There is nothing like a documentary to get you engrossed in the lives of others and Netflix is one of the best places to find true-life tales. The service is packed with docs, featuring everything from sporting greats to serial killers.
UPDATE: We have tidied up our best Netflix documentaries list and, sadly, that means removing a stack of favourites that have quietly left the service. However, we have managed to take the sting out of the loss with some fresh additions including Wham! and The Deepest Breath. Read on to find out more.
All of these best Netflix documentaries are available in the UK. While we have done our best to make the list as global as possible, please check your region for availability.
Best documentaries on Netflix
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.
A second season looks at the aftermath of the case after the documentary, piecing together more about Steven Avery and the murder of Teresa Halbach.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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
5. 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.)
6. 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.
A second season of Tiger King is also available. It's a little messier than the first, looking at those who appeared in the original Tiger King and what happened after they all become global stars
7. 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
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.)
11. 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.
12. 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
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 access. 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 - and it is now into its third season.
Duration: Three seasons
14. My Octopus TeacherView now on Netflix
My Octopus Teacher is a wonderful look at nature and man colliding, when a free diver sparks up an unlikely relationship with an octopus. The documentary follows the diver and filmmaker as he uncovers secrets about the water he frequents. Beautiful stuff
15. 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
16. Dirty MoneyWatch now on Netflix
Dirty Money is a show that will make you very angry. It charts a different scenario in each episode that charts just how money rules the world but in the most corrupt ways. The episode everyone will, and should, head to first is about Jared Kushner and how his dealings made him filthy rich through real estate but also showcases major issues pertaining to the houses he owns. It's a great look at just how money can turn the world to ruin.
17. Unsolved MysteriesWatch now on Netflix
Unsolved Mysteries has been given the reboot treatment for Netflix and while the host has gone (the original series had Perry Mason himself, Raymond Burr) the mysteries remain and there are some crackers in here. Alien abductions, killings with possible racial motives, a man who mysteriously falls off a high building. Talking heads footage is melded with reenactments and it’s a great show.
18. Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial KillerStream now (Netflix)
This is a gripping look at one of the most notorious killers of all time. Told through news footage and talking heads, it's a chilling look at how one of the most prolific serial killers managed to evade the police for so long.
19. The RipperStream now (Netflix)
Although there was controversy as this documentary came out so soon after the death of the Yorkshire Ripper, it is a well-told version of the events and doesn't glamorise anything about the horrific killings.
20. The Toys That Made UsWatch now on Netflix
The Toys That Made us will get you all nostalgic for that time when toys were the centre of you world. Each episode charts a different toy range that changed playtime forever. Starting with Star Wars and taking in everything from Barbie to He-Man this is a brilliant, fun show that speaks to the creators of the toys while celebrating the fun each bit of plastic brought (and still brings) to the world.
21. 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.
22. Fear CityWatch now on Netflix
The mob ruled New York for years but in the 70s and 80s the FBI managed to infiltrate and end mob rule. This documentary is a talking heads look at what happened and how it happened, with archive images and footage. It’s a brilliant look into the one of the biggest crime organizations the world has seen.
23. Sunderland Till I DieWatch now on Netflix
Yes, we all love seeing sports superstars at the top of their game but when the camera is turned on to those teams and sports people who are trying but ultimately failing to make it to the top, things get really interesting. This is a fantastic documentary that should have been about a team striving for promotion but what we see is something quite different.
24. Amanda KnoxWatch on Netflix now
One of the most riveting true-life crimes was the killing of Meredith Kercher in 2007. Amanda Knox, roommate of Kercher, was charged twice for the killings and acquitted twice. This documentary stars her and people who know her highlighting the incompetence of the police and what it's like to be wrongfully accused of the most heinous of crimes.
25. American Murder: The Family Next DoorStream now (Netflix)
This stunning documentary showcases an awful murder case that tears apart a seemingly all-American family. Through real footage and talking heads we get an idea of just how the truth (no matter how bizarre) eventually comes out, no matter how hard you try and hide it.
26. The Tinder SwindlerStream now on Netflix
If you fancy a jaw-dropper of a documentary, then The Tinder Swindler is for you. It's about a group of women who are duped on a dating app, believing that they are all dating a wealthy diamond mogul. As you can guess from the name of the doc, though, things couldn't be further from the truth.
27. UntoldStream now (Netflix)
Untold is a series of documentaries that looks at moments in sport that are the most jaw-dropping around. From mass brawls to sports folks who are fighting their own demons, we see the sadder side of sport and just how harsh it can be to get to the top. Each episode focuses on a different sport and a different controversy - all of them are a must watch.
