Best Netflix documentaries: from tech billionaires to musical biographies
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.
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.
UPDATE: This week we've added Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator to our list of the best Netflix documentaries. This is a must-watch, whether you're an expert at the Downward Dog or not, as you watch founder Bikram Choudhury build his hot yoga empire, live his lavish lifestyle and learn of the allegations against him.
Netflix has a whole stack of these great documentaries. Here are some of our favourites to get your teeth into on a Friday night.
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 MurdererStream Now (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. Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never HappenedStream Now (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
3. BlackfishStream Now (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
4. Planet Earth IIStream Now (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.)
5. The 13thStream Now (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
6. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy TapesStream Now (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.)
7. Formula 1: Drive to SurviveStream Now (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.)
8. The Great HackStream Now (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
9. McQueenStream Now (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
10. Bikram: Yogi, Guru, PredatorStream Now (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
11. Dancing With The BirdsStream Now (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.
12. Knock Down the HouseStream Now (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
13. Get me Roger StoneStream Now (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
14. Homecoming: A film by BeyonceStream Now (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