Documentaries can provide a fascinating break from the usual fare of scripted shows that Netflix has to offer. Whether you want to learn something new or simply delve into a world of drama and intrigue, Netflix has something for everyone by offering a wide variety of critically acclaimed documentaries. Be it crime or nature, scandal or science, with these 31 best documentaries available right now on Netflix, you’re sure to find something for you.
Everyone with a Netflix subscription has probably seen it tiger king now after it rocketed to social media heights during the onset of the pandemic last year. But if you happen to be one of the five people who didn’t catch it the first time, it’s still available and you just have to see it to believe it.
What starts out as an exposé about the illegal, or at best semi-legal, sale of exotic animals turns into something completely different when the filmmakers meet the customers. Centered around Joe Exotic, tiger king ultimately tells the story of rival private zoos, their appalling conditions for both animals and staff, and their bitter hatred for each other and it only goes on and on from there.
Hot girls wanted
Comedy actress Rashida Jones becomes documentary filmmaker after an online exchange about the pornification of pop culture. Jones seems to be diving deeper into the porn industry with this documentary that talks to the people behind it and the girls who choose to do it. What has been discovered is a dangerously unregulated industry that eats and spits out hundreds of 18-year-old girls a year.
Investigating the abuse of women that has become the basis for some of the most popular porn on the internet and sometimes borders on forced consent behind the scenes. Jones revisits the industry in sequel series Hot Girls Wanted: Enabled which explores other facets of the industry, including women doing porn for empowerment, also available on Netflix.
Bob Lazar: Area 51 & Flying Saucers
Have you ever wondered if we are not alone in the universe? Bob Lazar claims to have the evidence you are looking for in one of the most compelling conspiracy attempts out there. Lazar claims to have been employed by Area 51 in the 1980s and claims he was enlisted to reverse engineer alien technology.
Lazar is a well-known whistleblower, who also has a number of criminal convictions to his name prior to the documentary, but he does make some compelling arguments that warrant questions. In particular, his reference to an alien fuel source called element 115 that the government allegedly tried to synthesize.
Probably the hardest food industry documentary since the infamous food inc, sea pirate is now making a new generation of viewers vegetarian. One of the most recent entries on this list, which won’t be released until March of this year, sea pirate focuses specifically on the fishing industry and how it is destroying our oceans.
The film addresses a wide range of environmental problems, including plastic pollution, ghost nets and, of course, overfishing. Slightly pointing the finger at the public and advocating a complete end to the consumption of marine life. The producer’s first film Cowspiracy is also available on Netflix, more focused on the agricultural sector.
Louis Theroux: Savile
Louis Theroux has become something of a cult figure for his intense documentaries, several of which are available on Netflix. While all of his offers provide plenty of food for thought, his investigation of infamous TV host Jimmy Savile is probably the most impressive. In it, Theroux interviews some of the victims who were abused by Savile during his lifetime.
Theroux had interviewed Savile fifteen years earlier, long before allegations came to light, with Theroux touching on Savile’s “enigmatic sex life” without comment. Louis Theroux: Savile, therefore serves almost as a cathartic for Theroux, although he has stated that he has no regrets about his earlier work, wishing he had more to do at the time.
The last dance
One of the more uplifting documentaries on Netflix and a must-see for all basketball fans. The last dance follows the career of legendary baller Michael Jordan with a particular focus on his last season with the Chicago Bulls in 1997-98. Featuring interviews with other icons of the era and never-before-seen footage from a highly successful season for Jordan, receiving his fifth and final Most Valuable Player Award.
Another social media darling, fyre tells the story of the infamous Fyre festival that promised travelers the experience of a lifetime leaving them alone in emergency tents on an empty island. Convicted con man Billy McFarland takes out one of the grievances of the century, all captured on film. Convincing rapper Ja Rule to co-host and a host of top influencers like Emily Ratajkowski and Kendall Jenner to promote the ultimate festival on a private island. McFarland even manages to book major acts such as Disclosure, Pusha T and Blink 182.
It’s almost like a car accident because you can’t look away as the whole event collapses on itself, but instead of refunding the $1500 tickets, McFarland flies the attendees off anyway, knowing they’ll be stranded without it. there is an event to see.
One of the best true murder mystery series on Netflix, spanning a case spanning 11 years, with three more episodes added by Netflix in 2018. The documentary crew was initially brought in by the defendant Michael Peterson to tell his side of the story for being paranoid. about a railroad track after his wife is mysteriously found dead at the bottom of the stairs while they’re home alone.
The case spins and turns with everything from a previous acquaintance of Michael who died in exactly the same way years earlier to some questionable police work and mysterious fire poker. Even at the end of it, the audience is left to make up their own mind about what happened that night, with so much left unanswered. An unrecorded theory about an owl serving as an extra on Netflix certainly makes for a compelling new focus, too.