28. The Defiant OnesStream now (Netflix)
Once of the best documentaries about music ever made, The Defiant Ones showcases two moguls - Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine - who shot to the top of the hip-hop and rock charts with their producing, only to find untold riches thanks to creating Beats headphones and eventually selling to Apple. Yes, the last episode is practically an Apple Store ad but the rest of this doc is stunning.
29. High ScoreStream now (Netflix)
Although it focuses mainly on the US and Japan (forgetting the UK a little), this look at the history of videogames is fascinating and fun. It takes a lighthearted approach to its storytelling and has some fantastic interviews with some of the main players and the little known people who made a huge impact in the future of games.
30. The Movies That Made UsStream now (Netflix)
While it's not quite as good at The Toys That Made us, this spin-off documentary about some of the greatest movies of all time has a whole heap of famous taking heads that go in depth about how the likes of Dirty Dancing, Forest Gump and other great movies were made (and how they made us).
31. 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
32. We Are The ChampionsStream now (Netflix)
Well, this is lovely. It's a documentary about normal people who try and beat rather abnormal competitions, such as cheese rolling and the like. The great thing about this documentary series is that it doesn't look down at those involved but, well, champions them.
33. Jimmy Savile: A British Horror StoryWatch on Netflix now
This one is not an easy watch, especially if you grew up with Jimmy Savile on the TV. This documentary charts the entertainer who managed to hide over 60 years of allegations of systemic child abuse, all while being a prime time TV host. It digs into what and who enabled him to continue his crimes and explore early suspicions about him that were inevitably brushed aside.
34. Pepsi, Where's My Jet?Stream on Netflix
When Pepsi put out a competition where you could amass points to get things like t-shirts and sunglasses, it made a bit of a mistake. In its advertising it noted that 7 million 'points' would get you a Harrier jet. But surely no one would get 7 million points, right? Wrong. This fascinating story sees John Leonard scheme up a away to get those points and the court case and controversy that ensued.
35. Surviving DeathStream now (Netflix)
The eternal question of: is there life after death? is asked once more in this intriguing doc which speaks to people who have had near death experiences. The otherworldliness of what they witnessed is balanced nicely by talking heads from doctors and physicians.
36. Catching Killers
Two seasons in, Catching Killers is a gripping look at the detectives who brought down some of the biggest killers of recent times. Each episode focuses on a case and how they were cracked. This is definitely one for those who are in into David Fincher's Mindhunter.
37. SeaspiracyWatch now (Netflix)
Sustainability is a huge thing if we ever want our oceans to, well, survive and while we may all think that we are eating fish and seafood that adheres to these rules, this doc explains - in rather horrific detail - why that simply isn't the case. The sequel to Cowspiracy, this really is an eye opening and essential watch
38. Bob Ross: Happy Accidents And BetrayalsStream now (Netflix)
Bob Ross may well be best known for his fantastic, methodical painting programme The Joy of Painting but there is tragedy behind the brush. When he passed, there was (and still is) an almighty struggle between his gamily and his estate. This doc showcases this and more.
39. Hip-Hop EvolutionWatch now on Netflix
There are now four series of Hip-Hop Evolution and the show keeps getting better. Each episode speaks to a gaggle of legendary hip-hop stars about their music and the genre that breathed new life to music in the 80s. From the beginnings of rap, to the East and West cost feuds, the show is a whistle-stop tour of rap royalty and is packed with insight and beats.
40. Age of Samurai: Battle For JapanStream now (Netflix)
Cinematic in its re-enactments and epic in its storytelling, this six-episode show is a great re-telling of Japan's feudal history. Alongside the dramatic scenes, a number of historians explain all and while this shift is jarring at times, the show is still a lot of fun to watch.
41. Rolling Thunder Review: A Boby Dylan StoryStream now (Netflix)
Blending fiction with non-fiction, this documentary about Bob Dylan is brilliant in its playfulness. Director Martin Scorsese knows exactly what he is doing - blurring the past, fact and fiction, and coming up with a very true portrayal of who Dylan is. Great stuff.
42. Miss AmericanaStream now on Netflix
This fantastic look at Taylor Swift is an intimate look at the singer, with candid conversations throughout, some brilliant behind-the-scenes access and a mix of concert footage. Much like Beyonce's Homecoming, it's an insightful look at one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our time.
43. The Most Hated Man on the InternetStream on Netflix
The title of this doc is far from hyperbole. It's about Hunter Moore, who set up a revenge porn site, only for a mother, of a daughter who unwittingly featured on the site, to take action to get the site banned from the web. Here we see the demise of the man and the site, as well as the hurt and humiliation caused by creating such a despicable area of the internet.
44. Meltdown: Three Mile IslandStream now on Netlfix
With the current events in Ukraine having the world fear that we may see another nuclear meltdown, this documentary showcases the reasons behind a partial meltdown of a nuclear plant on Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979. While disaster was ultimately thwarted it's a chilling look at how powers can conspire, even when many lives are at risk.
