Netflix is home to some of the best documentaries out there – but where do you even start? Their ever-growing list of docs spans multiple genres and new ones get added every month. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, don’t worry! We got you covered.
We’ve scoured the streaming platform and rounded up the best Netflix documentaries, bringing you a curated list that includes true crime, sports, natural disasters, and everything in between. Sure, we’ve got Blackfish and Tiger King, but we’ve also got titles that might have flown under your radar like Virunga or Mercury 13. So croll on down, peruse our list, and start planning your next binge-watch.
The best documentaries on Netflix
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed
The documentary: Despite passing away in 1995, painter Bob Ross’ place in pop culture remains as strong as ever. Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed looks beyond Ross’ outwardly cheerful disposition to uncover a legacy that has been hijacked in what Ross’ son, Steve, calls a “shameful” act.
Why it’s worth a watch: Bob Ross is ubiquitous even now, but have we ever questioned why that is? Happy Accidents, Betrayal, & Greed shines a much-needed light on the murky underbelly of profiting on a celebrity long after they’ve passed – and who seeks to gain from it.
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
The documentary: Renowned documentary maker David Attenborough takes a step back from looking at nature to see how humanity has wreaked havoc on the animal kingdom and the environment, all while describing first-hand how the world has changed since he began his career in the ’50s.
Why it’s worth a watch: David Attenborough’s nature documentaries are often jaw-dropping. A Life on Our Planet does so for very different reasons. Acting as a wake-up call for a planet sleepwalking towards global disaster, Attenborough’s message is a sharp shock to the system, yet an essential one if we want to keep marvelling out the creatures that continue to amaze us.
The documentary: Athlete A follows the journalists who helped break one of the biggest stories in US sport: the sex abuse scandal that tore through American gymnastics and ruined countless lives.
Why it’s worth a watch: Netflix is fast becoming the place to watch some of the most gut-wrenching, yet necessary, stories of our time. Not only is Athlete A an eye-opening look into the continued brilliance and hard work of investigative journalists, but it’s also a grim reminder of the evil that often hides in plain sight.
Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King
The documentary: Gerry Cotten, founder and CEO of Canadian cryptocurrency QuadrigaCX, owed his fellow investors over $250 million – then he died. The film, directed by Luke Sewell, follows the investors as they investigate Cotten’s death and figure out just where the money might have ended up.
Why it’s worth a watch: It’s a bizarre story that explores multiple theories surrounding Gerald’s death – with a particularly strong one being that he faked his death and ran off with the cash. It also features a dude in a 3D-printed raccoon-head mask speaking in one of those distorted voices meant to hide your identity.
The Social Dilemma
The documentary: A deep dive into social media and how it’s used as a tool of misinformation and corruption in a world where everyone is almost always online.
Why it’s worth a watch: Not many documentaries will make you rethink having a Facebook account, let’s put it that way. Social media continues to dominate our lives but not many have put much thought into the impact of that – until now. The Social Dilemma is a captivating, chilling watch on how everything from algorithms to A.I. are secretly controlling and manipulating our lives.
Formula 1 Drive to Survive
The documentary: Go behind the scenes at the Formula 1 World Championships as tensions boil over across three seasons in one of the world’s most popular sports.
Why it’s worth a watch: It not only scratches that Last Dance itch but, unlike Amazon’s sometimes restrictive All or Nothing series, you get some serious access here: fireworks are never too far away as young egos collide, tragedy strikes, and new drama is only ever just around the corner. One for sports and non-sports fans alike.
The Last Dance
The documentary: Charting the Chicago Bulls’ 1997/98 season, The Last Dance frames that fateful year with archival footage and interviews with Michael Jordan and some of his closest allies and enemies. The ups, the downs, and the slam dunks all feature.
Why it’s worth a watch: You don’t need to be a basketball fan to get the most out of The Last Dance. The joint ESPN/Netflix production dives deep into what makes one of the biggest icons of the 20th Century tick: the feuds, the fights with front office, and the family stories all feature heavily here. It’s all presented in a way that lets you learn as you go, without being condescending. Plus, if you are into b-ball, then you can rest easy in the knowledge that you’re seeing a hidden side of one of the sport’s greatest dynasties. Hundreds of hours of previously unseen footage were used for The Last Dance, and it offers a unique, complex take on the man they once called “Air.”
The documentary: Tackling a topic that sadly still permeates our culture, Mercury 13 is nevertheless a must-see, diving into the reality of being a female astronaut in the ’60s. Don’t remember them? This film explores why that’s the case, revealing the truth behind their absence in history. Dubbed the Mercury 13 – after the first US space mission, Mercury – these women underwent the same rigorous testing as their male counterparts, and yet were denied the chance to take flight.
Why it’s worth a watch: A piece of history that many of us just don’t know about, this is one of many examples of sexism that’s so ingrained in our collective past, we don’t realise it. If you’re a fan of untold backstories, you’ll be both enthralled and, at times, enraged by the story of these remarkable women and how their dreams were backburnered because of their gender. Told via interviews with the remaining members of the group, this is a fascinating cultural document.
