Best Netflix documentaries: from The 13th to Tiger King
Updated: Real stories, real lives, real entertainment.
A lot of us have a list of thought-provoking movies we plan to watch on Netflix. Y'know, with subtitles and deep meanings. But there's a treasure trove of docs out there as this best Netflix documentaries list hopefully proves.
UPDATED:There's never been a better time to watch The 13th, a documentary by Ava DuVernay that looks at systemic racism in US prisons. Given recent events, the documentary has also been released on YouTube for free, so anyone can watch and educate themselves.
When you sit down on the sofa after a long day of meetings and train journeys spent squished against a greasy window, TV trash always seems more appealing. A good documentary offers the perfect mix of popcorn factor entertainment, and brain food that makes watching the thing feel intellectually wholesome.
Netflix has a whole stack of these great documentaries. Here are some of our favourites to get your teeth into on a Friday night - the latest of which is The Last Dance. Showing weekly, it's a documentary about perhaps the best basketball player that ever lived, Michael Jordan. It's an essential watch, even if you aren't a fan of basketball.
Upvote your top doc, and let us know at the bottom if there's an essential watch we've missed
- Want to get the full cinematic experience? Here are our best speakers and soundbars to improve your TV's audio
- Or fancy something different? Why not try something from our best crime dramas or best Netflix originals lists
Best Netflix documentaries
1. Making a MurdererWatch now on Netflix
A true Netflix sensation, Making a Murderer is responsible for awakening as many true crime obsessions as podcast super-hit Serial. Series one asks, did Steven Avery really kill Teresa Halbach? And was his nephew Breandan Dassey an accessory? It finds holes in the evidence used in the real-world trial, and almost saw one of the defendant’s prison sentences overturned. It’s worth a watch for all comers, particularly crime fans.
Duration: 10 x 60 minutes (approx.)
2. BlackfishWatch now on Netflix
The most powerful documentaries can change how you think. Blackfish’s subject is Tilikum, a SeaWorld killer whale. What many of us, perhaps as children, used to think of as a happy home for orcas is revealed as something else entirely. And it eventually led to SeaWorld stopping its killer whale performances altogether. A powerhouse documentary.
Duration: 90 minutes
3. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and MadnessWatch now on Netflix
Tiger King is the sort of documentary that will make your jaw drop every 15 minutes or so. Centred on Joe Exotic, a celebrity zookeeper who is accused of a heinous crime, this doc charts is rise and fall, as well as the murky world of tiger breeding and keeping in the US. The characters act as if they are straight out of a Danny McBride sitcom, but they are all real and, well, fascinating. It's an episode or two too long but Tiger King is still an unbelievable watch.
4. Don't F*Ck With CatsWatch now on Netflix
Well this is one that you don't want to miss out on. Don't F*ck With Cats is certainly one of the strangest tales to land on Netflix - it is the true story of a cat killer and how trying to figure out who this person is, another massive revelation is revealed. This one of the most compelling, jaw-dropping docs you will watch.
5. Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never HappenedWatch now on Netflix
If you’ve ever messed up something real bad, watch Fyre and you can’t help but feel a bit better about yourself. A festival so badly run, it never happened, tickets cost £1000 upwards and the organiser ended up in prison. Steeped in ineptitude and the brazen chancery of the most dubious of influencers, Fyre is a schadenfreude-fest.
Duration: 97 minutes
6. Planet Earth IIWatch now on Netflix
Nature programmes often used to offer a form of escapism. You’d marvel at how animals’ relationships intersected and differed from our own, took in the bright colours and amazing natural architecture after a day in a grey office. Planet Earth II has all that, but is also a stark and intensely disturbing reminder of how human civilisation has already had huge effects on these natural habitats.
Duration: 6x 50 minutes (approx.)
7. The Great HackWatch now on Netflix
An instant classic. The Great Hack explores how a data company Cambridge Analytica used millions of social media users’ data to target them during political campaigns. This critically acclaimed documentary is a must-watch for any social media user, especially for those online oversharers.
Duration: 114 minutes
8. The 13thWatch now on Netflix
The title here refers to the 13th Amendment in the US constitution, ratified in 1865 as slavery was abolished. This documentary is not directly about that historic legal change, but today’s prison system in the US. It posits a hole left in the amendment that allows for servitude of a prison population. And in the US black men are statistically hugely over-represented. The 13th is an intelligent and thought-provoking look at an important issue.