Behind the bend
Flat-earthers are a surprisingly up-and-coming group, with more and more people seemingly switching to the long-disproved conspiracy theory in recent years. Behind the bend takes a look and some prominent figures within the community and asks why they believe what they do? The documentary even features a few budding scientists designing and conducting an elaborate experiment to prove the Earth is flat for the film crew, with limited success.
One of the more stylized documentaries on Netflix from acclaimed documentary filmmaker Asif Kapadia, the man behind senna and Amy. Kapadia returns to the medium of sport to take a personal look at one of the most recognizable faces it has to offer, Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s a voyeuristic take on the Portuguese superstar exploring his family life and what it takes to stay on top of such a fiercely competitive sport.
Another devastating look at how we’re dealing with marine life this time around, with a focus on the entertainment industry. blackfish received critical acclaim when it was first released in 2013 and is still available to watch on Netflix. The film centers on Tilikum, a captive orca used to performing at SeaWorld and responsible for three separate deaths in the park at the time of filming. The film states that the conditions for such a large creature are inhumane, suggesting that this leads to Tilikum’s aggressive behavior.
My Octopus Teacher
A more humble tale of the sea, My Octopus Teacher is about a chance encounter with an octopus and the unlikely friendship it develops. Naturalist and documentary filmmaker Craig Foster captures marine life off the coast of South Africa on what starts as a normal day until a curious octopus catches his eye. Foster visits the kelp forest every day to bond with the octopus and record the rest of her life. My Octopus Teacher won the academy prize for the best documentary in 2021.
Jeffery Epstein: Filthy Rich
Most people probably know Jeffery Epstein’s name after he made a lot of headlines in 2019. However, due to its notoriously clandestine nature, those news stories are only surfacing from his decades of illegal activity. From fraud allegations to a child abuse gang, Epstein’s influence runs sickeningly deep.
What makes him such a controversial figure outside of his crimes is his close ties to wealthy elites, including Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, many of whom he hosted on his private island, where he routinely nursed underage girls. Jeffery Epstein: Filthy Rich tells the full story of what he did and how he got away with it for so long.
Netflix has several Explained series on topics like sex and money. They all offer incendiary analysis, but the couple’s choice is likely spirit explained pertaining to the human psyche and mental health. Featuring Oscar-winning actress Emma Stone’s well-known narration, spirit explained takes an in-depth look at the inner workings of our brains and investigates, among other things, what dreams are? And how does fear affect us?
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel
One of the 21st Century’s Most Bizarre Mysteries Gets the Netflix Treatment Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. The series investigates the deaths of Elisa Lam and young Canadian women who mysteriously went missing while checking into Cecil Hotel. CCTV footage shows Lam behaving strangely in the elevator as if hiding from someone in the 21-year-old’s last recorded footage. Her body was later found in the water tank on the roof. It looked as if she had taken off all her clothes in the tank and let them float beside her.
It remains unclear how she got into the tank, but the crime was officially designated accidental death. To make matters more mysterious, the hotel has a storied history of bizarre deaths and suicides that took place there, leading many to suggest paranormal activity on the site.
If that’s not enough to whet your appetite for mystery, Netflix also has two series from Unsolved Mysteries available. A revival of the classic format that began in 1987, each episode takes a look at a different crime that remains unsolved to this day and asks anyone with information about the events to come forward. Highlights include a man who suffered an impossible fall through the roof of a hotel after leaving a cryptic handwritten note at his home, apparently for his wife. And an enigmatic woman with no identification who appeared to have been murdered in her hotel room in Oslo.
The social dilemma
Social media platforms are a mixed blessing at best and are ever present in the lives of billions of people around the world. The social dilemma takes a critical stance towards tech giants and looks at how the platforms are designed to exploit the consumers. Covering a wide range of controversies Facebook has faced, including using gambling mechanisms to make their platform addictive, unfairly influencing global elections, and becoming a hotbed for misinformation and cyberbullying. The film attempts to draw parallels between the rise of social media and teenage suicide rates, questioning the impact of sites on our mental health.
The big hack
Speaking of social media scandals The big hack weaves a thought-provoking tale about the sheer levels of monitoring sites like Facebook, particularly in relation to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The shady company used consumer data to weaponize political ads for maximum effect.
Targeting people who had the potential to be biased through fear or otherwise, the company ran aggressive and often deceptive political ads in an effort to persuade voters to pay whatever party paid. The company’s most prominent campaigns have been two of the most controversial in recent history, the 2016 presidential election in which they supported Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum in which they supported the departure. Win on both counts.
knock down the house
The political landscape has changed a lot since the 2008 financial crash with the emergence of populist and often authoritarian leaders happening simultaneously worldwide. As is often the case, this also provoked a significant reaction from the other side, bringing progressive and socialist politics to the forefront of the conversation.
knock down the house follows a number of progressive hopefuls who attempt to remove stagnant figures from office and replace them with young voices in hopes of once again changing the course of politics. The primary focus, of course, is on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as, against all odds, she defeats Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley in the election to become the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress.
