The 25 best documentaries on Netflix to expand your horizons


Movies whisk us away to fictional worlds similar to our own - albeit with more fantasy, action, drama, horror and thrills. But documentaries? They steal inspiration from real life. That's the key word here - inspiration. Sure, they're not fiction, but that doesn't make them fact. That distinction makes the curious world of documentaries a place worth exploring. Some are gripping thrillers and others produce more tears than a Nicholas Sparks movie. Want to expand your horizons? Look no farther than Netflix - here's the best 25 documentaries currently streaming.

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25. Icarus (2017)

Region: Worldwide

Icarus is definitive proof that twists and turns aren't reserved for the fictions of Hollywood. Filmmaker and cyclist Bryan Fogel planned to make a film about doping in the sports industry, choosing to load himself up on steroids and document the experience. Think of it like Super Size Me but with pharmaceutical-grade meds instead of Big Macs. His plan was to see how easy it is to get away with doping in professional sport. That alone is an intriguing enough premise in light of Lance Armstrong's shenanigans. What he winds up discovering after speaking with a Russian doctor completely changes the purpose of the doc turning Icarus into a powerful, political thriller.

24. Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo (2017)

Region: Worldwide

Mission Control is an uplifting, compelling piece of filmmaking that goes behind-the-scenes of NASA's biggest achievements: mankind landing on the moon. It's a gorgeous look back at the history of those iconic lunar jaunts, delving into the lives of the astronauts who journeyed to space and those who stayed behind during the Apollo missions. Paying tribute to the men and women who helped keep those astronauts alive during the bungled Apollo 13 mission, this is emotionally-charged stuff that's packed with details historians will love and a beating heart that reminds you of how people discover their calling in life. 

23. The Witness (2016)

Region: Worldwide

You might not know it but you've probably heard the story of Kitty Genovese before. Murdered in Kew Gardens, Queens, while 38 neighbours supposedly watched and did nothing, the 28-year-old's tragic demise is often trotted out to illustrate a point about human behaviour; we're all rather selfish and we think that someone else will step up when bad stuff happens. For Genovese's brother Bill, something didn't sit right and so he began to dig deeper into the theory of the 38 people who ignored his sister's cries for help. The Witness consists of interviews with Kew Garden residents and a journey back into the library archives to find where that 38 number originated. Gripping stuff. 

22. Amanda Knox (2016)

Region: Worldwide

The case of Amanda Knox is a controversial one. In 2007 the American student was put on trial for the murder of Meredith Kercher. Both had been studying abroad in Perugia, Italy, when Kercher was found brutally butchered. A hotbed of speculation sprang up surrounding Knox's involvement and the media painted her as the villain. She, her boyfriend and a third party were all tried for murder with the former pair eventually walking free after serving four years behind bars. Filmmakers draw out many interviews with Knox, whose cold, sterile recitation of facts really makes you wonder...

21. Human Planet (2014)

Region: Worldwide

When Planet Earth II came out the interweb lost its shit over a host of meme-worthy snippets. The one featuring an iguana being taunted by snakes in particular captured everyone's attention. This 2011 series hails from the same folk - BBC and the Discovery Channel - and shares a distinct similarity. It focuses on the human experience across the planet, and how we interact with our natural surroundings by shooting some awe-inspiring sights and showing communities that are still thriving today in remote parts of the globe. Narrated by John Hurt the series looks absolutely gorgeous and will have you ready to book that backpacking trip asap.

20. Dear Zachary (2008)

Region: US

Grab your tissues for this one. Filmmaker Kurt Kuenne set out to create a visual scrapbook for the son of his murdered friend, Andrew Bagby, visiting friends and family across the globe to paint a portrait of the father young Zachary would sadly never know. What Kuenne didn't realise was that the story wasn't over and that's what turns this real-life documentary into an unexpectedly twisty tale. The sheer bulk of testimonies he gathered allows for some serious editing finesse, eventually turning this emotional rollercoaster into a real punch to the gut. Seriously. You'll be blubbing long before the credits roll.

19. Best of Enemies (2015)

Region: UK, US

If last year's US Presidential debates captured your interest, then this documentary about two sparring politicos ought to be added to your list immediately. The opposing ideologies of Gore Vidal and William Buckley, both authors and commentators, clash time and time again in this compelling edit of their rivalry during the 1968 presidential race. Using archival footage, decades before televised debates would become commonplace, the film chronicles their frequent disagreements and inability to really listen to the other. Entertaining? Yes. It's also a masterclass in how to undermine your opponent and really harness your inner passive-aggressive side.

18. Virunga (2014)

Region: Worldwide

If you thought Gorillas In The Mist was harrowing, then prepare yourself for what the inhabitants of Virunga National Park face. We're not just talking simians, but the brave park rangers whose attempts to rescue these mountain gorillas from extinction is an utterly heart-wrenching feat. The film scored an Oscar nomination for its expose on the Congolese park and the horror of poachers and the devious tactics of oil companies. It isn't entirely bleak though, the real message here is the lengths that people will go to in order to save a species.

17. Chef's Table (2015)

Region: Worldwide

You've seen Masterchef, you've gobbled up Bake Off, and now it's time to dip into the process of culinary perfection. Profiling six prestigious world-renowned chefs, whose discipline and determination is staggering, the series visits each of them in their own restaurants. It's like watching artists at work. There's no contest here to maintain your interest, no drive to the finish as popularised by most cooking shows. And this isn't about the commercialism of the restaurant industry either, it's simply about how the creative process is born in each chef and the joy they derive from plating up their masterpieces.

16. Exit Through the Gift Shop: A Banksy Film (2010)

Region: US

This documentary plays out following Los Angeles filmmaker Thierry Guetta tap into the world of modern street art, following influential figures on the scene - such as Shepard Fairey - which leads him to having a chance encounter with Banksy. It's more than a boilerplate attempt to uncover "who is Banksy?" But his mystique is unwrapped - a bit. It turns out this isn't Guetta's film at all. It's Banksy's movie, with Guetta himself stating that he became the mysterious artist's latest piece of work. Is it a documentary or a mockumentary? Wherever you fall, it's still a riveting watch.