Screengrab via IMDb

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 documentaries listed below, all currently available on Netflix and with write-ups culled in part from some of our other streaming guides, 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) Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the kind of documentary that was meant to be on Netflix. Though it was well-received upon theatrical release, it often takes the accessibility of streaming services for stories with such specified subject matter to reach a wider audience. Sushi master Jiro and his relationship with son Yoshikazu (parodied on IFC’s Documentary Now) make for a fascinating portrait of the pursuit to do one thing really well. Caution to sushi fans, though: Your mouth will be watering through much of the 1:20 runtime. —Chris Osterndorf

best documentaries on netflix : Jiro Dreams of Sushi Screengrab via Netflix US & Canada

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 (Fair Use)

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 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 —Nico Lang

best documentary netfix : tig Screengrab via Netflix

5) Exit Through the Gift Shop

Is it an elaborate prank or a piece of high-performance art? Is it an inviting work of genius, or is it subtly poking fun at everyone who views it? These questions apply to both Exit Through the Gift Shop as a work of art and to the art world the film depicts. Directed by the ever-enigmatic Banksy, this documentary begins as a co-exploration of the street art movement, and the French shopkeeper who sought to capture it, Thierry Guetta (a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash). But when Banksy decides halfway through the movie that Thierry might not be, so to speak, the ideal candidate to make the definitive movie on this movement, Exit Through the Gift Shop’s narrative takes an unexpected turn. The film eventually becomes a meditation on the idea of authenticity in an art culture that is increasingly commercialized. If that sounds too esoteric for you, don’t worry, Exit Through the Gift Shop is also riotously funny and at times utterly unbelievable. —C.O.

Best documentaries on Netflix: Exit Through the Gift Shop Screengrab via ENTRTNMNT/YouTube (Fair Use)

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) We Were Here

There’s been an embarrassment of great documentaries on the ’80s AIDS crisis in recent years, the most well-known being David French’s great How to Survive a Plague. The year before Plague was released, David Weissman and Bill Weber directed We Were Here, an equally important look at queer life during an era where being gay was looked at as a death sentence. What’s refreshing about We Were Here is that shows a community coming together for hope and healing. Weissman and Weber interview psychologist Ed Wolf, activist Paul Boneberg, and others who worked to fight the disease, which had infected 50 percent of gay men by the mid-’80s, including Guy Clark, a dancer who lived in San Francisco’s famed Castro district during the epidemic. He brought flowers to the funerals of those who passed away from HIV. The uplifting We Were Here is a stirring reminder of the power and beauty of solidarity. —N.L.

Best documentaries on Netflix: We Were Here Screengrab via: peccadillopictures

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) What Happened, Miss Simone?

Did you know her real name was Eunice Kathleen Waymon? “Nina Simone” was a stage name because she didn’t want her mother knowing she was performing in saloons at the start of her career. And this Netflix-produced documentary opens with her less-than-humble start in 1930s North Carolina and progresses through her journey across the country to become a pioneering all-timer. With archived footage and priceless family photos, Simone’s identity as a black political activist during the civil rights era and her struggles with mental illness are brought front and center. (Her alluring, timeless performances? Plenty of that too.) –N.W.

Best documentaries on Netflix: What Happened, Miss Simone? Screengrab via YouTube:Netflix US & Canada


11) Bridegroom

In the tradition of LGBT-themed documentaries like Freeheld, the Bridegroom is one hell of a tearjerker. Directed by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the film made headlines in 2013 when it was presented at the Tribeca Film Festival by former President Bill Clinton, who highlighted the award-winning doc’s incendiary subject matter. Mild spoiler alerts for those touchy about that sort of thing: In 2011, Shane Bitney Crone’s partner, Tom, was unexpectedly killed after falling off the couple’s roof. Because the two men were not legally wed, Crone wasn’t able to receive benefits—or even attend his partner’s funeral. Given the progress made since the film’s release, Bridegroom might feel like a time capsule, but it’s a powerfully important one, as well as a reminder of the right to basic dignity for which the LGBT movement continues to fight. —Nico Lang

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

12) How to Survive a Plague

How to Survive a Plague reflects the terrible struggle gay activists went through just to get noticed while their community was dying in record numbers. Depicting infighting among activist groups, ignorance, and apathy on the part of the political and medical establishment, and the onslaught of a disease no one knew anything about yet, How to Survive a Plague is a necessary reminder of a time when HIV meant an almost certain death sentence. As Larry Kramer reminds us in the film, this was no regular epidemic, it was a “FUCKING PLAGUE!” —C.O.

