46 of the best documentaries on Netflix right now


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Pandemic

Netflix

Netflix’s six-part docuseries on the preparations underway to prevent a future pandemic was eerily timed. Three weeks before the series dropped, the first situations of a before unknown coronavirus were reported in China – the start of an sudden increase that would change the world forever. Pandemic looks at the risks of future global pandemics, and follows the researchers and medical professionals who will be on the front line when the unavoidable happens.

Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator

Netflix

Bikram yoga first emerged in the 1970s and since then it’s taken over the world, with a huge number of celebrity endorsements. The yoga itself is a proprietary system 26 moves that’s conducted in a hot room. But aside from the exercise, it’s grown in popularity due to its enigmatic founder Bikram Choudhury. This documentary exposes thorough problems behind the Choudhury’s empire. In recent years Choudhury has been accused of rape, settled civil suits against him and fled the United States after refusing to pay $6.8 million in legal damages. The film tells the story from the perspective of the victims and is a harrowing watch.

Rotten

Netflix / Rotten

Before food arrives on your plate, it can take a tumultuous journey. The imported food we eat can often have a hidden back story – Rotten seeks to expose this. The surge in popularity of the avocado has seen its lucrative industry become a target for cartels that are out to make money; while the world of chicken production can end in growers sabotaging each other’s stocks. Each episode within Rotten’s two series takes on the conceal, and often dangerous, world of a food’s production.

Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

After An Inconvenient Truth and He Named Me Malala, award-winning director Davis Guggenheim explores the journey of renowned tech visionary and philanthropist Bill Gates. The three-part documentary takes viewers by Gates’ upbringing, marriage and the creation of Microsoft. The real subject, though, seems to be the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a charity that is on a mission to solve some of the world’s most persistent problems – from battling infectious diseases and child mortality in developing countries to educating unprotected communities in the US.

Knock Down the House

Netflix

After Donald Trump’s election in 2016, a group of activists got together to try and change US politics. The consequence was an arrival of new candidates for Congress and the Senate in the 2018 mid-term elections – including loads more women and ethnic minorities. Knock Down the House follows four of them in the months leading up to the Democratic primaries: a mother from Nevada, a nurse from Missouri, a miner’s daughter from West Virginia and a 28-year-old bartender from the Bronx called Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s an uplifting, optimistic glimpse of a different kind of politics.

American Factory

Netflix

Barack and Michelle Obama are making their Hollywood debut with a film tackling Trump’s promises to resurrect the country’s industrial heartland. The documentary – the first release by the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions as part of their partnership with Netflix – looks at what happens when a Chinese billionaire takes over an abandoned General Motors plant in Ohio and hires 2,000 blue-collar American workers for a new automotive glass factory.

The Great Hack

Netflix

How well do you really know the Cambridge Analytica scandal? This two-hour documentary digs into the origins of the shady political and data science consultancy whose dodgy use of data kicked off a congressional hearing, a parliamentary inquiry and left Facebook with a $5 billion (£4.1b) fine and a shattered reputation. Told by the eyes of the journalist and whistleblower who broke the story, and people close to Cambridge Analytica, The Great Hack is a defining look at the standout scandal of the data monopoly era.

Losers

Netflix

Sport can be brutal – particularly if results don’t go your way. Losers focuses on the individuals and teams that make the headlines for the wrong reasons. The eight-episode collection, each is just 30 minutes long, focuses on a different story each time around. They go from the ultrarunner lost in the desert and presumed dead, to the Torquay United football team that owes much of its survival from financial oblivion to a police dog.

Fyre Festival

Netflix

Fyre Festival was an unmitigated disaster – and the whole thing was captured on social media and video. The “luxury” music festival took place in the summer of 2017 but its reputation has lived on following its catastrophically bad organisation and execution. produced by Billy McFarland, CEO of Fyre Media Inc and rapper Ja Rule, the event was billed as the don’t miss festival of the year: influencers, celebrities and musicians were all due to appear. The reality? Not enough tents, payments missing, and general chaos. The documentary tells the inside story of the failure of Fyre.

Struggle: The Life and Lost Art of Szukalski

Netflix

This is a documentary about a Polish sculptor but everything about Stanislav Szukalski from his Polishness to his sculpture is as complicated as it gets. His fans have included Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht, the 60s underground LA comic scene, Adolf Hitler and Leonardo Dicaprio’s dad. Directed by Ireneusz Dobrowolski and using interviews by art collector Glenn Bray, this is a disinctive but powerful look at iconography and nationalism in 20th century Europe, with this ‘punk’ sculptor and alt historian shifting between stardom, notoriety and obscurity.

