Screengrab via Vice/YouTube

These should be required viewing.

They say truth is stranger than fiction. What they don’t tell you is that it can also be funnier, lovelier, and more interesting than your average Hollywood story. The best documentaries on Netflix are proof of that. You may not find the exact truth in all of them, but you will find something that will stick with you long after the credits fade.

The best documentaries on Netflix

1) The Wolfpack

Intimate, heartfelt, and often unsettling, The Wolfpack is about life, film, and what it’s like to live one’s life through film. Because for the Angulo brothers, who grew up confined to their New York housing project by their strict father, film was once all they had. Growing up, the Angulos, or as they nickname themselves, “the Wolfpack,” would reenact scenes from movies they watched, filming their own housebound versions to amuse themselves. —Chris Osterndorf

best documentary netflix: the wolfpack Screengrab via Vice/YouTube

2) Blackfish

There are many documentaries that advocate for social change, but few have been as effective as Blackfish. Helping to put an end to SeaWorld’s inhumane whale shows, this film called attention to egregious animal rights violations that had been going on right in front of us for years. It’s telling that when Tilikum, one of the orcas at the center of Blackfish, passed away in early 2017, there was a renewed sense of interest on his behalf—and on behalf of policing SeaWorld. —C.O.

Best documentaries on Netflix: Blackfish Screengrab via Movieclips Trailers/YouTube

3) The Thin Blue Line

Like Blackfish, The Thin Blue Line is a work of social activism (and like Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it was parodied on IFC’s Documentary Now). But what makes The Thin Blue Line a singularly important piece of filmmaking is that it actually saved a man’s life—Randall Adams, who was wrongly sentenced to death in 1976 for the murder of a Dallas police officer. Errol Morris is widely considered to be one of the greatest documentarians of all time, but even among his impressive filmography, there’s nothing quite as politically significant as this exploration of gross misuse of power. —C.O.

Best documentaries on Netflix : The Thin Blue Line Screengrab via Andrew Sayre/YouTube

4) Tig

2013 was a breakout year for Tig Notaro—and one of her hardest. During a performance at New York City’s Largo, the lesbian comic came out with her breast cancer diagnosis in a set that became instantly iconic, in part because Notaro only received the news a day before the show—and it closely followed another health scare and the death of her mother. The acclaimed Netflix documentary Tig examines the comedian’s life during her treatment and in recovery—as she and her partner attempt to have their first child. Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York’s film is both as candid and disarmingly intimate as you would expect a film about Notaro to be. The documentary is a testament to human resilience—about finding the courage to go on after enormous hardship. —Nico Lang 

best documentary netfix : tig Screengrab via Netflix

5) Icarus

Filmmaker Bryan Fogel set out to make a film that exposes the drug testing process in cycling but ends up uncovering something much larger than he could’ve anticipated. With the cooperation of Russian doctor Grigory Rodchenkov, Fabel’s film takes the audience inside whistleblowing on Russia’s long-running and highly successful doping scheme. Icarus is a documentary that plays like a top-shelf legal thriller with life or death stakes. It’s also one of the best documentaries, and films, of the year, and another winner for Netflix. —Eddie Strait

best netflix documtary : icarus Photo courtesy of Netflix

6) She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

This documentary gives you an all-access pass into lives of the heroes behind the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s. The girl-power history divulges into the radical waves made for things we rightly take for granted in American society today. These women stood on the front lines in battle for gender equality and are still around to tell the world about it. —Nia Wesley

Best documentaries on Netflix : She's Beautiful When She's Angry Screengrab via YouTube:Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films

7) Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond—Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton

When Jim Carrey prepared to play Andy Kaufman in 1999’s Man on the Moon, he went beyond method. In Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, we see 20-year-old footage of his transformation, as well as “Andy” terrorizing the set and Carrey losing himself in the process. You’ll cringe, you’ll laugh, and you’ll try to decipher Carrey’s existential ramblings. Audra Schroeder

best netflix original documentary jim & andy review Francois Duhamel/Netflix

8) The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

Netflix’s The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson explores the tragic 1992 death of a legendary gay rights activist, officially ruled suicide but which many suspect to be a murder. Director David France uses the film to explore the larger scope of Johnson’s life and impact on both the landscape of LGBTQ rights and those closest to her. —David Wharton

best documentaries on netflix: the death and life of marsha p johnson Photo via Netflix

9) 13th

Although not as formally inventive as I Am Not Your Negro, nor as narratively ambitious as O.J.: Made in America, 13th is the third in a trifecta of great Oscar-nominated documentaries about race in America we got in 2016. From Selma director Ava DuVernay, this film builds off of works such as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow to explore mass incarceration in the U.S. and eventually ask the difficult question: What if slavery in this country never ended, just transformed? Bound to become an instructional text in liberal schools all over, the biggest criticism one can level against 13th is that at an hour and 40 minutes, there might not be enough of it.—C.O.

Best documentaries on Netflix: 13th Screengrab via: Netflix US & Canada

10) Pumping Iron

Following future stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno as they prepare to compete in the Mr. Universe competition, Pumping Iron delves into the world of amateur and professional bodybuilders and their quest to obtain almost inhumanly chiseled bodies. It’s interesting to watch the movie from our current vantage point, where people are generally more health conscious but a select few still push themselves to this level of extremes. —C.O.

best documentaries on netflix - Pumping Iron YouTube Movies


11) Laerte-se

In the Netflix original documentary Laerte-se, comic strips depict the inner workings of a Brazilian cartoonist as she comes to terms with her gender identity. The device serves two purposes: informing the audience of artist Laerte Coutinho’s thoughts, and acting as a way to tell this searing, real story in a straightforward manner. Coutinho is initially hesitant to be intimately honest with documentarian Eliane Brum, but the more she opens up, the more the artwork exposes her thoughts and desires. The end result is a compelling, in-depth look at Coutinho’s transformation. —Dan Marcus

netflix documentary - laerte-se Netflix Brasil/YouTube

12) Voyeur

This documentary shines a light on journalist Gay Talese and the scandal surrounding The Voyeur’s Motel. His 2016 book told the story of Gerald Foos, a serial voyeur who modified his Colorado motel so that he could spy on the guests from an attic crawl space that allowed him to peep in through the ceiling vents. Talese’s interactions with Foos raised a whole host of ethical questions, especially when Foos claimed to have witnessed a murder… and that was before a Washington Post story revealed that Foos might not have been telling the truth. —D.W.

best netflix documentary voyeur review Netflix/YouTube

13) Saving Capitalism

This 72-minute documentary presents a clear-eyed look at the economic system that helped build up America and is now crushing so many of its citizens. Based on the book by Robert B. Reich, it’s an even-handed look that doesn’t condone or condemn the system, but rather serves as a wakeup call that somewhere along the line we lost sight of what matters most: the people. —E.S.

best netflix documentaries : Saving Capitalism Netflix/YouTube

14) The Endless Summer

Bruce Brown’s 1966 documentary remains the gold standard for iconic images of surfing culture. Following two young men around the world in search of the perfect wave, Brown opened America’s eyes to the coolness and skill of surfers. It’s still a gorgeous, breezy watch today, over fifty years later. —C.O.

classic documentaries on netflix : the endless summer Cinedigm/YouTube

15) Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent

You might not have heard of Jeremiah Tower, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one of the most renowned figures in the history of American gastronomy. From beginning his career at Chez Panisse in Berkeley to launching the legendary Stars Restaurant in San Francisco to walking away from it all, only to make an unlikely return to the culinary world at New York City’s Tavern on the Green, Tower has lived the lives of at least three celebrity chefs. Featuring appearances from Martha Stewart, Wolfgang Puck, and Anthony Bourdain (who also produced the film,) this 2016 doc by Lydia Tenaglia and Morgan Fallon tells the story of an unsung iconoclast who changed the way people think about food forever.  —C.O.

