If you are still not a fan of the Netflix documentaries, let me start with what Alfred Hitchcock thinks about documentaries. “In feature films the director is God; in documentary films, God is the director”. Look how highly he has ranked documentaries. If you still have no clue on who Hitchcock, The Master of Suspense, is, he is one of the finest directors to have been honored with Knighthood. Most of us always think of one film that we had once watched; when we hear the word Documentary. Why only one? Because we never gave this genre a try more than once perhaps. Since we are so tangled with the thrill of watching the fiction, comedy, suspense movies, where the scripted scenes tug our heart so deep; we are unwilling to get out in the real character, real shoes because we are not in that mood quite often.
Unchain yourself from the misconception you have on documentaries, choose to watch a documentary and believe us, you will not be disappointed. These movies are highly rated on IMDb and are hand-picked to create the list of the awesome documentaries you must see on Netflix. Or you love Netflix Originals? Check updated Netflix Original movies list. Best Netflix documentaries that are currently streaming on Netflix are listed below.
Top 20 Mindblowing Netflix Documentaries
The Queen of Versailles
The Queen of Versailles is a story of reverse rags to riches – riches to rags. The documentary was initially conceived to follow David and Jackie, a wealthy couple from Florida, in their journey of constructing the biggest house in America at 90 thousand square feet, inspired by Versailles Palace in France. But the tables turned quickly for the Siegels because of recession. The once lavish lifestyle slowly disintegrated, and construction of their dream house was forced to be halted. As the real estate failed miserably during the recession, the way of being of the entire family also degraded.
This terrible downfall of the Siegels, however, turned out to be an unexpected twist for the documentary which chronicled the whole unraveling. This cinematic twist gave the documentary a different taste than what Greenfield and the Siegels initially planned to present. This twist is the beauty of this documentary because it contains a real story dramatic enough to beat the scripted ones.
Into the Abyss
Apparently living up to the weighty title, Into the Abyss plunges into bottomless depths of the soul of human beings as it circumscribes around the story of two young people, Jason Burkett and Michael Perry, convicted of triple homicide in a small town in Texas. Burkett faces life imprisonment, while Perry is to be executed in the next eight days. This way the beginning of the documentary on capital punishment is marked, but the film is far beyond this single idea, as most of Herzog’s work. The director puts his beliefs to the trial and delves into the subject through detailed interviews of the characters. Since he avoids instructive narration and prejudiced statistics, and the director himself having a strange thrive for interviews, the documentary Into the Abyss is an honest and reliable work on capital punishment – usually a complicated subject matter.
It is evident from the beginning that The Imposter is going to be a thriller and it is. A family from Texas receives the word that their son, who has been disappeared for three years, was found in Spain. The family is so desperate to believe that their son is alive, they don’t even want to notice that the ‘boy’ is a mid-twenties man and he is French. Why? Is it because the family is too desperate and blindfolded by hope, or is there something darker? The elements of narrative filmmaking and documentary are mixed seamlessly by the director Bart Layton and each character encountered in the documentary uncovers a hidden treasure of non-fiction subject matter. The people who are willing to extend their lies to unhealthy fixation, and eventually sad, limits is portrayed powerfully in this documentary.
What Happened, Miss Simone?
Liz Garbus probably makes a mistake too far toward a thesis that the mental health of Nina Simone was the factor of her being a genius, rather than a cause that convoluted it. What prevents the documentary from failing? What about it is so engaging? Because you can never be sure if Garbus wholly believed that thesis, for many moments betray that. Even though there are moments where Garbus omits the different aspects of Simone’s career and life for representing her downfall as predictable and straight, the scenes in the documentary, where she speaks for herself through her diary, interviews, and her performances, are very compelling. Simone, a renowned singer in the late 60s, is in total control of her voice and her piano. She embraces the radical politics and Black power (Black as in the skin tone) rashly, a step which most modern artists were scared to take. There comes a time where she is seen struggling with fame, politics, and anger but never to be seen failing in her performance with her technical and artistic skills. As for the question What happened is concerned, the answer can simply be- the same qualities that caused her rise also made her fall. If you are still searching for the reason to watch it – the footage of the concert alone is more than enough just to be the reason.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
The dissident artist of China, Ai Weiwei is portrayed lovingly in this documentary, which may seem as the biography of a saint, by Alison Klayman. Ai Weiwei has the caliber to be a major artist no matter where he belonged. But what makes his art and story so great? The courage and steadiness shown by him are so incredible that he mocks and defies one of the worst governance on the earth. And a question arises; is this fight matched evenly? Yes, because though they have the power of the guns, he is way more smart, talented, charismatic, and attractive in the regime. This fight may well be the greatest heriot of all.