Surviving R Kelly
Surviving R Kelly documents a cycle of abuse orchestrated by iconic RnB artist R Kelly against a myriad of women in his life. By interviewing some of R Kelly’s victims and their families, as well as R Kelly’s own family, the documentary unfortunately leaves big questions about the industry as a whole as it reveals one of its worst kept secrets.
Employees, producers and record labels are seemingly all complicit as R Kelly tends to underage girls and conditions them for years of abuse. The film crew also does a good job of humanizing R Kelly by covering his own history of abuse and bullying from his childhood while showing respect for the damage he causes to dozens of others during his illustrious career.
Sunderland ‘Till I Die’
Behind-the-scenes sports documentaries are a popular medium with numerous world-class clubs providing a behind-the-scenes look in recent years. However, one of the most fascinating stories comes from an unlikely source in England’s Sunderland AFC.
Starting with the club just relegated after a decade in the Premier League, the documentary follows their journey as they bid for a swift return to arguably the best competition in all of world football. What happens, however, is a season of scandal and bad business decisions as the club is exposed. The filmmakers tumbled from one disaster to the next, accidentally catching the relief with this story, as the club ends up suffering a second consecutive relegation.
The first film from the production company of former President Barack Obama, American factory tells the story of a Chinese factory that settles in Ohio. People are probably familiar with the concept of outsourcing factories to China, but it’s not that often you hear about Chinese billionaires working the other way.
The film opens optimistically as the abandoned General Motors factory is repurposed and provides thousands of jobs to the local community. But the different cultures are put on edge when working-class America clashes with corporate Chinese in another Academy Award-winning feature film.
Another major scandal offers another captivating backdrop, this time focusing on the Russian doping scandal that marred the 2014 Winter Olympics. In the wake of an ongoing doping scandal, Bryan Fogel sets out to find out how easy it would be to get away with cheating at major sporting events. He enlists the help of Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov to help him falsify the results for an upcoming cycling event.
When Rodchenkov’s life is threatened for a role he played in the 2014 Winter Olympics scandal, the film flips as he flees Russia to join Fogel in America. Rodchenkov blows the clock on the entire investigation, including the elaborate method they used to fool a ruthlessly efficient Olympic Committee. The film was another to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary.
Athlete A follows a team of investigative reporters from the Indianapolis Star as they break through one of the stories of the century in the US Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal. Revealing details of the victims of US national team doctor Larry Nassar, who allegedly assaulted more than 368 people. A deeper dive into how Nassar got away with it for two decades and how predatory coaches moved from gym to gym also reveals more details of a significant cover-up.
The Lost Pirate Kingdom
A dramatized take on the traditional documentary format with actors playing key roles, the series is no less fascinating for those wanting to learn more about the golden age of piracy and the real pirates of the Caribbean. After the journey of Benjamin Hornigold and the founding and subsequent collapse of the pirate republic in Nassau. The series also features key figures from the era such as Black Sam Bellamy, Anne Bonny and Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch.
Hitler’s Circle of Evil
Another dramatized docu-series for history buffs to sink their teeth into in this day and age about the rise and fall of Hitler and the Third Reich. One of the most infamous figures in all of history, Hitler’s Circle of Evil explains how Hitler came to power in a fledgling German nation, about the events of World War II and Hitler’s deeper descent into madness.
The surprisingly zen format of nature documentaries has almost made them a subgenre of their own, and the pinnacle of that genre in David Attenborough. Our planet is one of Attenborough’s best works to date because it captures nature at its most awe-inspiring. Attenborough also covers some persistent topics such as climate change and other negative impacts of humans on the natural environment to give his audience some food for thought.
The Disappearance of Madeline McCann
12 years after the incident, director Chris Smith takes a fresh look at the still-unsolved Madeline McCann case. The Disappearance of Madeline McCann also discusses the response from the media and the criminal investigation that took place in the wake of the incident. As well as revisiting the buildup and events of the night in question that three-year-old Madeline McCann disappears from her hotel room in Praia Da Luz in Portugal.
Amanda Knox conducts interviews with Amanda and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, who were both convicted and later acquitted of the murder of Amanda’s roommate Meredith Kercher. The convictions received international attention, with forensic experts taking a critical look at the handling of the case.
Knox and Sollecito both spent four years in prison for the crime. The film allows the couple to tell their side of the story and take a closer look at the way the case was handled, both in court and in the media.
Gaga: Five Foot Two
Enigmatic pop star Lady Gaga invites fans for an intimate look at her life and the production of her fifth studio album Joanna. Gaga: Five Foot Two takes on a cinéma vérité format, allowing Gaga to be all the rage without feeling the need to push a particular story. Fans of the diva are sure to get a kick out of the feature that also documents Gaga’s Super Bowl performance and debut in the hit TV series American Horror Story.
Another one that’s probably more for the fans than anything else, but an interesting look at video game history nonetheless. Spanning several developers and two decades, the series offers a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of some of history’s greatest hits and what made those games so captivating. Video games are now one of the largest forms of media and High score certainly offers a fascinating look at their journey from obscure fad to mainstream media.