jeremiah_tower_best_food_shows_and_movies_on_netflix Movieclips Indie

16) Seeing Allred

Civil rights attorney Gloria Allred has been called a “feminist crusader,” “media hound,” and “lightning rod for controversy,” but a new documentary invites the world to consider another descriptor for that list: icon. Directors Sophie Sartain and Roberta Grossman do an amazing job of contextualizing the lawyer’s controversial four-decade body of work within our current political moment. She got her start advocating for women and victims of gender-based crime in the ’70s, and through interviews with her law partners, industry contemporaries, and Allred herself, the doc profiles the advocate just as she’s taking on two of the biggest adversaries of her career: Bill Cosby and President Donald Trump. —Christine Friar

best documentaries on netflix - seeing allred Netflix/YouTube

17) Amy

Oscar-winning 2015 documentary Amy is a tragedy in slow motion. Director Asif Kapadia chronicles the short life of the talented, complicated, and self-destructive Amy Winehouse, using remarkable archival footage and interviews with those who knew her best to create an intimate portrait of the late, great singer. Though many people let Winehouse down in her life, Kapadia saves his most searing critique for us, the audience who rejected and laughed at her when she needed our compassion the most. —C.O.

amy_best_docs_on_netflix Movieclips Trailers/YouTube

18) Brother’s Keeper

Brother’s Keeper tells the strange tale of the Ward brothers, four semi-literate farmers who lived together in a shack in Munnsville, New York. After one of them is murdered, a media frenzy breaks out around the siblings and their unconventional lifestyle. Questions about whether this was a case of coerced confession, a mercy killing, or something more sinister abound—not to mention whether the Wards are being exploited or playing dumb for the camera. From Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (the Paradise Lost trilogy), Brother’s Keeper is one of the essential titles in modern documentary filmmaking. —C.O.

Best Documentaries on Netflix: Brother's Keeper YouTube/Subcommandante Marcos

19) The Nightmare

Eight percent of the population suffers from sleep paralysis, defined as “a discrete period of time during which voluntary muscle movement is inhibited, yet ocular and respiratory movements are intact.” Basically, your body is completely asleep but you can’t move. For the people who suffer from this disorder, it can be a terrifying nightmare, being trapped in a body that can’t move. The Nightmare is a documentary about these people and the night terrors that follow them. While not everyone with sleep paralysis sees the dark figures that haunt the subjects of this documentary, we promise they’ll haunt your dreams long after your viewing. —John-Michael Bond

Best documentaries on Netflix: The Nightmare Screengrab via YouTube: Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films

20) Vernon, Florida 

Vernon, Florida is the second film of Errol Morris’ groundbreaking career, and it would set the template for much of the work he would do later. Following the eccentric residents of the town the film shares its name with, Vernon, Florida walks a fine line between curious and exploitative. In the end, it’s clear that Morris has affection for his subjects, even as he can’t help but point his camera at their strange lives. —C.O.

classic documentaries on Netflix: The Endless Summer notdefineda/YouTube


21) Paris Is Burning  

With its unforgettable look at Harlem’s drag ball community, this famous documentary doesn’t just give us a glimpse of a hugely underrepresented aspect of queer, black, and Latino cultures. It also introduces us to notable trans icons like Octavia St. Laurent and prominent drag queens like the legendary Paris DuPree and Pepper LaBeija. And it gave us the story of other trans women like Venus Xtravaganza, who ultimately became victims of a transphobic society that three decades has done little to erase. Released just as the AIDS epidemic was peaking in the gay community, Paris Is Burning examines issues of race, class, homophobia, transphobia, and the devastating effects of AIDS on the community. A seven-year labor of love, the documentary still causes heated controversy today because of white filmmaker Jennie Livingston’s approach to telling the stories of a community not her own. But it remains an important and multifaceted early look at queer culture, at a historical moment when far more than Paris was on fire. —Aja Romano

