The 25 best documentaries on Netflix right now

The Staircase, one of the best documentaries on Netflix
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The best documentaries on Netflix are often overlooked, with the streamer more likely to be associated with its movies and TV shows instead. If you're in the mood for something factual and informative, though there's no shortage of real-life stories on the platform, covering topics from sports to true crime. 

The Staircase follows the case of Michael Peterson, an author accused of murdering his wife, while David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet takes a look at the impact of climate change on animals and humanity alike. There are some classics of the genre on here, too, like Seaworld exposé Blackfish, as well as docs covering famous figures like Michael Jordan and Jim Carrey.

We've rounded up the 25 best documentaries on Netflix to add to your watch list, so sit back, relax, and get stuck into your new favorite doc. For more real-life tales, you can take a look at our picks of the best true crime podcasts, too.

The best documentaries on Netflix

The Deepest Breath

The Deepest Breath

(Image credit: Netflix)

The documentary: This new doc follows freediver Alessia Zecchini and safety diver Stephen Keenan as they take on the ocean in an attempt to break a world record. Directed by Laura McGann, whose previous work includes a documentary about female roller derby skaters in Ireland, the movie premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival. 

Why it's worth a watch: Beautiful (and terrifying) footage of the ocean is coupled with a compelling story and a twist of tragedy to make a tense, thriller-esque watch. For anyone interested in what lurks beneath the surface of the sea, and the people determined to explore it.

Pepsi, Where's My Jet?

Pepsi, Where's My Jet?

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The documentary:  John Leonard was a college student when he saw the Pepsi Stuff commercial, an ad that promised you could exchange Pepsi Points for certain rewards. One prize in particular, though, caught Leonard's attention: a Harrier jet, valued at 7 million Pepsi Points. The ad didn't feature any disclaimer that, as PepsiCo argued, the jet's inclusion was merely a joke – so Leonard set out to get his jet. The quest took him all the way to battling PepsiCo in court. 

Why it's worth a watch: The docu-series has proved a hit with critics, netting a perfect 100% Rotten Tomatoes score, and tells a wild true story with low enough stakes that it makes for a laid-back but thoroughly enjoyable watch. 

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayals & Greed - one of the best documentaries on Netflix

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The documentary: Despite passing away in 1995, painter Bob Ross' place in pop culture remains as strong as ever. Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed looks beyond Ross' outwardly cheerful disposition to uncover a legacy that has been hijacked in what Ross' son Steve calls a "shameful" act.

Why it's worth a watch: Bob Ross is ubiquitous even now, but have we ever questioned why that is? Happy Accidents, Betrayal, & Greed shines a much-needed light on the murky underbelly of profiting on a celebrity long after they've passed - and who seeks to gain from it. 

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

Best documentaries on Netflix - David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet

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The documentary: Renowned documentary maker David Attenborough takes a step back from looking at nature to see how humanity has wreaked havoc on the animal kingdom and the environment, all while describing first-hand how the world has changed since he began his career in the '50s.

Why it's worth a watch: David Attenborough’s nature documentaries are often jaw-dropping. A Life on Our Planet is, too, but for different reasons than usual. Acting as a wake-up call for a planet sleepwalking towards global disaster, Attenborough’s message is a sharp shock to the system – but an essential one if we want to keep marveling at the creatures we share a planet with.

Athlete A

Best documentaries on Netflix - Athlete A

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The documentary: Athlete A follows the journalists who helped break one of the biggest stories in US sport: the sex abuse scandal that tore through American gymnastics and ruined countless lives.

Why it's worth a watch: Netflix is fast becoming the place to watch some of the most gut-wrenching, yet necessary, stories of our time. Not only is Athlete A an eye-opening look into the continued brilliance and hard work of investigative journalists, but it’s also a grim reminder of the evil that often hides in plain sight.

Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King

Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King

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The documentary: Gerry Cotten, founder and CEO of Canadian cryptocurrency QuadrigaCX, owed his fellow investors over $250 million – then he died. The film, directed by Luke Sewell, follows the investors as they investigate Cotten’s death and figure out just where the money might have ended up.