Best documentaries on Netflix: How to Survive a Plague Screengrab via YouTube: IFC Films

13) Man on Wire

Man on Wire is the rare documentary that asks you to root for the criminals. In 1974, Frenchman Philippe Petit broke more than a few laws in pursuit of an impossible dream—walking on a tightrope between the Twin Towers. James Marsh’s film is an incredibly gripping nail-biter that’s paced like a thriller. That’s why it’s unsurprising that director Robert Zemeckis adapted it into a feature film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit, a kind of fact-based Ocean’s Eleven that takes the whimsy up to 12. But you’re much better off sticking to the groundbreaking original, which is one of the few movies to earn a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes. —N.L.

Best documentaries on Netflix: Man On Wire Screengrab via YouTube: iconfilmdistribution

14) The Imposter

Not content to merely deliver on the weirdness of its premise, The Imposter goes down several strange rabbit holes over the course of its runtime. Following the story of Frédéric Bourdin, a grown Frenchman who decides to impersonate Nicholas Barclay, a missing 16-year-old from Texas, the film first asks what kind of psyche would decide to pull such a con? But as director Bart Layton digs deeper, it also questions why Barclay’s family would’ve been so eager to accept Bourdin’s absurd story. Like all great mysteries, The Imposter makes you question everything. It also gave us one of the best real life movie detective in years with Texas lawman Charlie Parker, who becomes a lynchpin in the film’s third act. —C.O.

Best documentaries on Netflix: The Imposter Screengrab via YouTube: frfilment

15) Iris  

A movie about fashion icon Iris Apfel should be as fabulous as her extraordinary life. On that front, Albert Maysles’ film is a smashing success. The legendary filmmaker has a way with larger-than-life subjects. With his late brother, David, Maysles directed Grey Gardens, the acclaimed documentary about a pair of faded socialites living in a condemned house in the Hamptons. In the film’s most famous scene, Little Edie Beale models her “revolutionary costume for the day,” a bathing suit with a makeshift headwrap and an American flag. Like Edie, Iris was a one-woman trailblazer, someone who refused to be defined by convention. The force-of-nature is a lively presence on screen, but Iris has a quiet poignancy to it, as the aging icon deals with the daily realities of growing old. Iris is so dazzlingly pleasurable that you might not realize how touching this love letter to oddballs everywhere truly is. —N.L.

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

16) Life Itself

Steve James is debatably the most important documentary filmmaker of the last quarter century, with acclaimed works like Hoop Dreams, Stevie, and The Interrupters under his belt to show for it. But while all his films are personal in nature, James’ 2014 portrait of fellow Chicagoan Roger Ebert feels especially close to home. Ebert had championed his work for years by the time James decided to do a film on America’s most famous film critic. But the result is no mere hagiography, pulling pieces from Ebert’s own memoir to create a warts-and-all portrait that is made all the more affecting by scenes in which James visits him during the last few months of his life. The overall achievement proves to be both a moving tribute to a unique American voice and a touching meditation on mortality itself. —C.O.

