Documentaries connect us all. The element that most viewers tend to gravitate toward when it comes to documentaries is the essence of real life that one gleans from the assemblages of historical footage, photographs, talking heads, pre-recorded audio, and sequences of physical excursion or simple quotidian tasks. There's an undeniable feeling of authenticity even when you're watching something clearly biased. Even in cases where the film's overall focus is narrowed to fit a pre-conceived narrative, there's an unmistakable feeling of intimacy, of being let into a filmmaker's brain for a quick flash. In using snippets of the real world, in a variety of forms, great documentaries use images of universal, familiar existence to impart something tremendously personal, even intimate. And with the recent explosion of the "docuseries" format, we have the ability to go deeper into a story than ever before.

Netflix has a bountiful of great documentaries that cover a diverse range of subjects, from true crime to sports to even filmmaking. Below, we've assembled a list of what we believe are the best documentaries on Netflix right now.

This article was last updated on November 25th to add The Sparks Brothers.

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The Sparks Brothers

The Sparks Brothers
Image via Sundance

Director: Edgar Wright

Sparks is your favorite band’s favorite band, and yet they’ve flown underneath the radar for pretty much all of the 50 years they’ve been making music, which includes 25 albums. Director Edgar Wright looks to remedy that with the terrific The Sparks Brothers, a look at the entire history of Ron and Russell Mael’s pop-rock duo. Unlike other music documentaries that try to examine the personal lives of its subjects, Wright keeps his focus solely on the music (and at two-and-half-hours, there’s not much room for anything else given the band’s vast discography), and the result is that at the end of the film you’ll like love Sparks as much as he does. It’s a gift of music appreciation. – Matt Goldberg


Sad Hill Unearthed

Image via Netflix

Director: Guillermo de Oliveira

This one is a must-see for anyone who considers themselves a fan of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but it’s also a good meditation on what it means to be a fan and how we show reverence to the art that has shaped our lives. The climax of Sergio Leone’s seminal western takes place at the Sad Hill Cemetery, but over the years the cemetery became overgrown and resembled nothing of the climactic setting. A group of fans took it upon themselves to restore the cemetery to its former glory, and in doing so created what could only be described as a labor of love. While there are other documentaries that focus on fandoms, this one, which is really based on one scene from one movie (as opposed to the entire Man with No Name trilogy) shows how much even a little bit of an artwork can impact our lives. – Matt Goldberg

Casting JonBenet

Image via Netflix

Director: Kitty Green

If you're looking for an investigative crime documentary into the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, this isn't it. Instead, director Kitty Green approaches the story from a far more fascinating angle by examining the secrets we all keep. Green went about casting Colorado-based actors for various "roles" of the real people involved with the case, but rather than try to piece the case together, Green has crafted a film about perception, obsession, and what we keep behind closed doors. A lesser film would have been exploitative true-crime fodder, but Green has made an impressive, empathetic, and thoughtful picture that goes beyond the headlines and hits home even if you never concerned yourself with this particular case. - Matt Goldberg

Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art

Image via Netflix

Director: Barry Avrich

Imagine you were a wealthy art collector. You know the names that are famous, but could you spot a fake? Probably not on sight, but that's why you leave it to dealers and galleries to verify the authenticity of paintings. But what happens when the gallery may be a willing participant in the fraud? That's the case of Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art in which the largest art fraud in history was perpetrated through the famous and reputable Knoedler & Company. The question becomes how much did those employed by Knoedler know--were they duped like their clientele or did they willingly look the other way because they had become complicit in a profitable scheme? Director Barry Avrich draws us along in this captivating con-artist documentary where it's low stakes for the viewer (after all, we're not wealthy art collectors or dealers) and high-stakes for those involved. - Matt Goldberg

The Bleeding Edge

Image via Netflix

Director: Kirby Dick

While you may want to go for the latest technology when it comes to getting a new cell phone or video game console, you should be more circumspect when it comes to what you put in your body. In their 2018 documentary writer-director Kirby Dick and producers Amy Ziering and Amy Herdy examine the medical device industry and discover (shocker) that capitalism has inserted its tentacles into the regulatory agency, the FDA, that should be overseeing the devices that doctors are implanting into patients. With a strong mix of personal stories and pulling back to explore the larger issues, The Bleeding Edge will change the way you interact with your doctor next time you need to have some kind of invasive procedure. While it is wrong that this burden has been pushed onto patients, at least this documentary arms you with the knowledge you need to so that you can avoid some horrific outcomes. - Matt Goldberg

