Netflix has one of the best documentary catalogues on the planet. That’s why we’ve decided to make this list: Our picks for the very best Netflix has to offer in the realm of documentaries.
Here’s how we’re breaking things down. We’re starting with the very best up top, then the rest listed by genre.
Good luck and happy watching!
The Best Documentaries on Netflix
As good as Netflix documentaries are, there’s been a tendency to drag true crime out into these bloated multi episode series. Thankfully Our Father is the opposite of that. It’s a lean, perfectly executed documentary focused on Donald Cline, an Indiana fertility Doctor who used his own sperm to inseminate a ridiculous amount of women against their will.
This is an incredible piece. One of those stories that just escalates and escalates to the point where you’re jaw is dropping in disbelief.
The true crime documentary genre is utterly saturated at this point, but The Staircase stands out.
Focusing on Michael Peterson and the death of his wife Kathleen, The Staircase is more than just a murder mystery. It’s a drawn-out epic that takes place over literal decades, a documentary that follows Peterson and examines his every move, but somehow still remains objective.
It’s a good time to watch or revisit this one, since HBO Max have just launched a drama mini series based on it.
Barack Obama’s is making a beeline for David Attenborough’s job. And we don’t hate the idea!
Our Great National Parks is a world class nature documentary in the style of great BBC shows like Planet Earth. They’ve nailed it here. If you’re a fan of that type of show this is completely unmissable.
Formula 1: Drive to Survive
The absolute gold standard for long running sports documentaries. Drive to Survive is so good, and so popular, that it’s inspired a whole new level of interest in Formula 1, especially in the US. This show is great at elevating the characters that occupy the sport. More shows like this please.
This Oscar-winning documentary is an absolute belter.
Icarus starts out as an expose on the impact performance-enhancing drugs have on sports performance, but a sequence of events drags director Bryan Fogel into a web of geopolitics and conspiracies. To say more would spoil it, but Fogel ultimately has created a documentary that had a very real impact on our perception of sports as a whole. In that respect, Icarus is a literal game changer.
I’ve watched plenty of true crime documentaries on Netflix, but nothing has come close to The Keepers. A staggering story, told across generations, that’s respectful of the victims, yet compelling throughout.
It’s a story about the unsolved murder of Catherine Cesnik, a nun who taught at a Catholic school in Baltimore, but The Keepers goes further than you might expect and exposes a potential cover up of sex abuse allegations.
Who Killed Little Gregory (2019)
Who Killed Little Gregory is a documentary focused on the horrific murder of Grégory Villemin. It’s arguably the best true crime documentary on Netflix. It’s about a murder, and attempts to solve that murder, but it’s also a lesson in media representation and the horrific sexism Grégory’s mother had to face in the wake her own son’s murder.
In 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, Netflix dropped this piece of sports doc perfection.
The Last Dance focuses on the Chicago Bulls during their 97-98 NBA title winning season, but really it’s a jumping off point for a documentary that tells the life story of its central star, Michael Jordan.
As a result, many criticized it for being a little too Jordan-focused, but The Last Dance was an event documentary that lived up to the hype.
13th by Ava Duvernay is a staggering documentary that tells the story of American slavery and its long-lasting impacts, many of which still resonate today.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, this should be mandatory viewing.
Michael Putland/Getty Images
Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story
It’s almost impossible to overstate how famous Jimmy Savile was in the UK — particularly in the 1980s. He was beyond a household name, in many ways he felt like an eccentric Uncle to the nation.
Which made revelations he had sexually assaulted literally hundreds of underage girls and boys all the more horrific. This was a person the whole of Britain had invited into their homes.
Jimmy Savile: A British Horror Story does a great job of going through the archives, combining footage that is utterly bizarre in hindsight, and adding fantastic interviews with some of the major players in British TV during Savile’s heyday. A fascinating, albeit disturbing documentary. Be warned: This is a difficult watch,
The Tinder Swindler (2022)
A documentary focused on Shimon Hayut, AKA “Tinder Swindler”, a conman who used dating apps to defraud multiple women across Europe to fund a lavish lifestyle.
A slightly different topic compared to most true crime documentaries on Netflix. Definitely worth a gander.
The Raincoat Killer (2021)
Nowadays its rare to watch a lean, clean direct true to crime show that doesn’t drag things out, or deliberately obfuscate facts for the sake of drama. But that’s exactly why The Raincoat Killer is so good, and unique.
It’s a comprehensive, great look at The Raincoat Killer, a brutal serial killer in South Korea. It’s one of the better true crime documentaries on Netflix.
House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths (2021)
One of the more recent true crime documentaries from Netflix, this is a good one.
Focusing on the bizarre deaths of 11 family members in one house in Burari, Delhi, India in 2018, House of Secrets delves into the theories behind of the strangest suicide/murder cases in recent memory. Unmissable stuff.
This Is a Robbery is about Netflix as it gets. A four-part series focusing on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, this is essentially a documentary about an art heist. Remember Evil Genius? (Which is also on this list.) This Is a Robbery is very much in that style. The first episode takes a while to get going, but be patient — this one has a pay off.
Murder Among the Mormons (2021)
Some of Netflix’s more recent true crime documentaries have been a bit bloated and… sorta bad?
Thankfully Murder Among the Mormons is a return to form. Definitely watch this one.
American Murder: The Family Next Door (2020)
There are a lot of true crime documentaries out there (and on this list) but American Murder: The Family Next Door sticks out.
It tells the story of Chris Watts, a seemingly regular guy who murdered his wife and children. The access to footage is staggering and it’s edited and produced in a unique way, using text messages and social media posts to tell the story. It’s a horrific reminder of the banal, incredibly common existence of domestic violence.