Why it's worth a watch: It’s a bizarre story that explores multiple theories surrounding Cotten's death – with a particularly strong one being that he faked his death and ran off with the cash. It also features a dude in a 3D-printed raccoon-head mask speaking in one of those distorted voices meant to hide your identity.

The Social Dilemma

Best documentaries on Netflix - The Social Dilemma

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The documentary: A deep dive into social media and how it’s used as a tool of misinformation and corruption in a world where everyone is almost always online.

Why it's worth a watch: Not many documentaries will make you rethink having a Facebook account, let’s put it that way. Social media continues to dominate our lives, but not many have put much thought into the impact of that – until now. The Social Dilemma is a captivating, chilling watch on how everything from algorithms to AI is secretly controlling and manipulating our lives.

The Most Hated Man on the Internet

The Most Hated Man on the Internet

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The documentary: In 2010, Hunter Moore ran a website called IsAnyoneUp?, which allowed anonymous users to post nude photos of their ex-partners with the intention of ruining their lives. Moore made sure to post their full name and other identifying information, including links to their social media. Several underage girls were posted to the site as well, and Moore earned roughly $8k to $13k in monthly website revenue. 

Why it's worth a watch: While many remember the website's existence, followed by Moore's abrupt exit from the internet, many don't know the truly horrifying impact his actions had on the lives of so many young women. It took the combined effort of an angry mother named Charlotte Laws who was destined to get justice for her child, a former Marine named James McGibney, and the internet's own Anonymous to finally bring Moore down and end his reign as a self-proclaimed "professional life ruiner." 

The Last Dance

Best documentaries on Netflix - The Last Dance

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The documentary: Charting the Chicago Bulls' 1997/98 season, The Last Dance documents that fateful year with archival footage and interviews with Michael Jordan and some of his closest allies and enemies. The ups, the downs, and the slam dunks all feature.

Why it's worth a watch: You don't need to be a basketball fan to get the most out of The Last Dance. The joint ESPN/Netflix production dives deep into what makes one of the biggest icons of the 20th Century tick: feuds, fights with the front office, and family stories all feature heavily here. It's all presented in a way that lets you learn as you go, without being condescending. Plus, if you are into b-ball, then you can rest easy in the knowledge that you're seeing a hidden side of one of the sport's greatest dynasties. Hundreds of hours of previously unseen footage were used for The Last Dance, and it offers a unique, complex take on the man they once called 'Air.'

Mercury 13

Best documentaries on Netflix - Mercury 13

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The documentary: Tackling a topic that sadly still permeates our culture, Mercury 13 is nevertheless a must-see, diving into the reality of being a female astronaut in the '60s. Don’t remember these women? The film explores why that’s the case, revealing the truth behind their absence in history. Dubbed the Mercury 13 – after the first US space mission, Mercury – these women underwent the same rigorous testing as their male counterparts, and yet were denied the chance to take flight.

Why it's worth a watch: A piece of history that many of us just don't know about, this is one of many examples of sexism that’s so ingrained in our collective past that we don't realize it. If you’re a fan of untold backstories, you’ll be both enthralled and, at times, enraged by the story of these remarkable women and how their dreams were backburnered because of their gender. Told via interviews with the remaining members of the group, this is a fascinating cultural document. 

The Bleeding Edge

Best documentaries on Netflix - The Bleeding Edge

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The documentary: Healthcare. Anyone who’s been shocked to hear their pharmacist utter the words, "That’ll be $800, please" for a 30-day prescription knows this is a lucrative industry. That’s what makes The Bleeding Edge such a succulent topic for a documentary, as delves into another medical avenue, the $400 billion medical device industry. Yes, you heard that correctly. Exploring five devices and the havoc they’ve caused patients, this is jaw-dropping – and very necessary – viewing.

Why it's worth a watch: Whether you live in a country with free healthcare or not, the sheer gall of some companies in rushing out products prior to being thoroughly vetted is astonishing. Which, of course, makes for compelling viewing.