Our Planet

Hector Skevington-Postles & Oliv

Narrated by David Attenborough and produced by the same team behind the BBC’s Planet Earth, Our Planet is a character documentary on a extent not seen before. Everything here is bigger, more beautiful and more ambitious. The whole series is obtainable in 4K, so if you’ve got a compatible TV set then this will likely be one of the most visually dramatically documentaries you’ve ever watched. in addition, unlike most big-budget character documentaries that have come before it, Our Planet is a clarion call for action on climate change. Its episodes are filled with stories of a planet in crisis, of animals pushed to the brink of humanity’s wanton destruction of the planet we must all proportion. It’s utterly basic viewing.

The Dawn Wall

The Dawn Wall

Climbing film Free Solo may have won an Oscar, but this ascent is equally as gripping. The Dawn Wall follows the journey of two athletes, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, as they attempt to extent the 3,000 feet of rock that make-up one side of Yosemite National Park’s El Capitan. The 2015 climb saw both Caldwell and Jorgeson live on the rock for two weeks as they slowly made vertical progress on the first attempted climb of the rock confront. in addition as charting their death-resisting progress, the film also looks back at the years of preparation that went into the effort.

Shirkers

Netflix

Shirkers is the kind of doc that won’t give you nightmares – unless you’re a precocious indie filmmaker, that is. A Netflix Original that first screened at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, it’s the work of Sandi Tan who tells the story of her lost, early 90s indie film: the original Shirkers. Tan is concerned with her then American film school mentor Georges Cardona because well, he made off with the reels from what was supposed to be Singapore’s first road movie. But just as fun is the punky, scrappy energy as she tracks the memories of this bunch of nerdy, pop culture obsessed teen girls and the rediscovered footage.

Dogs

Netflix

Dogs! It was only a matter of time before someone made a documentary about dogs, and this documentary series is heart warming and interesting. From Syria to New York, each episode touches on the relationship between a person and their canine companions – from Japanese groomers who find their rare grooming style threatening at an American dog show, to an Italian fisherman who finds his labrador a source of sustain as he contemplates losing his job.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

Netflix/Adam Rose

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, hosted by the delightful Samin Nosrat, is a charming look into how some of the world’s most inventive dishes are made, from Italy to California. Each of the four episodes explores one of the four titular elements. Perfect for the winter months, it has the comforting elements of Netflix-favourite Queer Eye, mixed in with the hunger usually brought on by an episode of Masterchef. Beautifully shot and genuinely heartwarming, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat shows that good documentaries don’t have to be serious – they just have to be interesting.

Wild, Wild Country

Netflix

Chapman and Maclain Way’s Emmy-award winning documentary about a cult in Oregon has to be seen to be believed. A four part series, Wild, Wild Country tells the story of Bagwan Shree Rajneesh, also known as Osho, an Indian cult leader who moves to Oregon from Pune, India. He imports parts of his idyllic lifestyle to willing followers, but his leadership quickly descends into chaos after conflicts with local farmers rule to a bioterror attack on local water supplies. The documentary intersperses interviews of former cult member with footage from the 70s. A follow up documentary, on VICE, asks what happened to the Rajneeshes after the events of Wild, Wild Country, if you find yourself curiously transfixed by them.

Evil Genius

Netflix

We can’t get enough of true crime, and documentary film makers keep digging up real, bizarre events. Produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, who also produced Wild, Wild Country, it follows the events after the death of Brian Wells, a pizza man with a bomb around his neck. As a trail to find the real culprit goes on, it becomes increasingly apparent that the plot isn’t quite what it seems. Trey Borzielli, a co-director on the documentary, corresponded extensively with people involved in the case, such as Margorie Diehl-Armstrong, one of the meaningful suspects in the bombing. already though the case is a matter of historical record, you’ll be gripped to the edge of your seat in suspense.

The Staircase

Netflix

In 2001, Kathleen Peterson was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in her North Carolina home. Although he maintains his innocence, her novelist husband, Michael Peterson, quickly becomes the rule speculate in an murder investigation that will absorb the next 17 years of his life. This 13-part series follows Michael Peterson’s defense team as they prepare to fight a case that digs into every aspect of their client’s life, including an eerily similar case from decades earlier. Along the way, they uncover injustice from investigators, bitter family feuds and a strange theory involving an owl.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

Netflix

Jim & Andy is a weird one. But then again, what can you expect from a documentary about Jim Carrey method-acting his way by Man on the Moon, a 1999 film about the life of the eccentric and often infuriating comedian Andy Kaufman?

Carrey’s insistence on not just playing Kaufman, but truly being him draws the frustration and admiration of everyone working on the film, including director Milos Forman. Carrey, as Kaufman and his disagreeable alter-ego Tony Clifton, crashes cars on set, storms into Steven Speilberg’s office, cons his way into the Playboy Mansion and pushes his co-stars to outright violence. Most of the fly-on-the-wall footage is deliciously painful to watch, but moments when Carrey – as Kaufman – is reunited with the late comedian’s real family are genuinely touching.

