20 Best Documentaries to Watch on Netflix

Nothing is as chilling as a story that’s based on real life. That’s why documentaries make for a riveting and profound viewing experience, and the advent of streaming platforms like Netflix ensures that there’s always something worthwhile to watch. On Netflix, there’s an exhilarating variety of them, from shocking crimes to sports scandals and conspiracies to entertainment-themed ones about artists and performers. To help you get started on your documentary-bingeing, we have collected 20 of the best, high-rated documentaries available for streaming.

Tell Me Who I Am (2019)

Director: Ed Perkins
Cast: Alex Lewis, Marcus Lewis
IMDB: 7.6

Tell Me Who I Am chronicles the story of twin brothers Alex and Marcus Lewis. At the age of 18, Alex had a motorcycle accident that resulted in memory loss. To help him deal with his condition, Marcus assisted in recreating his lost memories but deliberately omitted a traumatic past that both brothers had endured.

Based on the book written by the twins together with Joanna Hodgkin, Tell Me Who I Am is haunting and disturbing in its content. However, if you have the stomach for it, you can see how solid the storytelling is and how its strength relies on exceptional filmmaking.

The Social Dilemma (2020)

Director: Jeff Orlowski
Writers: Jeff Orlowski, Davis Coombe, Vickie Curtis
Cast: Tristan Harris, Aza Raskin, Justin Rosenstein, Shoshana Zuboff, Jaron Lanier
IMDB: 7.7

Social networking is detrimental to many aspects of our lives – haven’t we heard this before? Sure, but The Social Dilemma conveys this predicament with much more in-depth scrutiny that’ll make you ruminate further about things.

From social media’s exploitation for financial and political gains to the addiction it breeds to its impact on mental health, The Social Dilemma provides an expansive take on everything social. The docudrama also presents very real, alarming points painting a vivid picture of how it is to live in today’s world.

Miss Americana (2020)

Director: Lana Wilson
Cast: Taylor Swift
IMDB: 7.4

Getting up-close and personal with singer-songwriter Taylor Swift turns out to be enlightening as it is entertaining. In Miss Americana, the young icon gets candid as she reveals intimate details of her life. Adding both onstage and backstage concert footage, this documentary is an irresistible treat to all the Taylor Swift fans out there.

Audiences get to see Swift during a crucial transformation in her life, going beyond roles and expectations. With an impressive approach and execution, Miss Americana is Swift opening herself up to the world, wanting to be vulnerable through honesty and ingenuity.

Everybody’s Everything (2019)

Directors: Sebastian Jones, Ramez Silyan
Cast: Lil Peep, Post Malone, Ghostemane, Juicy J
IMDB: 7.5

Everybody’s Everything is about the life of the rapper, singer-songwriter Gustav Elijah Åhr, known by his stage name Lil Peep. He died at only age 21 of a drug overdose. It recounts his life from his childhood to his success in the underground scene, and ultimately among mainstream audiences, up to the day he died on November 15, 2017.

This documentary is a tender tribute to a young artist who could have had more and to his fans. Even to those unfamiliar with him and his music, Everybody’s Everything captures Lil Peep’s raw talent, his charm, and his ability to resonate with his audience through his music.

A Secret Love (2020)

Director: Chris Bolan
Writers: Chris Bolan, Brendan Mason, Alexa L. Fogel
Cast: Terry Donahue, Pat Henschel, Diana Bolan
IMDB: 7.9

A Secret Love delves into the partnership between two women as they hide their romantic relationship from their families for nearly seven decades. Masquerading the true nature of their relation as friends and business partners, this documentary film is both a revelation and a journey – not only to the people who lived it but also to those they share their story with.

Behind the Curve (2018)

Director: Daniel J. Clark
Cast: Mark Sargent, Patricia Steere
IMDB: 6.5

Thanks to the internet, the theory that the Earth is flat is once again regaining popularity. That is despite reputable scientific studies, discoveries, and evidence that debunk the theory. In Behind the Curve, the driving force in the flat Earth movement is explored from multiple perspectives, which include famous flat Earthers and astrophysicists from several universities.

The documentary film also showcases clips from the 2017 International Flat Earth Conference, which garnered hundreds of participants. Behind the Curve, in its essence, presents flat Earthers in a different light despite their notoriety. Even more remarkable is how despite its hilarity and the alarming issues at play, it’s still able to evoke empathy among viewers.

