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The 25 best documentaries on Netflix (October 2019)

(Image credit: Netflix)

What is it that makes us want to watch the best documentaries on Netflix? The assembly of real-life footage interspersed with talking heads? A new outlook on a well-known topic? A human interest story wedged at the heart of something unusual? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why we love a good documentary. At their core, they seek to explore the world without the help of fiction, but they’re much more than mere dry vessels for yawn-worthy facts. They’re inspiring, unique, tear-jerking, pulse-pounding pieces of entertainment, that rival even the biggest cinematic blockbusters at times. So, where exactly should you begin with your docco education? 

Why, the best documentaries on Netflix, of course! The streaming giant has an absolute slew of documentaries available to stream including a bunch that happen to be Netflix Originals. Whatever you’re in the mood for, there is a film here to cater to your tastes. That’s what’s so remarkable about a good docco, there’s something in them that appeals to us all, whether they uncover intriguing historical moments or expose flat-out bizarre crime tales, the full breadth of the human experience has never been so darn bingeable.

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25. Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (2018)

Image credit: Netflix

Image credit: Netflix

Region: Worldwide

The documentary: For a minute, forget about all oh-so-serious documentaries and join us in becoming obsessed with Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit. Yes, you read that correctly. This documentary is all about Canada's competitive cat show circuit and it’s as entertaining as it sounds. Whether you love cats or not, you’ll revel in this look at what can only be described as one of the oddest animal competitions around – two owners and their prima donna pussys fighting tooth and nail to be crowned Canada’s next top cat. 

Why it’s worth a watch: Did we mention that this is a documentary about the competitive cat show circuit? Imagine Toddlers and Tiaras except you don’t have to feel bad about watching it because, if the cats don’t want to perform, they’ll just scratch and hiss instead of crying and growing up emotionally scarred. Although the phrase "crazy cat lady" definitely comes to mind more than once while watching Catwalk, there are some genuinely heart-warming moments. It’s perfect for taking your mind off the other interesting but often disturbing documentaries you’ve probably been watching. 

24. Mercury 13 (2018)

Image credit: Netflix

Image credit: Netflix

Region: Worldwide

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 them? This 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, we don’t realise 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. 

23. The Bleeding Edge (2018)

Image credit: Netflix

Image credit: Netflix

Region: Worldwide

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 make The Bleeding Edge such a succulent topic for a documentary, as delves into one another medical avenue, the $400 billion medical device industry. You heard. 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.

22. Pumping Iron (1977)

Image credit: Netflix

Image credit: Netflix

(Image credit: Netflix)

Region: UK

The documentary: Before he was busting out one-liners with varying degrees of believability, Arnold Schwarzenegger was down the gym busting a gut in order to achieve an Adonis-like bod. Pumping Iron was filmed during the heydey of bodybuilding – the 1970s. Many consider that era to be the golden age of bodybuilding, which is what makes this such an intriguing watch. The film chronicles the lives of several bodybuilders desperate to win the Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia titles, including Arnie and Lou Ferrigno. 

Why it’s worth a watch: It was filmed when its subjects were at their peak! Years prior to Arnie’s superstardom, we get to go behind the scenes, in what’s an in-depth and very amusing glimpse at his day-to-day life and aspirations. 

21. Planet Earth 1 and 2 (2006/2016)

Image credit: Netflix

Image credit: Netflix

Region: UK, US, Canada

The documentary: When Planet Earth 2 came out, the interweb lost its cool over a host of meme-worthy snippets. The one featuring an iguana being taunted by snakes in particular captured everyone's attention… and the less said about the turtles the better. Sorry, got something in my eye. Both Planet Earth and its decade-later sequel series focuses on life all across the planet, and how animals are connected to their natural surroundings.

Why it’s worth a watch: By shooting some awe-inspiring sights and showing communities of species that are still thriving today in remote and urban parts of the globe, this is a fascinating, heart-wrenching and humbling look at the world and how we humans have affected the lives of so many beautiful creatures. Narrated by the legendary David Attenborough, the series looks absolutely gorgeous and will have you ready to book that backpacking trip asap.

20. Hot Girls Wanted (2015)

Image credit: Netflix

Image credit: Netflix

Region: Worldwide

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- to 19-year-old pornographic actresses and premiered at Sundance Film Festival 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 please with its reception as it released an accompanying documentary TV show called Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On to further explore the story.

19. Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)

Image credit: Netflix

Image credit: Netflix

Region: Worldwide

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. 

18. Wild Wild Country (2018)

Image credit: Netflix

Image credit: Netflix

Region: Worldwide

The documentary: You might remember the controversial Rajneeshpuram community, which set up shop in Wasco County, Oregon in the '80s... or you might not. Either way, you're going to want to watch Wild Wild Country, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival and is one of the best documentaries on Netflix right now. Brothers Maclain Way and Chapman Way dissect one of the biggest stories in America at the time as they try and explain how Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh convinced thousands of people to follow him. 

Why it's worth a watch: A documentary that's not just about the community itself, but also the conflict which grew between them and the surrounding towns and people. This is an incredibly interesting look at the "good vs evil" narrative that sprung up in the media at the time. You won't be able to stop watching. 

17. Icarus (2017)

Image credit: Netflix

Image credit: Netflix

Region: Worldwide

The documentary: 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. 

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 he winds up discovering after speaking with a Russian doctor completely changes the purpose of the doc turning Icarus into a powerful, political thriller.

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

Image credit: Netflix

Image credit: Netflix

Region: Worldwide

The documentary: 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. 

Why it's worth a watch: 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. 

Continue to Page 2 for more of the best documentaries on Netflix