15 of the Best History Documentaries on Netflix

gif of 3 different documentary movie posters

Cristina Cianci / MyDomaine

Whether or not history is doomed to repeat itself, there is always something valuable to learn from the past. Thanks to Netflix, finding information about historical figures and events has never been easier (or more captivating). A quick search for historical documentaries on the site will provide you with a variety of films on everything from world history and wars to social movements and inspirational people.

Take a deep dive into NASA's infamous Apollo 1 mission, the women's lib movement of the '60s, the Los Angeles riots, or the fascinating crimes that were committed in the Great British castles. Grab some popcorn, and log in to Netflix, because brushing up on history has never been so entertaining.

Ahead, find the 15 best history documentaries on Netflix, all set for your next binge.

01 of 15

13th (2016)

13th

Netflix

Ava DuVernay, director of Selma and A Wrinkle in Time, is the creator behind 13th, a documentary about race and mass incarceration in America. Named after the 13th Amendment—which freed enslaved people and prohibited slavery—the film takes a critical look at how slavery has been perpetuated in America long after this amendment went into effect.

Available On: Netflix

02 of 15

Five Came Back (2017)

five came back

Netflix

A mini-documentary series, Five Came Back tells the story of five Hollywood filmmakers who enlisted in the armed forces to document World War II. Their work is analyzed by five contemporary film directors—Paul Greengrass, Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, and Lawrence Kasdan—and all the archival footage featured in the documentary is narrated by Meryl Streep. If you're a fan of Old Hollywood, this film should be on your watch list.

Available On: Netflix

03 of 15

What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

what happened, miss simone

Netflix 

This film follows the life of American singer, pianist, and civil rights activist Nina Simone. Through never-before-heard recordings and rare archival footage, director Liz Garbus chronicles the life of the legendary woman in What Happened, Miss Simone?

Available On: Netflix

04 of 15

Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo (2017)

mission control

Haviland Digital 

Transport yourself back to the space race by watching Mission Control. The documentary explores the dangerous Apollo space missions, which resulted in the tragic Apollo 1 fire and the extraordinary moon landing. Featuring testimonies from Apollo astronauts and contemporary NASA flight directors, the documentary provides a deep understanding of one of the largest accomplishments in American history.

Available On: Netflix

05 of 15

Let It Fall (2017)

let it fall

Lincoln Square Productions

A portrait of the building tensions between African-Americans and the Los Angeles Police Department during the '80s and early '90s, Let It Fall provides a look at the many events that led up to the infamous Los Angeles riots. The documentary calls upon firsthand accounts and archival footage to analyze the death of James Mincey Jr., the 1984 summer Olympics, the rise of gangs, the crack epidemic, the beating of Rodney King, and the unrest that erupted soon afterward.

Available On: Netflix

06 of 15

Secrets of Great British Castles (2015)

secrets of great british castles

Sideline Productions 

Historian Dan Jones takes us through the fascinating history behind six of the most famous castles of Great Britain, including Warwick, Dover, Caernarfon, the Tower of London, Carrickfergus, and Stirling. Think sweeping shots and grand vistas. Between coverage of the castle's biggest crimes and amusing factoids, this British docuseries will entertain you whether you're a history buff or not.

Available On: Netflix

07 of 15

Studio 54 (2018)

studio 54

 Zeitgeist Films

Who hasn't been utterly intrigued by the legend of Studio 54 that redefined nightlife and became the icon of an entire era? This documentary gives you an up-close look at the rise and fall of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell's glitzy New York discotheque. It's the next best thing to being there.

Available On: Netflix

08 of 15

Challenger: The Final Flight (2020)

Via Netflix Media Center

Netflix

For another deep dive into NASA's space flights (and the problems their engineers and astronauts encountered along the way), learn about the last flight The Challenger ever took. You likely already know this flight by its crew members: astronauts Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe—a high school teacher who would have become the first teacher in space. This four-part thrilling film explores the trials that led to the shuttle's demise, as well as failed cover-ups of engineering red flags that should have kept it from taking flight.