Best of Enemies
What can you expect? A film about the televised presidential debate between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal in 1968? A spectacle between the foremost intellectuals of the time heating to be physical? However, what you didn’t expect was, finding yourself weeping – for the paralyzed media scenario and the state of the republic because of the decay of the social contract in America. But this documentary takes us to this phase. Best of Enemies is a masterful work of Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon which leaves an overwhelming perception of hopelessness. It is probably the best political documentary available now on Netflix. The setup is so simple and beautiful that it is quite shocking to know that no one has ever tried to make this movie till now. The ABC network in 1968 was struggling and way beyond CBS and NBC that it could not compete with their competitors’ coverage, not with the resources it had. ABC then decides to let the unapologetic, flamboyant Buckley and Vidal debate the issue of the day. The clash between these two compelling natures is a good representation of the counterpoint in the documentation. This marvel idea produced wonders for ABC. How it dissects modern media organizations is a treat to watch.
Werner Herzog features twice in this list with Grizzly Man after his Into the Abyss. The main character, a self-proclaimed savior of the Grizzly Bears, their friend, their master, Timothy Treadwell once says, “If I show weakness, I’m dead. They will take me out; they will decapitate me, they will chop me up into bits and pieces I’m dead. So far, I persevere. I persevere.” The sad part? He gets killed and eaten by the same Grizzly bears that he thought he was closest with. Added tragedy? In this process, he also has his girlfriend killed through these bears! Treadwell himself, and not Herzog has done all the hard works in this documentary. He had shot his moments with these bears for around 13 summers. And to add to ‘hard works’, he also got killed himself. Treadwell, a failed actor, who auditioned for Cheers and came second to Woody Harrelson, found peace with these bears of Alaska. The story is a good-natured realize who is emotionally disturbed but dreams of naïve beauty and harmony of nature. In this process of achieving his dreams, maybe he crossed the line? A question that this documentary imparts.
A sad irony is that as a guest on the David Letterman show, Letterman asks Treadwell – “Is it going to happen that we read a news item one day that one of these bears have eaten you?” A moment of laughter for the audiences at that time, but a sad reality at the end. Maybe he went too far treating the bears as the people in bear costumes?
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Jiro Dreams of Sushi can be ranked as one of the greatest work in the culinary world – yeah, not every foodie has heard about it! The focus of the film is primarily the Jiro’s work where you can wander through the dishes he prepares so effortlessly, and then watch him watching the customers enjoy his dish, but what propels the story truly is the relationship of Jiro with his two sons. While the youngest son has started his own business, the oldest son, who is 50, still works with his father hoping to take over his father’s legacy one day. This documentary is devoid of the jealousy and the conflict in the family, a simple documentary about three family members devoted to creating perfection in their work. But wait! This statement itself is a conflict that is raised in the documentary – where does artistry, style, practice, and perfection meet?
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Banksy, a globally reputed graffiti artist, has resisted all the attempts to be showcased in a film so far. A hard way of guarding his anonymousness for avoiding prosecution. Isn’t it? When he decided to turn this biopic (the man shooting him decided to make this a biopic at first) into a documentary, an incomparably unique and funny documentary was born. Exit Through the Gift Shop narrates an incredible story of the attempt of an eccentric shopkeeper cum documentary maker from France to befriend Banksy, only to later have the camera turned towards himself. This documentary contains the exclusive flicks of Banksy, Invader, Shepard Fairey, and others infamous graffiti artists doing their artwork on walls. Interviews of these artists is a treat to watch because it is full of moments of joy, laughter. In the words of Banksy himself, this documentary is – It’s the story of how one man set out to film the un-filmable and failed.
The poster might suggest what kind of whale this documentary is focusing. If you still don’t have a clue, let me help you out. It’s not about the cuddler whale neither it is about the hugger whale – but about a Killer black whale. What’s ironical? This killer whale doesn’t want to kill people in the wild. The documentary by Cowperthwaite is horribly exciting as a serial killer thriller movie is; the villain, however, is not an obvious culprit, but it rather is the human captors. The story of how one particular captive whale has been driven mad effectively by being driven to parade around the marine park of SeaWorld with a smilingly happy trainer clad in a wetsuit on its back. This attractive act drew hundreds of parents and children, but one day a trainer gets viciously attacked and killed, the owner of the park plot to cover up the incident.