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed

Image via Netflix

Director: Joshua Rofé

The first thing to know about the Bob Ross documentary on Netflix is it does not reveal that this beloved figure was a bad man. But it does uncover the disturbing truth behind the business of Bob Ross Inc., and specifically what happened after Ross' untimely death. Featuring interviews with Ross' son and best friend, as well as others who knew him, Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed chronicles how he became a pop culture icon by accident, and covers his philosophy of painting. It also gets a bit into his personal life, showing us the man behind the canvas. But the main thrust of the movie is the business dealings that took advantage of Ross, and the fallout from his death. It's an intriguing film, especially at only 90 minutes in length. - Adam Chitwood

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

Image via IFC Films

Directors: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

You don't have to like Metallica to find this seminal 2004 documentary completely engrossing. In fact, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is one of the best music documentaries ever made, as it offers an unprecedented and candid look inside the making of Metallica's 2003 album St. Anger. What began as a documentary about the making of an album soon becomes the chronicle of a band on the brink, as lead singer James Hetfield enters rehab while the band's relationship is at an all time low. We watch as they try to work through their interpersonal issues and differing appraoches to making music, and drummer Lars Ulrich openly admits he's not sure if the band's going to survive. The movie sparked backlash in the music community as many thought Metallica was too honest about the music-making process, which makes this an all the more fascinating time capsule. - Adam Chitwood

Misha and the Wolves

Misha and the Wolves
Image via Sundance

Director: Sam Hobkinson

Would you question someone who claimed to be a Holocaust survivor even if their story was completely outlandish? That’s the question at the heart of Sam Hobkinson’s captivating documentary Misha and the Wolves. The film is about a woman, Misha Defonseca, who claimed that her parents were arrested by the Nazis when she was seven years old, and so she ran away towards Germany to find her missing parents, and during her trek she joined a pack of wolves. This memoir became a worldwide best-seller, but its credibility became the center of a lawsuit between Misha and her publisher, Jane Daniel. The larger exploration here isn’t simply a matter of a stranger-than-fiction tale, but why we go looking for uplifting narratives at the expense of hard realities that may not comfort us. – Matt Goldberg

Road to Roma

Image via Netflix

Directors: Andres Clariond and Grabriel Nuncio

This documentary may have limited reach, but Road to Roma is terrific supplemental viewing if you’ve already seen Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar-winning Netflix drama Roma. This feature-length documentary goes behind the scenes as Cuaron crafts his most personal film to date, recalling his own memories to create an epically intimate Mexico City-set drama. This one’s great for cinephiles. – Adam Chitwood

Gaga: Five Foot Two

Image via Netflix

Director: Chris Moukarbel

If you're in the mood for a celebrity documentary that digs a bit deeper than surface-level, Gaga: Five Foot Two is a solid watch. Released in 2017, the film covers Lady Gaga's life around the writing and release of her album Joanne, which also coincides with her casting in A Star Is Born for director/star Bradley Cooper and the end of her engagement with Taylor Kinney. This film is fairly intimate, as Gaga also battles fibromyalgia and you get a look into her life as she's juggling so much at once, climaxing with her Super Bowl halftime performance.

Athlete A

Image via Netflix

Directors: Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk

If you’re curious about the United States Gymnastics program, then Athlete A is a must-watch. The documentary chronicles the investigation by journalists into team doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual assault of the young girls he was supposed to be helping, and is told through interviews with not only the journalists but also survivors of Nassar’s abuse. That in and of itself would make Athlete A worthwhile, but the film also delves into the history of the US Gymnastics program, and the power structure in place that has not only protected abusers, but also fostered an environment in which repeated abuse – both verbal and physical – is part of the training of these young girls. It’s an eye-opening documentary that will make you look at US gymnastics – especially with the Olympics looming – in a different light. – Adam Chitwood

Murder Among the Mormons

Ken Sanders (Rare book and Document Dealer) in episode 1 of Murder Among the Mormons. c. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

Directors: Jared Hess and Tyler Measom

The three-episode documentary Murder Among the Mormons is among the best Netflix original documentaries streaming right now. Over the course of just under three hours, the film chronicles a series of historical document discoveries that threaten to upend the Lattter Day Saints church, only for key parties to turn up dead from bombings. It’s a twist-filled journey so I’ll refrain from going further, but the film uses present day interviews and archival footage to tell its story in a compelling way that doesn’t feel exploitative. Go in knowing as little as possible, but if the idea of historical documents and the Mormon church interest you, you’ll find this fascinating from beginning to end. – Adam Chitwood


Image via Netflix

Director: Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay follows up her acclaimed film Selma with a searing documentary that looks at the mass incarceration of minorities following the passage of the 13th amendment. As the documentary points out, it’s not just ingrained cultural racism that results in the widespread incarceration of African-Americans and other minorities. There’s a financial incentive as well, and it’s good business to lock people up. 13th systematically goes through the decades following the passage of the 13th amendment to show how black people were targeted by the media, by the government, and by businesses to create a new form of slavery. It is a movie that will infuriate you, depress you, and hopefully spur you to action against a system that has done egregious harm to our fellow citizens. – Matt Goldberg

