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It’s the best time ever for documentary fans as the streaming wars have opened up the proverbial floodgates, ushering in a new era of documentaries and docu-series. Whether you’re looking for a deep dive into a decades-old cold case, an exploration of a different culture, a dissection of a dangerous cult, or — you know — just kind of want to know a little more about He-Man, there’s a documentary out there for you!
Netflix currently offers hundreds of docs, but we’ve done some of the heavy lifting by taking that ample catalog and narrowing it down to a cool two dozen for you to check out. Here you’ll find everything under the sun, from true crime murder mysteries to scintillating scandals to pop-culture portraits. So check out the full list below, or click through the slideshow to see the very best documentaries Netflix has to offer.
The Best Documentaries on Netflix 2021
Best Movies on Netflix by Genre:
Please note: This list pertains to U.S. Netflix subscribers. Some titles may not currently be available on international platforms. This article is frequently amended to remove films no longer on Netflix and to include more action films that are now available on the service.
My Octopus Teacher
Recent Oscar nominee My Octopus Teacher documents a year spent by filmmaker Craig Foster as he forges a relationship with a wild octopus. As a truly unique and offbeat experience, all about transcendent emotional bonds, My Octopus Teacher will leave you surprised, raw, and full of good cheer.
The Social Dilemma
How good is a warning if it comes too late? When we’re past the point of putting the genie back in the bottle? The Social Dilemma is a tough, but necessary, watch about the effects of social media on mental health and how its ultimate design is to nurture an addiction, manipulate people and governments, and spread conspiracy theories and disinformation.
Murder Among the Mormons
This three-part docu-series, executive produced by Paradise Lost’s Joe Berlinger, chronicles Mark Hofmann, one of the most notable forgers in history, who created forgeries related to the Latter Day Saint movement and crafted bombs that resulted in two deaths. Murder Among the Mormons, co-directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre), is a captivating look into the mind of a true sociopath and must-see for true crime buffs.
13th, from Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVerna, documents all the heinous systemic ways that racism and inequality didn’t stop with the end of slavery, exploring the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States. From lynchings to Jim Crow to the war on drugs, 13th explores the painful history and exposes mass modern failures in society.
As a history of video games in six parts, High Score checks in with innovators, creators, designers, and gamers throughout the past 40 years for a sweet, breezy look at this engrossing, addictive storytelling medium. From arcades to console wars to the invention of gory fighting games, High Score is a warm nostalgic blanket for Gen X and Millennials.
Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness
A true runaway hit for Netflix — the first possibly since Stranger Things — Tiger King took the world by storm, even spurring a few scripted Tiger King biopic series into development. This seven-part series (plus one “after show” hosted by Joel McHale) brought us into the wild world of zookeeper and convicted felon Joe Exotic and big cat conservationist Carole Baskin and a bitter years-long feud that led to Exotic hiring a hitman to kill Baskin. A compelling carnival sideshow that showcases the craziest ways truth can out-strange fiction.
Executive produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, as part of their Netflix development deal, Crip Camp is a heartfelt look at Camp Jened, a summer camp for disabled people that became a springboard for the disability rights movement in the United States. Shining a spotlight on a lesser-known part of American civil rights history, as campers and counselors from Camp Jened wound up becoming activists, Crip Camp is an empowering feel-good watch.
The Great Hack
As a startling, unnerving tech-based expose, The Great Hack offers an alarming glimpse into the way data is being weaponized for political gain and how Facebook was, and still is, used for voter surveillance. Centering in on the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal, this is a timely and scary revelation.
Taylor Swift: Miss Americana
Following global sensation and immense talent Taylor Swift over the course of several years, chronicling her life and career, Miss Americana is an emotional and intriguing dive into the singer-songwriter’s balancing of art, commerce, influence, and personality. An imperative for die-hard fans, but also a fun exploration for non-Swifters as a look at a true cultural phenomenon, Miss Americana is intimate without being sensational.
High-tech China clashes with working-class America in American Factory, a tense examination of a Chinese billionaire’s glass factory in rural Ohio, and the troubling dynamic between workers and employers in today’s globalized economy. Using a fly-on-the-wall style, American Factory presents both sides of this divide, providing an eye-opening focus on exploitation.
Power of Grayskull: The Definitive History of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
One thing you’ll find in this new surplus era of docu-properties is niche offerings that hone in on a specific fandom or IP, like Power of Grayskull, which unspools the history of Mattel’s Masters of the Universe toy line and its subsequent growth into a hugely-popular film and TV entity. Also worth checking out is The Toys That Made Us series, which, three seasons deep now, not only has an episode about He-Man but also Barbie, Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, My Little Pony, and many more.
