This Documentary Genre Will Change Your Life in One Night

Updated 04/18/19
a woman watching a movie in bed
Fashion Me Now

It's official: Biographical documentaries are having a moment. Films in the genre were among the most notable movies of the summer, including the thought-provoking film RBG (about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg), the heart-warming documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? (about beloved Mr. Rogers), and the harrowing Whitney (about late singer Whitney Houston).

Unfortunately, not all of these popular nonfiction films are available to watch from the comfort of your couch, so we culled Netflix's vast library to find watch list-worthy biographical documentaries that are streaming now. Ranging from an untold story about the exceptional women who dared to reach for the stars (literally) to an intimate look at one of the most inspiring poets of our time, these nine films are proof that the genre has the power to change your life.

Amy

Amy

The Academy Award-winning documentary Amy lays bare the struggles British singer Amy Winehouse faced as she navigated life in the spotlight. This film features "her words, her music, her voicemails, her home videos, her friends, her family, her tormentors, and her timeless incandescence," writes Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. "Look, listen and weep."

Iris

Iris

Renowned documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles offers an intimate look into the life of self-described "geriatric starlet" and NYC-based style icon Iris Apfel in the film Iris. "It's a delight to spend time in Apfel's company, and thanks to Albert Maysles, we can," writes Walter Addiego in SF Gate.

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise

Poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou is the subject of the documentary Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise. Even if you've read the incomparable writer's autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, this film should be at the top of your watchlist. "It's hard not to be inspired by a life this well-lived," reviews Ken Jaworowski in The New York Times.

Mercury 13

Mercury 13

Mercury 13 tells the story of some exceptional women who were screened for space flight only to have their dreams dashed when NASA selected only men for the mission. "This is the sort of film that begins modestly-seemingly only a piece of curious history-and grows steadily deeper as it moves to its climax, and that climax is a powerful one," writes Dorothy Rabinowitz in The Wall Street Journal.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

Hedy Lamarr is widely known for her work on the silver screen, but the actress also invented a wireless form of communication referred that could have revolutionized mobile communications during World War II (had the U.S. government not dismissed the technology due to the fact that Lamarr was not a U.S. citizen). The documentary Bombshell "fascinates both as film history and as a sobering reminder of how little credit a woman like Lamarr received, even at the peak of her popularity," writes Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune.

What Happened, Miss Simone?

What Happened, Miss Simone?

The biographical documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? delves into the life of legendary singer, actress, and activist Nina Simone. The film "may not answer What Happened, Miss Simone?, but it does tell us why the question must be asked and will be asked, for a very long time," observes David Wiegand in SF Gate.

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan

In Restless Creature, viewers are privy to the life of prima ballerina Wendy Whelan as she prepares to depart from the New York City Ballet after decades with the company. This biographical documentary "isn't a mere celebration of a great artist," writes Moira Macdonald in The Seattle Times. "It's a moving portrait of what happens when that artist confronts the possibility of not being able to make that art anymore."

Gaga: Five Foot Two

Gaga: Five Foot Two

The Netflix documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two chronicles the pop star's life at a pivotal moment, coupling the professional pressures of releasing a new album and the personal dilemma of receiving a fibromyalgia diagnosis. "Gaga's current struggle is just a struggle, not a statement about the human condition or about the singer's own career," writes Spencer Kornhaber in The Atlantic. "Inevitably, some will question her suffering—because she's a woman, because of the nature of her sickness, and because of her job as a performer."

Seeing Allred

Seeing Allred

Famed feminist attorney Gloria Allred (the woman behind high-profile cases against Bill Cosby and Donald Trump) is the subject of one of Netflix's latest biographical documentaries, Seeing Allred. The documentary "feels more vital than ever as a microcosm of all of the complexities and contradictions of the current state of feminism in the United States, during a time when forces seem to be conspiring to paint it in large, monochrome brushstrokes," writes Bridget Read in Vanity Fair.

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