Starts the tale of the homicidal blackfish Tilikum in SeaWorld, Florida. It has been bred to several descendants of this ‘homicidal’ whales, who are supposedly thought to inherit this tendency, are present in parks around the globe. It arises another question – the acts with the animals in the circus are harshly criticized and condemned, but why all cheer when the same is done with these beasts of the sea?
This documentary by Jehane Noujaim gives an atmospheric and immersive account of what it is like to be leaped into the revolting whirlpool of Tahrir Square. The perfect representation of focused dedication and bewilderment, a close view of shifting alliances, an enigmatic perception on how the ‘good’ army guys can turn into ‘bad’ ones overnight and back again. The Tahrir Square saw the downfall of the complacent and cynical Hosni Mubarak – and the safety of the people was appeared to be guaranteed by the army. The overbearing and intolerant alliance Muslim Brotherhood was the only one who gained through this mass movement and capitalized from the new elections. It even appeared that the Brotherhood was in the process of enforcing their legitimacy with the help of the national army. The exactly same humongous mass movement ousted the new president Mohammed Morsi and the army again guaranteed his removal. The awestruck overhead shots in the square show the swarm of the people all over the streets. The retweeting of the sentiment from the revolution is not enough to win the hearts of all the people, and it is the mass who can change any system in the country. The documentary familiarizes with several characters from these revolutions and is a real representation of the then situation. People getting killed by army tanks and bullets show the harsh reality. Why is the story so gripping and so extraordinary – Maybe because the event is not over yet and is still developing?
The Battered Bastards of Baseball
Kurt Russell took a break from his acting career to professionally play baseball in a team founded by his father Bing, an actor himself. Portland Mavericks was not a name that was heard by many in the minor league during the 1970s; and fast forward some 40 years, Mavericks are one of the most famous teams in the highest league of the baseball. Mavericks, when established as a team of the ‘misfits and rejects’, which was more like a team for the sports comedy than reality. The Battered Bastards of Baseball is based on one of the best of the underdog’s stories that chronicle glory days and individualism. Some of the archived footages of the past and the interviews given by Kurt and other personnel is the highlight of the documentary. And a Hollywood remake is thought to be on the way. Surprised? No, you should not be!
The Act of Killing
The Act of Killing by Joshua Oppenheimer concentrates on one of the calamitous phase of the 20th century – the Indonesian death squads. The director speaks to some members of the squad who massacred thousands of the people from their country in 1965 and 1966. These members of the death squad, however, don’t live in the shade. They are regarded as royalty in the native place, treated like heroes – the savior of Indonesia from the poisonous ‘communism.’ The subject of this story is utterly disconnected from morality. If this documentary were not so shocking and frightening, it surely would have been funny. Oppenheimer interviews these ‘butchers’ for capturing their reactions and further amplifies the situation by introducing a bold gambit: These braggarts were asked if they were interested in recreating their activities of murders and rapes through filmed, fictionalized scenes. These people leaped at the chance to present their ‘glorified history’. This documentary is a glimpse into the offensive minds of individuals who have spent quite a long time escaping the inescapable mentally.
13th, by Ava DuVernay, is based on some of the loopholes in the 13th amendment done to the American Constitution This amendment stated that Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for the crime of which the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. This documentary highlights the imbalance in the way the black people are being treated by their crimes as compared to the white people. 13th is a sweeping story that represents the state of race in the states. Ava has done quite an outstanding job with her heavy research on this history through interviews with different politicians, historians, and activists and including some of the archived videos into the core material.
The Look of Silence
Joshua Oppenheimer features twice on this list but this time with The Look of Silence, where he asks you to meditate on the actual meaning behind the title of this documentary. It seems as if he has a connection with Indonesia, returning after The Art of Killing. This time he has his eyes set on a middle-aged optician, Adi, whose brother was murdered by the Death Squads ( the focus of the film The Art of Killing).This documentary is the interrogation of how it is to watch the death of his brother, the leaders of the genocide being treated as heroes; how it feels like to repress the anger and be humiliated every day; how is it like to be not able to do anything but just watch in silence? Oppenheimer’s ability to furnish himself discreetly with the subject of the film makes for gut-scraping scene one after another. The senile sight of Adi’s father who is over 100 is terrified, and he believes he is trapped, knows nothing about where or when he is – scenes such as this demands our full attention in this sad documentary. Seeing is more than believing as to see is to bear the responsibility for the lives that we watch – a powerful meaning to embrace!!