The Bleeding Edge
The documentary: Healthcare. Anyone who’s been shocked to hear their pharmacist utter the words “that’ll be $800, please” for a 30-day prescription knows this is a lucrative industry. That’s what make The Bleeding Edge such a succulent topic for a documentary, as delves into one another medical avenue, the $400 billion medical device industry. You heard. Exploring five devices and the havoc they’ve caused patients, this is jaw-dropping – and very necessary – viewing.
Why it’s worth a watch: Whether you live in a country with free healthcare or not, the sheer gall of some companies in rushing out products prior to being thoroughly vetted is astonishing. Which, of course, makes for compelling viewing.
The documentary: Tiger King’s as bonkers as they say. The seven-part limited series follows Joe Exotic – a gay, gun-toting, mulleted, all-American zookeeper who despises a big cat activist named Carole Baskin. We’re introduced to a host of colourful characters, including another zookeeper who allegedly has a harem, a man who claims to be the influence for Scarface, and a reality-show producer who’s tried to document the whole thing but… well, we won’t spoil it here. Oh, and there’s a murder mystery as well.
Why it’s worth a watch: There’s absolutely no knowing what’s coming next in Tiger King. Each episode adds another twist, and it’s almost impossible to stop watching. Plus, after you’re done, you can do some armchair detective work and find out where they all are now. Because, yes, this really a true-crime documentary, and not another season of American Vandal.
Hot Girls Wanted
The documentary: Porn is something that none of us feels 100% comfortable talking about, but, if we’re honest, we’re all familiar with it one way or another. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work in the multi-million dollar porn industry, American documentary film Hot Girls Wanted is for you. Directed by filmmakers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, the documentary follows the lives of several 18- to 19-year-old pornographic actresses and premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2015 before being snapped up by Netflix.
Why it’s worth a watch: This documentary doesn’t pull any punches and shows some of the best and worst aspects of working in the porn industry. Netflix was obviously please with its reception as it released an accompanying documentary TV show called Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On to further explore the story.
Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond
The documentary: If you’re a fan of comedian Andy Kaufman, Jim Carrey, or the 1999 biopic which starred Carrey as Kaufman, Man on the Moon (opens in new tab), this is the documentary for you. Director Chris Smith focuses on Carrey during the filming of Man on the Moon in which he stayed in character as Kaufman throughout production, using contemporary interviews with Carrey and never-before-seen footage of the making of Man on the Moon.
Why it’s worth a watch: It’s almost scary how easily Carrey brings his idol Kaufman back to life. The studio reportedly didn’t want the behind-the-scenes footage to ever be released and, once you see it, you’ll understand why. It’s clear that Carrey’s commitment to the role caused problems on set, but Jim and Andy is a compelling story about two of the world’s biggest comedians and why they do what they do.
The documentary: Icarus is definitive proof that twists and turns aren’t reserved for the fictions of Hollywood. Filmmaker and cyclist Bryan Fogel planned to make a film about doping in the sports industry, choosing to load himself up on steroids and document the experience. Think of it like Super Size Me, but with pharmaceutical-grade meds instead of Big Macs. His plan was to see how easy it is to get away with doping in professional sport.
Why it’s worth a watch: That concept – of trying to get away with doping in sport – is an intriguing enough premise in light of Lance Armstrong’s shenanigans. However, what he winds up discovering after speaking with a Russian doctor completely changes the purpose of the doc turning Icarus into a powerful, political thriller.
The documentary: In 2001, a 911 operator receives a call from a distraught husband after discovering his wife’s body at the bottom of the stairs. That individual is author Michael Peterson, who becomes the subject of a documentary that unfurls over the course of a decade. Did Kathleen Peterson really fall? Or was she the victim of domestic violence? The French filmmaking crew who tackle the case began rolling immediately after Michael’s indictment, and are given free rein of the entire Peterson family, which in itself, is surrounded by as many bizarre twists as the murder case.
Why it’s worth a watch: So you can enjoy spiralling into the vast array of fan theories afterward! This is a compelling true crime series much like Making a Murderer. Unlike that series, The Staircase has a huge biased edge: as the doc was filmed intermittently over the course of a decade, the editor of the documentary grew close to Peterson and ended up dating him. Seriously, get this watched.
The documentary: It’s a behind-the-scenes look into the world of competitive cheerleading told through the eyes of the Navarro College Bulldogs Cheer Team and their coach Monica Aldama.
Why it’s worth a watch: Cheerleading is much more than shaking some pom-poms and screaming ‘Go team!’ It’s a competitive, team-based sport that can take a toll on both the mind and body. Cheer is a heartwarming docuseries about drive and passion and unity, told through the lens of characters that you just can’t help but root for. Season two takes on a much darker tone, as it deals with serious allegations against a former team member and highlights the brave victims who brought them to light.
