Since they are such an important part of our culture, we’ve decided to approach a long-requested topic: documentaries. For this list of the best documentaries on Netflix, we’ve looked at IMDb and Metacritic ratings, as well as user reviews and sorted them by their IMDb rating. We also tried to keep the documentary topics as varied as possible. Let’s see which are the best Netflix documentaries available for streaming right now!
20. The Battle of Midway (1942)
This very short documentary directed by John Ford focuses on the Japanese attack on Midway, filmed while it was happening. We highly recommend it and believe it is one of the most authentic and provocative history rundowns ever made.
19. Amanda Knox (2016)
This documentary focuses on the famous case of Amanda Knox, an American exchange student, who got convicted and eventually acquitted for the death of a student in Italy. After spending the night with her boyfriend, Knox returns to the flat which she shared with Meredith Kercher, only to find suspicious circumstances pointing to a murder. After a series of investigations, Amanda was convicted and spent 4 years in an Italian prison. It’s one of the best documentaries on Netflix regarding the justice system
18. Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003)
Release Date on Netflix: September 29th, 2013
Directors: Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill
Runtime: 1 hour 33 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Streaming on: Netflix US, UK, Canada, Australia, Brazil, India.
This is Nick Broomfield’s second documentary on Aileen Carol Wuornos, the highway prostitute that murdered six men and was eventually executed in 2002. The movie aims to showcase the nature of the woman who was able to perform these crimes and reveals a troubled person, manifesting paranoid schizophrenia towards the end, and yet a strange reconciliation to her fate.
17. Rich Hill (2014)
Described as “a marvel”, “remarkable”, and “mesmerizing”, this 2014 documentary was filmed in Rich Hill, Missouri, the 91-minute-long film is dramatic, occasionally funny, and completely heart-wrenching.
Rich Hill depicts the lives of three boys and their families living in an impoverished Midwestern town. Their portrayal focuses on their struggles with school, family, and their free time. The strength of this Netflix documentary lies in its ability to make you sympathize with the characters. Because, after all, with a different set of circumstances, those boys could very well be us.
16. Particle Fever (2013)
Release Date on Netflix: July 15th, 2014
Director: Mark Levinson
Runtime: 1 hour 39 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Streaming on: Netflix UK, Australia, Germany, India, the Netherlands. Unfortunately, this movie is no longer available on Netflix US.
Filmed in Switzerland, Particle Fever is a 2013 science documentary without equal. Mark Levinson is the director of the film which stars actual physicists the likes of Martin Aleksa, Nima Arkani-Hamed, and Savas Dimopoulos. Highly acclaimed, the documentary focuses more on the human factor involved in science experiments. It is one of the best documentaries on Netflix about science and, although it has a lower IMDb rating, it’s very well directed.
Offering technical talk in an easy-to-digest manner, Particle Fever focuses on the scientists dealing with the launch of the Large Hadron Collider. This documentary’s strengths lie in its ability to make you care about the scientists working on the scientific achievement, while also delivering an interesting science lesson.
15. Cartel Land (2015)
This 2015 documentary chronicles the ongoing drug situation across the U.S.-Mexican border. With a great eye for detail and storytelling, Heineman manages to capture the violent reality and corruption surrounding this topic and the dreadful consequences it has on the innocent bystanders. If you are passionate about staying in touch with the war on drugs, this is one of the best documentaries on Netflix for you.
In short, the movie follows Dr. Jose Mireles, whose mission is to lead the Autodefensas, a citizen uprising movement against the Knights Templar drug cartel, that has terrorized the Mexican state of Michoacan. In the same time, an American veteran heads a small paramilitary group in Arizona’s Altar Valley (informally known as Cocaine Valley).
Recommended show: If you liked this documentary, you might also like Narcos – a Netflix original TV show documenting the war on drugs in Colombia and the US. The series is featured on our list of the 20 best Netflix original shows among the top 3!
14. The Imposter (2012)
Release Date on Netflix: February 12th, 2013
Director: Bart Layton
Runtime: 1 hour 39 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes Score: N/A
Streaming on: Netflix US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Finland.
One of the most disturbing entries on this list, The Imposter was directed by Bart Layton in 2012. It stars Adam O’Brian, Nicholas Barclay, Beverly Dollarhide, Frédéric Bourdin, and Carey Gibson as themselves. With a conclusion that I would rather not spoil, this is certainly one of the top documentaries on Netflix.
The Imposter tells the tale of a twenty-something-year-old living in Spain. The young man takes advantage of a flawed police system and pretends to be the 16-year-old missing son of a Texan family. He eventually ends up living with them, and that is as much as I can say about it.
13. First Position (2011)
Few documentaries make you feel emotions as conflicting as First Position. This 2011 film was directed by Bess Kargman and stars Aran Bell, Rebecca Houseknecht, Joan Sebastian Zamora, Miko Fogarty, Michaela Deprince, Gaya Bommer Yemini, and Michelle Bell. It was filmed in the UK, and it has a runtime of 95 minutes; if you love ballet, this is one of the best documentaries on Netflix you could watch!
First Position follows six young ballet dancers from all over the world. It follows them as they train for the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world’s most revered ballet competitions. The competition is famous for awarding more $300,000-worth of scholarship every year. As you get closer to each of the six dancers and their families, you know that not all of them will make the cut.
12. What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)
Whether you are a fan of Nina Simone’s music or not, this gripping documentary will pull you into a powerful sphere of struggle, civil rights activism, and cult phenomenon that is hard to neglect. Through the immensity of archival footage, the audience is presented with essential details of Miss Simone’s life, such as the discrimination she faced, her rise to stardom, as well as her activism, which was very much reflected in her music.
11. Last Men in Aleppo (2017)
This heartwrenching Syrian production was the winner of the Grand Jury Documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival 2017. The story follows three founding members of the White Helmets who remain in Aleppo after five years of war, in order to help the citizens overcome this difficult period. It tells a chilling story of bravery and tragedy and is one of the best documentaries on Netflix.