The Thin Blue Line
Dallas police officers Teresa Turko and Robert Wood made a car driving without the headlights stop as a standard traffic rule, few hours after midnight on 28 November 1976. As Wood approached the car, the driver shot him multiple times with a handgun. After shooting the officer, the car sped off while Wood died at the feet of Teresa, a lady officer. A person who killed the police officer was on the loose, and no clue was collected because Teresa had not seen the murderer and there was no witness. Less than a month after the incident happened, a person named Randall Dale Adams in his late twenties was arrested. Because a teenager who said he was in the car when Adams shot the officer, the jury found him guilty although he pleaded his innocence and was handed the death sentence. The cop-killer was finally inside the jail. Cheers! A documentarian Errol Morris, nine years after the incident, who had never heard of this case travels to New York for his check-up. Before he left the town, three years later, he had identified the murderer, freed the innocent, disclosed the depth of corruption, received death threats, debt, and lawsuit. During this journey, he also created an epic story of life, one of the finest documentary films to have been ever made. He named this pursuit of truth as The Thin Blue Line. A classic investigative documentary to watch out.
Virunga, a beautifully filmed documentary in Virunga National Park in Congo, is about the struggle between two different sets of people – One that is fighting with all their heart and soul for protecting the mountain gorillas and the other that is involved in encroaching the land and killing the animals of the national park. This documentary will restore your faith in humanity; people fighting for these mere gorillas will come to you as the highest level of people that should represent humanity. A plot that contains enough thrills to challenge any Hollywood action movies and the picturesque beauty of the Virunga National Park, incredible enough to take you to the journey of your life; Virunga is an intense documentary with top-notch editing. A Netflix Originals you need to watch out for sure!
How to Die in Oregon
This documentary, directed by Peter Richardson, wanders around the Oregon Law which allows for the physician-assisted suicide or ‘Death with Dignity Act’. How to Die in Oregon is an incredibly emotional and personal documentary, having a great opening and equally memorable climax – one documentary you won’t be able to forget soon. We get in touch with different characters who are associated with Oregon Law, this way; we can come up with ideas on the pros and cons of this law. Cody Curtis, a woman with terminal liver cancer, is one of the bravest and strongest women to be ever filmed. This film shows the struggle, pain of a dying woman and how she transforms herself to fight the uphill battle against cancer. Peter Richardson presents this documentary with a real sense of respect for both the audience and the family and handles the inescapable events with class. You will inevitably fall in love with this documentary. Trust us!
Labeled as one of the best films of the 1990s by Roger Ebert, one of the greatest film critic himself, Hoop Dreams is beautiful at one moment and crashing at the next one, perfect portrayal of the intensity of the life and dream of escape from the present hardships through basketball. The story of two young Afro-Americans Arthur Agee and William Gates, recruited by the wealthy and significantly white high school for playing basketball, raised important questions on modern education, socio-economic culture, and race, which still prevails in the contemporary society. The film was shot over a period of 5 years and compacted from the footage of 250 hours. This realistic depiction of multiple families is both transcending and heartbreaking. The effort Steve James and his team have shown for representing this story is commendable. A tribute to watch!!
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
A childhood friend of Kurt Kuenne, Dr. Andrew Bagby, a 28-year-old Californian, was murdered in 2001 by his ex-girlfriend Shirley Turner. After Bagby broke up with Tuner, she brutally shot Bagby in a park in Pennsylvania. She fled to Newfoundland, Canada, where she was released on bail, and gave birth to Bagby’s son Zachary. The enraged parents of Bagby campaigned for gaining the child’s custody and convicting Turner, killer of their son Bagby. Dear Zachary is a meant to be a present, a letter to his friend, Bagby, postmarked to his son Zachary. Director Kuenne fits this story with the interviews with people knowing Bagby and the home videos so that Zachary could know his father, who he could never see, in the years to come. It starts to take on the tone and the visual language of a frustrating true-crime motive, the painful details of the process by which the custody of Zachary was handed to Bagby’s parents. Just when everything was going fine for them, they faced the worst nightmare of their life. If you haven’t cried for a long time – I dare you to complete this documentary without letting the tears to roll down through your eyes.
Above is the list of 20 Netflix best documentaries to watch on Netflix. We have tried to cover documentaries from all the fields. However, there are still other good documentaries to watch out. Did we miss any? Put your thoughts in the comment section below.