Best documentaries on Netflix: Paris is Burning Screengrab via YouTube: LionsgateVOD

22) Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World  

As the Daily Dot’s Audra Schroeder writes in her review of the film, “Lo and Behold asks more questions than it answers, but that’s always been Herzog’s style.” However, Schroeder also notes that what makes Lo and Behold an interesting entry in the Herzog catalog is that this time he is asking questions about something which he seems to know nothing about. Typically consumed by man’s battle with his environment and the inescapable chaos of the world, Herzog is a naturalist, albeit a pessimistic one, at heart. Here, he brings that same pessimistic fascination to his investigation into the digital realm. As per usual, Herzog does not condemn or approve, so much as marvel at the magnitude of his subject. Perhaps that’s what makes Reveries of the Connected World one of the better documentaries about the internet. Herzog takes no stance either way, except perhaps a stance of wonder. —C.O.

Best documentaries on Netflix: Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World Screengrab via YouTube: Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films

23) The Art of Organized Noise

Ever wonder how rap duo Outkast got its start? Talk about hard work, dedication, and a lot of bars. The humble beginnings are brought to the stage in this 2016 rap history lesson. The documentary highlights how the two were pioneers in putting southern rap on a national radar. Featuring artists like Diddy, Future, Ludacris, 2 Chainz, and Cee Lo, the documentary pays homage to the basement label Organized Noize that thrust Outkast onto a national scale. –N.W.

Best documentaries on Netflix: The Art of Organized Noize Screengrab via YouTube: Flavor Unit

24) I Called Him Morgan

Helen Morgan killed her common-law husband, virtuoso jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan, in cold blood on a February night in 1972. It was a heinous act that took a talented man from the world when he still had a lot left to offer. But while Kasper Collin’s I Called Him Morgan gives the proper weight to this tragedy, the documentary is elevated by not demonizing Helen for her actions. In using recordings from an interview she gave before her death, Collin pieces together the life of an extraordinary if troubled woman, even arriving at some understanding of why she did what she did. The film is an elegant, empathetic portrait of two remarkable subjects. —C.O.

Best Documentaries on Netflix: I Called Him Morgan YouTube/Film Society of Lincoln Center

25) Chasing Coral

Chasing Coral shines a light on the world’s great underwater crisis. Through vivid time-lapse imagery, director Jeff Orlowski exposes the heartbreaking “coral bleaching” phenomenon. “Ninety-three percent of the heat from climate change is trapped in the ocean,” Orlowski told the Daily Dot. “Without a massive moonshot-style approach to solving this problem, we’re going to see such traumatic changes on this planet that we cannot even comprehend.” —Chris Leo Palermino

nature documentaries netflix : chasing coral Photo via Netflix

26) Kingdom of Us

Director Lucy Cohen’s heart-wrenching Kingdom of Us is a touching and intimate view into the lives of a grieving wife and her seven children, all attempted to understand why patriarch Paul Shanks killed himself in Warwickshire, England’s Crackley Woods. Through old family videos, interviews, recited writings, and even songs, Cohen provides her Netflix documentary with precipitous depths to coping with mental illness and extraordinary loss. She goes inside the photographic negative of the supposedly happy family living out an idyllic countryside life and finds what went wrong. —Kahron Spearman

best netflix original documentary Kingdom of Us Photo via Netflix

27) Hot Girls Wanted

There’s no doubt that the internet has steadily revolutionized access to porn. But it’s also made it more feasible to access potential actors and actresses, misleading them into the world of amateur porn with promises of fame and fortune. Hot Girls Wanted undoubtedly gives an intimate view of several 18- to 19-year-old amateur porn “stars,” highlighting the dangers of hiring young, inexperienced performers. With former print journalists leading the project, the documentary is approached both informatively and respectfully while simultaneously bringing to light the troubles of the “girl next door” gone “internet sensation.” —Dahlia Dandashi

escort documentary hot girls wanted YouTube

28) What Happened, Miss Simone?