Best documentaries on Netflix: Life Itself Screengrab via YouTube: Magnolia Pictures & Magnet Releasing

17) The Witness

A powerful if underseen documentary from 2016, James Solomon’s The Witness examines the notorious murder of New Yorker Kitty Genovese through the lens of her brother, Bill. A Vietnam war vet who lost both his legs, Bill proves to be an unstoppable force for truth, so much so that the rest of the Genovese family sometimes question how far he’s willing to go. When Bill reaches out to Kitty’s killer, who died in prison last year before the film was released, no one is exactly sure what he’s hoping to accomplish, including Bill himself. What The Witness does chip away at is the legend that 38 bystanders watched and listened to Kitty get murdered without doing anything to intervene. In the end, the film suggests that being a witness, both in the sense of watching someone commit a crime and being a witnesses for a specific cause, is more complicated than we tend to think. —C.O.

Best documentaries on Netflix: The Witness Screengrab via YouTube: Five More Minutes Productions

18) If You Build It

Need one of those feel-good, impact documentaries? See how a handful of high school students in the nation’s poorest county used a class project to give their small town something that brought the community together while boosting its economy. Set in Windsor, North Carolina, the 2013 documentary shows how two innovative teachers grapple with the school district to get funding for their course. See to what lengths the two will go to let the students and their project succeed in a small town in fear of change. –N.W.

Best documentaries on Netflix: If You Build It Screengrab via YouTube:Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films

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) The Overnighters

This acclaimed 2014 documentary focuses on a North Dakota pastor named Jay Reinke. The North Dakota oil boom attracted countless souls dreaming of an easy payday, only to have them discover a far less rosy reality and a housing shortage that left many on the streets. Pastor Reinke’s ministry turned toward helping these beleaguered workers and their families as the huge population boom strained local resources and drove some to desperation. The Overnighters premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Special Jury Award. —David Wharton

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


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, FutureLudacris, 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) Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Remember the Enron scandal of 2001? This documentary lays out the saga from beginning to end in a two-hour behind-the-scenes look into the bad guys that eventually steer the company to bankruptcy. From suicide and strippers to inside trading and a $40 billion lawsuit, The Smartest Guys in the Room masterfully airs out all of the fallen energy empire’s dirty laundry. –N.W.

Best documentaries on Netflix: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room Screengrab via YouTube: Movieclips Trailer Vault

25) After Porn Ends

It’s the billion-dollar industry that has a special place in many people’s lives. But unlike other porn documentaries, this 94-minute flick doesn’t focus on the business side of the industry. After Porn Ends dives into the careers of those in the field and how hard it is to start fresh after they’ve hung up their dancing shoes. It shows a harsh reality of why many of them enter the business and why even more can’t stay away for very long. –N.W.

Best documentaries on Netflix: After Porn Ends Screengrab via YouTube: Gravitas Ventures

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) Super Size Me

Super Size Me has gotten a lot of flack over the years for being the “well, duh” of documentaries. It wasn’t hard to figure out before the film was made that McDonald’s is bad for you. On top of which, Morgan Spurlock’s confrontational, Michael Moore-style of documentary filmmaking, wherein he often becomes the star and subject, doesn’t hold up for a lot of people. But Super Size Me still works as an in-depth examination of the fast food industrial complex in America, and it proved a revealing exposé on McDonald’s’ culture, one which, debatably, it’s never quite recovered from. —C.O.

best documentaries on netflix : super size me Photo via Documentary Lovers

28) 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. —C.O.

best documentary netflix: the wolfpack Screengrab via Vice/YouTube

29) Jesus Camp

Jesus Camp is as disturbing as almost any documentary you’re likely to see, and that includes the ones about serial killers and murder. The Oscar-nominated film from Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady follows a group of kids attending an evangelical summer camp, as well as Becky Fischer, the Pentecostal minister who’s in charge of the program. Although the movie is incredibly one-sided, atheists and Christians alike can surely admit that bringing child after child to tears by threats of eternal damnation is a dubious endeavor. Combine that with sections exploring the rise of evangelicalism nationally during the Bush era and you’ve got a nightmare of a film on your hands. —C.O.



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.

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.

