20 Best Documentaries on Netflix in 2017

woman filming villagers

10. How to Survive a Plague (2012)

Release Date on Netflix: December 27th, 2013
Director: David France
Runtime: 1 hour 50 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Streaming on: Netflix US.

How to Survive a Plague was the first documentary ever directed by David France and it received numerous positive reviews. As France’s significant other died from an AIDS-related illness back in 1992, this was a deeply personal topic for him, but one that he managed to address with great care and objectivity. The documentary tells the story of two coalitions (ACT UP and TAG) whose powerful activism and determination managed to turn AIDS into a manageable condition.

9. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014)

Release Date on Netflix: May 1st, 2016
Director: Mary Dore
Runtime: 1 hour 32 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Streaming on: All Netflix markets.

This 92-minute long historical documentary stars Chude Pamela Allen, Alta, Judith Arcana, Nona Willis Aronowitz, Fran Beal, Heather Booth, and other feminist icons. It manages to do what not many other films even dare attempt – accurately portray the feminist movement.

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry depicts the brilliant, outgoing women who started the feminist movement in the ‘60s and is one of the best documentaries on Netflix on this topic. Despite often being ignored by history, these women who were called “threatening” by the FBI managed to change the world. While it delivers a comprehensive history, the documentary is also a call to action.

8. Man on Wire (2008)

Release Date on Netflix: February 1st, 2014
Director: James Marsh
Runtime: 1 hour 34 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Streaming on: Netflix US.

In 1974, the famous tightrope walker Philippe Petit performed an unprecedented, yet illegal, high-wire routine between New York City’s World Trade Center’s twin towers. This thrilling documentary is not only a depiction of the unforgettable stunt but also an imperative reminder to follow one’s dreams and to forget the word “impossible.”

7. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

Release Date on Netflix: August 28th, 2012
Director: David Gelb
Runtime: 1 hour 21 minutes
IMDb Rating: 7.9
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Streaming on: All Netflix markets.

One of the best documentaries on Netflix about the culinary arts, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a real pleasure to watch. It was directed in 2011 by David Gelb and has a runtime of 81 minutes. The film stars Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, Masuhiro Yamamoto, and Daisuke Nakazama as themselves.

Jiro Ono is a 90-year-old Japanese sushi master working in Tokyo. He works at his world-renowned restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, in the basement of an office building. On one hand, the documentary depicts Jiro’s lifelong quest of making the perfect piece of sushi. On the other hand, it shows his son, Yoshizaku, face the pressures of taking over the restaurant.

6. India’s Daughter (2015)

Release Date on Netflix: October 1st, 2015
Director: Leslee Udwin
Runtime: 1 hour 3 minutes
IMDb Rating: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Streaming on: Netflix US, Canada, Brazil, UK, France, Australia, New Zealand

This gripping documentary tells the story of Jyoti Singh, an Indian medical student who was gang-raped and murdered on December 16th, 2012 in South Delhi. The violent and tragic events happened on a bus, which the victim boarded upon returning home from seeing a movie with a friend. The incident brought to light once again the Indian government’s failure to protect women and the horrible acts of violence that still remain unpunished. Although the country still faces significant issues regarding this, India’s Daughter definitely raised awareness worldwide and is considered the best documentaries on Netflix regarding women’s rights in the area.

5. 13th (2004)

Release Date on Netflix: October 7th, 2016
Director: Ava DuVernay
Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes
IMDb Rating: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Streaming on: All Netflix markets.

This thought-provoking documentary directed by Ava DuVernay aims to shed some light on the American system of incarceration and how it affects people of color. The title comes from the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which says “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” This was considered a loophole that managed to turn slavery from a legal business model into a legal method of punishment, exploited for financial gains. Although not the only one, it’s one of the best documentaries on Netflix on this topic.

4. Virunga (2014)

Release Date on Netflix: November 8th, 2014
Director: Orlando von Ensiedel
Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes
IMDb Rating: 8.3
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Streaming on: All Netflix markets.

Virunga is one of the best documentaries on Netflix about the war we carry to preserve animal life – you won’t be able to forget anytime soon. Directed in 2014 by Orlando von Einsiedel, this one hour and forty minutes long documentary is a must-watch. It stars André Bauma, Emmanuel de Merode, Mélanie Gouby, Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, and Vianney Kazarama.

The film depicts the struggles of a group of park rangers fighting to take care of Eastern Congo’s Virunga National Park. They risk their lives every day attempting to protect the world’s last mountain gorillas from various threats. Furthermore, these threats range from poachers and armed militias to newly formed rebel groups. It’s definitely one of the best documentaries

3. The Look of Silence (2014)

Release Date on Netflix: March 1st, 2017
Director: Joshua Oppenheimer
Runtime: 1 hour 43 minutes
IMDb Rating: 8.3
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Streaming on: Netflix US, UK, Australia, Brazil.

Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, this 2014 historical documentary is one of the most touching you’ll ever watch. One hour and forty-three minutes long, The Look of Silence stars Adi Rukun, M. Y. Basrun, and Amir Hasan. Filmed in Indonesia, it also stars a number of other individuals involved in the 1965 genocide.

The documentary depicts an Indonesian man’s journey as he meets the men responsible for killing his brother. It focuses around the atrocities committed during the 1965 “Communist” purge. As the film progresses, more and more sadistic details about the gruesome acts surface. Undoubtedly, this is one of the bleakest and, therefore, best documentaries on Netflix.

2. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)

Release Date on Netflix: July 1st, 2013
Director: Kurt Kuenne
Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes
IMDb Rating: 8.6
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Streaming on: Unfortunately, this documentary is no longer available for streaming on Netflix; however, it is still available through a DVD subscription!

Directed and written by Kurt Kuenne, this crime drama documentary was made in 2008. It stars Kurt Kuenne, Andrew Bagby, David Bagby, Kathleen Bagby, Shirley Turner, and Zachary Andrew Turner. Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father was filmed in Pennsylvania, California, and Newfoundland, Canada.

After medical resident Andrew Bagby is murdered in 2001, his ex-girlfriend announces that she is pregnant. So, Kurt Kuenne, one of Andrew’s closest friends, decides to make a movie for his friend’s son. The documentary follows Andrew’s pregnant ex and murderer as she moves to Newfoundland, as well as Andrew’s friends and family as they talk about their lost loved one. All of this is happening while Andrew’s parents are trying to get to see their grandchild.

1. The Civil War (1990)

Release Date on Netflix: July 1st, 2013
Director: Ken Burns
Runtime: 11 hours 20 minutes (9 episodes)
IMDb Rating: 9.2
Rotten Tomatoes Score: N/A
Streaming on: Netflix US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand.

This brilliant history documentary was directed by Ken Burns and presents in great detail the events from the American Civil War. It is comprised of 9 episodes, each of them ranging between 1 hour and 1 hour and 40 minutes. The purpose of this mini-series is to trace back the historical steps, starting from the abolitionist movement, the battles, President Lincoln’s death, as well as the beginnings of the Reconstruction. It’s the best documentary currently on Netflix as it chillingly portrays the tragedy and loss in war.


We guarantee that you won’t regret watching any of the fantastic documentaries on Netflix presented on this list. However, you might be greatly affected by some scenes, so user discretion is advised. If you are not the sensitive kind, however, these are the best documentaries on Netflix right now.

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