The life and career of Nina Simone, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, is profiled in this Oscar-nominated documentary from 2015. Director Liz Garbus spans her beginnings in 1930s North Carolina to her rise as the “High Priestess of Soul” in expert detail. Using archived footage and family photos, the film recounts everything from Simone’s iconic music, to her role as civil rights activist, to her struggles with mental illness. Whether the film ever fully captures the High Priestess’s essence is debatable, but it definitely does a better job than any half-cocked biopic could. —N.W.

Netflix documentaries - What Happened Miss Simone Netflix US & Canada/YouTube

29) Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

Joan Didion has always been fairly inscrutable. In her writing there is a quiet voyeurism; sunglasses on, straight face. She’s a reporter in the truest sense, and when you read her words, you see the picture she’s painting, but you also wonder what the artist is thinking. Does Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold illuminate her at all? If you’re intimate with her work, not so much. If you’re a stranger, it’s a reasonable introduction. Griffin Dunne—actor, director, and Didion’s nephew—directs, and having a family member at the helm certainly offers better access. He goes chronologically, detailing Didion’s early formative years in Sacramento and first job at Vogue, and there are voiceovers of Didion reading portions of her work, but the meat here is Dunne’s interviews with “aunt Joan.” —A.S.

netflix documentary : joan didion the center will not hold review Photo by Julian Wasser/Netflix


30) Tower

Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, Tower is sure to become the defining film on the Aug. 1, 1966, sniper shooting at the University of Texas at Austin. As a haunting reminder of the past and a frightening predictor of the present, few events from the last century are as significant or as horrifying as what happened that day.  That it took Tower so long to get made isn’t so important as the fact that it got made at all. Using interviews and animation to recreate their actions, survivors of the incident talk about their trauma and their bravery while director Keith Maitland uses rotoscoping to paint a picture of what they went through. This makes the film’s ending, when we see these people as in real life as they exist today, some of them actually meeting in person, all the more powerful. —C.O.

best true crime documentary on netflix : tower Screengrab via Tower Documentary

31) Tabloid

Unlike The Thin Blue Line, Tabloid is what you might call Errol Morris-lite. Centering on Joyce McKinney, a beauty queen who received international attention for abducting her Mormon beau, Kirk Anderson, the film is as sad and funny as it is puzzling. The church insisted that McKinney held Anderson and had sex with him against his will. McKinney insists that the sex was consensual and that Anderson had been brainwashed. While the details of the case are murky, what’s certain is that McKinney is a compelling subject who continued to live a bizarre life up through the last decade, when she made headlines again (this time under a different name) for cloning her dog with the help of South Korean scientists. As per usual, Morris gets the most out of his interviewee, eliciting extreme candor form McKinney. McKinney herself wasn’t too happy with the final product though; her ongoing saga with the media continued last year when she took Morris to court over the way she was portrayed in the film. —C.O.

Best True Crime documentary on Netflix: Tabloid Screengrab via TrailersAppleCom/YouTube

32) Cuba and the Cameraman

This doc provides an on-the-ground humanistic version of Cuban progress, or lack thereof, through over 45 years and a thousand hours of film in the making. Director Jon Alpert’s began visiting Cuba in 1972 as a documentarian taking advantage of new video technology, trying to see if Castro’s socialist revolution was, in fact, creating better lives for Cubans. Visit after visit, the investigative reporter entrenched himself in the country’s culture, filming the ordinary Cubans and eventually earning rare favor with Castro himself. —K.S.