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

32) Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

Helping kick off a late-career renaissance, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work chronicles the legendary comedian’s life in and out of the spotlight. Rivers presence on E!’s Fashion Police helped cement the popularity of the show and increased her visibility in the latter years of her life, so much so that it came as a shock when she died in 2014, at the age of 81. Rivers was as controversial as she was essential till the end, and A Piece of Work is an excellent reminder of why. —C.O.

best documentaries on netflix : joan rivers a piece of work Screengrab via A Piece of Work

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) An Honest Liar

Even if An Honest Liar was just the story of the Amazing Randi, a renowned magician who became a famous mysticism-debunker, it would still be a pretty good story. That the film includes a dramatic twist towards the end is what makes it a great one. James Randi used his knowledge of deception to expose new age gurus and paranormal experts who preyed on the weak. But when his own honesty gets called into question in the film’s last act, Randi emerges as the kind of complex, contradictory individual that makes a great American character. —C.O.

best documentaries on netflix : an honest liar Screengrab via An Honest Liar

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. —David Wharton

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. —David Wharton

best documentaries netflix : Counterpunch Photo via Netflix

38) Babies

If ever there was an honest title, this is it. Babies follows the first year of life for four different infants across the globe, one in Mongolia, one in Namibia, one in Tokyo, and one in San Francisco. As the film tracks Bayar, Ponijao, Mari, and Hattie, respectively, from birth up till their first steps, it becomes clear that certain things about growing up hold true no matter where you come from while others vary greatly depending on location and privilege. Taking a cinema vérité approach rather than trying to cobble together a narrative, director Thomas Balmès arrives at the conclusion that love for our children is universal despite the many different ways we raise them. Plus, it’s just a real cute movie. Unless you actively despise children, this one is a real crowd-pleaser.  

documentaries on netflix : babies Screengrab via Focus Films

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.

Netflix documentaries: Mitt Screengrab via Netflix/Youtube

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

So you’ve already seen the new 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.

best documentary on netflix : glow Screengrab via iamCrockitify/YouTube


41) Daughters of Destiny

Filmed over the course of seven years, Daughters of Destiny is reminiscent of past experiments such as the Up documentary series. Daughters is centered around Shanti Bhavan, an Indian school that takes in impoverished children from the so-called “untouchable” caste and guides them through their formative years. Daughters of Destiny provides a gripping and emotional look inside a school built from the ground up to prove that these students can accomplish anything they put their minds to—destiny be damned. —D.W.

best netflix documentary: daughters of destiny Photo via Vanessa Roth/Netflix

42) 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

43) The Keepers

The murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik has been unsolved for nearly 50 years. This Netflix docuseries follows a pair of Sister Cathy’s former students who set out to find their teacher’s killer. The more we learn about Sister Cathy, the Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore, and the Catholic Church, the more clear it becomes that Sister Cathy’s death was not an isolated incident, but something much larger and sinister. The Keepers is more than a cold-case mystery. Rather, it’s a tale of corruption and conspiracy, but more than anything, it’s a tragedy. —E.S.

best netflix documentaries 2017 : the keepers 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. —Christine Friar

netflix original documentary : lady gaga five foot two Screengrab via Netflix/YouTube

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 the year’s best. —E.S.

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

48) Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine

Matthew Shepard was murdered in a brutal hate crime in October 1998. His tragic death has become a watershed moment for LGBTQ rights. Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, from director Michele Josue, seeks to explore who Matthew was as a person, beyond being a victim, a martyr, or a symbol. Interviews with those who knew him best paint a tender and heartbreaking portrait. Love and sadness linger for Matthew’s family and friends, but the documentary shows how they turned their grief into something that could ultimately have a positive impact. —C.O.

sad documentary movies on netflix : Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine Photo via Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine/Facebook

49) 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.” —Audra Schroeder

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

50) Resurface

Veterans meet 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 of under 30 minutes, Resurface doesn’t have time to go 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 2017 : resurface on netflix Screengrab via Netflix/YouTube

Still not sure what to watch tonight? Here are our Netflix guides for the best war movies, anime, indie flicks, 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, and comedy specials when you really need to laugh.

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

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