Available On: Netflix

09 of 15

World War II in Colour (2009)

best history documentaries

Netflix

World War II in Colour gives us the ability to see extraordinary historical events in high definition. This British documentary uses restored footage to recount military tactics, spies, large-scale battles, and even the attack on Pearl Harbor. See world leaders up close for a jaw-dropping experience that takes us back in time to one of the most infamous time periods in world history. You'll see colorized and original videos covering major events with unseen footage, uncovered documents, and rare stories from the era.

Available On: Netflix

10 of 15

Amend: The Fight for America (2021)

best historical documentaries

Netflix

Hosted by Will Smith, Amend: The Fight for America explores the events building up to the constitutional passage of the 14th Amendment. This six-hour docuseries created by Robe Imbriano and Tom Yellin explores the many facets of the amendment and how it set a precedent for equal rights for Black Americans as well as women, marriage equality, citizenship rights for immigrants, and even abortion rights in the United States. If you're interested in a film that covers social justice in America, this documentary will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Available On: Netflix

11 of 15

Remastered: Devil at the Crossroads (2019)

best history documentaries

Netflix

Music fans, read on: Part of Netflix's Black Lives Matter collection, Remastered: Devil at the Crossroads is the dive into American blues legends you've been looking for. The film tells the story of musician Robert Johnson and the tales of his career's success following folklore of his "deal with the devil" in rural Mississippi. From the 1910s to the 1930s, Johnson lived a short life that left a major impact on blues music for generations to come. Find the intersection between history, culture, and investigative storytelling in this iconic documentary.

Available On: Netflix

12 of 15

A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story (2020)

best history documentaries

Netflix

If you've ever caught a glimpse of racing—whether seeing NASCAR on television, watching the cast of Top Gear compete in drifting challenges, or even seeing events live at your local speedway—you'll be familiar with the excitement that accompanies all varieties of the sport. A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story follows the story of the Formula One King in the 1950s. The Argentinian racer joined the world's very first F1 circuit in Europe at the start of the decade. Even if you're not a fan of racing, this documentary will transport you into your own life of speed, if only for an hour and 32 minutes.

Available On: Netflix

13 of 15

Who Killed Malcolm X? (2020)

best history documentaries

Netflix

The answer isn't a simple one. Who Killed Malcolm X? explores intimate interviews with activist Abdur-Rahman Muhammad and dives into further questions raised by the official investigation. Were the convicted defendants actually responsible for the social justice leader's death, or did the real culprits walk free? In this documentary, you'll be filled in on details surrounding the case and evidence that two of the three people convicted were innocent.

Available On: Netflix

14 of 15

Amelia: A Tale of Two Sisters (2017)

best history documentaries

Netflix

Her name is iconic, and her legend will carry on for generations: Amelia Earhart's story is told nearly 90 years after her death in Amelia: A Tale of Two Sisters. As planes first entered society, women began joining the field as pilots despite cultural struggles for independence and the ability to pursue their own careers—but one woman never returned from her flight. Researchers investigating Earhart's disappearance have never reached a full conclusion, but her sister, Muriel, pushes on to recount Amelia's life in this documentary covering her achievements and details about their bond together. Keep Earhart's legacy alive in your own memory through this complex, heartfelt tale.

Available On: Netflix

15 of 15

Remastered: Who Shot the Sheriff? (2018)

best history documentaries

Netflix

Another film from Netflix's Black Lives Matter collection, Remastered: Who Shot the Sheriff? follows the story of iconic reggae singer Bob Marley. But it doesn't just cover the musician's life; this thrilling documentary goes deeper by examining the assassination attempt on Marley and the cultural struggles of Jamaica in the 1970s. The Prime Minister saw Marley's music as a common ground among citizens affected by political and gang violence, but when a large-scale concert was arranged, Marley was shot in his home along with his wife and manager. The documentary covers the assassination attempt as well as Marley's own history growing up between rival gangs in Kingston. Rather than choosing a side, Marley made music to ease tensions—and it led to this life-changing day ahead of his largely anticipated concert.

Available On: Netflix

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