netflix original documentary : cuba and the cameraman Nagamitsu Endo/Netflix

33) Amanda Knox

If you knew nothing about Amanda Knox going into this documentary, in which she herself appears, you might be surprised by how cut and dry her case seems. (Spoiler alert: It’s pretty clear she didn’t do it.) Yet the film is also a reminder of the sensationalism that sprung up around her and how easy it is to twist a narrative to satiate the public’s appetite for blood. As with any good true crime story, there are elements of Knox’s case that are strange. She didn’t always act like a “typical” girl, she didn’t behave as she “should’ve” in certain situations. But under similar circumstances, who’s to say how any of us would react? Perhaps there are details of that night in 2007, when Knox’s roommate Meredith Kercher was murdered, that we’ll never fully understand. Certainly, a lot of people involved jumped to the wrong conclusions initially. But the film argues that the media’s portrait of “Foxy Knoxy” was as much a part of the case’s mishandling as anything else. —C.O.

true life documentary netflix : amanda knox Screengrab via Netflix US & Canada/YouTube

34) Food, Inc.

Food, Inc. remains the ultimate in that subgenre of documentaries designed to make you question everything you put in your mouth. Not so much an argument for vegetarianism or a call to action to stop eating one kind of food in particular (although it’s easy to view it that way too), Food, Inc. is instead a searing takedown of America’s corporate food structure. Both enlightening and stomach churning, the film asks you to examine where your food comes from. There are organic, local, farm-fed solutions to America’s food crisis, Food, Inc. argues. The problem is that we are not willing to invest in them or seek them out. —C.O.

best documentary netflix : food, inc Screengrab via Movieclips Trailer Vault/YouTube

35) Recovery Boys

Opioid abuse, specifically in the Appalachian region of the United States, has exploded over the last decade, destroying entire communities in a comparable fashion to the crack-cocaine epidemic of the ’80s. Elaine McMillion Sheldon’s Recovery Boys tells stories of four men at various stages of recovery, learning to parse out their emotional baggage at the Jacob’s Ladder rehabilitation program. Sheldon steers away from the well-tread, poverty-stricken, trailer-park visions of rural addicts, instead focusing on working-class males—a demographic often forgotten or overlooked in the crisis. Recovery Boys only glazes over the root cause of opioid abuse, but the weight of the film is crushing all the same. —K.S.

best documentaries on Netflix - Recovery Boys Netflix

36) Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press

The best kind of journalism takes you on a journey you didn’t expect. Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press starts with a wrestler’s sex tape, then pivots into both a celebration of the fourth estate and a stark warning about the ability of a free and independent press to survive the machinations of the billionaire class. It’s shocking, it’s surreal, and it’s easily the most important thing to come out of Hulk Hogan’s career. —D.W.

best documentaries on netflix : nobody speak trials of the free press netflix Photo by Eve Edelheit/Netflix

37) Counterpunch

The best sports stories aren’t about the numbers on the scoreboard, but rather the human drama behind them. CounterPunch introduces three young boxers at different places in their careers, and through exploring their trials and tribulations, paints a broader picture of the state of boxing as a whole. Whether it’s the promising up-and-comer, the Olympic hopeful, or the pro trying to reclaim past glory, CounterPunch illuminates the choices and challenges facing aspiring boxers in the modern era. —D.W.

best documentaries netflix : Counterpunch Photo via Netflix

38)  Resurface

Veterans meets surfers in Netflix’s Resurface, a documentary that looks at Operation Surf, which offers surf therapy to wounded veterans as a means of helping the vets deal with their post-service issues. Whether suffering from mental or physical ailments, Op Surf provides an escape from the realities and PTSD, physical, and mental injuries. With a runtime under 30 minutes, Resurface doesn’t have time to do into extreme detail, but it does enough to show the value of compassion and the willingness of people to help those who help protect us. —E.S.

best documentaries on Netflix - Resurface Netflix/YouTube

39) Mitt

A portrait of hubris that somehow remains extremely compassionate, Mitt feels like it was made in a different world compared to the political landscape of today. Tracking the run of 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Greg Whiteley’s film is surprisingly humanizing, stripping away the robotic image Romney had as a political candidate and uncovering a guy that folks on either side of the aisle might find something in common with. A scene in which his family chuckles along to an audiobook of David Sedaris while they eat dinner, for instance, is both surreal and disarming. Then there’s the other side of Romney the documentary captures—the side that was so confident he would win, he hadn’t even prepared a concession speech. —C.O.