Hot Girls Wanted

Best documentaries on Netflix - Hot Girls Wanted

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The documentary: Porn is something that none of us feels 100% comfortable talking about, but, if we're honest, we're all familiar with it one way or another. If you've ever wondered what it's like to work in the multi-million dollar porn industry, American documentary film Hot Girls Wanted is for you. Directed by filmmakers Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, the documentary follows the lives of several 18- and 19-year-old pornographic actresses and premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2015 before being snapped up by Netflix.

Why it's worth a watch: This documentary doesn't pull any punches and shows some of the best and worst aspects of working in the porn industry. Netflix was obviously pleased with its reception, as it released an accompanying documentary TV show called Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On to further explore the story.

Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond

Best documentaries on Netflix - Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond

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The documentary: If you're a fan of comedian Andy Kaufman, Jim Carrey, or the 1999 biopic which starred Carrey as Kaufman, Man on the Moon, this is the documentary for you. Director Chris Smith focuses on Carrey during the filming of Man on the Moon, in which he stayed in character as Kaufman throughout production, using contemporary interviews with Carrey and never-before-seen footage of the making of Man on the Moon. 

Why it's worth a watch: It's almost scary how easily Carrey brings his idol Kaufman back to life. The studio reportedly didn't want the behind-the-scenes footage to ever be released and, once you see it, you'll understand why. It's clear that Carrey's commitment to the role caused problems on set, but Jim and Andy is a compelling story about two of the world's biggest comedians and why they do what they do. 


Best documentaries on Netflix - Icarus

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The documentary: Icarus is definitive proof that twists and turns aren't reserved for the fiction 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. 

Why it's worth a watch: That concept – of trying to get away with doping in sport – is an intriguing enough premise in light of Lance Armstrong's shenanigans. However, what Fogel winds up discovering after speaking with a Russian doctor completely changes the purpose of the doc, turning Icarus into a powerful, political thriller.

The Staircase

Best documentaries on Netflix - The Staircase

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The documentary: In 2001, a 911 operator received a call from a distraught husband after discovering his wife’s body at the bottom of the stairs. That individual is author Michael Peterson, who became the subject of a documentary that unfurls over the course of a decade. Did Kathleen Peterson really fall? Or was she the victim of domestic violence? The French filmmaking crew who tackle the case began rolling immediately after Michael’s indictment, and are given free rein of the entire Peterson family, which in itself is surrounded by as many bizarre twists as the murder case. 

Why it's worth a watch: So you can enjoy spiraling into the vast array of fan theories afterward! This is a compelling true crime series much like Making a Murderer. Unlike that series, The Staircase has a huge biased edge: as the doc was filmed intermittently over the course of a decade, the editor of the documentary grew close to Peterson and ended up dating him. Seriously, get this watched.



Image credit: Netflix (Image credit: Netflix)

The documentary: It’s a behind-the-scenes look into the world of competitive cheerleading told through the eyes of the Navarro College Bulldogs Cheer Team and their coach Monica Aldama.

Why it's worth a watch: Cheerleading is much more than shaking some pom-poms and screaming "Go team!" It’s a competitive, team-based sport that can take a toll on both the mind and body. Cheer is a heartwarming docuseries about drive, passion, and unity, told through the lens of characters that you just can’t help but root for. Season 2 takes on a much darker tone, as it deals with serious allegations against a former team member and highlights the brave victims who brought them to light.

My Octopus Teacher

Best documentaries on Netflix - My Octopus Teacher

Image credit: Netflix (Image credit: Netflix)

The documentary: A cross-species friendship like this is something you'd probably expect to see in an animated movie rather than a documentary. My Octopus Teacher chronicles the bond between an intrepid young octopus and filmmaker Craig Foster. Foster not only earns the octopus' trust but is also given the opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of her life, while picking up some more profound lessons along the way. 

Why it's worth a watch: This doc scored an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature and has scooped plenty of wins and nominations for other awards, as well as critical acclaim, since its 2020 release. It's not your average nature documentary, with its close focus on one subject and the relationship between octopus and filmmaker, and there's much to reflect on about humanity and nature by the time the credits roll. 

Meltdown: Three Mile Island

Meltdown: Three Mile Island

Image credit: Netflix (Image credit: Netflix)

The documentary: The Three Mile Island accident saw the partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor – and is still to this day the worst nuclear accident in United States history.

