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 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.
Upvote your top doc, and let us know at the bottom if there's an essential watch we've missed.
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Best Netflix documentaries
1. SennaStream Now (Netflix)
Wait up. Before you scroll past Senna because you’re not in F1, you don’t need to be to enjoy this film. It charts the career of Formula One legend Ayrton Senna, but is more concerned with his psyche and contentious relationships with team mates and the sport’s overseers than his driving techniques. Told largely through the wealth of footage from the time, Senna is a gripping, human drama.
Duration: 106 minutes
2. 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.)
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. 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
5. 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.)
6. 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
7. 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.
8. 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 advisor Roger Stone the worst offender, often to be seen trussed up like The Pegnuin. 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