He's innocent, but the more miraculous part of all this is how we know it: His alibi was confirmed by an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm which was filmed at Dodger Stadium.
6. The Wolfpack (2015)
It's better to go into Crystal Moselle's stunning documentary without knowing much beforehand, but here's the gist: A family with several young sons (and a daughter) is confined to a cramped apartment, for reasons only somewhat explored. Rarely outside and never apart, the children began to obsess over — and faithfully reenact — their favorite films.
The Wolfpack could explain the father's involvement in keeping his children indoors a bit better, but it's an astonishing exploration of pop culture and how people relate to the world when access is limited.
7. Get Me Roger Stone (2017)
If you've watched the news in the last few years and wondered, "Okay, but who is this Roger Stone guy?" then Get Me Roger Stone is the documentary for you. How did this sketchy political operative with a Nixon tattoo come to dominate headlines by 2016? You get all the answers you need right here.
8. The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Errol Morris's 1988 classic The Thin Blue Line is necessary viewing. The heavy documentary explores the case of Randall Adams, who was wrongly convicted of murdering a police officer in the late 1970s. Sadly, it's as relevant today as it was then.
9. Dirty Money (2018)
Like Nobody Speak, Dirty Money is a great documentary series for people who love being right about really terrible things. Each episode takes a look at a different corruption scandal and examines how wealth and greed actually hurt people. If you enjoy ranting about the evils of capitalism, it's pretty vindicating.
10. Evil Genius (2018)
Evil Genius is a four-part documentary series that will blow your mind at every turn. It focuses on a disturbing event and analyzes the bizarre criminals who perpetrated it. You'll never guess what happens next. Evil Genius gets points for being short, to the point, and not repetitive, unlike so many of Netflix's similar crime documentaries.
We'd love to see the filmmaker explore his own weird relationship to the titular "evil genius," but that mystery adds to the series, in a way.
11. Mercury 13 (2018)
Similar to the film Hidden Figures, Netflix's Mercury 13 explores a group of women who could have become astronauts — had it not been the 1960s, and had their program not been shut down. The women went through the necessary steps to become pilots in a NASA-adjacent program, but it was shut down before they completed their training. They were never provided a satisfactory answer as to why, and this documentary might not tell the full story either.
12. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2012)
Like all great documentaries, this is a deep-dive into something people would never know about otherwise: Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only, Michelin-starred restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station. It's a meditation on family, work, perfection, and legacy. Don't watch while hungry!
13. What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
This biography of jazz singer Nina Simone was nominated for an Academy Award and six Emmy Awards, and for good reason. An unyielding portrayal of the singer's complicated life, the documentary follows her rise to musical stardom, her involvement in civil activism, and her eventual expatriation to Liberia. It makes use of never-before-seen footage of the singer, as well as her family and friends.
14. Salt Fat Acid Heat (2018)
NYT best-selling author Samin Nosrat's new series is informative, cozy, and an instant classic. Travel, food, relating to people, and the essentials of "good cooking" are all right here.
15. Icarus (2017)
Icarus, Netflix's first Oscar-winning documentary, is about as surprising as they come. A truly investigative work, Icarus helped uncover the Russian doping scandal that eventually saw athletes barred from the Olympics. When they accepted the Academy Award, its makers dedicated it to one subject, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov. The pair called him "a fearless whistleblower" and noted his life has been endangered by his participation in the movie.
16. Team Foxcatcher (2016)
Team Foxcatcher chronicles the true story behind the Oscar-nominated film, Foxcatcher. The documentary is an insider's look at the Pennsylvania compound where a rich, generous, and unstable man used his family's wealth to bankroll an elite wrestling program. In particular, the film shines when it uses actual home footage from the '80s and '90s created by the athletes and their families. This is a confounding, heartbreaking story from start to finish.
17. Trump: An American Dream (2018)
Another of Netflix's non crime-related docu-series — at least, not overtly — Trump: An American Dream is a compelling look at the businessman who would become president. It takes viewers on a journey from Fred Trump's beginnings in New York City to President Donald Trump's not so successful "successes" in the real estate market. It's not a political biography, but it's not sensationalized, either. It's all about clearly stated facts and evidence, along with contributions from people who knew Trump during his rise to reality stardom (and beyond). It's not "we got his tax returns!"-level revealing, but it's worth the watch.
These are just some of the many fascinating documentaries available to stream on Netflix today. If two (or five) look especially interesting, don't hesitate! You can never be sure how long they'll stick around. You don't want to be the only one not talking about Blackfish at the holiday party.
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