Netflix documentaries: Mitt Screengrab via Netflix/Youtube

40) GLOW: The Story of the Glorious Ladies of Wrestling

So you’ve already seen the Netflix series, and found it to be as glorious as its name promises? Good, now you can watch the documentary that inspired the show’s creators. Interviewing the ladies who starred in the original Glorious Ladies of Wrestling, filmmakers Brett Whitcomb and Bradford Thomason dig deep into one of the wrestling world’s most important and heretofore unknown stories. Now, years after GLOW first debuted, the Netflix series and this documentary are finally giving the groundbreaking show its due. —C.O.

best documentary on netflix : glow Screengrab via iamCrockitify/YouTube


41) Faces Places

This pretty-much-perfect film lost the 2017 Academy Award for best documentary to Netflix’s own Icarus, and while that one is certainly good too, it’s unforgivable that Faces Places didn’t win. Following famed director Agnes Varda as she travels around the French countryside with artist JR, the two directors’ process of talking to people, taking their picture, and then pasting larger-than-life prints of them becomes an exercise in empathy. There are plenty of moving moments in this movie, but the end especially will wreck you. Thankfully, those who missed this gem last year during Oscar season can catch up with it now. —C.O.

best documentaries on netflix - faces places Movieclips Indie/YouTube

42) End Game

In just 40 minutes, End Game makes a big impact. Filmmakers Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein bring viewers face to face with terminally ill people receiving palliative care. Grappling with one’s own mortality is obviously heavy subject matter, and the film embraces that in order to show you what the process has on the patients, the family members, and the doctors themselves. End Game is a tough watch, but it offers perspective and is worth your time. —E.S.

best documentaries on Netflix - End Game Netflix/YouTube

43) Long Shot

The doc focuses on Juan Catalan, who was arrested in August 2003 for the May 2003 murder of 16-year-old Martha Puebla. We see the soft-spoken Catalan present day and in court in 2003. We hear audio of his interrogation by two LAPD officers. Catalan maintains his innocence, but things appear grim. He’s been identified in a lineup by a witness, and detectives seem satisfied. Until this point, Long Shot is a fairly routine true-crime doc, but it finds its groove when Catalan picks up high-profile lawyer Todd Melnik, and they try to back up his alibi: He was at a Dodgers game with his daughter the night of the murder. And so Long Shot goes to the tape and starts breaking down the extraordinary circumstances of the game: HBO was shooting an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm on that same night, and LaMendola heightens the tension by drawing out the big reveal. —A.S.

netflix original documentaries : long shot Photo courtesy of Netflix

44) Get Me Roger Stone

Roger Stone is one of those figures who at first glance seems almost too cartoonish to be real. He’s a bodybuilder with a Richard Nixon tattoo on his back whose wardrobe alternates between Clinton-bashing T-shirts and suits that look to have been raided from Leonardo DiCaprio’s spare Django Unchained costumes. But he’s also very good at the dirty tricks and mudslinging that tend to work all too well at winning elections in this country. Get Me Roger Stone explores not only Stone’s involvement with the Trump campaign but how his nearly 50 years in the Washington trenches shaped the state of modern politics—for good or ill. As Stone says late in the film: “You wouldn’t hate me if I weren’t effective.” —D.W.

best netflix original documentary: Get Me Roger Stone Photo courtesy Netflix

45) Casting JonBenét

This documentary looks at the infamous and unsolved murder of JonBenét Ramsey and takes an unusual approach. Director Kitty Green interviews young actresses who are vying for the part of JonBenét. Filtering a case everyone has heard through this meta lens adds a layer of surreality to the story, which is plenty bizarre to begin with. The result is an unsettling doc that examines the impact JonBenét’s murder has had on the local community. —E.S.