The footage at the chief of this documentary was suppressed for 20 years over fears that it would make Carrey come across as “an asshole,” the actor tells us in the current present-day interview spliced throughout the film. Carrey goes complete transcendental in these talking heads, ruminating on the meaning of his films and concluding that he could become anyone – already Jesus.

Flint Town

Netflix

In Flint, life grinds you down. This Netflix original series tells the story of a city where the police force is struggling to continue control. And in addition, for the most part, the drama eases past – punctuated by a gunshot, an anguished scream. It’s beautifully produced – lingering shots of snow-covered, abandoned houses are cut with smooth, sliding drone panoramas. The problems facing the city are important: unemployment, underfunding, violence and to top it all off a poisoned water supply, It would be easy, and obvious, to turn this into a emotional pastiche of a city on the brink. But Flint Town is a slow, considered character drama that tracks meaningful figures in the city’s police force as they struggle to continue order. As the drama slowly unfolds, it’s the city itself that becomes the most powerful character: perpetually frozen, blood-stained but fighting to survive.

Dirty Money

Netflix

This six-parter from Netflix explores the murky world of finance where edges knowingly launder funds on behalf of drug cartels, car manufacturers cheat on emissions tests and pharmaceutical firms ramp up the price of drugs to pay their executives’ bonuses. Each episode tells a depressingly familiar story about corporations leaving morality behind in the pursuit of profits, evading justice and, in many situations, ending up reaping the rewards of their deviant behaviour. The biggest criminals, it turns out, tend to use suits.

Strong Island

Nominated for Best Documentary in this year’s Oscars, Yance Ford’s Strong Island tackles the murder of the director’s own brother. His sibling was shot, but his case never saw justice. Although the story of a black man being unjustly killed is a narrative we have sadly become used to, Strong Island stands apart as largely a film about grief in addition as racial injustice. It is certainly a documentary worthy of its nomination.

Get Me Roger Stone

Exploring the life of Republican political strategist Roger Stone, this Netflix documentary is one for fans of House of Cards, or spectators to the current real-life twists and turns within American politics. Netflix has filed Get Me Roger Stone under ‘provocative’, ‘controversial’, ‘scandalous’ and ‘dark’ – a description that fits a little too perfectly. It is suggested he is heavily responsible for creating Trump as a political figure and encouraging him to run for the United States’ Presidency. This story is almost stranger than fiction, and is both engrossing and deeply troubling.

Casting JonBenet

Making a Murderer was one of the most popular Netflix originals of last year, Casting JonBenet is cut from the same cloth. In 1996, Boulder, Colorado was moved by the mysterious death of six-year-old pageant queen, JonBenet Ramsey. Her death was ruled as a homicide by police and received extensive media attention, but the killer was never identified – although suspicions nevertheless run wild as to who could have committed such a heinous crime. From the very first moments, Casting JonBenet leaves you with a steady sense of horror, not just at the story of JonBenet, but for the interwoven threads of tragedy connecting those who watched her story play out from afar.

The White Helmets

Having taken home the Oscar for best documentary in 2017, White Helmets is firmly one of the best things you’ll watch this year. Focusing on a group of volunteer rescue workers in Syria, the film follows them as they attempt to rescue left retained in the wake of airstrikes. The 40-minute film charts these rescue workers from Syria’s Civil Defence Foreces, marking their heroism in the confront of conflict and destruction. These people put their lives on the line everyday to help those in need; strangers come together in defence of human life. It’s truly inspiring and heart-wrenching to observe the level of devastation these first responders brave by, and their tireless belief in each other and the people who will stay with you long after the final scene.

What happened, Miss Simone?

Based on the biography of the same name by Alan Light, What Happened, Miss Simone? draws on before unseen diaries, interviews and childhood journals to look at Simone not just as the soul legend she became, but as a dedicated civil rights activist and one of the fiercest figures in generations. Simone’s struggles with mental illness are here presented faithfully, with the input of her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, and director Liz Garbus’s treatment is unfailingly careful and compassionate. Fluctuations in Simone’s health did little to separate her enormous political anger and need for music – Garbus’s biopic presents an iconic figure of great complexity, whose music provided a kind of battleground for the torment she lived by. 

Take Your Pills

In Take Your Pills, director Alison Klayman takes on the prescription stimulant craze in the US, exploring how young people use drugs like Adderall and Ritalin in the hope of benefiting from performance-enhancing effects. There are college students worried they’ll be at a disadvantage if they don’t pop a pill before an exam, a programmer who wants to live up to the myth of the coder-genius, and a finance worker whose colleague collapsed after two many Adderall-fuelled all-nighters.

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