Five Came Back
Based on the book Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris, this three-parter focuses on five directors — John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens — whose war-related works are then dissected by modern directors Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Greengrass, and Lawrence Kasdan. It’s a spectacular and special look at propaganda, myth, art, and how World War II affected film and culture for decades.
Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado
A loving and magical look at the life and career of Walter Mercado, one of the most influential and important astrologists in Latin America, Mucho Mucho Amor features interviews with Mercado himself, before his death in 2019, and provides a blissful, open-hearted profile of a one-in-a-million person who meant the world to multiple generations.
Still one of Netflix’s best-unsolved mystery menageries, The Keepers digs into the murder of nun Catherine Cesnik in 1969 in Baltimore and the long-standing belief that there was a cover-up by authorities after Cesnik suspected that a priest was guilty of sexually abusing students. It’s a phenomenal and riveting rabbit hole that lands you in the middle of real-life terror.
Wild Wild Country
Don’t think for a second that we’ve left fanatical, crazy cults off this list. The six-part series Wild Wild Country tells the story of controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his religious cult in Oregon who were responsible for bioterror/food poisoning attacks in 1984 along with a foiled-assassination plot that targeted then-United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, Charles Turner. Executive produced by Mark and Jay Duplass, Wild Wild Country is a stunning and provocative piece of investigative work.
In the headlines recently because of the movie Stillwater, and her specific reactions to it being a “ripped from the headlines” (her headlines, in fact) story, Amanda Knox is famous for being acquitted (after being convicted twice by corrupt and/or inept Italian authorities) of the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher, Knox’s overseas roommate. The victim of a dirty, pressured police department, and guilty in the public eye thanks to tabloid journalism, Knox spent four years in prison before being freed. This documentary asks us all to question why we ditch our empathy in favor of sensationalism.
Tell Me Who I Am
A gripping, heart-wrenching tale of twin brothers Alex and Marcus, Tell Me Who I Am is a devastating study of healing and catharsis. Marcus helps Alex, who lost his memory in a motorcycle accident at age 18, recreate lost memories from his childhood. However, Marcus omitted for a long time that the twins were sexually abused by both their mother and also a pedophile ring until the age of 14. Tell Me Who I Am is about dark secrets, reconciliation, and trauma.
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
English broadcaster, natural historian, and iconic nature documentary narrator David Attenborough shares first-hand his concern for the current state of the planet due to humanity’s impact on nature and his hopes for the future. Differing from most of Attenborough’s previous work, A Life on Our Planet is a condemnation of humans and an inspirational call to addressing climate change.
Based on Hrishikesh Hirway’s music podcast, Song Exploder features Hirway sitting down with musical icons like Michael Stipe, Trent Reznor, Alicia Keys, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and more to deconstruct their most famous songs and dig into the nitty-gritty songwriting process. From inspiration to production to the nuts and bolts of music theory, Song Exploder is a joyous, necessary binge for music lovers.
One of Netflix’s pioneering, and best, true crime exploration series is The Staircase, which was a French miniseries acquisition from 2004 documenting the trial of Michael Peterson, who had been convicted of murdering his wife, Kathleen Peterson. Netflix aired the original series, the follow-up episodes, and then added three more update episodes to the catalog, bringing the episode count to 13 for the streamer’s new expanded presentation. The Staircase is a piercing puzzle that presents the messy shortcomings of the American legal system.
The Last Dance
From Netflix and ESPN Films, The Last Dance is a ten-part series revolving around the career of Michael Jordan, with a big focus on his final championship season with the Chicago Bulls. Made for sports fanatics and non-fans alike, The Last Dance’s storytelling is top-tier, documenting a larger-than-life legend rounding out a never-repeated run. Blending archival footage with candid interviews, this series is a true winner.
HOMECOMING: A film by Beyoncé
A concert film that goes behind the scenes with Beyoncé ahead of her lauded performance at Coachella in 2018 when she became the first black woman to headline, Homecoming was written, executive produced, and directed by Beyoncé herself, offering up a candid look inside her world, work ethic, and artistry. It’s a glittering masterpiece of self-realization and accomplishment.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
Directed by Chris Smith (Netflix’s Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened), Jim & Andy uses 100 hours of footage to paint an obsessed portrait of Jim Carrey as he remained in character as comedian Andy Kaufman during the production of 1999’s Man on the Moon. It’s insightful, agonizing, and utterly revelatory to watch Carrey transform into Kaufman and then just remain in his skin.
Making a Murderer
Netflix’s “granddaddy of them all” when it comes to the true-crime docu-series, Making a Murderer had the nation in its galvanizing grip, telling the story of Steven Avery, a man who was wrongfully convicted and served 18 years in prison for sexual assault and attempted murder. With this, Netflix would strike gold and thusly make true crime deep dives a huge part of its menu. It’s a twisting mystery that hooks you deep for an immersive ride.