Best documentaries to watch on Netflix right now
Documentaries bring us all together. When it comes to documentaries, the essence of actual life that one can derive from assemblages of historical video, images, talking heads, pre-recorded audio, and sequences of physical expedition or ordinary mundane duties is what most viewers gravitate toward. Even when you’re seeing something obviously slanted, there’s an irrefutable sense of genuineness. Even when the film’s main focus is reduced to match a preconceived narrative, there’s an obvious sense of intimacy, as if you’ve been granted access to a filmmaker’s mind for a brief moment.
Netflix provides a mind-bogglingly large range of documentaries and documentary series. Netflix offers it all: true crime, history, and sports. What do you do first?
Surprisingly, the documentary genre, of all types of film, presents a story that is stranger than fiction. Netflix, more than any other streaming service, is well aware of this. In recent months, the platform has leaned heavily towards the genre, producing some of the oddest, most captivating, and intricate deep dives into fascinating true events.
From Oscar winners like “American Factory” and “My Octopus Teacher” to buzzy true-crime sagas like “Murder Among the Mormons” and “Wild Wild Country,” Netflix has been home to some of the best documentaries and docu-series of recent years.
1. The Tinder Swindler
Shimon Hayut, aka “Tinder Swindler,” was the subject of a documentary about a conman who utilized dating apps to scam many women across Europe in order to afford a luxury lifestyle.
In comparison to other true crime documentaries on Netflix, this one has a significantly different topic. It’s definitely worth a look.
We saw the definitive portrait of possibly the greatest footballer of all time, Pelé, in early 2021. The film is both a tribute to the electrifying Brazilian and an uncompromising examination of the errors he made throughout his career.
3. The Sparks Brothers
Sparks are your favorite band’s favorite band, and yet they’ve remained largely unknown for the majority of their 50-year career, which comprises 25 albums. The Sparks Brothers, directed by Edgar Wright, is a fantastic look into the full career of Ron and Russell Mael’s pop-rock duet. Unlike other music documentaries that try to delve into the personal lives of their subjects, Wright keeps his focus solely on the music (and with the band’s vast discography, there’s not much room for anything else), and the result is that by the end of the film, you’ll love Sparks as much as he does. It’s a musical gratitude present.
The skilled nonfiction filmmaker Robert Greene tackles the difficult topic of childhood sexual abuse with the help of a handful of men who utilize theatrical therapy to cope with their memories of being assaulted by Catholic priests in this emotionally taxing but ultimately cathartic documentary. Greene and his crew film their patients talking about their shared experiences, revisiting some of the areas where the abuse occurred, and recreating some of the worst moments of their life in short, dramatic scenes, all in the hopes of validating and possibly overcoming their trauma.
5. The Raincoat Killer
It’s unusual these days to see a lean, clean true crime show that doesn’t drag things out or purposefully muddle facts for dramatic effect. But it’s precisely for this reason that The Raincoat Killer is so good and distinctive.
It’s a thorough examination of The Raincoat Killer, a vicious serial killer in South Korea. It’s one of Netflix’s better real crime documentaries.
6. Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami
During the 1980s, Willie Falcon and Sal Magluta ran the largest cocaine smuggling enterprise on the East Coast of the United States and one of the largest in the world, trafficking cocaine into the United States from Colombia via Miami and making more than $2 billion in cash. This docuseries chronicles everything from the early days of the enterprise to the multiple trials, convictions, killings, bribes, and escapes in this renowned case through interviews with their intimate friends and co-conspirators.
7. Sad Hill Unearthed
This is a must-see for everyone who enjoys The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but it’s also a good reflection on what it means to be a fan and how we honor the art that has affected our lives. The Sad Hill Cemetery is where Sergio Leone’s landmark western’s finale takes place, although the cemetery has grown overgrown and no longer resembles the climactic location.
A group of fans took it upon themselves to restore the cemetery to its former splendor, creating what can only be regarded as a labor of love in the process. While there are other movies about fandoms, this one, which is based on a single scene from a single film (rather than the complete Man with No Name trilogy), demonstrates how much even a small piece of art can influence our lives.
8. A Cop Movie
In director Alonso Ruizpalacios’s creative documentary “A Cop Movie,” which mixes interviews and re-enactments to portray the mostly true story of two Mexico City police officers who fell in love, nothing is ever quite as it seems. What begins as a personal glimpse into the life of cops — complete with charming tales and thrilling “ride-along” pursuit footage — gradually transforms into a film about how law enforcement is portrayed in the media.
Ruizpalacios balances the dramatized myth-making with real-life police interactions with civilians, and he throws in a few shocks to make viewers reconsider their own assumptions.
9. House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths
This is one of Netflix’s more recent true crime documentaries, and it’s a terrific one.
