10 of the Best History Documentaries on Netflix

Updated 08/04/19
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Graphic by Cristina Cianci

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.

You can learn about drag culture in New York City during the '80s, the women's movement of the '60s, the Los Angeles riots, and how the royal family came to be the cultural phenomenon it is today. Grab some popcorn, log in to Netflix, and press play on these historical documentaries.

Paris Is Burning

Take a look at the world of Harlem drag balls in Paris Is Burning. This Sundance Grand Jury Prize–winning historical documentary follows the lives of drag queens living in New York City during the '80s and the "houses" they created during this time as a way to form a community. Directed by Jennie Livingston, the film offers a unique view of race, class, gender, and sexuality through the lens of the intense competitions that were a part of this culture.


Named after the 13th Amendment, which freed slaves and prohibited slavery, the film takes a critical look at how slavery has been perpetuated in America long after this amendment went into place.

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 slaves and prohibited slavery, the film takes a critical look at how slavery has been perpetuated in America long after this amendment went into place.

Five Came Back

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.

She's Beautiful When She's Angry

The second wave of feminism swept through the world in the '60s as activists protested for women's rights and liberation. This documentary, created by Mary Dore, spotlights the women behind this movement, which took place during one of the most tumultuous times in history. Thanks to yet another resurgence of women's rights activists still fighting for equal pay, respect in the workplace, and rights for all, this history documentary is more relevant now than ever.


Decades after the first atomic bomb altered the course of history, the documentary Hiroshima closely examines the events leading up to and after the 1945 Hiroshima bombing. The BBC film tells the story of this historical event through detailed commentary, giving viewers a sense of what it was like to experience the horrific act that defined World War II.

What Happened, Miss Simone?

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?

Mission Control

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.

Warrior Women

A five-episode documentary series, Warrior Women depicts some of the world's greatest female fighters throughout history. Each episode tells the story of powerful women, including Joan of Arc, Grace O'Malley, Boudica, Lozen, and Wang Cong'er, who shattered stereotypes and proved that women are warriors.

Let It Fall

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.

The Royals

This documentary miniseries sheds some light on the cultural phenomenon that is the British royal family. After the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, it seems as though the royals are on everyone's minds even more than usual. If you've already binge-watched The Crown, give in to your desire to know everything there is to know about the fascinating family and watch this film about their role in English life.

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