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The best documentaries on Netflix: 40 best Netflix documentaries

Updated: Real stories, real lives, real entertainment.

The best documentaries on Netflix: 40 best Netflix documentaries
Marc Chacksfield
12 April 2021

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 documentaries on Netflix list proves.

UPDATED:If you are looking for a doc to shock, then Seaspiracy is for you. It looks at the state of the fishing industry and what they environmental and human implications of getting seafood on to plates. It's a documentary that we didn't know we needed and is worthy of a place in our best documentaries on Netflix list. Another water-based doc, My Octopus Teacher, is also now an award winner - nabbing a recent BAFTA.

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.

Upvote your top doc, and let us know at the bottom if there's an essential watch we've missed.


Want more Netflix? Head to the following guides:


Best documentaries on Netflix

Best documentaries on Netflix

1. Making a Murderer

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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.)

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Best documentaries on Netflix

2. The Last Dance

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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.

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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

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Best documentaries on Netflix

4. Planet Earth II

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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.)

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Best documentaries on Netflix

5. Don't F*Ck With Cats

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

6. Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

7. Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened

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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

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Best documentaries on Netflix

8. Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

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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.)

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Best documentaries on Netflix

9. Three Identical Strangers

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

10. Wild Wild Country

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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.

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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

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Best documentaries on Netflix

12. The Great Hack

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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

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Best documentaries on Netflix

13. Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

14. Formula 1: Drive to Survive

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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

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Best documentaries on Netflix

15. Unsolved Mysteries

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

16. Dirty Money

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

17. Dancing With The Birds

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

18. Apollo II

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One of the most watched things of all time is the Apollo II moon landing. While a documentary on this would have been great in itself, this one manages to use unseen footage from the launch, mixed with some animation, adding a brilliant new aspect to proceedings. It’s an awe-inspiring watch and for anyone interested in space and beyond.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

19. 20 Feet From Stardom

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Documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville picks a brilliant subject matter here. It's about the backing singers of some of the most famous bands in the world - those who may not be seen much but are heard both on the records and live. The winner of the best doc Oscar in 2014, this is a heartwarming, uplifting look at those who don't want to be famous but just want to sing.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

20. The Toys That Made Us

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

21. Fear City

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

22. Dogtown and Z-Boys

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One of the best skating documentaries ever made, Dogtown and Z-Boys is a magnetic look at the skateboard revolution of the 70s, where the likes of Jay Adams and his crew were showcasing a new style of skating in LA which took its cues from surfing. This documentary showcases the original skater boys and the fashion, music and attitude that came from this movement.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

23. My Octopus Teacher

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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

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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

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Best documentaries on Netflix

25. Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer

Stream 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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

26. Amanda Knox

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

27. Sunderland Till I Die

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

28. Hip-Hop Evolution

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

29. Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator

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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

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Best documentaries on Netflix

30. The Ripper

Stream 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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

31. The Defiant Ones

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

32. Knock Down the House

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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

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Best documentaries on Netflix

33. We Are The Champions

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

34. High Score

Stream 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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

35. Rolling Thunder Review: A Boby Dylan Story

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

36. Surviving Death

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

37. Seaspiracy

Watch 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

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Best documentaries on Netflix

38. Age of Samurai: Battle For Japan

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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.

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Best documentaries on Netflix

39. Get me Roger Stone

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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

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Best documentaries on Netflix

40. Homecoming: A film by Beyonce

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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

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