House of Secrets dives into the possibilities behind one of the oddest suicide/murder cases in recent memory, focusing on the inexplicable deaths of 11 family members in one house in Burari, Delhi, India in 2018. It’s not to be missed.
This German sports documentary follows seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher through his early years, ascension to fame, and current recuperation at his family’s home following a skiing accident in 2013.
11. Rolling Thunder Revue
Martin Scorsese’s documentary Rolling Thunder Revue, which chronicles Bob Dylan’s 1975 concert tour, explores this border between fiction and non-fiction with his persona. Scorsese weaves fact and fiction in Rolling Thunder Revue, forcing the audience to figure out what is real and what is made up. Nonetheless, there is a wonderful concert video of Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and many others on this tour, which feels more like a carnival than a performance at times. Scorsese has proven with his earlier music documentaries that he can go deep into what makes an artist so fascinating and turn it into fantastic films.
12. Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It
Rita Moreno’s life is a tale of the best and worst of American show business. In her more than 70 years as an actor, singer, and dancer, Moreno has collaborated with some of the most outstanding performers in film, television, and theater, producing memorable characters in films like “West Side Story” and “One Day at a Time.” Racism, sexism, and sexual harassment were also perpetrated against her. “Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” is a documentary about a lady who has inspired audiences with both her impressive collection of work and her candor about what she had to go through to accomplish her dreams.
13. This Is a Robbery
This Is a Robbery is as close to a Netflix movie as you can get. This is essentially a documentary about an art robbery, and it is a four-part series centered on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Do you recall the documentary Evil Genius? This Is a Robbery follows in that tradition. The first episode takes a long time to get rolling, but stick with it because there’s a payoff at the end.
14. Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed
Bob Ross is probably associated with tranquil, joyous brushstrokes, trees and nature, and perhaps even his characteristic afro. However, a new Netflix documentary examines the convoluted legal fights that have ensued over the use of Bob Ross’s name since his death in 1995, painting a more ominous view of the acclaimed painter’s legacy.
15. Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art
Assume you’re a wealthy art collector. You’re familiar with well-known names, but can you detect a fake? Probably not at first glance, but that’s why you trust dealers and galleries to authenticate artworks. What happens, though, if the gallery is a willing accomplice in the fraud? In the instance of Made You Look: A True Story About Fake Art, the greatest art fraud in history was perpetrated by the well-known and respectable Knoedler & Company.
The question is, how much did Knoedler’s employees know—were they fooled like their clients, or did they voluntarily look the other way because they had become accomplices in a lucrative scheme? In this gripping con-artist documentary, director Barry Avrich lures us in with minimal stakes for the audience (after all, we’re not affluent art collectors or dealers) and high stakes for those involved.
16. Murder Among the Mormons
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was rocked by a series of explosions in Salt Lake City in 1985. Mark Hofmann, the alleged bomber, was involved in the acquisition and sale of materials pertaining to the faith’s early origins, some of which contradicted or subverted what the elders preached.
The directors Jared Hess and Tyler Measom portray the interesting story of Hoffman and his crimes, which went beyond homicide and into the area of forgery and fraud, in the three-part “Murder Among the Mormons.” This is a unique true-crime docu-series that explores the origins of religious belief as well as certain illicit conduct.
17. American Murder: The Family Next Door
There are a lot of true crime documentaries out there (and on this list) but American Murder: The Family Next Door sticks out.
It’s about Chris Watts, an apparently ordinary man who murdered his wife and children. The amount of material available is incredible, and it’s edited and produced in a novel way, with the story told through text messages and social media posts. It’s a harrowing reminder of domestic violence’s all-too-common occurrence.
18. Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir
With the publication of The Joy Luck Club, a novel about the difficulties between Chinese moms and their Americanized daughters, Amy Tan became an overnight sensation in 1989. Tan, the celebrated author of six novels, two memoirs, and two children’s books, is the focus of a terrific new PBS documentary that premiered in May to commemorate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
19. The Bleeding Edge
While you may want the most up-to-date technology when purchasing a new cell phone or video game console, you should be more cautious about what you put into your body. The medical device industry is examined in their 2018 documentary by writer-director Kirby Dick and producers Amy Ziering and Amy Herdy, who uncover (surprise) that capitalism has encroached on the regulatory agency that should be supervising the devices that surgeons implant into patients.
The Bleeding Edge will change the way you communicate with your doctor the next time you require an invasive surgery, with a great combination of personal experiences and drawing back to analyze the larger issues. While it is unfortunate that patients are being burdened with this burden, at the very least, this documentary provides you with the information you need to avoid some horrifying results.
20. Who Killed Little Gregory
Who Killed Little Gregory is a documentary about Grégory Villemin’s gruesome murder. It’s perhaps Netflix’s best true crime documentary. It’s about a murder and the attempts to solve it, but it’s also about media representation and the horrifying misogyny Grégory’s mother faced after her own son was murdered.