Why it's worth a watch: The doc is a four-part slow-burn that really builds and builds the impending terror in the days leading up to the disaster. It effectively illustrates how America was just minutes away from its own Chernobyl disaster and highlights the way thousands of civilians were able to narrowly escape being affected by radiation.

The Tinder Swindler

The Tinder Swindler on Netflix

Image credit: Netflix (Image credit: Netflix)

The documentary: Simon Leviev, while masquerading as the son of a Russian-Israeli diamond mogul, used the dating app Tinder in order to meet women and emotionally manipulate them into lending him hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Why it's worth a watch: Though it may seem like a story about a scammer on a dating app, it's actually a terrifyingly honest look at the way narcissists and abusers prey on and purposely seek out vulnerable people. The lives of each victim were ruined, and many are still struggling to rebuild.


Best documentaries on Netflix - Virunga

Image credit: Netflix

The documentary: 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 exposé on the Congolese park, the horror of poachers, and the devious tactics of oil companies.

Why it's worth a watch: Be prepared to shed absolute buckets at the horrors. It isn't entirely bleak, though, as the real message here is the lengths that people will go to in order to save a species.

Chef's Table

Best documentaries on Netflix - Chef's Table

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The documentary: 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 are 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 and no drive to the finish as popularized by most cooking shows. 

Why it's worth a watch: Okay, sure, there's no contest so you might be wondering what the appeal is. 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.

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

Best documentaries on Netflix - Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

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The documentary: Chronicles the tale of the infamous Fyre Festival of 2017, which promised a paradisiacal getaway to the Bahamas, but quickly turned into a scene straight out of Lord of the Flies thanks to the wild mismanagement of its overconfident organisers – and particularly its chief fraudster, Billy McFarland.

Why it's worth a watch: In 2019, nothing gets more cathartic than watching the irresponsible follies and misdeeds of America's elite finally come back to hit them where it hurts. Fyre provides exactly that kind of guilty euphoria, as director Chris Smith (Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond) successfully paints an alarming picture of "entrepreneur" Billy McFarland's arrogance, arguably sociopath tendencies, and sheer deluded sense of desperation. 


Best documentaries on Netflix - Blackfish

Image credit: Netflix

The documentary: The truth behind keeping whales in captivity is chronicled in this Netflix Original, tracing the story of an Orca named Tilikum who killed three humans at Sea World. While there's no doubt those deaths were tragic, filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite delves into why the killer whale acted in this way. Is it in his nature? Or was it because he was torn away from his family at two years of age and kept in isolation and confinement for twenty years? Hearing the testimonies of his former trainers will only further break your heart.

Why it's worth a watch: Both sides of the nature versus nurture coin are explored here in an attempt to make sense of a chewy moral dilemma. This story is one that continues to make waves – should animals be kept in captivity for our entertainment? – making this a must-see Netflix documentary.

Making a Murderer

Best documentaries on Netflix - Making a Murderer

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The documentary: Have you heard about Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man who served 18 years in prison for a crime he did not commit? Two years after his exoneration he was found guilty of murder. So, did he do it? This docuseries covers his life extensively, beginning with his first brush with crime right up until the present day.

Why it's worth a watch: One of the best documentaries on Netflix – if not one of the best true crime documentaries ever made – this is utterly compelling storytelling. It's the murder trial episodes that carry the most tension, as Avery's defense team argues he was framed by the Manitowoc police department and backs it up with some pretty convincing evidence. There's a reason this show has captured the public's interest.

Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox

Image credit: Netflix (Image credit: Netflix)

The documentary: 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. 

Why it's worth a watch: Told as a story, the case itself is fascinating. However, what makes it so compelling are the one-on-one conversations captured on film, including interviews with Knox.

Gem Seddon

Gem Seddon is GamesRadar+'s west coast Entertainment News Reporter, working to keep all of you updated on all of the latest and greatest movies and shows on streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Outside of entertainment journalism, Gem can frequently be found writing about the alternative health and wellness industry, and obsessing over all things Aliens and Terminator on Twitter. 

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