Duration: 100 minutes
9. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy TapesWatch now on Netflix
Told through present-day interviews, archival footage and audio recordings, this docuseries paints a detailed portrait of infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. Following Bundy’s life from childhood to death row, the story is a rollercoaster ride. It is so unbelievable, it almost feels fake. Ideal for any true crime obsessives.
Duration: 4 x 57 minutes (approx.)
10. The Last DanceWatch now on Netflix
The Last Dance is stunning television. Showing weekly, each 50-minute episode is a candid glimpse into the life of Michael Jordan, showcasing his career and his unbelievable talents with a basketball. For fans of the sport, this is essential; for everyone else it's a antastic eye opener.
11. Three Identical StrangersWatch now on Netflix
Triplets separated at birth are reunited through happenstance - their story makes them something of a celebrity then things take a turn for the worse. That's the best way to sum up this gripping documentary without giving too much away. We guarantee your mouths will be open by the third act.
12. Wild Wild CountryWatch now on Netflix
This one is stranger than fiction. A controversial guru decides to buy up land in Oregon in the US, with the the hope of making a Utopian town for his followers. What ensues is far from the blissful idyll that he wanted to make. The biggest surprise with this story is that it isn't that well known - as what ensues is jaw-dropping stuff.
13. Formula 1: Drive to SurviveWatch now on Netflix
Senna may no longer be available on Netflix, but that does not mean Netflix is a F1-free zone. This docuseries is executively produced by Senna’s James Gay-Rees as Netflix gained unprecedented behind-the-scenes acess. follows the driver, managers and F1 teams through the season as they “live life in the fast lane”. The ten-part documentary is jam-packed full of tactics, crashes and drama.
Duration: 10 x 36 minutes (approx.)
14. Dancing With The BirdsWatch now on Netflix
Narrated by the brilliant Stephen Fry, think of this new Netflix Originals documentary a little like Strictly Come Dancing, but much more interesting because it's about birds, not celebs. It follows the odd and amazing mating rituals of some of the most beautiful exotic birds from all over the world.
15. Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy RichWatch now on Netflix
This new documentary tries to make sense of the lurid lifestyle of Jeffrey Epstein, who is accused of being a predator alongside many of the rich and the elite in the world - including a prince and a president. We get to hear from those who accuse him and the results are shocking but need to be seen.
16. McQueenWatch now on Netflix
To most, Alexander McQueen was a provocative fashion designer. Until he committed suicide in 2010, you may have known him only as a clothing brand or for this 90s fashion stunts. McQueen explores the person behind the name. It's a touching biopic that is downright heartbreaking at points. The depression, loneliness and raw drive of the man paint the picture of a troubled and fascinating individual. You don't need to care about couture to enjoy McQueen.
Duration: 110 minutes
17. Bikram: Yogi, Guru, PredatorWatch now on Netflix
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve never put a foot inside a yoga class - this is a must-watch. Oscar- and Emmy-winning director Eva Orner charts how the pioneer of hot yoga Bikram Choudhury built his empire and the allegations of rape and sexual harassment that followed.
Duration: 86 minutes
18. Knock Down the HouseWatch now on Netflix
With US politics seeming to be Trump, Trump and more Trump, Knock Down the House provides a refresh to the system. It is a rousing, behind-the-scenes documentary of what happened when four ‘ordinary’ women - including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez - went up against big-money politicians in the 2018 US elections for Congress.
Duration: 87 minutes
19. Get me Roger StoneWatch now on Netflix
Trump’s associates can seem like the cast of a Batman comic. And we’re talking about the bad guys. Long-term adviser Roger Stone the worst offender, often to be seen trussed up like The Penguin. Get me Roger Stone is an eye-opening account of quite how low this self-identifying “dirty tricker” was, and is, willing to go.
Duration: 92 minutes
20. Homecoming: A film by BeyonceWatch now on Netflix
There is an unwritten rule that anything Beyonce does is will always be great, and this documentary is no different. Homecoming is an intimate, in-depth look at Beyonce’s 2018 Coachella performance. Even if - heaven forbid - you don’t like Beyonce’s music, this feature-length film explores everything from the cultural importance to the logistics behind her celebrated performance.
Duration: 137 minutes