Audrie & Daisy (2016)

Director: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Cast: Audrie Pott, Daisy Coleman, Paige Parkhurst, Melinda Coleman
IMDB: 7.2

Two teenage girls from different parts of America, Audrie Pott and Daisy Coleman were sexually assaulted while drunk and passed out at a party they went to. The guys who did it captured the crime on their phones. With photos and videos passed around, the victims and their families were further attacked through cyberbullying and abuse.

Audrie & Daisy chronicles the repercussions of the assaults over the course of time. Court documents and police investigations were divulged, providing more details surrounding their cases. The documentary also takes a hard look at the destructive nature of social media to victims of sexual assault and how the hostility of their respective communities didn’t give them a chance to start anew. Both girls died by suicide, Audrie in 2012, and Daisy in 2020.

Becoming (2020)

Director: Nadia Hallgren
Cast: Michelle Obama
IMDB: 6.8

Becoming is a documentary following former First Lady Michelle Obama during her travels, talk shows, and her time as the First Lady. It is partly based on Obama’s memoir of the same name. While there was an anticipation as to the degree of intimate details it was willing to share, Becoming instead focuses on her aspirations and her connection to others. More importantly, it reveals how her role as the First Lady impacted other aspects of her life. The documentary, nonetheless, is inspiring and gives us a glimpse of Michelle Obama more carefree than ever.

Athlete A (2020)

Director: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Cast: Maggie Nichols, Jennifer Sey, Rachael Denhollander, Jamie Dantzscher
IMDB: 7.7

In August 2016, a story about USA Gymnastics women’s team doctor, Larry Nassar, assaulting young female gymnasts came out in the Indianapolis Star. Athlete A follows the journalists who broke the story, uncovering the large-scale cover-up which propagated the abuse to continue for decades, and the whistleblowers who bravely came forward to put a stop to it once and for all.

Athlete A is gripping as directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk skillfully conveyed the pain and the strength of the survivors who mustered their courage to expose the Olympic doctor. Apart from its emotional intensity, the documentary also provides an extensive look at the events that had transpired, leading for this atrocious sports scandal to be exposed.

Michael Jackson’s This Is It (2009)

Director: Kenny Ortega
Cast: Michael Jackson
IMDB: 7.2

This Is It was a planned concert by pop singer Michael Jackson scheduled on July 13, 2009. His death on June 25, eighteen days before the event, led to its cancellation. Footages of rehearsals and preparation, which were not meant to be released, were decided to be made into a film after Jackson’s death. This created the documentary-concert film, Michael Jackson’s This Is It.

Despite the film’s initial backlash over its intention and the use of body doubles, it received a positive reception from critics and fans alike. And while it didn’t provide an in-depth insight into the singer’s thoughts and mind, it conveyed the power of music through his remarkable performances.

13th (2016)

Director: Ava DuVernay
Writers: Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick
Cast: Angela Davis, Michelle Alexander, Van Jones, Henry Louis Gates
IMDB: 8.3

Racial inequality is still prevalent. In 13th, filmmaker Ava DuVernay delves deeper into its roots. The documentary’s title is after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which terminated slavery and involuntary servitude.

In 13th, DuVernay asserts that slavery still exists through different means, instigated by authorities and their laws. It also concentrates on the fact that America’s prisons are alarmingly filled with African-Americans. In introspect, to watch 13th is to give yourself the opportunity to see another side of America through a different lens. Informative and illuminating, 13th inspires viewers to take a stand against racial prejudice in today’s world.

Fyre (2019)

Director: Chris Smith
Writer: Chris Smith
Cast: Billy McFarland, Ja Rule, Andy King
IMDB: 7.2

The Fyre Festival was a luxury music festival founded by Fyre Media Inc. CEO Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule. With a promise of a grand musical event in The Bahamas, attendees, who paid substantial amounts of money, were shocked to discover what they got themselves into. For instance, luxury villas and gourmet meals turned out to be disaster relief tents and prepackaged sandwiches.

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened recounts the failed event in 2017 and follows the man behind it all, convicted fraudster Billy McFarland. This documentary also proficiently portrays every side of the failed festival, from its humor to its shocking outcome to the craziness of it all.

Gaga: Five Foot Two (2017)

Director: Chris Moukarbel
Cast: Lady Gaga
IMDB: 7.0

For fans of the singer, Gaga: Five Foot Two is a musical delight that brings both honesty and clarity behind the performer and her flamboyant costumes and spectacles. It also delivers an insight into her music and an intimate portrait of her mind during moments that are both revealing and tender.