Making A Murderer (2015-2018)
With the swathe of true crime documentaries and podcasts that came in its wake, it’s easy to forget that the world once lost its collective mind over Making A Murderer. In a lot of ways it created the template that many Netflix documentaries now follow. A real original.
Seaspiracy follows in the footsteps of multiple documentaries focused on the impact of meat eating on the environment. This time the global fishing industry is in the crosshairs. As expected this one has stirred up a bit of controversy from all stakeholders — PETA, Greenpeace and conservation groups can’t seem to agree if Seaspiracy is accurate or fair. Watch it and make up your own mind.
My Octopus Teacher (2020)
My Octopus Teacher follows Craig Foster, a filmmaker who spent a year snorkelling and interacting with an octopus off the coast of South Africa. It’s a nature film, sure, but it’s simultaneously a documentary designed to inspire awe in the viewer. In short, octopi are incredible. Little aliens on Earth, essentially. This is the story of a relationship between humans and nature but it’s also an inspiring call to action: Don’t ignore the wonder that exists all around you.
David Attenborough nature documentaries are so ubiquitous they’re vulnerable to self parody, but Our Planet is — I believe — the high watermark. Only Planet Earth, another Attenborough docu, comes close. But I prefer this one.
Time may dull its impact, but when Tiger King was first released on Netflix, the entire world couldn’t stop talking about it.
Tiger King explores the strange underbelly of big cat breeding, focusing on a cast of unforgettable (and ultimately dangerous) characters. It drags its audience to weird places. Season 2 is now available and while the show has lost a lot of its bite, it’s intriguing to catch up with this cast of wild human beings doing wild, completely outlandish things.
14 Peaks tells the story of the Nepalese mountaineer Nimsdai Purja and his goal of climbing all 14 mountains above the height of 8000 metres in one year. It’s incredible. Must watch stuff.
Netflix might have burned the True Crime documentary into the ground, but it’s on fire when it comes to sports. Bad Sport is the latest entry into this burgeoning sub category, and it’s awesome. Focusing on strange controversies in sports history, Bad Sport is less about major players doing major things, it’s about what happens when sport goes bad, gets down in the dirt. All of these episodes are great. Hoping for a season 2.
The River Runner is sorta like Free Solo for kayaking. Consider that a compliment.
Focusing on Scott Lindgren, a kayaking legend who was an early pioneer of the sport, this is a traditional story of an extreme sports star overcoming odds, but it runs a little deeper than that. Fighting against a brain tumour and his own personal demons, Lindgren is a compelling case study. Must watch stuff.
Untold is the latest from the folks behind Wild Wild Country.
It’s a sports documentary series, with each episode going in-depth on controversial sports topics. The first episode focuses on Malice at the Palace, the notorious basketball match where Ron Artest waded into the crowd and wailed on fans back in 2004.
The second episode focuses on Christie Martin, the female boxer from the 80s who became famous after fighting on Mike Tyson’s undercard.
It’s released weekly and, so far so good. It’s very 30 for 30 — which is a good thing.
Naomi Osaka has become one of the most famous and talked about athletes on the planet. This fascinating documentary explores different phases of her career and offers incredible access into the life of a young woman struggling with the pressures of sport and fame. A must watch.
Athlete A is a great feature length expose on Larry Nassar, the team doc of US Gymnastics, who had been sexually abusing female athletes for decades.
Be warned: This one is harrowing.
If you’re looking for a slightly more uplifting documentary, you could do far worse than The Speed Cubers, a look at the world of competitive rubix… cubers? It’s short, but packs an incredible emotional punch. Prepare yourself, this one might break you.
In the wake of the Capitol siege, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica controversy almost feels like ancient history, but that doesn’t make this documentary any less important. If you haven’t seen it, then watch it.
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (2021)
Recently released, Operations Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal has a name as long as some of Netflix’s recent documentaries. Thankfully, this isn’t as bloated as, say, the recent Cecil Hotel docu, but it could still use some trimming.
Operation Varsity Blues focused on the FBI investigation into college admissions that put actress Felicity Huffman into jail. Its director Chris Smith previously worked on the Fyre Festival documentary. This isn’t quite as compelling, but is still well worth watching.
Knock Down the House (2019)
Regardless of your views on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Knock Down The House is an incredible underdog story that cannot be missed. Focusing on progressive female candidates during the 2018 congressional primary campaigns, it’s an insightful look at the democratic process. It’s an inspiring reminder that we need to fight in order to make the voices of ordinary people count.
What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
Not gonna say much here. Nina Simone is a legend and this is maybe one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.
Overlong and bloated, Wild Wild Country is nevertheless one of the most fascinating documentaries I’ve ever watched on Netflix.
It tells the story of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajnees, who attempted to build a gigantic sprawling commune, for what was essentially a sex cult, in the United States. It’s a strange story that somehow becomes stranger with age. Much like Tiger King the story plumbs depths you won’t believe. At times it’s a slog, but Wild Wild Country is absolutely worthwhile.
I absolutely adore this documentary. Five current acclaimed directors (including Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola) help tell the story of five famous movie directors from the ’30s and ’40s who did frontline work during the Second World War. It wraps their legacies alongside the impact of the war itself into a truly compelling story of Hollywood’s golden age.
Another Oscar winner for Netflix, this documentary is the first produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions team.
American Factory tells the story of Fuyao, a Chinese company that built a factory in Ohio that inhabits a now-closed General Motors plant. You have to watch this movie.
Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich (2020)
By this point we all have some sort of understanding of Jeffrey Epstein’s story but Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich does itself a great service by focusing on the stories of the survivors of his abuse.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019)
Hulu also has a great Fyre festival documentary, but I prefer this Netflix one. Unlike many Netflix documentaries, which are stretched and bloated into multi-part episodes, this documentary is sharp, direct and solid gold the entire way through.
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