My Octopus Teacher
The documentary: A cross-species friendship like this is something you’d probably expect to see in an animated movie rather than a documentary. My Octopus Teacher chronicles the bond between an intrepid young octopus and filmmaker Craig Foster. Foster not only earns the octopus’ trust, but is also given the opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of her life, while picking up some more profound lessons along the way.
Why it’s worth a watch: This doc scored an Oscars nomination for Best Documentary Feature, and has scooped plenty of wins and nominations for other awards, as well as critical acclaim, since its 2020 release. It’s not your average nature documentary, with its close focus on one subject and the relationship between octopus and filmmaker, and there’s much to reflect on about humanity and nature by the time the credits roll.
Meltdown: Three Mile Island
The documentary: The Three Mile Island accident saw the partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor – and is still to this day the worst nuclear accident in United States history.
Why it’s worth a watch: The doc is a four-part slow-burn that really builds and builds the impending terror in the days leading up to the disaster. It effectively illustrates how America was just minutes away from its own Chernobyl disaster and highlights the way thousands of civilians were able to narrowly escape being affected by radiation.
The Tinder Swindler
The documentary: Simon Leviev, while masquerading as the son of a Russian-Israeli diamond mogul, used the dating app Tinder in order to meet women and emotionally manipulate them into lending him hundreds and thousands of dollars.
Why it’s worth a watch: Though it may seem like a story about a scammer on a dating app, it’s actually a terrifyingly honest look at the way narcissists and abusers prey on and purposely seek out vulnerable people. The lives of each victim were ruined, and many are still struggling to rebuild.
The documentary: If you thought Gorillas in the Mist was harrowing, then prepare yourself for what the inhabitants of Virunga National Park face. We’re not just talking simians, but the brave park rangers whose attempts to rescue these mountain gorillas from extinction is an utterly heart-wrenching feat. The film scored an Oscar nomination for its expose on the Congolese park and the horror of poachers and the devious tactics of oil companies.
Why it’s worth a watch: Be prepared to shed absolute buckets at the horrors. But, it isn’t entirely bleak though, as the real message here is the lengths that people will go to in order to save a species.
The documentary: You’ve seen Masterchef, you’ve gobbled up Bake Off, and now it’s time to dip into the process of culinary perfection. Profiling six prestigious world-renowned chefs, whose discipline and determination is staggering, the series visits each of them in their own restaurants. It’s like watching artists at work. There’s no contest here to maintain your interest, no drive to the finish as popularised by most cooking shows.
Why it’s worth a watch: Okay, sure, there’s no contest so you might be wondering what the appeal is. While there’s no competition; this isn’t about the commercialism of the restaurant industry either, it’s simply about how the creative process is born in each chef and the joy they derive from plating up their masterpieces.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
The documentary: Chronicles the tale of the infamous Fyre Festival of 2017, which promised a paradisiacal getaway to the Bahamas, but quickly turned it into a scene straight out of Lord of the Flies thanks to the wild mismanagement of its overconfident organisers, and particularly its chief fraudster, Billy McFarland.
Why it’s worth a watch: In 2019, nothing gets more cathartic than watching the irresponsible follies and misdeeds of America’s elite finally come back to hit them where it hurts. Fyre provides exactly that kind of guilty euphoria, as director Chris Smith (Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond) successfully paints an alarming picture of “entrepreneur” Billy McFarland’s arrogance, arguably sociopath tendencies, and sheer deluded sense of desperation.
The documentary: The truth behind keeping whales in captivity is chronicled in this Netflix Original, tracing the story of an Orca named Tilikum who killed three humans while at Sea World. While there’s no doubt those deaths were tragic, filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite delves into why the killer whale acted in this way. Is it in his nature? Or was it because he was torn away from his family at two years of age, and kept in isolation and confinement for twenty years? Hearing the testimonies of his former trainers will only further break your heart.
Why it’s worth a watch: Both sides of the nature versus nurture coin are explored here in an attempt to make sense of a chewy moral dilemma. This story is one that continues to make waves – should animals be kept in captivity for our entertainment? – making this a must-see Netflix documentary.
Making a Murderer
The documentary: Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have heard about Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who served 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Two years after his exoneration he was found guilty of murder. So, did he do it? This docuseries covers his life extensively, beginning with his first brush with crime right up until the present day.
Why it’s worth a watch: One of the best documentaries on Netflix – if not, one of the best true crime documentaries ever made – this is utterly compelling storytelling. It’s the murder trial episodes that carries the most tension, as his defence team argues he was framed by the Manitowoc police department and back it up with some pretty convincing evidence. There’s a reason this show has captured the public’s interest.
The documentary: The case of Amanda Knox is a controversial one. In 2007 the American student was put on trial for the murder of Meredith Kercher. Both had been studying abroad in Perugia, Italy, when Kercher was found brutally butchered. A hotbed of speculation sprang up surrounding Knox’s involvement and the media painted her as the villain. She, her boyfriend, and a third party were all tried for murder with the former pair eventually walking free after serving four years behind bars.
Why it’s worth a watch: Told as a story, the case itself is fascinating, however what makes it so compelling are the one-on-one conversations captured on film, including interviews with Knox.