Father Soldier Son (2020)

Directors: Leslye Davis, Catrin Einhorn
Cast: Brian Eisch
IMDB: 7.3

War takes a toll not just on the soldiers but on their families, as portrayed in Father Soldier Son. In this documentary, we see United States Army Sgt. First Class Brian Eisch and his struggles after his deployment in Afghanistan. Wounded in action, it also explores the effects of his deployment on his young sons.

Father Soldier Son is a moving take on a military family’s journey to healing and redemption, and how love and acceptance over a devastating loss paved the way for starting over. And however revealing and emotional, this documentary film proves exceptional without compromising its objectivity.

Rising Phoenix (2020)

Directors: Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui
Cast: Jean-Baptiste Alaize, Ryley Batt, Ellie Cole, Philip Craven
IMDB: 8.1

Rising Phoenix follows nine Paralympic athletes as they work, endure, persist, and rise in their journeys at the Paralympic Games. This documentary is both inspiring and poignant as the lives of the athletes are examined, and how their endeavors, hardships, and resulting victories foster greater understanding of disability and diversity in athletic competitions.

Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

Director: Skye Borgman
Writer: Skye Borgman
Cast: Jan Broberg Felt, Bob Broberg, Mary Ann Broberg
IMDB: 6.8

Abducted in Plain Sight recounts the story of 12-year-old Jan Broberg who was abducted by a neighbor and family friend in 1974. This documentary-crime film is disturbing as we’re reminded of how evil can be tenacious and mundanely lurking from places you thought are safe.

Nevertheless, it serves as a story of caution that parents out there can use to arm themselves with greater vigilance to protect their children. Abducted in Plain Sight is also filled with bizarre events that it’s hard to believe it’s not fictional, which only makes it more engrossing.

A Gray State (2017)

Director: Erik Nelson
Cast: David Crowley, Danny August Mason
IMDB: 6.2

Aspiring filmmaker David Crowley attempted to make a movie about how civil liberties would be destroyed in the future. Before completing this project, Crowley was found shot dead with his wife and daughter. The police ruled it a murder suicide. Still, the events surrounding their death led to conspiracies about the government being responsible for their untimely demise.

The documentary also focuses on the life of Crowley, from his military service in the Middle East, through his endeavors to make and produce a film, and up to his death. In its entirety, A Gray State certainly enthralls and feeds your curiosity and imagination in more ways than one.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)

Director: Chris Smith
Cast: Jim Carrey
IMDB: 7.7

In 1999, Jim Carrey portrayed late comedian Andy Kaufman in the film Man on the Moon. The biographical offering features the late comedian’s struggles, his road to stardom, and the numerous roles he played throughout his career until his death.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond uses 100 hours of footage from the set of the movie, chronicling Carrey’s transformation and journey in portraying the renowned artist and comedian. Director Chris Smith, for this documentary, incorporates both the humor and hard realities of fame, art, and performance.

The Great Hack (2019)

Directors: Karim Amer, Jehane Noujaim
Writers: Karim Amer, Erin Barnett, Pedro Kos
Cast: Carole Cadwalladr, David Carroll, Brittany Kaiser
IMDB: 7.0

It’s no longer a secret how social media like Facebook insidiously creeps into the minds of its users for political and financial reasons. The Great Hack is the exact culmination of that reality, exposing the data scandal involving the social media giant and Cambridge Analytica.

The documentary centers on Professor David Caroll, former business development director for Cambridge Analytica, and British investigative journalist Carole Cadwalladr. It is presented in a way so that their stories intertwine, with the end-goal of exposing the consulting firm for its roles in the politics of many countries, most notably the UK’s Brexit campaign and the 2016 US elections.

Icarus (2017)

Director: Bryan Fogel
Writers: Bryan Fogel, Mark Monroe
Cast: Bryan Fogel, Grigory Rodchenkov
IMDB: 7.9

Another sports scandal to shock the world, filmmaker Bryan Fogel initially concentrated on the athletes’ use of steroids. However, it turned out to be a sports conspiracy of immense magnitude after the discovery that Russia allows its athletes to cheat by having a state-sponsored Olympic doping program.

Icarus, intense in its content and execution, goes beyond the ethical issues of sports doping and bravely looks into other sinister aspects at play. Acclaimed upon its release, Icarus won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2018.

Anything here catches your attention? These are just some of the best documentaries you can watch on Netflix. Most of the titles on the list also aim to create further awareness and instigate conversations about issues that matter. Stay informed and develop an understanding of things that affect us all with these documentaries – they’re just as informative as they’re timely.

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