45. Into the InfernoStream now on Netflix
This stunning documentary by eccentric filmmaker Werner Herzog is packed with stunning close-ups of raging volcanoes as well as some thoughtful meditations about the world and our lives within it. Herzog globe trots in this one, heading to Indonesia, Iceland, Ethiopia and North Korea to speak to the people who live near live volcanoes as well as get glimpses of them in action. Stunning stuff.
46. The Deepest BreathWatch now on Netflix
When extreme sports come up, you probably don't think of free diving. It's where divers descend into the depths with no oxygen-providing equipment beyond their lungs. This documentary follows divers attempting to set a free diving record, and is replete with both beautiful cinematography and tension at the sheer dangers involved.
47. Pamela, A Love StoryWatch now on Netflix
Few celebrities have had as much press attention over years as Pamela Anderson. What's more, several unofficial documentaries and one TV series about her life have been made, none of which she's been involved in. With Pamela, A Love Story, all of that changes. This documentary has been created by Pamela's sons and is mostly her, speaking candidly to the camera about the whirlwind of her life, the highs, the lows, the heartbreaks and the deeply unfair way she's been treated by many people over the years. It's a poignant and powerful watch but it's great that she's finally had her say.
Duration: 112 minutes
48. StutzStream on Netflix
Jonah Hill has been candid with his mental health battles and here he pays tribute to one of the people in his life that have helped him: his therapist Phil Stutz. Actually, therapist is an understatement as what you learn from Stutz is that Phil Stutz is one of the world's leading psychiatrists. In this doc Hill, through conversations with Stutz, has created a captivating ode to the man and the whole stigma surrounding mental health.
49. Jeen-YuhsWatch now on Netflix
Set over three episodes, this at times uplifting, other times heart-wrenching documentary is a stunning personal look at the rise and subsequent tumble of Kanye West. The best thing this documentary does is remind you just what a genius Kanye West - this is mostly seen in the first two episodes. It's the third episode, though, where things are clearly going wrong for Kanye - yes he's still selling out gigs and his music tops the charts but his personal life and mental health are under constant threat.
The documentary was made by Coodie & Chike, friends of Kanye from the beginning, having made the Through the Wire music video with him. This doc is as much about their relationship with West as it is about West himself, adding another layer to proceedings
50. Sr.Stream now on Netflix
Robert Downy Jr's father was one of the biggest names in the 60s, with his absurdist movies part of the counter culture at the time. This documentary, Sr., directed by Chris Smith, sees Downy Jr talk to his father about the art of filmmaking. This itself would have been a must watch, but the heartbreaking thing is that Robert Downy Sr. was dying at the time. This shifts the narrative of the doc and makes for a heart-rending look at the power of an enduring father-and-son relationship.
51. 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
52. CheerStream now on Netflix
Now two seasons long, Cheer looks at Navarro College and its role in competitive college cheerleading. It's a tough watch at times and the second season takes a turn as it focuses on what happened to the college after the first season aired.
53. Wham!Watch now on Netflix
This bright end energetic music documentary follows the early years of George Michael's career in pop band Wham!. It has a significant amount of live performance footage, grounding it in what fans saw back in the day when tracks like Young Guns and Club Tropicana were all the rage.
54. Myth & Mogul: John DeLoreanStream now (Netflix)
This fascinating documentary showcases the man behind one of the most famous cars of all time, thanks to its starring role in Back To The Future. The doc goes from the DeLorean's seismic push to the top of the car game and his firm's ultimate downfall. This is a rags-to-riches-to-rags tale that has it all, including a rather barmy drugs sub plot.
55. The Sparks BrothersWatch on Netflix now
The Sparks Brothers are beyond categorisation. They have been making their brand of pop music for some 50 years and this documentary tries to get to the heart of what the brothers are about. Edgar Wright's astute direction makes this one a fantastic, fun and compelling watch.
56. Jimmy Saville: A British Horror StoryWatch now on Netflix
If you grew up in the 80s in the UK, the Jimmy Saville was an eccentric TV presenter that was hardly off of the TV. There were rumours abound that there was something far more sinister behind the squeaky clean image of the presenter, which was only truly revealed once he died. This documentary lays bare the terrible crimes Saville is accused of, while also showing how these were covered up for so long. Compelling stuff.
57. 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
58. 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
Want more Netflix? Head to the following guides:
- Best horror movies on Netflix
- Best cult movies on Netflix
- Best movies on Netflix
- Best crime dramas on Netflix
- Best Netflix UK Shows
- Best Netflix Originals
- Best Netflix stand-up shows
All image Credits: Netflix