The 25 best documentaries on Netflix to expand your horizons

15. Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World (2014)

Region: US

We wouldn't have the monstrous beast at the heart of the Alien franchise were it not for the inimitable work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger. That's probably where you recognise him from, and it's still his greatest work, but this film stretches beyond lip service and delves into the man behind the xenomorph. It's pretty morbid stuff, which is to be expected once Giger's own fascination with death is made apparent, but nevertheless it's a great insight into the dark recesses of the artist's mind.

14. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (2014)

Region: Worldwide

The vast reaches of space have always served as an endless source of intrigue for astrophysicists, which led to Carl Sagan's original Cosmos series back in 1980. Neil DeGrasse Tyson picks up where Sagan left off. And it's breathtaking. Tracing back from the Big Bang up until the present day, the show uses a series of well-crafted animations and cartoons to illustrate its points in ways that don't require any scientific knowledge. The end result is a compelling series, one of wonder and excitement at the world we live in.

13. The Imposter (2012)

Region: US

This story plucked from the headlines follows the experiences of a Texan family who reconnect with their son years after he mysteriously disappeared. But is he really who he says he is? No. That fact is made clear right from the beginning with the title, and it doesn't make watching this unbelievable tale any less impactful. The work of filmmaker Bart Layton makes for a film that's equal parts horrifying and thrilling, as the titular imposter lays out how he conned his way into the U.S. What happens next is proof that the truth really is stranger than fiction.

12. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Region: US

It doesn't matter whether the thought of raw eel drenched in soy sauce makes you gag or makes you drool, the story of Jiro Ono is an absolute joy to watch. One of the world's greatest sushi chefs, his quest for culinary perfection at the age of 85 is the driving force of this cheerful documentary. It's hard to not become smitten by his bounding optimism as he dishes out plates that go for $300 a pop at his Tokyo restaurant. Your heart will go out to his son, Yoshikazu, who carries the burden of continuing his father's legacy.

11. Happy (2011)

Region: UK, US

Not every documentary is an attempt to dig up the truth behind a tragedy and Happy is a soothing antidote to the grit of true crime exposes. Filmmaker Roko Belic set out to uncover what truly makes people happy, after reading a New York Times article that ranked the U.S. as the 23rd happiest country in the world. There's no definitive formula to truly measure a subjective state as 'happiness' but through using scientific research and the stories of people across the globe, you'll be convinced that there's some truth to Belic's findings.

10. Soaked in Bleach (2014)

Region: US

Twenty-two years after the death of Kurt Cobain, many still believe that the Nirvana frontman's demise was incorrectly ruled a suicide. Theorists, like filmmaker Benjamin Statler, persist in throwing the spotlight on Cobain's widow Courtney Love and her involvement in what this film implies was murder. The evidence at his disposal is much the same as presented in Nick Broomfield's 1997 documentary, which touches on the same topic, except this is perhaps the first time it's been laid out so clearly. Interviews with Cobain's friends are interspersed with dramatic interpretations of events, but perhaps the most damning revelation hails from the former Seattle Chief of Police.

9. Room 237 (2012)

Region: US

If you either a) love the The Shining or b) love fan theories so wild they're actually conspiracy theories, Room 237 is the docco for you. Filmmaker Rodney Ascher's trippy-as-hell movie presents an entirely new way of looking at the Stephen King adaptation, picking apart the 1980 horror classic via the far-fetched ideas of the movie's avid fanbase. Did you think it's about a man going insane in a hotel? Ha! That's just the tip of the iceberg. Ascher's approach blends together the barmy theories of a wide-ranging bunch to tackle several much more complex truths. Granted, some of the ideas are just a bit *too* batshit for them to take hold, but the fact that folks even went there is part of Room 237's impressive sway. 

8. Blackfish (2013)

Region: Worldwide

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 while at Sea World. While there's no doubt that 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.

7. Life Itself (2014)

Region: UK, US

Roger Ebert dedicated his life to movies. This warm, funny and thoughtful tribute to his career as a film critic is a fitting epitaph to his legacy, offering insight into how he came to be so well-regarded in his field. The film entered production before Ebert's passing in 2013, with the man himself excited that his memoir would be adapted, and at the amount of directors and actors set to participate. After his death director Steve James opted to rework the angle, using footage from Ebert's early days on TV alongside his critic pal Gene Siskel through to his final months, delivering a brilliant portrait of a man who just plain loved the movies.

6. Hoop Dreams (1994)

Region: UK

Winner of the Best Documentary award at Sundance in 1994, Hoop Dreams is the story of William Gates and Arthur Agee, two Chicago teens whose dream of becoming NBA basketball stars form the basis of this stunning documentary. Compiled from 250 hours of footage, their shared journey unfolds over the course of five years showcasing their struggle against prejudice and their determination to succeed. Running at three hours it's a feat of cinematic brilliance - because even if you're not a major sports fan you'll be rooting for them all the way.