My Octopus Teacher

Image via Netflix

Writers/Directors: Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed

If you’re looking for something soothing, uplifting, and oddly beautiful, you should check out Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed’s lovely documentary My Octopus Teacher. The movie follows filmmaker Craig Foster who goes snorkeling off the coast of South Africa and encounters an octopus. He resolves to interact with the octopus every day and learn as much as he can about the creature. Through their stunning underwater photography, we see a magnificent and startling intelligent animal working its way to survive in a dangerous kelp forest. The film never anthropomorphizes or cheapens the complexity of this underwater world, while also never losing sight of the majesty it presents. Even if you’re not much for nature documentaries, you’ll likely be enchanted by My Octopus Teacher. – Matt Goldberg

American Murder: The Family Next Door

American Murder: The Family Next Door

Director: Jenny Popplewell

The Netflix original documentary American Murder: The Family Next Door is a harrowing, infuriating chronicle of the 2018 Watts family murders that uses social media posts, law enforcement recordings, text messages, and home video footage to revisit the events that unfolded. It examines the disappearance of Shanann watts and her two children, and the horrible events that followed as her husband was questioned by police as to his potential involvement in her disappearance. The film largely keeps the focus on the victims, making it a standout amongst many true crime documentaries. It lays bare the lies that our social media profiles can carry, and the toxicity that festers in the heart of far too many American relationships. – Adam Chitwood

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High Score

Image via Netflix

The six-episode docuseries High Score is one of the best documentaries Netflix has made thus far. This is an in-depth look at the origin story of video games as we know them, as told by the people who made them. It begins with a deep-dive into the shift from arcade games to in-home consoles and chronicles everything from the game-changing arrival of the NES to how Sega built a strategy to challenge Nintendo. This is far more in-depth and candid than you’re likely expecting, and when you finish you’ll be begging for a second season that gets into N64 and beyond. – Adam Chitwood

The Last Dance

Image via Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images/Netflix

Director: Jason Hehir

You don’t have to love basketball to be wholly enthralled and wowed by the 10-episode docuseries The Last Dance. Over the course of 10 hours, the story of Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls is juxtaposed with the story of his earlier life and career, and the careers of Bulls teammates like Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. This flashing back and forth always keeps things interesting, contextualizing the 1997-98 Bulls season by filling in the blanks of what came before. You’ll be amazed at Jordan’s skill and drive, but the docuseries also has some eye-opening and surprisingly candid moments from one of the greatest atheletes to ever live. If you were a fan of basketball in the 90s you’ll find much to connect with, but even if you don’t really watch basketball, The Last Dance is a fascinating chronicle of a man who spent his live striving for greatness at all costs. – Adam Chitwood

The Speed Cubers

Image via Netflix

Director: Sue Kim

At a scant 40 minutes, The Speed Cubers delivers more of an emotional wallop than feature-length documentaries. The story follows competitive Rubix Cube solvers Feliks Zemdegs from Australia, who was the uncontested world champion until the arrival of American Max Park. What could be the premise for a story about serious rivalry in a niche sport instead becomes a beautiful tale of friendship and heroism. You see, Feliks is Max’s hero, and Feliks, instead of feeling threatened by Max’s rise, instead encourages and congratulates his rival. When so many stories about competition easily give way to negativity, it’s truly heartwarming to see such a positive and uplifting tale. Take a lunch break to watch this one. You’ll be glad you did. – Matt Goldberg

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness

Image via Netflix

Directors: Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin

Each installment of the seven-episode docuseries Tiger King is crazier than the last, to the point that you may find yourself saying multiple times, “Well surely things can’t possibly get any weirder than this.” You’d be 100% wrong. Tiger King follows the exploits of Joe Exotic, a flamboyant and extremely confident owner of a private big cat zoo in Oklahoma. The story of Joe Exotic is stranger than fiction, involving lies, guns, a bid for the U.S. presidency, and a murder-for-hire plot. This is a thing that must be seen to be believed. – Adam Chitwood

Crip Camp

Image via Netflix

Directors: Nicole Newnham and Jim Lebrecht

The first Netflix documentary to hail from executive producers Michelle and Barack Obama was the Oscar-winning American Factory, and their second effort Crip Camp is just as great if not better. The film shines a light on the individuals who spent most of their adult lives fighting for basic human rights, with many having attended a camp for disabled tends called Camp Jened in the 1970s. Incredible archival footage from this camp opens the film, but we then follow the various people we’ve met as they spend the next few decades embroiled in activism to pass legislation to make the world accessible for those with disabilities. It’s a fight that never should have had to be fought in the first place, and it’s both inspiring and infuriating to see how tirelessly these individuals had to push and push and push to affect even the tiniest bit of change. – Adam Chitwood

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