28 Must-Watch Documentaries You Can Stream Right Now on Netflix
Here’s an idea: Pour yourself a generous glass of wine and cue up Netflix. There’s no better way to spend a slow weeknight than by tuning into a documentary for a few hours. Educational and entertaining, a great documentary is just about the most productive, enlightening way to unwind. Whether you want to learn about a master sushi chef or are more the true-crime drama type, there’s something for everyone. So… are you ready for this? We only ask because, well, this list might just derail your life for the next month (or two). Read on for 28 must-watch documentaries you can stream right now.
The Act of Killing (2012)
This surreal, nightmarish documentary tells the tale of former death squad leaders who committed terrible atrocities in Indonesia in the mid-1960s. It is one of the most eye-opening documentaries ever made, and calls into question so much of our understanding (or utter lack thereof) of violence and human nature.
The Central Park Five (2012)
This incendiary film recounts the riveting, cautionary story of the case against five African American and Latino teens who were wrongly convicted for the rape of a white jogger in Central Park in 1989, and were eventually freed after the confession of the real rapist surfaced years later.
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Created by Errol Morris, The Thin Blue Line is among the most important documentaries ever made. It’s the story of a drifter who was charged and sent to death row for the murder of a police officer, despite incredible evidence that he was innocent.
Into the Abyss (2011)
German director Werner Herzog trains his camera on the Huntsville "Walls" Unit in Texas, America's most efficient death row, and two men residing there who were convicted of a triple homicide. The film interviews family members, law-enforcement officials, and the killers themselves.
Perhaps the start to the now-widespread Sea World mistrust, Blackfish examines the life of Tillkum, a show whale who killed several handlers while in captivity, and ultimately questions the humaneness and safety of confining such creatures.
Chasing Ice (2012)
Some suggest there is no better way to capture a change than to watch it happen before your eyes. Environmental photographer James Balog documents the world’s evolving glaciers, compressing years into mere seconds via time lapse in order to capture just how real the disappearance of the world’s ice is
Virunga tells the story of a group of African park rangers who risk their lives to protect the last population of the continent’s disappearing mountain gorillas. Fighting poachers and weathering the impact of combat between the government, extremist groups, and a British oil company seeking spoils, it’s a gripping look at the region and a powerful call-to-arms to take a stand.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (2014)
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts this 13-episode deep-space follow-up to Carl Sagan’s classic 1980s original, which will please adults and kids alike.
Cutie and the Boxer (2013)
Nominated in the Oscars’ Best Documentary category, Cutie and the Boxer is an honest exploration of the tumultuous relationship of married Japanese-American artists, Ushio Shionhara and wife Noriko, and the collision of support and sacrifice.
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011)
An intimate portrait of the famed fashion, art, and culture editor and columnist, this documentary traces Vreeland’s remarkable journey to becoming New York’s “Empress of Fashion.”
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
French filmmaker Thierry Guetta’s search for infamous stencil artist Banksy takes a wild twist that still confounds watchers. A notorious “prankumentary,” Exit Through the Gift Shop is a must-see for anyone intrigued by the underground art scene.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
Legendary among Tokyo foodies, Jiro Ono is an 85-year-old sushi master and father. Filled with delectable visuals of Jiro’s $300-a-plate sushi and thought-provoking takeaways about passion and excellence, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a delightful slice-of-life study.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)
Chinese multimedia artist and activist Ai Weiwei has long used the power of art to challenge the Chinese government and call to light its questionable behavior. Never Sorry explores three years in his life as he inspires protests and suffers government persecution for his actions.
Advanced Style (2014)
A spinoff of photographer Ari Seth Cohen’s successful blog of the same name, Advanced Style profiles seven New York City women in their 60s through 90s whose ravishing style proves glamour need not wane as we age.
The Queen of Versailles (2012)
Meet David and Jacqueline Seigel, time-share moguls whose home on the outskirts of Orlando, the titular Versailles, is one of the largest and most expensive single-family homes in the United States. We get a fascinating, eye-popping look into their lives as their fortunes crumble in the 2008 financial crisis.
Paris is Burning (1990)
Paris Is Burning offers an incredibly vibrant time capsule of old New York and the tight-knit community of minority drag queens living and thriving there. The film delves into topics like racism, homophobia, and AIDS, all while chronicling Ball culture, in which queens are judged on style and expression.
Stories We Tell (2012)
An inspired, genre-twisting documentary that interweaves interviews and home movies, Stories We Tell seeks to retell the story of filmmaker Sarah Polley’s family and unravel the life of her mother who died when Polley was 11.
How to Survive a Plague (2012)
This Oscar-nominated film covers the early days of the AIDS crisis, when the general population seemed content to paint the epidemic as just punishment for being gay.
Man on Wire (2008)
In 1974, Phillippe Petit tightrope walked between New York’s Twin Towers. The Oscar winner for 2008’s Best Documentary explores the preparation and the aftermath of the event that captured the world’s attention.
The Source Family (2012)
An in-depth, all-access look at a commune that flourished under “Father Yod” in Los Angeles between 1971 and 1975, The Source Family is required viewing for anyone with even a creeping interest in cults or group think.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)
Filmmaker Werner Herzog offers viewers a spellbinding inside look at the astonishing Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Art, where some of the oldest man-made paintings reside. Herzog’s enthusiasm for discovery is infectious.
Hoop Dreams (1994)
Filmed over the course of five years, Hoop Dreams follows the journey of two inner-city Chicago kids as they pursue professional basketball glory, while navigating the competitive world of scholastic athletics and managing the pressures of their home lives.
Los Angeles Plays Itself (2004)
Filmmaker Thom Anderson explores the unique quality of Los Angeles as more than just television and movie setting, but as subject and character.
Call Me Kuchu (2012)
Powerful and harrowing, Call Me Kuchu follows David Kato, Uganda’s first openly homosexual man, as he fights against the nation's looming anti-gay legislation. When he's murdered soon after a major victory, it leaves all who looked to him for inspiration and direction searching for answers.
Photographer Tim Hetherington and journalist Sebastian Junger allow the harsh realities of war to speak for themselves in this unnarrated documentary about a U.S. platoon stationed in Afghanistan.
This Is Not a Film (2012)
For 20 years, the Iranian government denied filmmaker Jafar Panahi the ability to make a film. His next project, titled for witty disobedience, presents a vital political statement and snapshot of a day in the life as an enemy of the state.
The Square (2013)
This troubling but ultimately exhilarating 2014 Oscar-nominated film chronicles the history-making revolutions and counterrevolutions of Egypt, which began in 2011 in Tahrir Square.
The Invisible War (2012)
The first film to parse this deeply troubling subject, The Invisible War exposes a mounting epidemic of sexual assault and subsequent cover-ups within the United States armed services.
Do you have any documentaries you’d add to this list? Share it with us in the comments!