netflix documentary : Casting Jon Bonet Photo via Netflix


46) Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two

Five Foot Two documents the months leading up to Lady Gaga‘s record-breaking Super Bowl halftime performance. It does a lot to humanize the pop star, whose meat dress-wearing, hatching-out-of-an-egg-on-the-red-carpet persona admittedly hasn’t been the most accessible over the years. In the doc we get to see her in jorts at her grandma’s house, dealing with chronic body pain, and checking the aisles of a Walmart for her new CD. In other words, she’s ready to be relatable. By the end of the vulnerable, behind-the-music documentary, we’re intimately familiar with our lord and pop savior Stefani Germanotta. —C.F.

netflix original documentary : lady gaga five foot two

47) Strong Island

In April 1992, William Ford Jr. was shot and killed during a dispute. An all-white grand jury did not indict the white man who killed William, a black man. Strong Island, directed and produced by William’s sister Yance Ford, is a searing look at a family’s loss. It’s also a way for Yance to reclaim her brother’s name and dictate the narrative of his life rather than letting the courts have the final say. Strong Island is an intimate, angry documentary that is also one of 2017’s best. —E.S.

sad documentaries on netflix : strong island Screengrab via Netflix/YouTube

48) Unrest

Unrest is a blunt look at the harsh realities faced by those who suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Between the lack of public awareness and the medical community’s inability to find a cure or treatment, those afflicted with CFS struggle to get out of bed, literally. CFS upends the lives of the people stricken as well as their family’s. Unrest seeks to educate and motivate, and by the turning the camera on herself, director Jennifer Brea is successful on both counts. —E.S.

best documentaries netflix unrest YouTube Movies/YouTube


49) Mercury 13

Mercury 13 chronologically documents NASA’s dismissive and then-customary treatment of women as it launched Project Mercury, its first human spaceflight program that would see Alan Shepard become the first American in space in 1962. The film draws from endeavors of a surgeon and pioneering NASA advisor, Dr. William Randolph Lovelace, who created a stealth testing program for women at the time of Project Mercury. The women tested higher than the men in specific cases, but still weren’t allowed training to receive prerequisite jet certification. Mercury 13 lacks details that would have provided helpful context, but it’s still a fascinating document of the frustrating denial of history for talented women in the midst of the Civil Rights struggle. —K.S.

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50) Ram Dass, Going Home

Ram Dass, Going Home is a new documentary short from Netflix that catches up with the iconic spiritual scholar as he enjoys his final years at his home in Maui. Director Derek Peck takes a look at the now-87-year-old thinker as he prepares for what he feels is the next part of his work: dying. The film is much less a biopic than it is a meditation unto itself. It jumps around without any firm linear structure and, like Dass’ teachings, seems intentionally abstract. Ultimately, Dass seems eager to communicate that pain unites us all. To him, pain is where people’s power and beauty stem from, and the sooner they lean into that, the sooner they’ll be able to find peace. —C.F.

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Still not sure what to watch tonight? Here are our guides for the absolute best movies on Netflix, must-see Netflix original series, documentaries, docuseries, and movies.

Need more ideas? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, documentaries, anime, indie flicks, true crime, food shows, rom-coms, LGBT movies, gangster movies, Westerns, film noir, and movies based on true stories streaming right now. There are also sad movies guaranteed to make you cry, weird movies to melt your brain, old movies when you need something classic, and standup specials when you really need to laugh. Or check out Flixable, a search engine for Netflix.

Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for context. 

Chris Osterndorf

Chris Osterndorf

Chris Osterndorf is an entertainment reporter and movie critic based in Los Angeles. He holds a degree in cinema from Chicago’s DePaul University. His work has appeared on the Daily Dot, Mic, the Script Lab, Salon, the Week, xoJane, and more.

Nico Lang

Nico Lang

Nico Lang is an essayist, movie critic, and reporter who specializes in the intersection of politics and LGBTQ issues. His work has been featured in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Jezebel, Esquire, and BuzzFeed, among other notable publications.